A recent NPR article describes physicist Robert Greene’s view of an alternate universe in the following manner:
Our universe might be really, really big — but finite. Or it might be infinitely big.
Both cases, says physicist Brian Greene, are possibilities, but if the latter is true, so is another posit: There are only so many ways matter can arrange itself within that infinite universe. Eventually, matter has to repeat itself and arrange itself in similar ways. So if the universe is infinitely large, it is also home to infinite parallel universes.Link to full article.
So, on some planet millions of light years away, another you might be doing what you’re doing now. Or, he or she might be using your character traits, personality, emotional and physical attributes, and everything that makes you unique in a different manner.
For example, let’s say your long-lost, quantum-mechanical twin exists in a tumultuous time period. Let’s assume, for instance, that your facsimile lives in his or her world’s equivalent of Nazi Germany.
Now, would that carbon copy of you, a being holding your character traits in all their Earthly grandeur (with minor exceptions here and there), be consumed by the madness of the time period? Would you be a part of that world’s Eizengruppen and mow down a group of orphans with a machine gun?
Or, in that Bizarro World, would you pass the test of time?
Would you be like Sophie Scholl in 1943 and distribute anti-Nazi leaflets? If so, like Sophie, you might also be executed by guillotine.
But, enough about us, let’s move away from ourselves for a moment (what a narcissist I am) and ask the fun questions:
Would a man like Rupert Murdoch risk his life to protect others in this parallel world? What kind of leadership skills would David Cameron or Barack Obama possess in some distant, troubled universe? Who would your father or mother, your religious leader, or your significant other be if they existed in another time and place – a time and place that tested their morals and their personality in some grave manner?
I know it sounds quirky, but this is all very serious business. Who you’d be in an alternate world isn’t only an existential dilemma that makes for a good science fiction or fantasy story. It’s a topic that strips away the bonds of tribalism, ethnic and cultural allegiances, and national pride.
The answer to this question also relieves you of the luxury of living in your comfortable time period. For instance, chances are you might only be a moral soul because you live in 2012 London, or 2012 Los Angeles.
Your long-lost photocopy - the man or woman in a galaxy far, far away - might not have that luxury. He or she might be using your personality, character flaw, and convictions on a daily basis, and not for what you might think.
Last year I received an email from a person I know to be a wonderful, kind-hearted, and moral human being. The email read the following, and was a spoof on comic Jeff Foxworthy’s schtick about rednecks:
1. If you refine heroin for a living,
But you have a moral objection to liquor.
You may be a Muslim
2. If you own a Ł3,000 machine gun and Ł5,000 rocket launcher,
But you can't afford shoes.
You may be a Muslim
3. If you have more wives than teeth.
You may be a Muslim
Now, you might look at the words above and say the email was a vile attempt at humor. I agree. However, I also look at it and wonder what kind of emails would be circulating during Nazi Germany if Nazis had the internet. Would I be the butt of a joke? What role would this failed attempt at comedy have in someone’s fate?
Also, I ask myself who the person who sent this email might have been in an alternate world. Would he also send emails about Jews if the political climate were ripe for that sort of thing? Would he laugh just as hard if the email was aimed at his own ethnic group, assuming that he belonged to a different one in another world?
Finally, here’s some other food for thought: This world’s business tycoon might also be another world’s slave ship captain. This world’s homophobic or Islamophobic preacher might also be another world’s anti-Semitic tyrant. This world’s naive and harmless internet spammer might be the silent neighbor who says nothing while his family friends march off to death camps.
Brian Greene and other physicists have inadvertently helped me understand humanity in a profound manner. If you’ve ever asked yourself why genocides, wars, political unrest, racism, and economic strife continue to exist, just ask who your fellow man and woman (be they elected officials or even a sibling) would be in an alternate world. If they possess the character traits that might allow these sorts of things to take place in another time period, then you have your answer.
So the next time you get that email disparaging another ethnicity, or listen to that politician espouse his love for a country he’s never fought for, or that family member who says “can’t you find a nice ‘so and so’ to get married to,” just think of alternate realities.
You might just find your answer as to why the cycle of violence and bloodshed continues on planet Earth.
You'll also find out one of the themes in my latest novel, Breaking the Devil's Heart.
H. A. Goodman