BRASHER: Somewhere or somewhen is there a more awesome you? Doing cooler things than you are? Maybe. Probably. Out in the myriad existences and realities right now there may even be another me writing something like this, but the other me is setting up this topic far better.
Thinking about the possibility of parallel universes can make a brain hurt. It’s like seeing something really far away that you can’t quite make out because when you were 25 you got that sliver of rusty metal in your eye when you were goofing around in an old beat up car that was abandoned outside your crappy rent house. That is to say, it is blurry.
BRASHER: Most of what I know about theoretical physics was actually explained to me secondhand by a friend who took a class at the U of A in the ’90s called “Quantum Theory for People Who Are Totally Blazed.” It was one of those crossover classes where complex math and science ideas are explained to English and Sociology majors who are very high. So for me science is sort of an oral history, like a folk tale, handed down from one person who is stoned to the bone to another. In that respect it may seem or actually be apocryphal so obvs i’m totally qualified here.
ROWE: Did you know that just this past week, scientists discovered evidence of the multiverse? Don’t you just f-ing love science? Or maybe you thought that because popular news reporting on science is terrible and a single astrophysicist just published a paper saying there were some weird spots floating out there in space and maybe it’s a multiverse while other science guys said, “Nah, it’s probably nothing, dog.” Which just proves science is hard and reporting science is harder but Brasher has got some concepts for you, and it’s all hard stuff.
BRASHER: There are a few ways to look at quantum theory. In the Copenhagen interpretation the act of observation influences the probability of an outcome. There is also the many worlds interpretation thought up by Hugh Everett III. He was an American physicist who also came up with the concept of quantum immortality, which was spun off from the idea of quantum suicide, which is a fancy thought experiment we don’t have time to get into.
According to a buddy of his: “Everett firmly believed that his many-worlds theory guaranteed him immortality: his consciousness, he argued, is bound at each branching to follow whatever path does not lead to death” Isn’t that an awesome idea? It’s pretty exciting and empowering, a little solipsistic, but let’s just roll with it. I’m here to tell you the good news everyone: We’re never gonna die! Hugh Everett died in 1982, however, or at least in our universe.
ROWE: I think that as far as weapons-developing scientists who believe that they are immortal go, Everett seems pretty chill. Many of us look to the wide-world of science fiction to inform our opinions about alternate worlds. That genre, above all others, is dedicated to thought-experiments and the consequences of living in worlds where those thought-experiments define the reality. For instance, visiting an alien race allows writers to hold up a mirror to our own world and explore cultural and societal issues such as race, gender, technological reliance, and environment in a way that allows readers to empathize greater with their own world. So what do alternate reality plots in science fiction television mean? It usually means the show is out of budget, and painting the faces of the current cast blue will allow them to save money. That world then allows the writers to be their own Jane Elliott.
Of course, that most people think multiverse and assume science fiction demonstrates a single instance of how a powerful narrative influences an entire world view. I believe that assigning different narratives on your own world is the budget, DIY version of seeing alternate worlds in your own reality. For example, imagine how you see the world and how the Arkansas legislature views it. Your world is not so bad but the other one is probably on fire and full of CRIMINALS who only think evil thoughts. Assume we’re both looking at a public school in this example.
BRASHER: So let’s get physical shall we? Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment where a cat is in a box and you have to figure out if it’s dead or alive. That seems pretty simple in itself but then scientists started adding layers to the problem, one version involves a flask of poison, a radioactive measuring thing, something something atoms decaying… Spoiler alert: It’s really hard to tell if the cat is dead or alive. The point of this exercise is to try and wrap your head around quantum uncertainty. Dead or alive is the question, and like British pop group Dead or Alive, the basic test of quantum uncertainty also involves stuff spinning right round, mainly particles. It’s all very complicated but again we got no time for that, or teleportation, or quantum computing, or really hard ways to kill or not kill cats. We’re here to talk about many worlds, and that means the cat is both dead and alive just in different respective universes because at every junction all possibilities occur and reality splits.
