Concept popularized between the years 1956 and 1985 in DC Comics as an explanation for how they could team-up all their superheroes and still retain some resemblance of continuity for their readership.

In the comic book Showcase #4 printed in 1956, they showed Barry Allen, looking at a copy of the old Jay Garrick comic book The Flash. In Barry Allen's world, Jay Garrick was a fictional character in a kid's publication. By pure chance, Allen ends up getting similar powers, and inspired by the fictional tale, he decides to become The Flash for real. So a character is revitalized and reborn. This won over younger generations of readers, but those who remembered the Jay Garrick Flash of the 1940s wanted to see him again. So Julie Schwartz and Gardner Fox wrote "Flash of Two Worlds" where Barry Allen vibrated his molecules so fast that he slipped out of his own reality and into Jay Garrick's. In this story they establish that there are at least two different co-existing alternate realities.

This set off a chain reaction. It escalated. Not only were there two worlds. There were an infinite amount of them. Any writer could write a story where anybody in the DC Multiverse could meet anybody else. They'd just have to integrate a time machine, a vibrational distortion whatchamacallit and a couple other things and before you knew it, there'd be another fun, exciting story for comic book fans everywhere. But it just didn't make sense.

If the adventures from Earth-2's Flash had been published as comic book fiction in Earth-1, there were two Supermans, one from each world. Were his stories also published? If not, why not? If so, how come nobody knew that Superman was really Clark Kent? And that's just one of many complications and paradoxes. It gets more confusing. Because at the time the comic books being published were about the Silver Age superheroes, they were known as being of Earth-1. However the Golden Age superheroes who were older and had been around longer were dubbed inhabitants of Earth-2.

So Flash II is from Earth I and Flash I is from Earth II. Dizzy yet? It gets better.

  • Earth Prime - Originally Where you and I come from. Where all these superheroes aren't real. They're fictional characters in a comic book. However, when they decided to use this world in their storytelling beyond just referring to it, it became a fictional world in which eventually, thermonuclear war occurred. So it's definitely not our Earth anymore. But it's kind of symbolic: the theory is our 'normal superhero-less' reality is out there somewhere.

  • Earth-1 - The superheroes of the Silver Age of comic books, published from 1956 to 1985. They include Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and a number of superheroes that exist simultaneously in other realities. Most of these superheroes are about the same age, depicted for thirty years as being about thirty years old; or somewhere between college graduation and middle-age. They also include Superboy and Martian Manhunter, and a bunch of characters that only exist in this one Earth. This Earth also included Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash. Many of these superheroes banded together as a team called the Justice League. Mundane history was largely identical to that of Earth Prime, except for the fact that unlike here, costumed vigilantes happened to show up in the late 1950s but didn't happen to remarkably affect any major historical events (like the Kennedy Assassination or the Space Race for examples).

  • Earth-2 - Known to comic book collectors as The Golden Age. Why? Cuz this was when costumed vigilantism in pulp comics was at its height. Instead of the Justice League, this reality had the Justice Society of America. They had a duplicate Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, as well as Jay Garrick as the original Flash. There were also an amazing collection of superheroes who were largely indiginous to this reality, most of which were at their prime before, during and after World War Two. So most of these guys were twenty to forty years older than their Earth-1 counterparts. The mundane history was largely unchanged except for the fact costumed vigilantes began proliferating in the 1940s, and in the 1970s Africa became free, whereas in Earth-1 and Earth-Prime that didn't happen until many years later. Very few comic books that took place in this reality were published in the 80s. All-Star Squadron and Infinity Inc. are the most noteworthy. Most of the titles that were published in the 1940s had been cancelled by 1956, which is what started this whole thing in the first place.

  • Earth-3 - Once things got cooking, the writers threw in this world to give the heroes worthy adversaries. This Earth consisted not of a Justice League, but a Crime Syndicate with Ultraman instead of Superman, Johnny Quick instead of The Flash, Owlman instead of Batman, the list goes on. This distorted mirror shape reality also happened to have one superhero: Lex Luthor.

