A staple of mind-bending science fiction, the possibility of multiple universes has long intrigued hard-nosed physicists, mathematicians and cosmologists too. We may not be able — as least not yet — to prove they exist, many serious scientists say, but there are plenty of reasons to think that parallel dimensions are more than figments of eggheaded imagination. The specter of shadow worlds has been thrown into relief by the December release of “The Golden Compass,” a Hollywood blockbuster adapted from the first volume of Philip Pullman’s classic sci-fi trilogy, “His Dark Materials”.
In the film, an orphaned girl living in an alternate universe goes on a quest, accompanied by an animal manifestation of her soul, to rescue kidnapped children and discover the secret of a contaminating dust said to be leaking from a parallel realm. Talking bears and magic dust aside, the basic premise of Pullman’s fantasy is not beyond the scientific pale. “The idea of multiple universes is more than a fantastic invention — it appears naturally within several scientific theories, and deserves to be taken seriously,” said Aurelien Barrau, a French particle physicist at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), hardly a hotbed of flaky science. “The multiverse is no longer a model, it is a consequence of our models,” explained Barrau, who recently published an essay for CERN defending the concept.”