Life Beyond Our Universe

Photo via flickr by Pink Sherbet Photography

Whether life exists elsewhere in our universe is a longstanding mystery. But for some scientists, there’s another interesting question: could there be life in a universe significantly different from our own?

A definitive answer is impossible, since we have no way of directly studying other universes. But cosmologists speculate that a multitude of other universes exist, each with its own laws of physics. Recently physicists at MIT have shown that in theory, alternate universes could be quite congenial to life, even if their physical laws are very different from our own.

In work recently featured in a cover story in Scientific American, MIT physics professor Robert Jaffe, former MIT postdoc, Alejandro Jenkins, and recent MIT graduate Itamar Kimchi showed that universes quite different from ours still have elements similar to carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, and could therefore evolve life forms quite similar to us. Even when the masses of the elementary particles are dramatically altered, life may find a way.

Modern cosmology theory holds that our universe may be just one in a vast collection of universes known as the multiverse. MIT physicist Alan Guth has suggested that new universes (known as “pocket universes”) are constantly being created, but they cannot be seen from our universe.

In this view, “nature gets a lot of tries — the universe is an experiment that’s repeated over and over again, each time with slightly different physical laws, or even vastly different physical laws,” says Jaffe.

Some physicists have theorized that only universes in which the laws of physics are “just so” could support life, and that if things were even a little bit different from our world, intelligent life would be impossible. In that case, our physical laws might be explained “anthropically,” meaning that they are as they are because if they were otherwise, no one would be around to notice them.

via MIT News

In a conversation with Sputnik Observatory, Astrobiologist David Grinspoon explores the notion that there might be other carbon-based life elsewhere:

There, I think, is a possibility of many kinds of life that might be radically different from what we’re looking for because we only know how to look for what occurs to us. And a large part of what occurs to us comes from what we see looking around the Earth. So we assume it’s carbon-based, we assume it’s water. Those might be good assumptions. I believe there is other carbon-based life elsewhere. I don’t know if it’s all that way. But when you come to the possibility of other chemical basis for life, if you think of life as just maybe some kind of self-propagating, evolving system that forms in certain conditions of complexity and flow and chemical interaction, then maybe it doesn’t have to be carbon-based – in which case I can imagine the possibility of life in much hotter, much colder places: on stars, in interstellar clouds, in comets, in the atmospheres of planets very different from our own. And then, if you want to get even farther out, maybe you can talk about life at very different scales. What about interactions amongst subatomic particles that somehow have some kind of complexity where civilizations rise and fall in a nanosecond that we never know about because they’re inside of our particles? Or on a huge scale, galaxies that are somehow living, orbiting, sandwiches of things forming complexity. You can get pretty far out there if you wanted.

One response to “Life Beyond Our Universe”

  1. Jake DiMare says:

    As a child I aggressively pursued an interest in music. There was a point, learning about key changes, when I realized the importance of a given melody is not the specific notes but the intervals between those notes. In fact, the melody would be recognizable in any key, with any notes, so long as the interval between the notes remains consistent.

    When I think about this topic I imagine the same is possible in the grand, intricate symphony we call life. We already know our belief that life only exists with oxygen and energy from sunlight is completely incorrect. When will our hubris allow us to see the truth?

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