  • Earth-4 - Created largely for legal reasons. Somewhere between 1950 and 1985, DC Comics had legally purchased or aquired the rights to all the Charlton Comics characters. Though these guys existed in an alternate reality from the DC comics, this Multiverse idea offered them the opportunity to introduce them, and turn the characters into potential commodities again. Superheroes from this world included Blue Beetle, Peacemaker, Thunderbolt, Captain Atom, Nightshade, and many more. There were no counterparts of these characters in other known realities. Although that's probably cuz, well, Charlton comics folded and DC sat on them for so many years. No opportunity to develop and improve the characters.

  • Earth-S - Around the same time it bought Chartlon, DC Comics had gotten its hands on Fawcett Comics which had been the company that owned the original Captain Marvel aka Billy Batson. They had attempted to bring Shazam! back in the early 70s, but due to legalities with Marvel Comics Group, and the fact that Superman and Captain Marvel were seen as competing titles even though they were now owned by the same company, well, for a long time they just sat on them.

  • Earth-5 - Technically there is no Earth Five, because 5 and S look so much alike.

  • Earth-X - DC Comics treated competing comic book companies going bankrupt like they were garage sales. This time it was Quality Comics; including The Ray, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters as well as other characters. What makes this reality stand out is that World War Two kept going for over thirty years after it stopped in Earth-Prime and other realities.

  • Earth-6 - Made specifically for the purpose of Crisis on Infinite Earths, this Earth made an appearance showing only three superheroes who had used their powers to create a monarchy. Lord Volt and Princess Fern died soon after we learn about them, but Lady Quark survives and is rescued to the new timeline, where she promptly vanished because she was very unmarketable after Crisis was over.

  • Earth-Sigma - After Crisis, five worlds were merged together to save everybody. Earths 1, 2, 4, S and X are turned into Sigma, then they blow this reality up three or four years later.

  • Still others - Earth-C which was home to Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew which strangely enough didn't appear in the Crisis on Infinite Earths at all. Earth-K which featured Kamandi the last boy in the world. Earth-Omega which was the first to be destroyed in the Crisis on Infinite Earths and where the whining Pariah character came from. Qward which was the bad guy's evil anti-matter universe, Earth-D, , Earth-Pi, Earth-Doodoo, Eartha Kitt, It got ridiculous.
In the end this whole thing is an argument both for and against continuity. I mean those who hate the anal retentiveness of comic book continuity could use this as evidence that messing with trying to keep things straight from title to title or even comic to comic is just mind-threatening. Those who like it can look at this and go, "yeah but lookit the cool stories they wrote about it while they tried to make sense out of it!" Either way it's a winner.
The Multiverse (aka the Tellurian) is a concept featured in many works of Fantasy, Science Fiction and (weird but true) actual real world science. To put it simply the Multiverse idea is that there are lots of parallel universes. In a book or game exploiting this idea it is usually possible to travel between them. In fantasy works (such as Michael Moorcock's Elric or Corum books or the Planescape RPG) these universes are usually called Planes.

Notable books that include the Multiverse concept as a central theme include:

  • The Coming of the Quantum Cat, Frederik Pohl (SF)
  • The Gods Themselves, Isaac Asimov (SF)
  • Nomad of the Timestreams, Michael Moorcock (SF)
  • Number of the Beast, Robert Heinlein (SF)

  • His Dark Materials, Phillip Pullman (often availble in three volumes: 1- Northern Lights aka The Golden Compass (US), 2- The Subtle Knife, 3- The Amber Spyglass) (Fantasy/SF)
  • Amber, Roger Zelazny (Fantasy/SF)

  • The Death Gate Cycle, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (Fantasy)
  • The Blood Wars Trilogy, J. Robert King (Fantasy)
  • The Elric Saga, Michael Moorcock (Fantasy)
  • The Chronicles of Corum, Michael Moorcock (Fantasy)
  • The Hawkmoon Saga, Michael Moorcock (Fantasy)

  • The Lord Soth Cycle, James Lowder (Gothic Horror/Fantasy)

  • The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams (Comedy/SF)

  • Lords and Ladies, Terry Pratchett (Describes the trousers of time theory) (Comedy/Fantasy)
  • Witches Abroad, Terry Pratchett (Comedy/Fantasy)
  • Soul Music, Terry Pratchett (Comedy/Fantasy)
  • Moving Pictures, Terry Pratchett (Comedy/Fantasy)

    Plus pretty much everything else by Michael Moorcock (notably the Eternal Champion series) also strongly features the Multiverse.