BRASHER: Quantum immortality is one of those ideas you think about in the shower. We have touched on the practical side of immortality before, mostly focusing on what a drag it would be. There is a situation where it might not be so bad and that involves technology. Of course it would suck to live forever as a lame regular human, but what if you could live until technology allowed you to be some kind of cybernetic artificial intelligence augmented super being? I don’t know, might be worth it. Until then though I just gotta hope all these quarks keep rolling natural 20s to keep me alive and get me into that universe. Oh, and if I die or am already dead in your universe, you got the suck universe.
ROWE: From the scientific thought-experiment to the narrative — it’s more likely that if you scanned the infinite possibilities of every infinite world, you’d be more likely to find an actual Little Rock, Alaska before you would find a universe that was exactly similar to our own, but only different based on a few decisions you personally regret.
There’s a powerful narrative that captures the imagination when discussing alternate worlds: What if your decisions changed the course of human history? This narcissistic multi-worldview dominates a lot of the thinking, but I’ll place the explanation at media aimed at Millennial Americans. There is a strong storytelling tradition of “chosen ones” in our culture. The special child or underachieving individual has the power to change the world for the better, and only need unlock that power through self-discovery to gain everything for the self and make everyone else better in the process.
Alternate reality storytelling sort of cheats that process. Why bother with the self-discovery if you could visit a world where something as irrelevant as an irresponsible decision of ditching work or class resulted in you kissing the homecoming king or queen AND eliminating poverty and racism? You’d be the one at the portal saying, “sorry guys I have to stay here on this world and I think you should too.” It’s the chosen one dream. Changing the world while not really doing anything at all. It’s like reposting and liking causes on Facebook.
BA ?? for the win! https://t.co/m17tnG6YwG
— Arkansas Razorbacks (@ArkRazorbacks) November 8, 2015
The ending to the Arkansas-Ole Miss football game is a perfect example of quantum uncertainty and oh my God are you kidding me.
BRASHER: But that’s all in the future, what about the past? The prevailing wisdom is that it’s not good to ask “what if?” It is said that dwelling on the past only leads to disappointment. But you know, a lot of what I do leads to disappointment so i’m not gonna let that slow me down. What if the Razorbacks won the 2006 SEC championship? What if that great vegan restaurant From The Garden never closed down? What if Jason Rapert hadn’t shot that guy in the Lowe’s parking lot and gone to prison for life? You see what I did there? Alternate realities. They are around us, and they are just an event away.
ROWE: I’ll argue that they’re all around us at present. Instagram, the photo-sharing social media, allows you to search for publicly posted photos in your area. Browsing through this option will show you familiar places populated by people you have never seen, having carefully staged fun. I recommend you look at photos taken near you. They may as well have reconstructed the White Water Tavern in an alternate reality where everyone has their face painted blue, because it’s completely foreign to me.
BRASHER: I’m trying to think of what events could have really changed history for the state if things had gone the other way in our reality. I guess the Civil War would be a big one, we could have a “Man In The High Castle” type deal where the Confederacy won. There’s probably 20 books about that. Or what if France was like, “Mmm, nah we’re just gonna hang onto that Louisiana purchase thingy.” We’d probably be eating a lot better, but there would be more mimes. That’s a hard trade off right there.
But what if things went better? What if the desegregation of Central High just went totally smoothly? Orval Faubus was all like, “You know people, the writing is on the wall here, we’re eventually just going to have to accept everyone and stop all this nonsense so you might as well get used to it now people.” Angry white protesters reluctantly agree, shrug their shoulders and go home. Little Rock Nine go to Central without incident. Arkansas finds itself strangely on the right side of history. I-630 was never built. Jimmie Lou Fisher elected governor 2002. No barking from the dog, no smog. Bowling scores way up, golf scores way down.
ROWE: I think that sort of thinking leads me to the conclusion that it’s always wise for the courts to rule with inevitability, and the people who are placed or elected on to courts will always have a hard time seeing past their own world. I think that there are people in this reality on the judicial bench who honestly believe it’s a slippery slope from same-sex marriage to people being able to marry a horse. That’s dumb. If a horse asks you to marry it, you’d better just do what it says. In this reality or any another.
If you’re a chosen one or are enjoying Brasher and Rowe, please support us by visiting the archive of previous columns, sharing us on social media, and following Brasher and/or Rowe on Twitter. Send us mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your support lets us know we should keep doing this, and will help us finally stop being tortured in .000412% of all realities combined.