In a world where superheroes are often portrayed as dark and gritty, The Flash on the CW acts as a beacon of hope, and a reminder that superpowers are awesome. For fans of the show, myself included, this upcoming season is even more exciting as it will be the first time the DC multiverse has been portrayed on television.
The DC multiverse refers to the collection of alternate universes where the stories in DC comics (and now television) occur. While the relationships between these universes have been changed over the years, the multiverse actually started with the Flash. Originally during the Golden Age of Comic Books (1930s-1950s) the Flash was a man named Jay Garrick. During the Silver Age of Comic Books (1956- 1970) the character of the Flash was rebooted as Barry Allen. In 1962, Barry Allen traveled to the world of Jay Garrick in the famous comic book “Flash of Two Worlds”. This comic book established the idea that Barry Allen and the Silver Age heroes existed in what was known as Earth 1, while Jay Garrick and the Golden Age heroes existed on an alternate universe known as Earth 2. Together these two universes were the beginning of the DC multiverse.
While a multiverse may seem like an idea from science fiction, the concept does exist in high energy physics. However, there are many different types of multiverse theories in existence, reflecting different areas of research. Even the scientists that believe alternate universes exist can debate over which theories are correct. As there are too many to easily summarize here, I will just focus on the theory related to the Flash comics and show.
In “Flash of Two Worlds” Barry Allen travels to the alternate earth by vibrating his molecules at a specific frequency. The idea is that each of the alternate earths vibrates at a different frequency, thus they can exist in the same physical location while being separate from each other. This makes me think of a parallel universe theory known as the Many Worlds Interpretation. In quantum mechanics, the subatomic world, which is looking at the particles that make up your atoms, is probabilistically deterministic. This means that we can’t be quite sure exactly where the particles in your atoms are at any given moment, we just know the probability of where they might be. Let’s pretend that there are only two states that an atom can exist in, State 1 and State 2. Under the Many Worlds interpretation, there must be two universes, Universe 1 where the atom is in State 1 and Universe 2 where the atom is in State 2. These two universes split apart from each other, and although they take place in the same space and time, the two universes can not interact.
As a result of this, ever decision you make generates multiple universes based on the different possible outcomes. For instance, let’s say you debated between 3 pieces of fruit for breakfast this morning. Under the Many Worlds Interpretation, there now exist universes where you ate an apple, an orange, or a banana. Maybe these universes are very similar, maybe they are very different. It depends on the outcome of the decisions.
For the Flash TV show, we are not yet quite sure what type of alternate universe is being introduced. Based on the show previews, people appear to travel between universes as a result of the singularity from Season 1, basically a wormhole. (If you don’t know what I am talking about, the first season of the Flash is on Netflix starting in October.) Think of wormholes as essentially a “shortcut” through space or even time (as seen in the Season 1 finale). As our favorite mechanical genius Cisco Ramon would probably say on The Flash, “Like Stargate”. While a wormhole could allow for time travel, it could also allow for travel between alternate dimensions.
I end with a reminder that I am a biologist, and encourage you all to talk to your local physicist today if you want a more complex explanation. I suppose there is a universe where I choose to study Physics, or English, or any other subject, but that is not the one we are living in. As you research parallel universes, you might start imagining how life might have turned out different, or at dark moments, how life might have been better. I encourage you all to not forget the important message that The Flash teaches. Don’t look back, and keep running.