# Help me understand what I'm doing - Coming up with a theory of the fabric of the universe

(in quotes are the probably inaccurate words I use to call my stuff)

I'm writing a space opera, in which I want to have "transcendental" alien beings that either live in "higher planes" of the universe, or can interact with reality in a fancy fashion using forces like gravity or electromagnetism.
For that I came up with the fictional theory that the universe is made of a number of "planes" or "dimensions" or "fields" that represent all the forces that exist in our universe, plus more. I thought maybe each of these layers could be carried by a particle, like the Higg's boson in the case of gravity.
So my "transcendental" aliens could live in "planes" that don't even interact with the reality we know, and my "semi-transcendental" aliens could interact with the reality we know through organs that exist in multiple "fields", for example the "field" of gravity or that of electromagnetism.

My problem is that for the time being, I can't figure out a way to formulate this theory of the fabric of the universe in a simple way, and on the other hand, I'm worried that it is entirely gross and nonsensical. I am hoping, with asking this question, that someone better learned than me can help me figure out which existing theories are somewhat close to what I'm describing, or if there is an obvious flaw to it all that'd make it all incoherent.

• A common misconception is that the Higgs boson is a force carrier. It isn't. It's the excitation of the Higgs field, which imparts mass. You can think of it like a wave in the fabric of a field known as the Higgs field, like if you struck a sheet and highly localized ripple moved along that sheet. The peak of that wave is your HIggs boson. – stix Feb 22 at 22:41
• You've applied the science-fiction so presumably you're looking for some conventions in sci-fi, rather than actual physics per-se. It's kind of a broad and tough question which might come out as opinion-based if you want us to construct your universe from scratch. You might make a start by looking at the site writerswrite.co.za's sci-fi terminology section, there's some great recommendations for reading and of how terms have come into accepted use. – A Rogue Ant. Feb 22 at 22:50
• I highly recommend the Orphans of Chaos series for anyone trying to describe how "higher"-dimensional entities work and interact with our dimension. The specific "dimensions" used may or may not make sense for your world, but it does a good job of explaining what 'seeing', 'moving' in and manipulating multiple directions that aren't apparent to us may be like. – Bobson Feb 23 at 15:41
• The only obvious flaw which might make any of that incoherent would be your writing ability. Could you leave out how and look instead at why alien beings live in higher planes or interact through gravity, electromagnetism or the like? – Robbie Goodwin Feb 24 at 1:32

Don't be bothered by trying to make theoretical physics a reality. Don't try to make sense of it. It can't be done.

We are pretty sure that we are confident about the theories of Newton, and have a clear understanding of the terms and definitions regarding Newtonian physics. We are also fairly certain about the terms and definitions involving the atom - the electron, proton, and neutron - and even the positron - because we can now 'see' individual atoms. The parts of the atom, we have sufficient evidence for, and can most assuredly state that we understand the nature of these particles. We use this knowledge - the terms and definitions - in our day-to-day activities.

A civil engineer, for instance, will use these terms and equations that are based on what we know pragmatically and experientially about the physical nature of the world around us, the Newtonian stuff, to build bridges and such. That bridge, after all, has to be built to withstand real world forces, not theoretical musings.

Pretty much everything we know about physics past this is speculative, and only exists in mathematical formulas and equations. These equations are the best guesses of the majority of knowledgeable theorists, meant to explain things we really can not experience directly, but can only surmise through their effects on other things. But as far as the average science fiction reader is concerned, they are as nebulous as the ether.

The thing is, few of these speculative terms and definitions are completely accepted as having the same meaning by all faculties of physics. Each discipline involved with the broad term 'physics' has their own nomenclature. For instance, a magnetic field to an electrician has a very different connotation that a 'field' in quantum mechanics. In electrical terms, a magnetic filed involves 'lines of force', definitely measurable using a concept of 'flux'. No need for 'bosons' at all, in order to calculate inductance and figure out how much force that motor will produce. In fact, spread some iron filings and one can 'see; this field.

