Prepare to have your mind blown. According to a new mathematical model of the cosmos, it's possible that our entire universe is nothing more than a three-dimensional "mirage" created by a black hole in a much larger four-dimensional universe, reports

It may sound like a trippy theory, but the Perimeter Institute researchers who thought it up insist that the idea is grounded in sound mathematics and, more importantly, that it's testable. Even more intriguing is that this new model seems to "solve" many of the cosmological puzzles that plague our conventional theories.

Currently the leading theory about the origin of the universe is the Big Bang, but this theory entails that our universe emerged from a singularity, an unfathomable place where the laws of physics break down.

"Cosmology's greatest challenge is understanding the big bang itself," writes Niayesh Afshordi, Robert Mann and Razieh Pourhasan, the three Perimeter Institute researchers working on the new theory.

"For all physicists know, dragons could have come flying out of the singularity," added Afshordi, in an interview with Nature.

Afshordi's comment was tongue-and-cheek, of course, but it points out a latent absurdity at the heart of the Big Bang theory. Namely, the Big Bang is an idea that, at worst, is fundamentally self-defeating: it explains the universe via an unexplainable event. And virtually anything can follow from an unexplainable event.

According to the researchers' newly proposed theory, however, our universe was never inside a singularity. Rather, it arose outside the event horizon of a black hole — a black hole from another, higher-dimensional universe. It was thus protected from the singularity.

Though it's a difficult concept to wrap the mind around, this new idea is just one level up from our current understanding of how black holes operate. In our three-dimensional universe, black holes have two-dimensional event horizons; that is, they are surrounded by a two-dimensional boundary that marks the "point of no return" for any object plummeting toward the black hole's center.

In a theoretical four-dimensional universe, however, black holes would instead possess three-dimensional event horizons. So the researchers' new theory suggests that our three-dimensional universe is nothing more than a "mirage" caused by a star collapsing into a black hole in such a four-dimensional universe.

Sure, it sounds fanciful, but it's also mathematically plausible. The researchers used the tools of holography to show that the Big Bang, as we currently understand it, could be a warped cosmic mirage. They likened coming to terms with their new theory to Plato's allegory of the cave, which tells of prisoners in a cave fooled into believing that reality is nothing more than the shadows flickering on the wall. 

"Their shackles have prevented them from perceiving the true world, a realm with one additional dimension," wrote the researchers. "Plato's prisoners didn't understand the powers behind the sun, just as we don't understand the four-dimensional bulk universe. But at least they knew where to look for answers."

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Bryan Nelson ( @@brynelson ) writes about everything from environmental problems here on Earth to big questions in space.

Our universe may have emerged from a black hole in a higher-dimensional universe
The cosmos as we know it might be nothing more than a three-dimensional "mirage" created by a collapsing star in a universe profoundly different than our own.