    Based on the Planescape idea Planes can be split into a number of major groups:

    Prime planes are the planes of the standard book/game worlds such as the Marvel and D&D universes. There are an infinite number of Primes which include every 'what if' scenario you can imagine.

    Voids are planes that are generally used to get from one place to another. They link the Primes with each other and with the Elemental and Outer Planes. In Planescape they are called the Ethereal Plane and the Astral Plane. In an SF setting such as Babylon 5 hyperspace would probably come under this heading.

    The Elemental Planes are Planes that are each based around one of the basic elements; Earth, Air, Fire and Water. In addition there are the Positive Energy and Negative Energy Planes which are also considered part of the Elemental group.

    The Outer Planes are planes that are based around a certain philosphy, notably a vision of heaven or hell. So Dante's Hell, The Happy Hunting Grounds and the Greek Hades would all come under this category. In Planescape the Outer Planes form a Great Wheel. Each Plane is based around an Alignment:- a balance between Good, Evil, Law and Chaos. In the hub of the Wheel is the plane of Concordant Opposition; Purgatory the Plane of perfect balance where all four forces are kept in exactly even measure. In the Planescape series the very centre of this plane (the Outlands) rises a huge spire above which floats Sigil a city which serves as a crossroads for the Multiverse.

  • There are at least three major different uses of "multiverse". The way it's described above is the familiar one from science fiction.

    The word was coined by the pragmatist philosopher William James in 1895, and included in his 1897 collection Will to Believe: "Visible nature is all plasticity and indifference, -- a moral multiverse, as one might call it, and not a moral universe."

    He was not talking about multiple universes. The original quote is not very clear, but he used it again in "The One and the Many", lecture 4 in Pragmatism (1907):

    'The world is one,' therefore, just so far as we experience it to be concatenated, one by as many definite conjunctions as appear. But then also not one by just as many definite disjunctions as we find. The oneness and the manyness of it thus obtain in respects which can be separately named. It is neither a universe pure and simple nor a multiverse pure and simple. And its various manners of being one suggest, for their accurate ascertainment, so many distinct Programs of scientific work. Thus the pragmatic question 'What is the oneness known-as? What practical difference will it make?' saves us from all feverish excitement over it as a principle of sublimity and carries us forward into the stream of experience with a cool head. The stream may indeed reveal far more connexion and union than we now suspect, but we are not entitled on pragmatic principles to claim absolute oneness in any respect in advance.
    Well okay, that's not entirely clear either. What he's arguing against is mystical statements of the kind "all is one", or "all things are connected": far from embodying some sublime insight, they are empty waffle.
    When a young man first conceives the notion that the whole world forms one great fact, with all its parts moving abreast, as it were, and interlocked, he feels as if he were enjoying a great insight, and looks superciliously on all who still fall short of this sublime conception. Taken thus abstractly as it first comes to one, the monistic insight is so vague as hardly to seem worth defending intellectually. Yet probably everyone in this audience in some way cherishes it. A certain abstract monism, a certain emotional response to the character of oneness, as if it were a feature of the world not coordinate with its manyness, but vastly more excellent and eminent, is so prevalent in educated circles that we might almost call it a part of philosophic common sense. Of course the world is one, we say. How else could it be a world at all? Empiricists as a rule, are as stout monists of this abstract kind as rationalists are.

    The difference is that the empiricists are less dazzled. Unity doesn't blind them to everything else, doesn't quench their curiosity for special facts, whereas there is a kind of rationalist who is sure to interpret abstract unity mystically and to forget everything else, to treat it as a principle; to admire and worship it; and thereupon to come to a full stop intellectually.

    The sense is really that the universe is not a unity. He is still talking about "the universe", however. The next shift of meaning was that it is not a cosmos, an ordered construction: the physicist Sir Oliver Lodge (who was also interested in the paranormal, which I think can be taken into account here) said in 1904 that the "only possible alternative was to regard the universe as a result of random chance and capricious disorder, not a cosmos or universe at all, but rather a 'multiverse'."

    And so on: the OED quotes Sir Cyril Burt, as late as 1975, in much the same sense, and hasn't noticed the science-fiction sense at all yet: "Modern physics presents us with a heterogeneous multiverse, in place of the homogeneous universe of Newton and Laplace."