A quantum physicist, on the other hand, sees a 'field' as something very different. Get into the world of theoretical physics, it becomes a hodge-podge. It is like nailing jelly to a tree. Just when one person thinks they understand what is going on, someone else comes along and says 'it is not that way at all'. One person looks at the data and sees one thing, another looks at the same data and sees another. Everything is just a numerical value, not a real 'thing'.

A boson is just a theoretical concept to explain a blip on a graph of repeated measurements of some form of energy emission from some repeated experiment. A field is just a theoretical explanation of why that blip is there. The blip on the graph is real, it is replicable and repeatable. But what it is, and what it represents, are just best guesses. The term 'boson' and 'field' are basically just placeholder terms, until we flesh out our knowledge further and better understand what is causing that blip.

The bottom line is that most sci-fi readers do not care about the real 'terms and definitions' of advanced theoretical physics. Once past Newton et all, there ARE no concrete definitions. They are interested in the story. Just make sure you are internally consistent and coherent within your plot, and concentrate on telling a good story.

But I would advise you to scrap that multi-dimensional stuff. It's best-before date, methinks, has expired long ago. 'Multi-dimensional' is bafflegab for 'having an exponent in the equation bigger than 3'. Stick to your own 'fields of existence'. Not 'fabric' or 'planes', as those are just too two dimensional and cone with too much baggage today. Even 'fields' comes with baggage. 'Realm' used to be a good one, but now the term is associated with fantasy and mythology. 'Ether' was also a popular term, but has gone out of fashion. Make up your own term. Niven was very good at it. Something like 'divergent continuum spectrum'.

And use an analogy to explain it.

For instance, humans live in the world of visible light, and that is how we perceive reality. We 'see' and 'experience' the world through a limited EM spectrum. Imagine a being that lives in a world where they have organs that can perceive UHF (a different spectrum) the way we perceive light, and that forms their reality. Or a being that lives in a world where they have 'organs' that can perceive Higgs bosons (a continuum of bosons) as 'real' things, the way we see light. Or a being that 'sees' gravity waves, and has the ability to 'see' gravitational variants the way we see intensities of light. Just change the spectrum of what they can perceive, not the dimension.

I don't think you need a theory for the fabric of the Universe.
I think you need a metaphor for it.

Don't worry about getting the scientific terms wrong because what you are proposing is way way beyond anything that our current science can possibly claim naming rights to.

Instead, take one of your transcendental aliens (or lesser being who is still higher up on the evolutionary ladder than your POV character) and have them describe the universe to your POV with a kind but condescending manner. Have them admit that their explanation is an approximation of what is, simplified for the sake of the listener.

Youngling,
The universes are vast and wonderful in ways that would only confuse you right now.
So in the same way as you place your infants in cribs that shield them from the complexities of the larger world, so too we place you in a realm with only three dimensions and a one-way vector called time.
This is a play pen to shelter you from the bigger ideas while you grow ever more ready to handle the real worlds.
You do not need to understand it all yet. Just know that we are out there beyond the bars of your crib and that we care for your very much.

And with that, all your authorial responsibilities for crafting a scientific plausible multiverse are lifted from your shoulders; allowing you to return to the really tough work of telling your story.

• My *fingers* reach through into *heavy space* and you *see* *Orz bubbles* but it is really *fingers*. Maybe you do not even *smell*? That is sad. *Smelling* *pretty colors* is the best *game*. *Space* is many. *Colors* are many. You are so *sticky*. You cannot *slide* like Orz from *outside* to *inside* and *in between*. It is sad, but Orz can *pull* the *campers* after being *connected*. – vsz Feb 23 at 14:40

One ready-made "plane" could be that of dark matter. There are several options for that (the two that most readily come to my mind are Schlock Mercenary's "metastable dark matter" Pa'anuri, and Robert J. Sawyer's matos from the novel Starplex).

In both cases dark matter has a chemistry of its own, humorously depicted here, and the only significant difference from baryonic chemistry is that matos are really large - a sentient unit being the size of Saturn.

