## Everything is Real

Posted by on Wednesday, March 9, 2016 Under: Philosophy

A few years ago, a friend of mine shocked the audience at a science outreach lecture for the public by telling them the laws of physics say that every book, stage play, movie, and television program they have ever seen is real. No matter how bizarre the plots may seem, somewhere people with the exact same names and physical appearances actually did the exact same things in real life. Somewhere out there, a strongman name Hercules really did complete the labours described in mythology. Somewhere a businessman named Kane died regretting his lost sled Rosebud. Somewhere in a galaxy far, far away a smuggler named Han Solo and his wookie friend Chewbacca really did fly a space freighter called the Millenium Falcon. Everything is real!

As you might have guessed by now, this article is going to be more on the philosophical side than hardcore science. And for that reason some of my more pedantic readers may want to skip ahead.

For the rest of you, here is the explanation. I should also mention upfront that my friend didn't quite get the theory correct, and some fiction may truly be nothing more than fiction. Now on to the science...

Consider the number of possible configurations of a small piece of matter. The smallest amount of matter would be a single atom, and looking at the periodic table of elements there are a few hundred types of atom (not including the ones that decay so quickly they cannot exist outside of a high energy particle accelerator). Next smallest would be two atoms, and again the number of possible pairs of two atoms is on the order of tens of thousands of configurations. Three atoms increases the number to several million possible threesomes of atoms, and also adds in different types of bonds between atoms and different relative positions. At this point we could have one billion possible configurations, and although it is large it is still a finite number.

And that is the key to this argument. The number of possible configurations of atoms and molecules may be beyond human imagination, but it will always be finite for a finite mass of matter. One published estimate claims that a human sized lump of matter can be configured in approximately 10

However the Universe is not. It is quite possible, even probable, that the Universe expands out to infinity. And if that is true, then it also has an infinite number of planet sized lumps of matter. And if there are an infinite number of planets, and only a finite number of possible configurations, then it follows that every configuration which is allowed by the laws of physics will actually exist somewhere in the Universe.

And since every book, movie, and television program represents one possible configuration of a planet (or galaxy), it follows that the exact configuration simulated in the fictional story will exist in reality somewhere out there. (The one exception to this argument though is stories which violate the laws of physics. Other regions of the Universe might have different laws of physics, but exactly how different is still not known)

Is this argument ridiculous? Of course! But it also has some solid if bizarre mathematics to support it. So perhaps the title of this article is correct, and if one travels far enough away in the Universe one will find that everything is real!

As you might have guessed by now, this article is going to be more on the philosophical side than hardcore science. And for that reason some of my more pedantic readers may want to skip ahead.

For the rest of you, here is the explanation. I should also mention upfront that my friend didn't quite get the theory correct, and some fiction may truly be nothing more than fiction. Now on to the science...

Consider the number of possible configurations of a small piece of matter. The smallest amount of matter would be a single atom, and looking at the periodic table of elements there are a few hundred types of atom (not including the ones that decay so quickly they cannot exist outside of a high energy particle accelerator). Next smallest would be two atoms, and again the number of possible pairs of two atoms is on the order of tens of thousands of configurations. Three atoms increases the number to several million possible threesomes of atoms, and also adds in different types of bonds between atoms and different relative positions. At this point we could have one billion possible configurations, and although it is large it is still a finite number.

And that is the key to this argument. The number of possible configurations of atoms and molecules may be beyond human imagination, but it will always be finite for a finite mass of matter. One published estimate claims that a human sized lump of matter can be configured in approximately 10

^{210}different ways, and yet this number is still finite. Using similar arguments, a planet and all of its inhabitants, structures, atmospheres, and such can be configured on the order of 10^{250}different ways, and yet again, the number is finite. And even when the history of each atoms and all of its reactions since the start of time are included, the number will get significantly larger but will still be finite. (And it must be stated that all of these numbers are very uncertain estimates, but they give an idea of how large the number of configurations actually is)However the Universe is not. It is quite possible, even probable, that the Universe expands out to infinity. And if that is true, then it also has an infinite number of planet sized lumps of matter. And if there are an infinite number of planets, and only a finite number of possible configurations, then it follows that every configuration which is allowed by the laws of physics will actually exist somewhere in the Universe.

And since every book, movie, and television program represents one possible configuration of a planet (or galaxy), it follows that the exact configuration simulated in the fictional story will exist in reality somewhere out there. (The one exception to this argument though is stories which violate the laws of physics. Other regions of the Universe might have different laws of physics, but exactly how different is still not known)

Is this argument ridiculous? Of course! But it also has some solid if bizarre mathematics to support it. So perhaps the title of this article is correct, and if one travels far enough away in the Universe one will find that everything is real!

In : Philosophy