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Parallel Worlds

Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives

You may or may not have heard the music of the American indie rock band Eels – the creation of multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Mark Oliver Everett (also known simply as “E”) – though if you haven’t, do yourself a favour. One of the interesting facets of E’s life is that his father was Hugh Everett, a mathematics genius who originated the “many-worlds” interpretation of quantum physics, a theory which essentially suggests that each time a decision is made a parallel universe branches off, creating a very large (perhaps infinite) number of parallel universes. Thus, everything that could possibly have happened in our past but didn’t, *has* occurred in the past of another parallel universe. Many-worlds is now considered a mainstream theory in quantum physics.

However, Hugh Everett was a very distant father, and he died prematurely in 1982, when Mark Everett was just 19. In a wonderful, witty documentary, Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives, Mark goes in search of his father and his research into parallel worlds by visiting old friends, talking to modern quantum physicists, and looking through his father’s old documents and audio tapes. I highly recommend it – it both educates the viewer about the many-worlds interpretation, and tells an honest (and rather sad) personal story at the same time. I’ve embedded the entire documentary – posted to Vimeo by Mark Everett himself – below for ease of viewing:

If Mark Everett’s life and music (which features throughout the documentary) interest you, you might also like to pick up a copy of his acclaimed book Things the Grandchildren Should Know (Amazon US and US). And definitely grab some Eels albums while you’re at it…

Editor
  1. Emotional and Revelatory
    A bittersweet docu, that reveals the difficult personalities behind the giants we revere in text books, and how cruel the world often is with young geniuses that are not allowed to have epiphanies about the nature of the world.

    And I couldn’t help wondering: if all this insight was brought up by small photons that for the tiniest of moments splice and get reunited later on, does that mean that eventually the quantum multiverse will someday coalesce into a single unity?

    Alpha and Omega indeed…

  2. Me, myself, and I
    I hope all the alternate versions of me are thankful I made all the bad decisions and they get to live the good lives! Or am I an alternate version of another me? It may be a good thing I’m indecisive!

  3. So, are “decisions” being
    So, are “decisions” being constantly and infinitely made from one moment to the next? The multiverse theory seems to hinge on decision making yet what exactly a decision is is not clearly explained at least in these pop sci explanations. This a variant of the “observation” paradox. An observation is more than just looking – it is noticing that something has changed. It is impossible to make an observation without noticing that something has changed because at the quantum level nothing in the material world is the same from one moment to the next. Really nothing at the macro level is either in an expanding universe.
    If you are a Deistic many-worlder then you believe that the Creator is ever present and all observing, therefore anything is not only possible it “is.” If you are an atheistic many-worlder then you still seem to believe that something is observing. Is it even possible to be an atheistic many-worlder as Everett claimed to be without being caught in a contradiction?

    1. from the Doing-the-Wittgenstein-Dept.
      [quote=emlong]If you are a Deistic many-worlder then you believe that the Creator is ever present and all observing, therefore anything is not only possible it “is.” If you are an atheistic many-worlder then you still seem to believe that something is observing. Is it even possible to be an atheistic many-worlder as Everett claimed to be without being caught in a contradiction?[/quote]

      “Many-worlds”, “observer”, “present” can be worked with, meaningful statements that predict and hypothesize can be made.

      “Deistic”, “atheistic”, “Creator” are meaningless statements, in the sense of what can they be used to predict and hypothesize?

      Funny note: Quantum cryptography seems to have killed the concept of an all-seeing entity, or, at least, an all-seeing entity that has to follow the rules of quantum mechanics πŸ™‚

      1. all seeing
        Well,
        [quote]
        Quantum cryptography seems to have killed the concept of an all-seeing entity, or, at least, an all-seeing entity that has to follow the rules of quantum mechanics πŸ™‚
        [/quote]
        The creator-type entity doesn’t follow the rules of physics, at least not in this universe. The creator is assumed to be outside the universe and its rules, having created the rules themselves. And what with all the miracles, the creator routinely breaks these rules.

        1. from the Finger-and-the-Moon-Dept.
          [quote=earthling]Well,
          [quote]
          Quantum cryptography seems to have killed the concept of an all-seeing entity, or, at least, an all-seeing entity that has to follow the rules of quantum mechanics πŸ™‚
          [/quote]
          The creator-type entity doesn’t follow the rules of physics, at least not in this universe. The creator is assumed to be outside the universe and its rules, having created the rules themselves. And what with all the miracles, the creator routinely breaks these rules.[/quote]

          *chuckle* Yuppers, that’s why I wrote what I wrote :3

          It’s like as if I were able to stick my finger in jello to active a light switch inside the jello, so there is action on the light switch, action on the jello, but then I am able to somehow ‘erase’ my intruding on the jello and leaving any trace on the light switch, even of the electrons in the light switch bumping into each other (as electricity)…and so forth.

          Funny thing is, we can already do that in a sense: we have made a circuit that performs a calculation without performing a calculation. And all that using meaningful, predictive terms without resorting to “divine hand-waving” :3

          (one of the reasons why I like to joke that Physicists have already found G_d and its time for the rest of us to catch up…)

          1. “Funny note: Quantum
            “Funny note: Quantum cryptography seems to have killed the concept of an all-seeing entity, or, at least, an all-seeing entity that has to follow the rules of quantum mechanics”

            You are going to have to elaborate on that. I suspect that you mean it killed off an all seeing entity within the bounds of this partcular approach we are taking here. Whoever said that an all seeing entity has to follow the rules of quantum mechanics? That is not even a given in the the philosophical angles we are working here.

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