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it must be my parallel universe twin who’s getting all the dates

The May 2003 issue of Scientific American offers an intriguing look at the likelihood of the existence of parallel universes or series of such universes—a “multiverse” (I always knew that my roleplaying past would come in handy some day)—as a result of the currently most popular cosmological model.

One of the many implications of recent cosmological observations is that the concept of parallel universes is no mere metaphor. Space appears to be infinite in size. If so, then somewhere out there, everything that is possible becomes real, no matter how improbable it is. Beyond the range of our telescopes are other regions of space that are identical to ours. Those regions are a type of parallel universe. Scientists can even calculate how distant these universes are, on average.

And that is fairly solid physics. When cosmologists consider theories that are less well established, they conclude that other universes can have entirely different properties and laws of physics. The presence of those universes would explain various strange aspects of our own. It could even answer fundamental questions about the nature of time and the comprehensibility of the physical world.

This article is not an easy read, obviously, but a fascinating one, and it offers one amusing “birds and frogs”—why do I suddenly find myself thinking about Hitchcock?—model for more readily understanding the many-worlds hypothesis:

[T]he outside view of a physicist studying its mathematical equations, like a bird surveying a landscape from high above it, and the inside view of an observer living in the world described by the equations, like a frog living in the landscape surveyed by the bird.

From the bird perspective, the Level III multiverse is simple. There is only one wave function. It evolves smoothly and deterministically over time without any kind of splitting or parallelism. The abstract quantum world described by this evolving wave function contains within it a vast number of parallel classical story lines, continuously splitting and merging, as well as a number of quantum phenomena that lack a classical description. From their frog perspective, observers perceive only a tiny fraction of this full reality. They can view their own Level I universe, but a process called decoherence—which mimics wave function collapse while preserving unitarity—prevents them from seeing Level III parallel copies of themselves.

Whenever observers are asked a question, make a snap decision and give an answer, quantum effects in their brains lead to a superposition of outcomes, such as “Continue reading the article” and “Put down the article.” From the bird perspective, the act of making a decision causes a person to split into multiple copies: one who keeps on reading and one who doesn’t. From their frog perspective, however, each of these alter egos is unaware of the others and notices the branching merely as a slight randomness: a certain probability of continuing to read or not.

As strange as this may sound, the exact same situation occurs even in the Level I multiverse. You have evidently decided to keep on reading the article, but one of your alter egos in a distant galaxy put down the magazine after the first paragraph. The only difference between Level I and Level III is where your doppelgängers reside. In Level I they live elsewhere in good old three-dimensional space. In Level III they live on another quantum branch in infinite-dimensional Hilbert space.

I’ve always hoped that the theory of parallel universes and an infinite number of other mes was correct… it actually makes me feel better to know that even if I’m not getting laid, there are an infinite number of other mes that are… right at this very second, in fact.

And an infinite number of Rick Santorums are right now being topped by their Stanley Kurtz lovers. Ah, poetic justice.


You should check out the book, One - by Richard Bach. It really opened my eyes to the concept of a parallel universe.

Thanks for the recommendation and reminder. I’d read Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull, of course, as well as There’s No Such Place as Far Away and even the prequel to OneThe Bridge Across Forever—all a very long time ago, but had never gotten around to reading One itself. I’ll add it to my to-read list.


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