Don't Panic: It turns out Douglas Adams was right about the universe

By Tim Worstall , written on March 18, 2014

From The News Desk

Over in the physics world there's a lot of excitement over a new discovery, one of those things that is said to lead to a sure fire Nobel. Scientists claim that they've been able to detect the effects of gravity waves, one of those missing pieces of evidence that leads to confirming the Big Bang Theory.

It even leads to a more amazing discovery: Douglas Adams was in fact correct, even if not quite about the 42 part.

Prof Max Tegmark, a Swedish physicist at MIT, is a leading proponent of the “multiverse” hypothesis, which states that our universe is just a tiny part of a much grander mass of parallel worlds. “It’s a bad day for multiverse sceptics, now that the smoking-gun evidence for inflation has been found,” he said yesterday. “Alex Vilenkin, Andrei Linde, Alan Guth and others have shown that inflation generically predicts a space that is not merely large but infinite, teeming with duplicate copies of our civilisation living out countless variations of our lives far, far away.”
This might seem a rather large conclusion to reach from this one piece of evidence but the boffins in this area do insist that the conclusion logically follows from the discovery. If the Big Bang happened fast enough to produce the gravity waves that they claim they can now prove did exist then it does indeed follow that the universe is infinite in scope.

The importance of this to an Englishman of my vintage cannot be over emphasised. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy came out just as I hit those impressionable late teen years, just about when shaving became a practicality and just before girls became an obsession. A harsh time in anyone's life as we all know. And the basic assumption in the background was that space was really, really, big. Infinite in fact, and one of the truths about an infinite universe is that not just anything can happen but that everything will indeed happen. There's some version of it out there in which I did indeed bag Charlotte Rampling and another in which Justin Bieber ends up with a Kardashian.

Or, as Adams pointed out, we now have the solution to the strange disappearance of ballpoint pens. They slip off through wormholes in space and emigrate to a planet where they can enjoy uniquely biroid lifestyles.

If the universe is indeed infinite then this does indeed happen: even if not very often in our little corner of it. Which also means that Ms. Rampling and myself, somewhere and somewhen, are babysitting our mutual grandchildren, even if it's not quite this one right here and right now. All of which is rather comforting, even if it leaves open the question of why did I have to get stuck in the part of the universe where this didn't happen?

[Photo courtesy of Kreg Steppe (Creative Commons)]