Could the Everything Everywhere All At Once multiverse be real? Here’s the science behind the film
A24’s Everything Everywhere All At Once (EEAAO) swept the floor at the Oscars on Sunday night, picking up a massive seven trophies at the award ceremony.
The film, which was first released at SXSW in March last year, tells the story of exhausted laundromat Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) owner who is visited by a version of her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) from a parallel universe, who says that she must join forces with parallel universe versions of herself to take on a universe-destroying monster – who is one of the versions of her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu).
It sounds barmy, and it is: there are some hilarious fight scenes, outfit changes, and a plot that keeps on twisting and turning.
But a lot of people have been wondering whether there is any actual science behind the film.
Yes, admittedly, it’s highly, highly unlikely that there is going to be a parallel universe out there where Hollywood actors are having b*tt pl*g-wielding fight scenes – but there are some professors and scientists who are backing the theory that there are parallel universes.
An article published in Scientific American, for example, written by MIT physicist Professor Max Tegmark said: “Not just a staple of science fiction, other universes are a direct implication of cosmological observations.”
Here we break down the science for you.
The concept of the multiverse
What is it?
The idea of the multiverse is that our universe is just one of many, many universes.
In 2009, two Stanford Professors, Andrei Linde and Vitaly Vanchurin, worked out that there could be as many as 10^10^10,000,000 multiverses, which is, as the New York Times put it, “way more than a 1 followed by a billion zeros”. A lot then.
“Our understanding of reality is not complete, by far,” said Linde to National Geographic. “Reality exists independently of us.”
There are numerous different theories pertaining to the multiverse, but the main uniting perspective is that our way of comprehending space and time is not the only way of understanding reality.
Here are a few popular concepts.
Theory 1: Cosmic inflation
This is the most popular multiverse theory. The idea is that when the Big Bang happened approximately 13.8 billion years ago, the universe expanded incredibly fast for a fraction of a second, which created numerous (potentially infinite) universes, rather than just the universe that we currently live in.
The Stephen Hawking Centre for Theoretical Cosmology explains that this theory helps to explain why photons from different regions of the universe have very similar temperatures, when really they shouldn’t.
The centre said: “We observe that photons from opposite directions must have communicated somehow, because the cosmic microwave background radiation has almost exactly the same temperature in all directions over the sky.”
An extension of this theory says that the numerous universe bubbles that were created could be continually expanding – perhaps even infinitely – and that these universes could even bump into each other.
Science magazine Quanta published an article about some of the scientists looking into the issue. The magazine called our universe a “swelling bubble” and explained: “The multiverse hypothesis sprang from efforts to understand our own universe’s birth.... physicists struggle mightily to predict how vacuum bubbles behave.”
“Bubbles also change rapidly — their walls approach the speed of light as they fly outward — and feature quantum mechanical randomness and waviness. Different assumptions about these processes give conflicting predictions, with no way to tell which ones might resemble reality.”
Theory 2: Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics
A second theory, which was first proposed by American physicist Hugh Everett in 1957, looks into the behaviour of matter. In layman’s terms taken to the extreme, his theory said that the results of an experiment can only be attributed to Earth and should not be applied to the wider universe, because the experiment only proves that it took place on Earth and nothing else. He posited that there could be an infinite number of universes and Earths out there.
Everett said that Quantum effects cause the universe to constantly fracture. The idea is that every time you make a decision of any kind – putting on your left shoe before your right, choosing to pick up yoghurt instead of cheese – the universe splits. That means that over the course of one person’s life, they alone split the universe millions, if not billions, of times. This theory sits nicely in the mind – particularly when it comes to making hard decisions: at least there’s one version of you out there taking up the opportunities that you declined to pursue.
But the theories don’t stop there. There’s the ‘cosmic microwave background theory’, which questions whether a ‘cold spot’ in the sky – a part of the sky that is unusually cold and large in comparison to its expected properties – could actually be a bruise left from a time when two universes, billions of years ago, actually banged into each other.
NBC said: “In 2004, astronomers using NASA’s WMAP satellite discovered a cold spot nestled in the constellation Eridanus, which appears to be nearly 100 times cooler than your typical cool dots. It’s also huge, stretching 1,000 times farther than the Milky Way galaxy.
“But this isn’t just an observational outlier. Models predict that the cosmos should be uniform across such vast scales. They also predict that just one in 50 universes will produce such a frigid region naturally — a likelihood some astronomers think is too small for comfort.”
Next up there’s the ‘string theory’, which is part of the ‘theory of everything’, which sees elementary particles as strings of energy which vibrate and release further strings of energy. The idea is that these ever-multiplying strings produce different dimensions.
In an article published in the New York Times, celebrated theoretical physicist Michio Kaku said: “In physics, the concept of a multiverse is a key element of a leading area of study based on the theory of everything. It’s called string theory, which is the focus of my research. In this picture, subatomic particles are just different notes on a tiny, vibrating string, which explains why we have so many of them.
“By this thinking, the universe is a symphony of strings. String theory, in turn, posits an infinite number of parallel universes, of which our universe is just one.”
In March 2019, a group of scientists at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Ontario, Canada and the University of Manchester, published a report that looked into symmetry in the universe, namely, investigating the theory that an anti-universe was also created during the Big Bang when the universe was created.
The introduction of the 25-page report which detailed their findings and research, said: “We also briefly discuss the natural origin of the matter-antimatter asymmetry within this picture and possibilities for explaining the cosmological perturbations.”
The basic idea of their theory is that there are fundamental symmetries in interactions in nature: charge, parity and time. The fact that this is true leads them to investigate whether there’s a wider symmetry in the universe: perhaps there is a mirror universe.
The theory is particularly thrilling because it helps to explain some of the dark matter which accounts for approximately 27 per cent of dark energy (which makes up 68 per cent of the universe).
So could there be parallel universes?
Simply put, yes. Given that there’s still so much that we don’t know about the universe – including some large scientific gaps in our human understanding – there could be parallel universes. But, it’s wrong to assume that these parallel universes would look like another version of our own.
There’s also no evidence to back up the multiverse theory – as of yet – instead, it’s something that some scientists are beginning to work on.
Geraint Lewis, a cosmologist at the University of Sydney, explained that the multiverse, “doesn’t really have a mathematical basis—it is a collection of ideas... In the cycle of science it remains at the hypothesis stage and needs to become a robust proposition before we can truly understand the consequences.”
But there is a tiny bit of hope. Speaking to National Geographic, science journalist Tom Siegfried said: “Unless a whole lot of physics we know that’s pretty solidly established is wrong, you can’t travel to these multiverses... But who knows? A thousand years from now, I’m not saying somebody can’t figure out something that you would never have imagined.”
“The frontiers of physics have gradually expanded to incorporate ever more abstract (and once metaphysical) concepts such as a round Earth, invisible electromagnetic fields, time slowdown at high speeds, quantum superpositions, curved space, and black holes,” wrote Professor Tegmark. “Over the past several years the concept of a multiverse has joined this list. It is grounded in well-tested theories such as relativity and quantum mechanics, and it fulfills both of the basic criteria of an empirical science: it makes predictions, and it can be falsified.”
Everything Everywhere All At Once is showing at selected cinemas, streaming on Prime Video and available everywhere digitally