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The Philosopher who Foresaw the Concept of Multiverse in the 13th Century


In 1225, Robert Grosseteste theorized about the origins of the universe and came to conclusions which still surprise contemporary researchers.

Plausibly, ever since the burgeoning of abstract thought, the speculation surrounding a parallel universe has always existed. “Was I something somewhere?”, Saint Augustine asks himself in the beginning of his Confessions, an example of a concern that implies choosing something and at the same time rejecting the seemingly infinite possibilities because we consider them to be unattainable. Leibniz’ idea of the “best of all possible worlds” also start with this principle: believing in God or not, before the crowd of possibilities that are abandoned, which remain latent and those that are no more, the only logical solution seems to convince ourselves of a theology whose understanding escapes us, but which in a mysterious way guarantees that nothing better can exist.

Surprisingly, these intuitive reflections have been partially corroborated by contemporary science, especially by quantum physics, astrophysics, cosmology and other disciplines which arose from the observation of subatomic particles and their unique behavior, which in many cases contradicts the Newtonian logic.

In this sense, one of the most interesting ideas, one that is also disquieting, is that of the multiverse, which widely speaking suggests that there is not a single universe, but all the possible ones coexist in space-time, because this may be infinite. As Borges understood it, “This network of times which approached one another, forked, broke off, or was unaware of one another for centuries, embraces all possibilities of time.” Why? Because the universe can be infinite, but the shapes matter can take are finite. Once again Borges, through a comparison that can clarify the concept, states “given infinite time, with infinite circumstances and changes, it is impossible that the Odyssey should not be composed at least once.”

A stained glass window of a man


Recently, a research team from Durham University, England, headed by Giles Gasper, translated and anaylized, for the first time ever, a text written in Latin in the year 1225, entitled De Luce (Of Light), where the author, philosopher Robert Grosseteste, explores the idea of the shape of the universe from a mathematical perspective and with admirable eloquence.

Among other reasons, the Grosseteste manuscript had not been studied closely because of the complexity of the equations the author used to develop his argument. Hence, the researchers actually turned to a computer program capable of solving the philosophers’ mathematical operations, thought of in light of the Aristotelian conception of the cosmos, which stated that the universe was comprised by nine spheres that contained within each other, our planet was the most internal one, all the way to the ultimate frontier: ether.

Based on this principle, Grosseteste thought that the beginning of light and that of matter where joined somehow, and that was what existed, until in a single instant an explosion took place and set both of them free so that light and matter began to expand seeking new limits, and gradually the universe began to take shape.

As we can see, the idea formulated by an English bishop in the Middle Ages is eerily similar to the Big Bang Theory, since it explains the moment that gave rise to the stars, planets, asteroids and everything we know of as the universe.

But Grosseteste did not stop there. According to the philosopher, once matter came into being in space, it began to radiate a type of light which he called lumen, which gathered all the “imperfect” matter and displaced it, a description which the group of researchers are comparing to the explosion of a supernova.

In terms of the “perfect” matter, this was crystalized in a sphere, which itself was inside another sphere, that also radiated with lumen. In the end, the imperfect matter formed the heart of all the spheres, similar to the burning nucleus of our planet.

The similarities with modern explanations which describe the formation of the universe are astounding, and what is even more surprising is that Grosseteste considered that his was one of many possible solutions, coherent in relation to the place where he was creating his observations and, hence, it was susceptible to change if the observer also changed. “A logical argument that a modern physicist would be proud of,” says Richard Bower, one of the researchers involved in the De Luce examination.

Some quantum physics studies suggest that matter also possesses a type of memory. The theory of quantum entanglement, for example, suggests that two particles that were joined together at the beginning of the universe keep this bond despite the distance that might separate them —and hence they can exchange information. But wasn’t everything that exists part of the same and unique heart of energy and matter at first? Perhaps, in some secret manner, Grosseteste, the matter and energy he was made of, remembered all this before they began to discover it.

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