Whew. This was a long pair of weeks. Between the marathon travel (and the actualy marathon for Jodi), the return to CA, two days of non-stop meetings (and work?), then travel to and from DC for my friend’s wedding, Jodi and I are EXHAUSTED. In addition to exhausted, we are also 2000 miles apart.
Let’s backtrack a bit. The wedding was wonderful. It was a small ceremony in a manor house at a golf course in Virginia. The reception was held in an adjoining building. Even the rain finally gave it a rest so that we could all enjoy ourselves, after drenching the mid-Atlantic for several days. The wedding was a chance to “renew acquaintences from college”:http://www.cooleysekula.net/wp-content/uploads/cs-015.png, to catch up with the happy couple and their families (the groom’s family I met for the first time), and to have a fun evening (with… my GOD… a little dancing even thrown in for good measure).
This weekend also got me thinking a lot about parallel worlds, chance, and life. Whoa there. That’s right: a wedding got me thinking about parallel universes.
Max Tegmark, among others, has ruminated heavily on the possibility of parallel universes. This young professor from MIT has several categories of parallel universe, one of which are quantum parallel universes that branch every time a quantum state collapses. The argument is that all quantum states are possible, and manifest as multiple copies of the same universe, but along different branch points of the quantum outcome. Each Steve, in his own universe, only perceives the history connected to the outcome his universe is born from.
Really, it’s all a pile of theoretical bull-hooey. Until a test can be devised to actually discern the presence of such parallel worlds, or until the different possible categories can be distinguished or ruled out, this is all a sugar-wasting brain exercise. That said, it sure is fun philosophy. Actually, it’s kind of a dark philosophy (at least in the way I wound up using it).
During the wedding, the topic of one of my ex-girlfriends – the one I dated right before Jodi – came up. After the wedding, I got to thinking about Tegmark’s parallel universes based on quantum outcomes. For instance, chemical processes (which drive emotion, decision, and thought) are fundementally quantum mechanical. One can construct a long argument that every time a choice is made, you’ve entered a particular quantum state (which is based on the microscopic outcomes of the chemical processes underlying consciousness). I asked myself: what if things had been slightly different back before 1998, when I met Jodi in grad school?
I started to imagine worlds where Jodi, having applied to Yale and having been accepted, met me in college in physics when I was a screwed up teenager on his own for the first time. Jodi would have been a Junior when I was a Freshman, so there’s a good chance I would have met her at colloquia. We’ve always kinda joked about this scenario (I’ve wished on many occasions I’d met her years earlier just to simplify my life), but we’ve also concluded that it’s quite likely that we might not have actually liked one another. She would have been a determined athelete, likely majoring in Engineering and not Physics (which was a switch she made by a long chain of events in her real college experience). I would have been a fairly shy, intimidated student with limited social skills, with a grudge against athletes. That’s a pretty bad universe. My life probably sucks in that universe.
Another scenario I wondered about was past relationships. What if past relationships that didn’t work out **had** worked out, as with my ex-girlfriend or with an ex-boyfriend of Jodi’s? We ran through the possibilities and identified a case for her where, had we gotten to UW-Madison under those circumstances, we likely would have never had the chance to hit it off.
Given how much I love Jodi, and how grateful I am for the life I have, I came to appreciate the delicate membranes that separate the consequences of one choice from another. If Tegmark is correct, and there are parallel worlds built from the branching trees of quantum collapse, they must surely be separated by a thin skin. Through such a wall, surely we must sense the joy, fear, and regret of our parallel selves as they – and we – cope with the choices we have made.
Given all that weighty philosophy Jodi and I tackled late at night in Virginia, after the wedding, it’s pretty crappy that she’s in Illinois all week for a bunch of meetings. Sigh. Guess it’s me and the cats.
Yes, yes! Get down from there. I’ll feed you!!!