I have found it helpful, when asking questions about our universe, to consider how analogous questions could be asked and answered by beings in an alternate, simpler universe. I call this universe Altera. Answers to many questions, when asked in our universe, are obscured by its complex nature and our uncertain place within it. Analogous questions, when asked in Altera, are often plainly answered. We may then be able to generalize these answers to our universe more clearly than if we had pursued them directly.
Imagining an alternate universe such as Altera is difficult because our minds continually pull us back into our own. We must remember that to the beings within it Altera is real. Our sense of normality is biased by our familiarity with, and existence in, our universe. But we have no firm reason to believe that our universe couldn’t have been different, or that alternate universes couldn’t exist.
Our ability to imagine alternate universes is obstructed because we must describe them using familiar language. This difficulty could have been helped somewhat by using made-up words. However, it was burdensome to keep track of them so I repurposed words from our universe. I indicate when I am repurposing a word by placing it in quotes the first time it is used as such.
Despite these difficulties, I have been able to clarify my thoughts using this approach, and I hope that others find similar success. At least it may be a clear exposition of many questions previously asked and answered by philosophers. At most, it may lead to new insights.
This sort of thought experiment has been performed before. The book Flat Land, written by Edwin Abbott Abbott, is the earliest example of which I am aware. In Flat Land, Abbott investigates the limitations of two-dimensional beings understanding a third dimension. With this regard, the book was successful, however, the extent of his investigation was limited. There are more questions to explore—especially questions about knowledge, metaphysics, and ethics.