The same scenario (but using neutrinos, of all things) is present in Bob Shaw's A Wreath of Stars (1976). Here, the "other plane" is conterminous with Earth, but gets jolted out of sync by a passing neutrino star, so that the smaller "inner neutrino Earth" starts orbiting the center of the Earth (this is far from the only weak point in the story).

You could similarly posit other levels of "weakly interacting massive particles" and get a third "plane" of existence, gravitationally bound with the other two:

• baryonic matter (that's us, if memory serves about 4% of observable Universe)
• Peccei-Quinn axionic matter (another 30%)
• Higher-order WIMP matter (whatever)

As for more planes, I believe we'd need to go farther afield and leave scientific plausibility even farther behind. However, maybe even a single extra plane might be enough?

The easiest way to formulate what you're looking for here is to say that our Universe is a 3+1d space embedded in a higher dimensional Universe, and that your transcendent aliens are some higher dimensional beings, like 4 spatial dimensions (4+1d) or the like. They would be able to move around and through our Universe, but we would only be able to perceive 3 dimensional "slices" of their 4 dimensional nature. In addition, they'd be very godlike, as they'd be able to see "inside" us from their 4 dimensional vantage point. They would also be almost completely undetectable to us unless they intersected with our Universe, which would make scientific study of them an exercise in futility without their cooperation.

This is actually explained pretty well in a story called Flatland, that shows what we of 3 spatial dimensions would be like for 2 dimensional inhabitants of a plane in our Universe.

Generally, if you are trying to sound plausible, its not a good idea to try to work out a theory of physics unless you really have deep understanding of physics to begin with (and even then!). At the least however, you can focus on using "physics-y" terminology in a (sort of) correct manner. Words like "planes", "dimensions", "fields", "forces" and "particles" all have very definite meanings. Any attempt to give an explanation of how your world works will sound silly to the trained ear if these words are used incorrectly.

Unfortunately, there is a big disconnect between the scientific usage of terms and their sci-fi counterpart. Take the word "field" for example. To a physicist, a "field" is a strictly mathematical construct. This means that if you call "X" a field, then you know which mathematical properties "X" must follow. There is none of the sci-fi visual of three-dimensional glowing shapes in space to go along with the mathematical description of a field. See my answer here for a more detailed description of the applicability of quantum field theory.

Regarding existing theories, some things you might like to look up are:

Sum-over-histories and 'many worlds' interpretation. Quantum mechanics says that subatomic particles can exist in a superposition of states, and can be in several places at once. The 'many worlds' interpretation of quantum mechanics says that this applies to objects big enough to see, and the reason we don't notice it is that the different components of the state don't interact with one another. It's as if there are an infinity of alternative universes out there, co-existing with ours, that we cannot perceive, but whose existence we can deduce from quantum effects.

The hidden sector (or 'dark sector') is a theory that there is an extension to the standard model that includes a bunch of particles and fields that don't interact with the particles we know. The standard model's symmetry group is 'broken' - it is oddly asymmetric, and the theory is that this is because it is only part of a larger, more elegant symmetry (a so-called 'Grand Unified Theory'). An example of this sort of thing is the right-handed neutrino, which we cannot detect because if it exists it seems not to interact with other matter, but which seems to be required in theory because neutrinos have mass, which can only happen if left-handed neutrinos occasionally flip into right-handed ones and back again. The effect is extremely weak - neutrinos are pretty ghostly anyway, and the right-handed neutrino revealed by the neutrino's tiny, tiny mass even more so. If aliens from the dark sector were to communicate with us, it might be via fluctuations in neutrino mass mediated by right-handed neutrinos.

String theory proposes the existence of 'branes' (short for 'membranes') which are surfaces floating in a higher-dimensional space. Some propose that our universe started when two of these branes collided. This may also be related to the common view from general relativity that if spacetime is 'curved', there could be an extra-dimensional space into which the curvature extends. The Nash embedding theorem says this is possible, but it doesn't have to be that way. There's currently no way to tell.

