My so-called parallel lives

This article at New Scientist which I had “saved as new” in Bloglines from Bryan Alexander’s feed about a week ago makes my brain hurt. I’ll need to read it a few times before I come close to really understanding the theory of colliding parallel universes.

But, one section did jump out at me on the first read:

. . . researchers have long struggled to understand why a bell will ring – or not ring – in any given run of an experiment, since in theory it has the option of doing both. This conundrum, known as the quantum measurement problem, has led a small subset of physicists to argue that in fact the bell does do both – but that each possible outcome takes place in a different, parallel universe that pops into existence during the experiment.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a sense of my life as a tree with many (even infinite) branches. As I’ve imagined it, at any given moment in my life, choices I make or events beyond my control cause that tree to branch again. This sense is always strongest at moments when I avert some kind of disaster — when I manage to avoid being hit by a swerving car or when I think twice before saying something to someone that could have dire consequences on a relationship. At those moments, I’ve always breathed a sigh of relief and thanked some higher power for allowing me to continue on the path I’m on. At the same time, during those moments I’m overwhelmed with the sense that there is another, less fortunate Martha who is having to suffer the consequences of a very different outcome.

In a way this strange perspective has forced me to live my life more aware of the good fortunes I enjoy. In another way, it’s been a constant source of a strange kind of guilt.

I’m not sure what to make of this other than it was very odd to read a description of something that has haunted me all my life in an article on quantum physics. Go figure.

3 thoughts on “My so-called parallel lives”

  1. Meow! Not-Meow!

    Ahh…takes me back to my days in another life (in this universe) as a physics major. One of the tweaks is the problem that, if multiple universes exist, they are (probably) completely unknowable. Which will lead some to say, “Piffle, if there’s no knowability there, best not to think about it.” Of course, that same problem is what makes it so rich for speculation.

    Old saying about the similar problem of light being a particle and a wave: Light is a particle on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; a particle on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday; and physicsts pray for guidance on Sunday.

  2. This is one of my favorite subjects. Just to make your brain hurt worse, I’ve read about subtle (and not-so-subtle) variants of the “multiple universes” hypothesis. A lot of physics theory arises from an attempt to unify special and general relativity and quantum mechanics, which, at small sizes, don’t play very well together.

    One such idea is that there is only one physical universe, but with many different mathematical descriptions, each arising from a division of the universe into observer and observed. This is “relative,” in the semantic sense, and does away with the idea of unique, separate universes that coexist physically all at the same time.

    And then there’s string theory. And M-theory. And I have half a mind to come up with a theory myself, call it a ridiculous name, whip up some nonsensical linear algebra and eigenkets, slap my name on it and challenge anyone to prove me wrong.

    Welcome to poop-theory!


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