If you read about a super high-tech science facility smashing atomic particles together at fantastic speeds and you picture a growing black hole that devours the Earth (!)…you might be a science fiction writer. Either that or a B-movie addict. Or a protestor at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland.

In the coming weeks the LHC will do its best to produce some black holes, but they’re not mad scientists planning to destroy the world. Really. What they are hoping for is evidence of parallel universes. As in, universes that exist beyond the four dimensions we know (length, breadth, height, and time). New theories suggest that gravity may leak from our universe into other dimensions (and is the only thing that can travel between them) and the experiment at the LHC is looking for the proof. If microscopic black holes are produced/detected, they will be evidence of the existence of these parallel universes.

Don’t confuse this with the “multi-worlds theory” of quantum mechanics from Hugh Everett in the 1950’s. That theory claims that slightly different universes are being spun off every moment because of all of the possibilities that can exist when a traveling particle comes to a fork in the road and goes both ways. (That idea has inspired lots of alternate history stories and TV shows like Sliders, but it’s not provable.) No, a researcher with the new LHC experiment describes the parallel universes they’re looking for as if our universe is a sheet of paper in a stack of many more sheets of paper.

Of course, I’m always looking for the science fiction take on stories like this. The giant Earth-gobbling black hole is one possibility (and worried enough people that they filed lawsuits to try to stop the Large Hadron Collider from being built). But the idea of micro-miniature black holes intrigues me too. Imagine a series of mysterious deaths in Geneva and their corpses are found to have microscopic tunnels like wormholes tunnelled through them! Of course one of the victims would have to be the lover of one of the experiment’s lead scientists—just to add extra emotional depth, don’t you know. Or maybe gravity goes weird and the city starts looking like the famous M.C. Escher lithograph “Relativity” (with no consistent up or down). What if the combination of the LHC’s magnetic field and the black holes pulls asteroids out of space into collision with Earth? (Some conspiracy theorists are apparently already claiming this.)

Parallel universes offer even more fodder for imagination. Maybe our own universe originally came from one of those. Or perhaps life originated there instead of here. Or perhaps we somehow go there when we die.

OK, OK…most of these are still sounding like B-movie ideas, but you have to admit that the thought of protons smashing together at 99.9% of the speed of light with energies of nearly 12 Tera electron volts does fire the imagination.

The likely reality? The LHC team will detect some things never seen before and add to our knowledge of the universe. The world won’t even hiccup. And that’s good too.


Even if you’re not a science nerd or a science fiction reader you’ve probably heard of the “many worlds” theory, “alternate universe” theory, the “multiverse” or one of its many other names. The idea is that there might exist a very large, or even infinite number of universes very like this one but slightly different because something happened there that didn’t happen here. It’s a part of quantum theory, which can get very weird, but it’s not fantasy. The theory has been around since the late 1950’s, credited to American physicist Hugh Everett. The simplest explanation is that, if a particle in motion is able to go left or right it actually does both. Of course, it can’t be in two places at the same time in one universe, so a second universe is split off. In one of them the particle went left, in the other it went right. The two universes had identical histories up to that point, but are never quite the same afterward. Taking a left turn instead of a right might make a big difference, and the differences will grow greater as time goes on. Since these splits could be happening all the time, you can imagine that the number of possible universes is vast.

If a tiny micro-particle has the ability to do that, imagine what a human being could do? We’re not only a lot bigger, and able to exert a lot more influence over things, but we do it consciously: we make choices.

Imagine creating a new universe with every decision you make? Do you feel the godlike power?

Better than role-playing games. Even better than being an author. Because these universes are real! And I’d like to think that all of us (with the possible exception of psychopaths) would choose to create a universe that’s better than this one, even if only by a little bit. That would just mean choosing to take an action that would make the universe a better place.

Although the many worlds theory has terrific fiction potential, and I’ve used it a few times in stories (including my first published story “No Walls”)…I don’t actually believe it. Sorry. Just too complicated and unlikely from my point of view.

However, I know it’s possible to change this universe, creating an alternate future from the one that would have happened. It’s what we do every day. We go to work in appropriate clothes and on time, thereby preventing the alternate future where we’re out of work and on the street. Every decision we make affects the future, which means that our every choice can make the universe a better place or a worse place. Maybe we’re not gods who create a new universe every time we make up our minds, but with every action we do steer the universe we’re in.

News came this week that the level of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere increased at a record rate over the past year. This, when we’re supposed to be taking action globally to stop the greenhouse effect. Sunday September 21, 2014 people all around the world will be marching to draw attention to climate change, hoping that world leaders will actually do something meaningful about it before it’s too late. A simple web search will provide details about the event nearest you. Why not take part? Sign a petition? You’re a universe-changer with godlike power, remember? Or even if you don’t march you can make a choice to walk to the convenience store next time, turn the furnace down or the air conditioner off.

Make the right choices. Create the universe you want.