Dr. Pol-Arity and the Legion of Science: Me and You and the Multiverse

Following a bit of a mental vacation I thought it might be best to ease back into the scene with a nice, cushy subject. Something light and airy. Something easy like Sunday morning. So, obviously, String and M-Theory came up. A little unfurling of the cosmic fabric and the impossible yet probable nature of the universe as an infinite, boundless thing.   

Me, I’m no scientist. Not really. Ate my Boo Berry in the sage company of Mr. Wizard and his revolving cast of wards before school each day. Graduated to Beakman and Nye and Grand Hank (Philly public access represent). Held my own in Honors Bio, positioned the mink in the right direction on the dissection tray in Anatomy, knew who had the best notes in Chemistry (which totally doesn’t count because it’s so just Math, damn it,) and never, ever had to use the emergency shower in the lab. I have a bachelor’s of science degree… in Screenwriting and Playwriting. Nearly set fire to my house when I put a Wendy’s double hamburger in the microwave without removing the shiny silver wrapper. No, I’m no scientist.  But I play one on the internet.

Enter my nom de bunsen burner, Dr. Pol-Arity. Join me, intrepid Legion of Science! Bring graph paper!

As comic readers and — if you’ll allow — fanciers of geek culture, we’re inundated with science news every day. It’s possible to be a casual fan of science even if you do worship His many tentacled awfulness, Cthulhu. If you’re reading this you may have wondered what the Montauk Monster really was (a water Pokemon) or if you could, indeed, Blend an iPhone (yes). Maybe you’ve sat in bed, feet propped up on the wall of your dorm room and postulated that maybe we truly are living in The Matrix and that your roommate Dale is just a series of 1s and 0s. There’s even a chance that you weren’t stoned at the time. I think it’s central to the nature of comic readers to wonder and to thrill at the prospect of discovery. Ours is a world of What If’s and what Elses. One of our most iconic villains is garbed in a pattern of question marks. But comics aren’t just interrogative. They’re exclamatory (Just ask Mad Man). There is an urgency to these questions, and maybe chief among all forms of speculative fiction, comics ask questions actively. What is an Elseworlds tale if not a hypothesis? 

This very community turned me on to an incredible science podcast called Radiolab, which syndicates the program from WNYC public radio. It’s simply one of the best produced series you’re likely to find, and I recommend it without hesitation. Recently they offered a discussion called “The (Multi) Universe(s).” When the title popped up in the downloads tab, my eyes lit up. It’s the mother flippin’ Multiverse! Go grab it. 

Regular co-host Robert Krulwich sat down with theoretical physicist and author of The Elegant Universe Bryan Greene to wax ridiculous on the very real possibility that we’re mulling about in just one of an infinite gallery of universes. Culling from what we know about the universe, Greene theorizes that in an endless, limitless expanse of space, an infinite world, there is a mathematical certainty that somewhere, off in the vast reaches, particles have aligned to create another you. Flip a coin a thousand times, he says, and you’re not likely to flip heads every time. But if you have an infinite opportunity to try, repeating those rounds of a thousand tosses, you’ll do it. Each particle, each puzzle piece to our physical, our mental, our entire being is a coin toss.  And in that impossible-to-wrap-your-head-around realm of infinity, the impossible becomes eventual. Inevitable. Somewhere out there, a Bizarro you, me, we, is doing exactly as you are doing, maybe with a reverse S on their chest. Bizarro You woke up next to your girlfriend this morning. Bizarro You is driving your car, using up your gas. Bizarro You knows where you keep your porn. He knows your every Bizarre thought. 

Even if it is conjecture, even if it is based on assumptions, Greene’s speculation is actually the simplest solution to the data gleaned from cosmic radiation (Occam’s Razor, yo). You can listen and judge for your Bizarro self, but do listen. Though comics and DC’s Multiverse didn’t come up in the conversation directly, some familiar ideas did. Remember The Matrix example from before? Greene suggests that given the advancement of virtual reality and AI in our world, it’s likely that other worlds could also develop their own Matrix-like universes. False realities. Consider — and this is where it gets scary — that one universe could develop multiple virtual or false realities (West World, Tron, the stuff of Holodecks) and, when you look at that simple math, false realities could actually outnumber original realities in the grand, cosmic scheme. It’s actually more statistically likely that your reality is a fabricated one. Krulwich offers that we could even be the end result of a fifth grade science experiment. Crazy! Dale was totally 1s and 0s!

And when Greene compares the whole of the universe to an ever expanding block of Swiss cheese with hole universes separated by a framework of, well, cheese? That substance of cosmic division is the Bleed. You know, the stuff keeping multiple realities individual in the Wildstorm universe. Which, in itself, is a parallel reality within a Russian Doll system of infinite, infinite dimension. 

Cripes, it’s a metaphor fan’s wet dream.

As I mentioned before, comics are so intrinsically linked to exploration and discovery. And when I think deeply about this subject, I wonder whether it all goes back to that primal need to escape. By definition, comics are two dimensional. The world is flat. But if you’re a reader of this medium, you know that such limits do not extend to the depth of storytelling. See? Right there. Depth. That’s an additional axis (z right?  It’s z?). In a world of panels and gutters, comics are all about exploding out of those parameters. Breaking boundaries. Punching through the fabric of reality because a box simply isn’t good enough. So there’s my assessment of what’s so exciting about comics and about science. Posing questions and then having the audacity to find an answer.  

Until next time, my intrepid Legion of Science, remember that in an Infinite world, impossible is just another world for eventual. 

 

 


Dr. Pol-Arity is just Paul Montgomery in a Dr. Horrible costume. Send your hypothesis to paul@ifanboy.com. Both the red pill and blue pill lead to Twitter.  

Comments

  1. Welcome Back Paul. I’d offer some comment, but feel as though i need to do some research first. Also, boinus points for convincing me to subsctibe to yet another podcast. Bested Again, by Montgomery. Oh wait, I have a tag line for you.

     Give me an underground laboratory, half a dozen atom-smashers, and a girl in a diaphanous veil waiting to be turned into a chimpanzee, and I care not who writes the nation’s laws." S.J. Perelman

  2. So what I’m taking away from this is, the minute I unsubscribed from RadioLab they did a show on the effing multiverse. That tracks. You understand that if I subscribe again their next three episodes will be about violin bows.

    I applaud you, Dr. Pol! Alternate realities and parallel universes are sci-fi concepts that fascinate me like few others. So many roads not taken…. Of course, I learned from reading "What If?" in junior high that all those roads lead to the destruction of the planet for some reason. (Anybody else ever notice that? "What If?" writer were a glum bunch of bastards. "What if Captain America had chosen the mask without head-wings?… everyone dies!")

     For a long time, I’ve been thinking about writing a "Crisis on Infinite Earths" story about the fact that each of those Earths didn’t just have a Superman that needed to be integrated into one "real" continuity; they had an alternate EVERYBODY. How did the civilians work out which Steve Johansen got to keep the apartment? The only reason I haven’t explored it is that my stealie-sense is tingling and I think I heard someone else have this idea first.

  3. I had similar thoughts when listening to that episode of Radiolab last week. The dude who created the Multiverse was a visionary. I love that bit about Superboy-Prime punching through the Multiverse and by extension- comic books, as superhero poetry as Grant Morrison has said. 

    Also, Paper’s articles have become the best thing on iFanboy proper.

  4. I must listen to this podcast now. The Elegant Universe is probably my favorite science book ever.

    And I wish Dr. Pol-arity was my physics teacher this semester…

  5. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @DaveCarr – That quote is badass.  

    @Jimski – Interestingly, Greene said it’s more likely to have an exact or close to exact replication of elements and events than for there to be huge differences.  Like, alternate reality Superman would be more likely to just have a bowl cut than be born in Russia.  So, while the comics Multiverse is all about drastic differences, our Multiverse is more about true doplleganger action.

    @Labor – Thanks, man.  I literally saw the title of the episode, synced up my ipod, and headed out for a walk to the post office, knowing I had a column on my hands.  Perfect merging of interests.  

    @jerichobp – I totally dropped Physics in high school, failed it in college (on purpose, long story) and then took a course on Dinosaurs instead.  The Dinosaur class was deceptively difficult.  (A-)

  6. @Paul- My head hurts now.  But thanks for the picture from Seinfeld.  That might be my favorite episode of the series.

  7. If you like these types of topics concerning multi-verse, string theory, etc…another really good person to check out is the theoretical physict Dr. Michio Kaku.  He has written several books and has been interviewed and hosted many tv shows about the topics as well.

  8. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @MaddieDaddy – Kaku popped up a number of times in my (limited) research.  I’d love to read more on the subject.  Can you recommend a starting point?  

  9. In another reality there’s a version of me that’s writing something far wittier than this.

  10. Silly Dr. Pol-arity, physisists don’t use bunsen burners! 😉

     

    Seriously though, it’s just a fascinating subject. I highly enjoyed your take. 

  11. Also, Chemistry is so much more than just math, seriously.

    Let’s crank out some dimensional analys… wait, that’s math.

    How about some stoichio… er, more math.

    Here we go, electron valance struc… math again.

    I’ve got it! phase sh… you guessed it, math.

    Nevermind. 

      

  12. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Haha, I never claimed to be a physicist.  I am, by certificate, a scientist of screenwriting and playwriting, with dramatic license to comment, however inaccurately, on the life’s work of real scientists.  

    And, dude, Chemistry isn’t alone.  Physics is totally math in disguise too.   

  13. Absolutely, but it’s REAL math, not abstract crap! hat’s why I enjoy chemistry! 🙂

  14. At one point I wanted to be a chemist, because I thought it was just combining stuff and watching it bubble and explode…which is awesome! But then I learned that it’s just a clever ruse for math and I said "Good day, sir!" to that nonesense.

    Excellent article Mr Paul!

    ps: Is your degree really a BS and not a BA? 

  15. Paul, excellent work as always.  Strangely, my future father in law is slightly obsessed with string theory (which connects to this whole multiverse thing) and when we first met, we had a four hour discussion about it that lost me .005 seconds into it.  Now, if only he would have related it to comic books…

  16. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @megnolia – It really and truly is a BS.  Weird, right?  It doesn’t make a lick of sense.  I only needed 12 combined credits in science and math, but Drexel University, best known as an engineering school, has this whole philosophy about a well-rounded degree with numbers and protractors and agricultural robotics, so even the granola chomping art students get a BS. Or some of us do.  I thumbed my nose as I handed in the paperwork for my Art History minor. 

     

  17. @megnolia & @PaulMontgomery – I have a BS as well, in Television Production.  I am a TV Scientist.

  18. @PaulMontgomery – I want to see you write a screenplay using a slide rule. 

    @Conor – I’m jealous. Being a Book Scientist would have more gravitas than Artist of Reading.

  19. Wow. If you wanted to show everyone how big your brain is — mission accomplished!

  20. I see a whole of BS floating around here. 🙂

     

    So, I looked at this column, thought "I wonder if he heard Radiolab…" and bang, there it was. Awesome. 🙂

     

  21. you even if multiple reality do exist, 616 and New Earth aren’t one of them. sorry

  22. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    If I’m to understand the science of it correctly, with an infinite number of possibilities, any reality is possible. But then we get into entropy, and I forget if it’s low or high entropy and…