    The second major sense is the one explored in the write-ups above: a collection of different universes, a group of them, each one of which looks something like our own, and of which our own is one. They may very well be interconnected and can be visited or moved between. Note that this makes no sense in James's use. He was talking about a way of seeing the one universe: seeing it as many-faceted, with different relationships and connexions running through it.

    But the science-fiction sense says there are multiple universes within the multiverse, as there may be multiple planets in a galaxy, or rooms in a house.

    There are at least two entirely different ways such a scenario is possible in orthodox (though speculative) science. First, in the Era of Inflation, the Big Bang universe expanded faster than the speed of light, meaning that different regions from what was once a single ultra-hot ultra-dense universe have now separated from each other and are permanently beyond each other's observable horizon. They are effectively island universes.

    Another possibility is that the Big Bang did not happen once but happens arbitrarily often in certain conditions: huge chance fluctuations in the quantum vacuum, or inside a black hole, or reversing a Big Crunch at the end of time. Each of these produces a region of spacetime inaccessible from "outside", even though there is more to existence than just that region.

    Both these possible mechanisms allow for (but do not I think require) physical constants to be different in each region of the multiverse, so you can have different fundamental behaviour of reality.

    Also, both might (might) allow interconnexion via arcane forms of travel (a "wormhole" or whatever, details not important here), overcoming the inaccessibility through normal space.


    David Deutsch in his The Fabric of Reality uses the term differently again: unfortunate, I think, because the second sense is pretty well established. He doesn't think there are other kinds of place. His is getting closer to the Jamesian original. He says that there is not one single universe which is real (and other possible ones aren't), but rather that all possible universes are simultaneously real. It is a kind of illusion, an anthropic illusion, that any observer seems to be observing a single real fabric of events and things: a universe. In fact every such universe is neither more nor less privileged than any other, and the set of all allowable quantum states is the multiverse.

    First a caveat, the following is largely the product of mine and one of my friend's late night discussions and so at best (I hope) will be a piece of entertaining philosophy, and at worst a load of dingo's kidneys. If you have the patience and forbearance gentle reader, then please read on and let me know your comments. 1

    Towards the Multiverse

    The many-worlds hypothesis states that at any one point in time the universe we live has one co-ordinate in a phase space, and it could be said that the laws of (quantum) physics determine the probability of going from this point to any other within this phase space. (That is to say; one arrangement of stuff going to a different arrangement of stuff)

    Is there a level of complexity above this? Well if you consider that the phase space our universe has generated, its dimensionality will be determined by the amount of 'stuff' you started with, and any path through it describing its evolution by the complexity of the laws of physics. It is each of these paths that we perceive as a coherent universe and the collection of paths through this phase space a 'multiverse'.

    If there are no laws of physics then the stuff can't do anything, it'll just sit there. If there are too many laws then maybe the probability of going from one point in phase space to a wildly different point (meaning a radically different arrangement of matter, say a star jumping several light years or smearing itself out over an entire galaxy) will be so high, stable structures within that universe couldn't exist. Both of these extremes will have a lower volume phase space than the (multi) universe we see.

    So making the following assumption :-

    For each universe there will be a simplest set of physical laws, concepts if you prefer, that completely describe the behaviour of that universe.

    Now you can imagine an abstract type of 'meta-phase space' with an infinity of dimensions, each co-ordinate describing a set of laws that gives rise to a different universe. Each one of these points can be 'unfolded' to reveal a further phase-space containing all the possible arrangements of stuff in the meta-phase space.

    To describe a universe suffiecently complex to enable me to express these ideas, involves a whole set of fundamental physics, which can be expressed as mathmatical equations (but the term 'concepts' is as good as any I feel). The set of these rules must give a point in meta-phase space a certain distance from the zero co-ordinate. Around it in the same 'volume' you may well have other universes that wouldn't look too different from our own. However if you move too far in this conceptual meta-phase space (phase space where concepts are rearranged rather than matter), say making gravity ten times stronger, or it gets stronger over time, will soon have you in a completely unrecognisable place.

    I have since learnt that super-string theorists talk of a 'string landscape'. Using the current way these theories are formulated, its possible to generate perhaps 10500 different types of universe.

    Onwards and Upwards!