The physics/chemistry that applies throughout most of the everyday world goes down to the size of neutrons and protons ($$10^{-15}$$ m), and the physics we can access at the LHC goes down to a scale of about $$10^{-18}$$ m. But the Planck scale is around $$10^{-35}$$ m, which is waaaay smaller! That's a huuuge gap in which new physics might be hidden and new entities might hide. And then at the Planck scale spacetime is predicted to break up into a chaotic quantum foam of loops and bubbles and wormholes and black holes appearing and disappearing. That seems like a fertile environment for complex computation and 'life' to evolve.

General relativity has a mathematical model for the 'eternal' black hole (one existing into the infinite past as well as the infinite future) that has another universe 'on the other side of' the black hole. This can be seen in diagrams using Kruskal-Szekeres coordinates, that has four quarters arranged like an X. We live in the right-hand quarter, time up the page and space across the page. The top quarter is the future singularity, that anyone falling into a black hole must collide with. But the left hand quarter is another universe like ours, that shares the same singularity. Although relativity says you cannot get a signal from one to the other without exceeding the speed of light (or using 'exotic matter' with negative mass), there might be a way we don't know about. Say the aliens in the other universe drop things into their side of the black hole, it might mean the black hole on our side mysteriously increases in mass? If you can go faster than light, though, it would be easy to travel through.

There is some deep mathematics suggesting that the geometry applicable in our universe is a restricted part of a more elegant theory called 'conformal geometry'. Think about rotations about a point, and what happens when you move the point further and further away. As the centre of the rotation approaches infinity, the rotation looks more and more like a translation (at right angles to the direction of the centre). Alternatively, consider a scaling about a central point. As the centre of the scaling approaches infinity, the scaling looks more and more like a translation (in the same direction as the centre). Fractals are to scaling what crystals are to translation. If you can scale up and down like you can move left and right, physics would have more possibilities, and more places to hide - in the very small and very large. 'Renormalisation group theory', by which physicists remove infinities from their theories, is thought to have much to do with scaling groups. In conformal geometry, translations, rotations, and scaling are unified, they are all special cases of the same family of transformations, and 'infinity' is a valid place that looks like every other place. We are just restricted to a subset of transformations that render infinity inaccessible to us. But there are fields that obey the conformal symmetry (electromagnetism is one) and it may be that other beings are not so restricted.

Another idea I've not personally seen in sci-fi but which I think is obvious enough that I'd not be surprised if someone had done it, is the 'encrypted universe'. 'Homomorphic encryption' is a way of encrypting computation so that it looks like random noise. An AI using encrypted processing and heavy error correction could look like random jiggling of atoms in a gas, or a fluid like water, or in the plasma of a star. Alien AIs running on computers disguised as randomness would exist alongside us in our physical universe, but be completely undetectable without the key to the encryption. Alien intelligences would be hidden in the deep oceans, or the turbulent clouds, or threaded along the magnetic fields of solar flares leaping out into space, and we would never notice. They could even be hidden in our own minds - dreams and randomness and madness might be signs of a second intelligence running on the same hardware. (Nobody really knows why we have to sleep and dream. It surely seems odd that we should have evolved to shut down into helpless and oblivious paralysis every night.) Although perhaps you don't even need anything so exotic. If solar-powered processors were disguised as rocks, or plants, you could be stood on a brain the size of a planet and not realise! (I mean, can you just look at a microchip and see what it's doing?) So long as processing shut down when you put the rocks under a microscope, it's not obvious how you could tell that the stones were watching you, and thinking about you.

• On hell of a post - generally I mean. Thank you! – Stilez Feb 23 at 23:53

I finally found during some random research the theory that is closest to what I'm trying to describe: the quantum field theory.

According to wikipedia:

According to quantum field theory, the universe can be thought of not as isolated particles but continuous fluctuating fields: matter fields, whose quanta are fermions (i.e., leptons and quarks), and force fields, whose quanta are bosons (e.g., photons and gluons).

So it does imply that everything in the universe can be seen as fluctuations of several "fields", each of these fields being represented by a type of particle, and nothing says it's not possible that there could be more fields than those mentioned above.