Moviegoers have never seen anything quite like “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the frenetic and quirky independent film that leads the 2023 Oscar race with 11 nominations.
One aspect of the movie that makes it markedly unlike any previous Best Picture Oscar contender is its use of the concept of multiple universes — shortened to “multiverse” in pop culture parlance. When a down on her luck laundromat owner is contacted by a version of her husband from a parallel universe, the movie revs into high gear and never slows down again.
Is contact between parallel universes genuinely possible? Virginia Tech Professor of Physics Djordje Minic said physicists are divided when it comes to answering that question.
In some discussions, the cosmological concept of the multiverse suggests possible effects that we could observe, Minic said. “Think of universes as expanding bubbles that can collide — and think of seeing that collision from inside a single bubble.” The results could be cataclysmic, but not so humorously easy to grasp as the all-consuming “Everything Bagel” that figures prominently in this oddball film.
On another hand (whether or not that hand sports hot dog fingers) when you consider quantum theory, which has been successful in determining the properties and behaviors of subatomic particles and molecules, there is a “many worlds” interpretation of quantum theory that posits parallel universes. However, under this interpretation, if these parallel worlds interacted, “the very rules of quantum theory would be violated,” Minic said.
Minic and his collaborators have been working on a way of formulating spacetime using quantum theory that tackles the problem of the cosmological constant — in essence, the riddle of why the vacuum of space contains much less energy than quantum theory predicts should be there. In explaining this research, Minic summarized, “instead of thinking about many classical universes, we need to think about one quantum universe.”
It’s possible that in the near future fields of study beyond quantum theory will illuminate how parallel universes might work. “However, whatever that new and deeper theory is, it can’t contradict what we already know in quantum theory,” Minic said. “Quantum theory is the most successful — if also perhaps the most puzzling — theory in all of science.”
Djordje Minic teaches physics at Virginia Tech. A specialist in string theory and quantum gravity, he has collaborated on award-winning research related to dark matter and dark energy. View his full bio here. Minic’s expertise has been featured on Space.com.