Alternate Universes

2 December 02016 (10 months ago)6 minutes of your time

December 2

There is this theory I read about once.

Or perhaps I compiled from various bits of reading.

Either way, the theory is mostly gibberish and you should definitely not take it as fact, or assume that I believe a word of it. But does occasionally strike me as interesting and do tend to find myself meanderingly thinking about it on the rare occasions whenever something triggers the thought of it in my mind.

Simply stated that theory is that from each our own perspective we are as close to immortal as our frail little bodies will allow. We don’t die until we have no other choice but to, when the universe is backed into a corner and there is no parallel universe to accommodate our perception.

I’ll understand if you click away now, but if you are feeling adventurous keep reading.

This theory, more complexly, and with a bit more nuance, goes something like this: our universe (or more precisely, our multiverse) is made up of a countless number of parallel universes. Not alternate dimensions. Not frightening parallel realities with bug-eyed monsters, laser battles and Donald Trump as president — oh, wait — I digress — but rather like roots spreading from a tree, or capillaries branching from a vein, billions, trillions, googolplexes of little branching, writhing, ever-creeping tendrils of universes splitting off every time the opportunity arises.

These opportunities, much like choices in a choose-your-own-adventure novel, can be mundane — or they can be hugely flux-inducing.

Often, those tendrils wind, twist, merge themselves back together because the choices are so mundane as to have literally zero consequence on anything, like when a photon of light bends left around a point or when it bends right. Sure, sometimes that matters, but it happens so frequently and has so little impact that those branching tendrils almost immediately merge back together and the universes collapse back into a single narrative.

Narrative. Now there’s a more interesting way of thinking about it. A story. A thread of perception, cause and effect, one event following logically after another event: a narrative. Choices shape and change the narrative, but there is always a single thread of narrative that your mind follows through the duration of your life. And often the change in the narrative of the universe you are perceiving has no impact and the story goes on uninterrupted. But there is always a single thread that you follow and when you reach the last page of that story, that will be the story of you — but, wait: probably only from your perspective.

So back to the idea of immortality. I know it sounds completely nuts, and it mostly is, but follow along with the theory for a few more minutes. The theory isn’t trying to claim that you can live forever, nor is it claiming that you’re invincible. It’s basically saying this: somewhere, in the vast mishmash, tangled collection of billions of parallel universes that make up the multiverse that swirls around you and each and every person, there is almost always a narrative that continues on with you in it. There is one for everyone. And when I reach the end of my life and you reach the end of your life those narratives will not only be completely different because we lived different lives, but they will be completely different because our perception of the narrative will have taken the optimal, most self-preserving path possible to the furthest reached of that narrative thread. My universe isn’t your universe isn’t…


So, while an occasion or an event or a decision in your perception of the multiverse may occasionally render your existence incompatible with 99.999% of those universe narratives, and while the rest of us might trek merrily on through any of those 99.999% and be sad that you won’t be continuing with us, should such an event occur your perception, or what you might otherwise call your consciousness and your mind and your self, will desperately lurch out and grab onto one of the remaining 0.001% and, well — you’ll blink, feel the rush of adrenaline, take a deep breath and your life goes on… and maybe you’ll have a story to tell.

Confused? Well, perhaps a concrete example will help.

Let’s say for example you’re driving to work on a quiet Thursday morning. The roads are a little slippery. The sun hasn’t quite climbed over the horizon. The streets are pretty dark and the air has that brisk chill that you’d expect for an early December day. You follow the route you follow every day, a pre-dawn commute that is almost always uneventful.

And then, say, someone in a silver SUV who is sitting stopped at the red light of an intersection makes a decision to take his foot of the brakes even though he still has a red light. The universe branches: in one branch he’s still paused behind the stop line, while in the other he has incomprehensibly lurched into the middle of the intersection.

Now say you’re the driver of the vehicle approaching on the green.

And let’s, for sake of clarity, say you’re driving a newer model black pickup truck, travelling at the speed limit and heeding an appropriate amount of attention to the road.

At about the same time the universe had split off to accommodate the two narratives of the SUV driver, your multiverse was also frothing with decision tendrils: there were universes where you had reached to change the channel on the radio, a list of realities where you’d looked into the rearview mirror and reacted in certain ways, a couple narrative threads where you’d extended a little too far scraping your windows that morning and your back was sore thus impeding your reaction time, and one where someone chose just that moment to send an email and, while you’d never actually reach for your phone you had forgotten to mute the notifications and the ‘ding’ notification distracted you for just a mere few milliseconds. In 99.999% of those parallel threads of universal narratives, you were just distracted enough that milliseconds counted for a lot in the hundred or so milliseconds of time between when you noticed the SUV in the intersection, slammed on your brakes, skidded to a stop and then noted that you were within inches of adding an SUV hood ornament to your truck.

In this example, in 99.999% of the parallel universes, there are an uncomfortably large number of universes where either the driver of the truck or the driver of the SUV would have found their continued existence in those universes incompatible with the narrative. Universes where the milliseconds of reaction time overflowed and the inches of gap were instead translated into impact velocities. And in this theory, some –many even– of those universes are still out there, weaving through the ether, going along, advancing through a split off narrative where one or two of the participants have ceased to be participants. In this theory, running parallel to the narrative that, say, you’re reading this essay, there are sad friends and family of either or both of those hypothetical drivers.

According to this theory in that busy, flux-inducing span of interweaving, branching, breaking parallel universes, the consciousnesses the two participants leaped over to the optimal path, followed the narrative that was most compatible, the choice with the best hope of immortality. Unnoticed, of course. Nothing extraordinary. Just a turn down the best tendril of reality. A blink, a feeling of the rush of adrenaline while they each took a deep breath — and two lives goes on with a story to tell about how they almost had a life altering collision that morning.

The universe is a strange place.

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