Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse

Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse

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by Mary-Jane Rubenstein
     
 

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“Multiverse” cosmologies imagine our universe as just one of a vast number of others. While this idea has captivated philosophy, religion, and literature for millennia, it is now being considered as a scientific hypothesis—with different models emerging from cosmology, quantum mechanics, and string theory. Beginning with ancient Atomist and Stoic…  See more details below

Overview

“Multiverse” cosmologies imagine our universe as just one of a vast number of others. While this idea has captivated philosophy, religion, and literature for millennia, it is now being considered as a scientific hypothesis—with different models emerging from cosmology, quantum mechanics, and string theory. Beginning with ancient Atomist and Stoic philosophies, Mary-Jane Rubenstein links contemporary models of the multiverse to their forerunners and explores the reasons for their recent appearance. One concerns the so-called fine-tuning of the universe: nature’s constants are so delicately calibrated that it seems they have been set just right to allow life to emerge. For some thinkers, these “fine-tunings” are evidence of the existence of God; for others, however, and for most physicists, “God” is an insufficient scientific explanation. Hence the allure of the multiverse: if all possible worlds exist somewhere, then like monkeys hammering out Shakespeare, one universe is bound to be suitable for life. Of course, this hypothesis replaces God with an equally baffling article of faith: the existence of universes beyond, before, or after our own, eternally generated yet forever inaccessible to observation or experiment. In their very efforts to sidestep metaphysics, theoretical physicists propose multiverse scenarios that collide with it and even produce counter-theological narratives. Far from invalidating multiverse hypotheses, Rubenstein argues, this interdisciplinary collision actually secures their scientific viability. We may therefore be witnessing a radical reconfiguration of physics, philosophy, and religion in the modern turn to the multiverse.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
10/28/2013
The lines separating theology, cosmology, and philosophy are often blurred, as Rubenstein, professor of religion at Wesleyan University, demonstrates in this wry and learned history of the theory of the multiverse. She starts with the atomists, the first philosophers to consider the possibility of other universes in the cosmos—2,500 years ago and without calculus. This concept—along with equally thorny ones regarding the origins of the universe, its end, and any potential help from divine deities—is seen through the thoughts of Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Leibniz, Nietzsche, Newton, Hawking, and many others, including Woody Allen. Rubenstein takes no sides in this debate over the universe’s origins, instead elucidating attempts to find an answer to things that are essentially unknowable. Some seekers used semantic gymnastics to prove the existence of a god. Others created long formulae to prove otherwise. The postulation of Dark Energy is a case in point. No one knows what it is but it must be there for the standard model of physics to work, fomenting an “existential crisis” in the physics community. Rubenstein’s witty, thought-provoking history of philosophy and physics leaves one in awe of just how close Thomas Aquinas and American physicist Steven Weinberg are in spirit as they seek ultimate answers. (Feb.)
Marcelo Gleiser
Rubenstein grounds the current debate on the plurality of universes on solid scholarship, skillfully exploring its historical and philosophical roots.

Catherine Keller
This is a work that performs the 'many-oneness' of the multiverse, whose history and potentiality it maps. As she traces the startling philosophical depths, mystical ancestry, and scientific shocks of this cosmic boundlessness, Rubenstein's brilliance sparkles like its innumerable stars.

David Kaiser
Some physicists suggest that our cosmos has been caught in an endless loop, repeatedly cycling between big bangs since time immemorial. In Worlds Without End, Mary-Jane Rubenstein provides a remarkable tour of how such ideas—and competing ideas about whether our universe is embedded within some larger multiverse—have likewise been cycling throughout Western thought for millennia. This deeply learned excavation is a rare accomplishment: a page-turner that asks large questions about science, philosophy, and religion. Fascinating.

Charles Jencks
We are living through a golden age of cosmology, when observations reveal a universe 13.8 billion years big and new theories and new evidence vie with one another almost on a daily basis. Rubenstein is an expert guide to this dramatic scene. Uncovering humorous comparisons with the past, she shows that our golden age is tarnished in only a few ways. We cannot tell which of the many-worlds hypotheses is the right one, whether they exist under an integrated set of laws, and we may never be able to so. Yet the quest continues and produces many profound insights. Rubenstein shows the way scientific worldviews grow from the kind of questions we ask, how metaphysics and physics are mutually entangled, and how the many worlds of her title emerge, again and again over two thousand years, often in spite of their authors' intentions and taste. A witty and mature view of views.

Laura Mersini-Houghton
A must read for anyone who is interested in the evolution of human thought about the cosmos. The reader is led through the history of philosophical, religious and scientific ideas and arguments for the existence of many worlds then left to contemplate their own ending to the cosmic story. A beautiful and authoritative description of the struggles and developments of competing ideas about nature for the past three millenia

Marcelo Gleiaser
Rubenstein grounds the current debate on the plurality of universes on solid scholarship, skillfully exploring its historical and philosophical roots.

San Francisco Book Review
Wonderful... A fun, mind-stretching read, clear and enlightening.

Green Spirit Magazine
A fascinating and very well-written book...

CHOICE
An excellent starting point for those wishing to go even deeper down the throat of the wormhole. Recommended.

Physics Today
If one seeks a scholarly account of the main ideas rather than of the detailed science, then Worlds Without End is excellent.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231527422
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
02/11/2014
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
360
File size:
7 MB

What People are saying about this

Marcelo Gleiser
Rubenstein grounds the current debate on the plurality of universes on solid scholarship, skillfully exploring its historical and philosophical roots.

Catherine Keller
This is a text that performs the "many-oneness" of this multiverse whose history and potentiality it maps. As she traces the startling philosophical depths, mystical ancestry and scientific shocks of this cosmic boundlessness, Rubenstein's brilliance sparkles like its innumerable stars.

Meet the Author

Mary-Jane Rubenstein is associate professor of religion at Wesleyan University and the author of Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe.

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Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
davep More than 1 year ago
Explains well the various forms of thinking of how to explain the 'why' our universe exists that can support life. No real mathematical explanation exists for the concept of a multiverse, and it seems to be the scientists replacement for God, or the grand Designer concept. Same result though, as it never presents an answer as to what started the multiverse. Well Written for someone interested in the topic