The number pi can be expressed beautifully in terms of infinite sums. For practical purposes though, these sums are rather disappointing: they converge slowly, so you need to sum a large number of terms to get accurate estimates of pi. Here's a clever way to make them converge faster.
Would you stake your fortune on a 100 to 1 outsider? Probably not. But what if, somewhere in a parallel universe, the straggling nag does come in first? Would the pleasure you feel in that universe outweigh the pain you feel in the one in which you've lost? Questions not dissimilar to this one occupy physicists and for entirely respectable reasons.
Are there parallel universes? Universes in which, rather than reading this article, you are still asleep; in which you are happier, unhappier, richer, poorer, or even dead? The answer is "possibly". It's a controversial claim but one that has won more and more followers over the last few decades.
Hugh Everett III is the father of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. He published the idea in his PhD thesis but died before it gained the recognition it deserves. This article gives an insight into Everett's difficult life.
On the face of it the Universe is a fairly complex place. But could mathematics ultimately lead to a simple description of it? In fact, should simplicity be a defining feature of a "theory of everything"? We ponder the answers.