Fri, April 4, 2003
Another Universe, Not My Own
Today I was driving in traffic behind another platinum green Volvo S60. (I myself drive a platinum green S60.) (So, by "another" I didn't mean another in the series that I usually drive behind.) (Also, you should know I get paid by the parenthesis.) