The Corner

The Big Picture

The great physicist Niels Bohr once criticized a colleague’s presentation with: “Your theory’s crazy, but it’s not crazy enough to be true.”

I doubt he’d have said that about Max Tegmark’s theory. Tegmark thinks everything is made of math.

According to Tegmark, “there is only mathematics; that is all that exists.”

OK, we’re channeling Pythagoras. Seems to me the theory needs work, though. For example:

If space goes on forever, then there must be other regions like ours — in fact, an infinite number of them. No matter how unlikely it is to have another planet just like Earth, we know that in an infinite universe it is bound to happen again.

Your hear that a lot from cosmologists, but it’s shoddy thinking. An infinite space doesn’t have to contain every possible combination of matter. It might just contain an infinity of Cabbage Patch Dolls arranged at the intersections of a cubic lattice. Or it might, beyond a certain point, just be empty. The positive odd integers 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, … are an infinite set, but the set doesn’t contain any even integers.

This guy is married to another cosmologist. You’d think that would make for interesting conversation over the breakfast Wheaties, but apparently not:

Your wife is a respected cosmologist herself. Do you ever talk about this over breakfast cereal with your kids?  She makes fun of me for my philosophical “bananas stuff,” but we try not to talk about it too much. We have our kids to raise.

He does note, though, that the really big questions are the ones that occur to us in grade school:

Do your theories help with raising your kids, or does that also seem like two different worlds?  The overlap with the kids is great because they ask the same questions I do. I did a presentation about space for my son Alexander’s preschool when he was 4. I showed them videos of the moon landing and brought in a rocket. Then one little kid put up his hand and said: “I have a question. Does space end or go on forever?” I was like, “Yeah, that is exactly what I am thinking about now.”


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