Many Worlds

For centuries, man believed that the sun revolves around the earth. Centuries later, he still thinks that time moves clockwise. ~Robert Brault

Every now and again, I pick up a book that discusses time in some form of the concept of multiple universes, or the many-worlds interpretation. Math and science are certainly not my strong points, so when these books set off on explorations of quantum physics, my head spins.

But I keep coming back to the concept. My husband and I often joke that our “alternate selves” are off doing crazy-wonderful things based on the different choices we/they made along the pathway of life. Like if one of us had accepted a different job offer, we’d be off living in the wilds of North Dakota or somewhere back in central Illinois. Our choices become catalysts for speculations of what-might-have-beens along the way. We joke about it, but there are authors and scientists for whom the idea is more than a possibility.

The first time I remember encountering this idea was when I was reading Richard Bach. After his best-selling work Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Bach wrote many other books. But two in particular took spots on my shelf, not necessarily for the writing itself, but for the ideas. His book about meeting his second wife, Leslie Parrish, The Bridge Across Forever, was followed a few years later by One. In One, Bach refines his theories about the existence of parallel universes. He also introduces readers to one of the primary concepts in an interview he did with John Harricharan:

“One” came from a long-term curiosity about what might have been, what would have become of us if I had run from love; if Leslie had? Who are those people we might have been? Where are they now? Then one day I picked up a little book, The Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. It says that every possible event that can happen, does happen in an alternate space-time. It’s like the theory of relativity itself; it’s incredible, but no one can fault the math!

Physicists do not accept the idea of time. They say, “There is no space-time, there is not time, there is no before, there is no after. The question what happens ‘next’ is without meaning” I thought, if all these other paths exist, and if there is no such thing as time, when all paths must be simultaneous! But how can this be? How can opposites be true? And I went to sleep thinking about that and all of a sudden I was looking down on this infinite pattern and it all clicked, everything made sense!

There is actually serious physics and philosophy behind the MWI, or Many Worlds Interpretation, strongly rooted in quantum science. In the MWI entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the authors give scientific voice to the idea Bach raised in One: “In particular, every time a quantum experiment with different outcomes with non-zero probability is performed, all outcomes are obtained, each in a different world, even if we are aware only of the world with the outcome we have seen.” The article is science-heavy, especially when it gets into formulas about the quantum state, but an interesting read on the possibility or probability of the existence of many worlds.

Another author explains it in ways I better understand. In his book, Timeline, Michael Crichton uses the quantum theory and multiple universes to explain the possibility of time travel in ways that almost make sense to me as a reader. If you only saw the movie, please grab the book — as with most adaptations, the written words are much better and deeper than the movie. While a fiction writer, Crichton was known for pushing the boundaries of modern science within his books. Like Jurassic Park with its chaos theory and DNA replication, this one is no exception, and quantum theory is his explanation for how the impossible seems, in the story, quite possible.

Strange, I realize, but the concept intrigues me.

Any suggestions for other books I have missed where this idea plays a role? I’d love to add some new reading material to my shelves!

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