Have you ever had a dream, whether in the depths of sleep or while lulling through the more tedious aspects of your daily routine, where somewhere out there is another version of you, living a fuller, more complete life, one that consists of far more Adventure, Excitement and Really Wild Stuff than is generally available? Or have you ever considered what would have happened if you had taken a slightly different decision, or the road less travelled, or if you’d not drunken quite that much and ended up in the police cell?
One of the staples of Science Fiction is the Alternate Reality, or where a decision taken takes the whole universe down a whole different Trouserleg of Time. I can recall, in fact, having several dreams where I’ve encountered myself in different dimensions, replicated multiple times in different cosmic scenarios. I have to say I wasn’t too impressed with my alternate lives – they all seemed to be much the same, except for the universes where I had inexplicably died in bizarre and/or highly amusing circumstances. In fact, some scientists postulate that this is entirely possible – the so-called multiverse hypothesis, where every decision causes a whole new universe to pop into existence, so that for every time you went left, a different you went right, and for the You that finds itself hungover in a police cell there’s a brighter, slicker, shinier and generally more sober You that finds him/herself in a far more salubrious environment.
It’s a highly attractive theory – just imagine that you are replicated over and over again in countless myriad universes, free to keep making decisions, sometimes – well, actually, more often than not – making mistakes, but somewhere in this countless number of infinities, in this limitless ocean of repeated times and spaces, there’s a little you who makes all the right decisions and ends up with the perfect life.
I always thought it would be great to be able to travel all across these dimensions, meeting myself, as it were: In fact, there are those who believe that this can, rarely, happen, and accounts for people seeing Dopplegangers, or themselves from the past/future and so on. Unfortunately, I have come to see it as all a bit bunk. And why?
Well, it’s this whole the-decision-causes-the-universe-to-split-off-into-a-new-universe thing. Why a decision? Why not a random chemical interaction? Why not the decay of an atomic particle? Why not a gust of wind? The whole multiverse hypothesis seems to me to rest on the presumption of decisions causing change, which in turn requires the sentience necessary to make a decision, and indeed the self awareness that is in turn necessary to understand that decisions make differences.
In other words, a universe that behaves in such a bizarre way, that it goes and spawns a whole brand new shiny universe that is exactly the same except for one tiny detail, seems to be a bit on the extravagant side. It means that the universe is in effect designed to foster sentience, which strongly suggests that it is, in some way, sentient itself. After all, getting whole new universes popping into existence simply because I decide not to have some jam on my toast is actually quite a clever asexual reproduction strategy, and means that our universe (whichever one it is now) can keep on going literally ad infinitum.
We should also consider that a lot of what we consider to be decisions based on free will are nothing of the kind, but are pretty much the random outcome of the chemicals sloshing round our brain and/or the interaction with our environment, according to an increasing body of research into brain function and psychology, which means that if the universe is popping out versions of itself based on the fact that my noggin is currently mired in booze, it’s doing it for all the wrong reasons. Unless of course, the cosmos knows I’m pissed, and therefore decides that I’m in no state to go round doing ad hoc universe-popping.
So, the whole idea of a sentience-supporting realm of existence bothers me, because it strongly implies a created system. In addition, it strikes me that one could, in theory at least, eventually develop a computer that could track the movement of every particle in creation from the Big Bang onwards. If so, it would be easy to see how the movement, life and decay of each particle leads to order, then life, then to sentient life, which then, because of the fact that it is being observed, cannot be truly said to be independently sentient, being the outcome of the movement of various Quantum Stuff. And then we’re really buggered, because it means that our universe is Deterministic rather than Relativistic.
In the end, although I wouldn’t mind taking a trip down the different Trouserleg of Time, I think we have to accept that this is all the cosmos we’re going to get, and in fact it doesn’t much give a stuff whether we eat the White Chocolate Magnum or the one covered in chopped hazelnuts.