Quantum Physics Is Weird

I’m having an ontological crisis.

It’s my own fault. I watch documentaries on a whim. This one has been sitting on my Sky Plus box for a while, a BBC4 production about the lead singer of The Eels going in search of his father’s legacy, his father being Hugh Everett, originator of the theory of parallel universes. And it’s a good documentary, but I’ve got a cold and my brain is therefore prone to go to some weird distracted places. And then I decided to have a shower, and I started thinking.

I mean, we think of the sci-fi version of parallel universes, where Superman is evil or Spock has a beard. But wait, if every possible action spins off into a parallel universe, that means EVERY POSSIBLE ACTION. All the different positions of every single atom and particle since the beginning of time till the END of time. A new universe where that particular raindrop fell there instead of here. A new universe when I chose to get up at 7.30 and 1 second, and 7.30 and 2 seconds, and…. Do they have a physical reality in some other, inaccessible dimension? And if they branch off from the different paths taken, does that mean they branch off retrospectively, in which case we’re looking at the moment of creation happening an infinite number of times, surely?! Isn’t that a bit… I dunno, overkill?

And are there limiting factors? Let’s not get too sci-fi, because that muddies the waters of whether the laws of physics are fundamentally immutable or whether they could be subtly different in other universes, thus producing flying men and time travelling policeboxes. No, let’s make it easy – if every possiblity is enacted, does that mean there is a Planet Eastenders?

And if there IS a universe where Eastenders happens, what does this mean for art? Maybe the question isn’t whether or not an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters will produce the works of Shakespeare, but that alongside that they will also transcribe an accurate history of a parallel universe!

This got me thinking about comic book writer Grant Morrison saying that he believes it’s possible to travel to fictional worlds. Okay, I suspect he was saying that to get a reaction, some sort of performance art thing, but why not? If every possibility is enacted, then it’s just a case of finding your way into the parallel universe in which the DC Comics stories actually happened? Impossible, because of the infinite number of worlds to navigate? Well, not really, because those worlds are already the ones most likely to have discovered how to travel between universes. How do I know this? I’ve read the stories!

This therefore explains the guy who met Superman in a taxi cab.

But wait, what if it’s a Schrodinger’s Cat thing, where all these possibilities are held in an indeterminate quantum state until they’re observed? And if they’re fixed, that means there needs to be an observer outside of spacetime, which could be seen as proof of the existance of God. Either that or my understanding of the parallel universe theory and quantum physics in general is fatally flawed, one or the other.

Anyway, I then got out of the shower and went to talk about Heroes with Sudge.


5 thoughts on “Quantum Physics Is Weird

  1. novak

    The multiplication of particle possibilities that you mention is exactly why I cannot take this theory too seriously. I’m aware of the awesome scope of numerical possibilites: particles to peas to planets to stars to the startling numbers of the galaxies revealed by the Hubble. I know that this is a numerical reality that even our representing numbers by factors can scarcely be imagined. To muliply each of these possibilities out “sideways” through every possible action of a child or Uncertainty Principle placement of a subatomic particle: I really think it’s too infinite, if that doesn’t just make me sound like an intellectual lightweight. Some would argue that that therefore becomes practically self-proving, like Anselm’s Ontological Argument. Or, even if possibly true, its very unquantifiable limitlessness makes it personally irrelevant to us. It is the finitude within reality that gives all of us our meaning: the farthest, spun-out edges of our universe, the next-to next-to next-to last galaxy spied by the Hubble – for all the fullness of a galaxy, it (at this point in history) appears to have little bearing for us. I’ll still admit that everything in our universe is connected in some primal way – that’s just part of the doctrine of Creation. But I suspect that this kind of multiverse theory is simply a new version of the old philosophical mistake of infinite regression.

    1. matthewhyde Post author

      Thanks for that response; it has now made me want to dig into the subject further (for instance, I’m just heading towards the encyclopedia to look up Anselm!).
      I think what strikes me is the way in which asking questions about the implications of some of the more far-out scientific theories helps to place those theories into a ‘continuum of discovery’ that acknowledges the theories that DIDN’T end up making the grade (Flat Earth, anyone?), or that play into other fields (for instance, people making connections between quantum physics and Eastern mysticism). It’s hard not to shake the idea that science is now our society’s main example of ‘authority’, and I think it’s healthy to put that in some sort of historical context. Newton was an alchemist; theories of parallel universes have implications that raise questions about their infinite nature that they end up sounding more philosophical/religious…
      I may be starting to ramble 🙂

  2. sudge

    I read the entry, it was awesome. Mainly because what I got from it was “Dude, superman TOTALLY exists. Somewhere.”
    Also, there is a parallel universe where I can fly. Awesome. That means there is a parallel universe where a version of me has undertaken to find my version of me and help me switch places with flying, successful me. It’s only a matter of time….
    (heroes rules)

    1. Anonymous

      I’d settle for a universe where I had a cool goatee and minions…
      Of course, NOW I’m heading off-topic and wondering whether there’s a link between the whackier experiences of Moore, Morrison and Schwarz and an early tradition of artists/writers who reported similar odd things, like Blake.
      (I suspect we can guess at mundane explanations that involve the words ‘drugs’ and ‘craziness’, but hey, it could be fun to look at.)
      And THEN of course there’s a possible discussion on how responses to those writers relates to ideas of high/low culture… 😉
      I like this. It’s like being back at university…


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