The controversial idea that our universe is just a random bubble in an endless, frothing multiverse arises logically from nature’s most innocuous-seeming feature: empty space. Specifically, the seed of the multiverse hypothesis is the inexplicably tiny amount of energy infused in empty space—energy known as the vacuum energy, dark energy, or the cosmological constant. Each cubic meter of empty space contains only enough of this energy to light a light bulb for 11 trillionths of a second. “The bone in our throat,” as the Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg once put it, is that the vacuum ought to be at least a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion times more energetic, because of all the matter and force fields coursing through it. Somehow the effects of all these fields on the vacuum almost equalize, producing placid stillness. Why is empty space so empty?
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