    This begs the question : "If our universe can quantum tunnel from one point of its (material) phase space to another, can its laws also 'tunnel' from one point in this conceptual meta-phase space to another?" Well of course I don't know, but if it is possible then what that means is instantaneously the laws of physics would change over the entire universe. If the 'jump' was very small it's possible we wouldn't be able to perceive it without very careful measurements. Incidentally there's evidence that the fine-structure constant (which links many areas of physics together) may be changing; even the idea that the speed of light can change is being entertained, so this is not entirely without some grounding.

    Maybe that in fact for a universe rich enough to maintain its complexity long enough to support an environment enabling me to be here (please see the anthropic principle) it is necessary for such a change in the laws of physics to be possible. If you liken the laws of physics to be a system of logic, and the stuff within it the symbols that are manipulated by it, then perhaps Godel's incompleteness theorem may hold. That means it might be possible for a universe to end up expressing a question that it finds impossible to answer. i.e. there's no way to decide what arrangement of matter comes next, which is another way of expressing the halting problem in computer/information science. By allowing the laws to change, you have a way out of this conundrum. Another way out might lie in the idea that its possible for one universe to bud off new universes, becoming a multiverse. For instance it's been suggested that when a star collapses into a black hole and down to a singularity at about the Planck volume a new universe could be formed. If this budding universe has a slightly different point in the conceptual phase space and it has at least some contact with the original, again you have a way out of the halting problem.

    To Infinity And Beyond!

    Allowing a universe to tunnel through the whole conceptual meta-phase space describing the multiverse of all possibilities implies there may be another level above this... A kind of metaphysics if you like, after all there should be rules that govern the wandering of a universe through this conceptual meta-phase space (or the propagation of a universe into a multiverse). I think I can just about picture this by thinking about our universe as its laws change, this would give our universe a trajectory through this conceptual meta-phase space. Allowing the metaphysics describing how likely it is to go from point to point to change, would cause this trajectory to suddenly look radically different.

    So next in complexity above this is.....
    There's a quiet fizzing noise, followed by a frisky sounding 'Pop!' as either CapnTrippy's head explodes, or the air rushes in to fill the vacuum left behind as he tunnels out of our universe...



    Footnotes

    1) Actually more of a disclaimer, firstly I'm not a physicist nor a philosopher, I merely have great fun thinking some thoughts as far as I'm able. The friend I first talked about this with was Warwick, a cruel thing to do as he'd recently been stabbed in the head with a fork. This is no joke.

    2) More may follow here according to the feedback I get, and the time I have to pursue this and chase up some references for you to read.

    The idea of another universe that parallels our own, or a collection of multiverses, is one that I have given thought to. So here is my take on it.

    Every day, we make decisions. Perhaps hundreds in a single day. Every time we make a decision, or we make a choice, our life as we know it continues on in a way the results from that choice. But perhaps another universe, entire unto itself, is spawned from the opposite choice you make. Say if I have to decide between pizza and chineese, I choose pizza. My life as I know it moves on as I eat the pizza, and whatever follows until I die. But another universe is created the moment I make that decision, a universe in which is based upon me choosing chineese.

    This might sound somewhat self-centered at first, but if you think about it, it really is not. Because I being in the position to choose between pizza and chineese food is only a result of someone else's decision in their life, which spawned a universe in which I am now in. This being so, it would mean that at any given moment, not only are there an infinite amount of universes, but that also there are versions of myself in every single one of those universes. This has some other interesting implications.

    First, it could explain the sense of deja vu. At any given moment, you get this intense feeling that you have been here, or done that, or seen this, before. Like you have already lived this moment. Well, imagine that all of these parallel universes are being built much like a tree with an infinite number of branches. An ever expanding and growing tree. Well, considering the shape of this tree and its ever expanding branches, there would be many instances that the branches would intersect each other. Of course, each branch represents the foward movement of time in another universe, which you of course inhabit. So when the branches intersect, you feel a sense of deja vu, like you have been here before. Because, in reality, you HAVE been here before. In another universe, from someone else's decision and track, you have lived this exact moment before.

    Second, chaos theory. One aspect of it says that a man lighting a cigarette in China will have a direct effect on you here in Maryland. As crazy as this might sound, if the universe were in fact built and moving in this way, this would make sense. Because his decision to light that cigarette, as opposed to not light it, spawned an entirely new universe, that you are in and interact with. So such a far away and insignificant event has a direct effect on you and your life.

    So...thats my idea.

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