It might sound a little crazy, but our standard theories of cosmology and physics suggest that an infinite number of Presleys still exist, says Marcus Chown. And if that's not scary enough, it also means that you, and these words, are repeated ad infinitum across the universe
Elvis is alive. No, really! He didn't die of a cardiac arrest in his bathroom at Graceland on August 16, 1977. Instead, he slipped out of the back door under cover of darkness dressed as a nun, had a sex change and worked for several years in a gas station in Ohio. She/he has now retired, is living on the Gulf Coast and is in tip-top health. After all, she's still only 71.
The King rules again, and again, and again... as an unavoidable consequence of 'inflation’ in the universe
Have I done a David Icke and gone conspiracy mad? Not at all. Elvis is alive and kicking, all right. Not here on Earth - but in an infinite number of other places in the universe. I have just revealed cosmology's dirty little secret – the thing the people who spend their time theorising about the universe rarely like to mention except in a whisper. And who can honestly blame them?
Elvis's survival turns out to be an unavoidable consequence of two things – the standard theory of cosmology and the standard theory of physics, "quantum theory". Take cosmology first.
According to the standard picture, the universe underwent a brief, super-fast period of expansion in its first split-second of existence. It goes by the name of "inflation". You don't need to know much about inflation – what drove it or why cosmologists believe it happened. You just need to know one thing: inflation implies the universe goes on for ever – it is effectively infinite in extent.
The universe we see through our telescopes, however, does not look infinite. Far from it. Everything burst into being 13.7 billion years ago in the explosion of the Big Bang, so we see only the galaxies whose light has taken less than 13.7 billion years to get to us.
Galaxies whose light would take, say 14.7 billion years, we don't see – their light is still on its way to Earth. For this reason, there is a "light horizon" around our bit of the universe and everything we can see within it we call the "observable universe".
But, just as there is more beyond the horizon at sea, there is more of the universe beyond its horizon. In fact, an infinite amount, according to inflation. Imagine our observable universe shrunk to the size of a soap bubble. Well, according to inflation, beyond our soap bubble are an infinite number of other soap bubbles, all similar to our observable universe.
It is easy to speculate on what it is like in the other bubble regions because we have a pretty good idea how the galaxies in the observable universe came to be. Some regions of the Big Bang fireball were ever-so-slightly denser than others. They acted as "seeds" for the growth of galaxies.
Specifically, they had stronger gravity than surrounding regions and so gathered in matter from about them. This made their gravity even stronger so they could pull in more matter. In a process akin to the rich getting ever richer, they gradually produced the galaxies like our own Milky Way and its neighbour, Andromeda.
Now, inflation is no airy-fairy theoretical idea. It has been pretty much confirmed in the past year by data collected by Nasa's "Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe", which is observing the dim "afterglow" of the Big Bang fireball from far out in space. And inflation predicts more than that – there are an infinite number of bubble regions like our observable universe.
It also predicts something else significant – that the seeds of galaxies were randomly scattered throughout the Big Bang fireball. Consequently, in the next soap-bubble region to our own, the seeds were different, which means that the history of that region was different, and the galaxies that formed were not the same as ours. And the same goes for the next region. And the next...
Though Elvis has not made a look in yet, don't worry, we're getting there!
The last thing you need to know to understand why the King still lives is that the universe is quantum. This means that, ultimately, everything comes in tiny, indivisible grains, or "quanta". Matter comes in indivisible grains. Time comes in indivisible grains. And so does space.
If we could look at space with some kind of super-microscope – way beyond the power of any instrument we can build today – it would resolve itself into a grid of tiny cubes. For the sake of simplicity, think of it instead as the two-dimensional grid of squares of a chessboard.
In this picture, we might have a galaxy-spawning seed of matter on one square, and another seed on another square; and so on. But, and this is the key, there are only a finite number of ways of arranging the seeds just as there are only a finite number of ways of arranging the pieces on a chessboard.
So there are only a finite number of possible histories for a universe leading to only a finite number of possible arrangements of galaxies.
If your head hasn't yet exploded, you now have all you need to understand the first paragraph of this article.
If there are an infinite number of regions like our observable universe but only a finite number of histories for such regions, then every possible history happens not once but an infinite number of times.
"There are an infinite number of places in the universe where Elvis is alive and kicking," says one of the contributors to inflation theory, Alex Vilenkin of Tufts University.
There are also an infinite number of places where Shane Warne was born in Surrey, and England never lose the Ashes. There are an infinite number of places where The Telegraph liked this article so much it decided to pay me a million pounds and run a special colour supplement solely to advertise my new book.
But all of this also has implications for you, not just Elvis and Shane Warne. There are an infinite number of regions in the universe exactly the same as the observable universe. And each contains a perfect copy of you who, up until this instant, has experienced everything you have ever experienced. This is no fanciful prediction.
"It is possible to calculate precisely how far away is the nearest region identical to our observable universe," says Vilenkin.
"It's 10^10^100 centimetres away." (10^100 is 1 followed by 100 zeroes, so I'll leave to imagine how "vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big" 10^ (10^100) is, to steal Douglas Adams's words. As an anorak aside, Google, the name of the ubiquitous web search engine, is a misspelling of "Googol", which means 10^100. There is even a name for 10^Googol – 1 followed by a Googol of zeroes. A "Googolplex"!).
And remember, the existence of your doppelgangers is an unavoidable consequence of our standard theory of cosmology and our standard theory of physics. Your doubles do not exist only if one or both of these theories is wrong, which very few physicists are – frankly - prepared to countenance.
I have a soft spot for this whole idea because, even if you think this is the dullest and most incomprehensible article you have ever read, I can console myself with the thought that, in an infinite number of other space domains, you were so impressed that you emailed it to every person in your address book and bought copies of my book for all your friends and family.
- Marcus Chown's book, 'The Never-Ending Days of Being Dead: Dispatches from the Frontline of Science' is published by Faber & Faber on 18 January, 2007 and is available for £13.99 (rrp £15.99) + £1.25 p&p. To order call Telegraph Books on 0870 428 4112