The nature of the world we live in, physical reality in particular, has been a source of wonder for thousands of years. To the average person, there is little distinction between “reality” and “physical reality”. To most of us, what we see is what is real. To philosophers, mathematicians and quantum physicists, “reality” and “physical reality” are very different concepts. To put it simply, physical reality is the observable universe – that which we see, hear, smell, feel and taste. Even though most of us accept what we see (physical reality) as reality, we tend to agree that there is more to life than this physical reality. And because we know that there is something ‘bigger’ than what we currently perceive as reality, it is safe to conclude that the real reality is not what we see everyday but something much more. Indeed, smart people like mathematicians, philosophers and quantum physicists are in agreement with us on that.
But this is where it gets complicated. Some very smart people have come up with many interesting theories of what constitutes “reality”.
One of these theories is the Many World Interpretation (MWI) of reality. First proposed by Hugh Everett in 1957, it holds that reality is a universal wave function (agreed to by other theories such as the Copenhagen Interpretation) and that this universal wave function is objectively real in every possible way. This is a rather complicated way of stating the matter. I guess what Mr Everett was actually trying to say was that anything that can be imagined is possible and actually exists.
The implication of this assertion is quite mind-boggling – to put it mildly. If every imaginable thing, event, situation, life, etc. is (are) real, then there must be other worlds other than the one we currently live in, hence the name “many worlds interpretation”. Because we can imagine an infinite number of events and scenarios, the MWI implies that there is an infinite number of universes. Thus, we actually exist in a “multi-verse” rather than a “universe”. Well, in a sense we exist in a universe but that universe exists within a multiverse containing an infinite number of universes.
The concept of an infinite number (or at least many) universes has been around for thousands of years and is a central teaching in some religions. These universes are sometimes referred to as “alternative universes”, “parallel universes”, “parallel dimensions”, “parallel worlds”, “alternative realities”, …. you get the idea.
My first contact with this theory was in the 2001 movie The One starring Jet Li as Gabriel Yulaw, a detective with the Multiverse Authority (MA) who attempts to track down and kill all versions of himself across all universes in order to absorb their power and become the one supreme him. This movie is based on a central tenet of the multiverse theory – that there is a version of you and me on every single one of those infinite universes and those versions of you are variously living any life you can imagine. This is to say that if you have ever fantasised about being an invisible man who walks through walls – possibly into bank vaults and makes away with millions of wad, well, there is a version of you in a universe somewhere that is exactly that! And of course there is another version of you that is world renowned for charity.
If you are broke right now and thinking there is a version of you in another universe with loads of cash that you could borrow, sorry to burst your bubble, one underlying theme of the multiverse theory (as far as we know) is that the universes are non-communicating, there is no interaction between them. This is just another way of saying you would never have access to your “richer other’s” cash, you have to make yours right here or die broke. For all intents and purposes, there is a version of you in another universe who has lived his life exactly the same as you and started reading this article but dumped it after the first three lines and hence branched off to live a different life thenceforth.
This possibly explains phenomena that humanity has had a hard time trying to explain for a very long time. Have you ever experienced a particular situation and in that instant felt like that particular situation has happen before in the exact same way? Some people call that experience a deja vu. Or, have you ever met someone for just a short period of time and felt like you have an unexplainable connection with the person? Some explanations of the multiverse concept hold that even though there is no direct communications between parallel universes, there is some form of resonance between them. And to varying degrees, we all resonate somehow with our alternative selves. So when you are in a situation and feel like you already have a memory of that same situation, but you know it is not ‘real’ memory, what has actually happened is that the ‘you’ of another universe has experienced that situation before and it has somehow found its way into your memory. The same goes for premonition – sensing (or actually seeing a vision) of something that is about to happen. Also, an unusual connection with someone here might be explained by an actual connection between your alternate selves in another universe or plane or dimension (any word you choose).
This ‘multiverse thinking’ takes us to the inevitable realisation that if every reality we can imagine exists, then every possible past has existed and every possible future will exist. So what happens when you die here? Well, your other versions (who did not die before you) would continue their own lives and meet their own deaths according to their own situations and realities. But what happens when all of them die (if all of them can die anyway)? This is where we have to stretch our logic (as if it has not been stretched enough already). Opinions vary as to the purpose of all of this. Some believe that the purpose is for you to learn (‘you’ here equals all the billions of versions of you in one) all there is to learn from life (which, of course, cannot be done in one lifetime or universe) and after that, attain some kind of godhood and preside over a universe of our own creation. Others believe that at some point, all realities are destroyed and the exact same cycle starts afresh.
This inevitably leads to the conclusion that our reality and all other realities have existed before, and would very likely exist again. This presents itself as another explanation for premonitions and deja vus. A version of you in a past (destroyed) multiverse may have experienced something similar and the ‘you’ in this universe of this multiverse is simply having tiny flashbacks.
If the mutiverse has existed many times before and will exist many times in the future and there are billions of versions of you in all the preceeding universes and those to come as well, it is safe to conclude that technically you are immortal, you have existed for ages and you will continue to exist for ages to come. This immortality can be explained even in science. Matter can neither be created nor destroyed but can only change form. Same as energy. Our physical body (matter) decomposes (changes) into lots of disgusting stuff when we die. Our consciousness (energy) – ‘spirits’ if you prefer – do not get destroyed but simply move on and take form in another multiverse.
The natural extension of the foregoing is that consciousness is infinite. An infinite consciousness is required in order to explain the accumulated knowledge that is expected to be gained from experiences in all universes in all multiverses. The concept of an infinite consciousness once again poses a very credible challenge to the common notion of physical reality. If consciousness is infinite then our lives as we know them are only a tiny projection of that consciousness. The word “projection” connotes something other than the real. It means that our realities are anything but real. That this life as we know it is a mere projection. I am just a projection of the real me and you are just a projection of the real you. In line with multiverse thinking, all the versions of you and I in all the universes are mere projections.
All 7 billion of us on earth are projections, it means that the world in its totality is a projection, the sum of our collective projections. And, if all of this is a projection, what then is real??? Well, you guessed it, nothing. Nothing is real.
While this concept of a multiverse is an extension of the scientific concept of a universal wave function (quantum mechanics), it cannot be proven by science because it cannot be tested scientifically. For one, we cannot visit another parallel universe to observe what is going on there. As such, we can accept that it is, for now, beyond the realm of scientific explanation and as Paul Davies, author of ‘A Brief History of the Multiverse’ puts it requires some amount of faith akin to invoking an unseen Creator.
Another flaw with the theory is that, if the multiverse contains an infinite number of universes, there must surely exist a universe where the multiverse does not exist and by extension mean that there is no multiverse at all. This is an obvious paradox and can lead to other assertions like if there is some mega-verse containing infinite multiverses, there must be a multiverse where there is no universe at all.
This is some pretty brain-twisting stuff. I guess in a universe somewhere, I am smart enough to keep writing on the issue but in this universe right here, I have run out of steam and I am leaving the rest for you.
Inspired by Listverse.