Welcome to this week’s installment of the From Eternity to Here book club. We’re on to Chapter Fourteen, “Inflation and the Multiverse.” Only one more episode to go! It’s like the upcoming finale of Lost, with a slightly lower level of message-board frenzy.
There is a lot to say about eternal inflation, but let’s just focus on one consequence: While the universe we see looks very smooth on large scales, on even larger (unobservable) scales the universe would be very far from smooth. The large-scale uniformity of our observed universe sometimes tempts cosmologists into assuming that it must keep going like that infinitely far in every direction. But that was always an assumption that made our lives easier, not a conclusion from any rigorous chain of reasoning. The scenario of eternal inflation predicts that the universe does not continue on smoothly as far as it goes; far beyond our observable horizon, things eventually begin to look very different. Indeed, somewhere out there, inflation is still going on. This scenario is obviously very speculative at this point, but it’s important to keep in mind that the universe on ultra-large scales is, if anything, likely to be very different than the tiny patch of universe to which we have immediate access.
This is a fairly straightforward chapter, trying to explain how inflation works. Given that by this point the reader already is familiar with dark energy making the universe accelerate, and with the fine-tuning problem represented by the low entropy of the early universe, the basic case isn’t that hard to put together. Of course we have an additional non-traditional goal as well: to illuminate the tension between the usual story we tell about inflation and the “information-conserving evolution of our comoving patch” story we told in the last chapter. Here’s where I argue that inflation is not the panacea it’s sometimes presented as, primarily because it’s not that easy to take all the degrees of freedom within the universe we observe and pack them delicately into a tiny patch dominated by false vacuum energy. Put that way, it doesn’t seem all that surprising, but too many people don’t want to get the message.
This is also the chapter where we first introduce the idea of the multiverse. (The multiverse occupies less than 15 pages or so in the entire book, but to read some reactions you would think it was the dominant theme. The publicists and I must share some of the blame for that perspective, as it is an irresistible thing to mention when talking about the book.) Mostly I wanted to demystify the idea of the multiverse, presenting it as a perfectly natural outgrowth of the idea of inflation. What we’re supposed to make of it is of course a different story.
Looking back, I think the chapter is a mixed success. I like the gripping narrative of the opening pages. But the actual explanation of inflation is kind of workmanlike and uninspiring. I really put a lot of effort into coming up with novel explanations of entropy and quantum mechanics, which didn’t simply rehash the expositions found in other books; but for inflation I didn’t try as hard. Partly simply because of looming deadlines, partly because I was eager to get to the rest of the book. Hopefully the basic points are more or less clear.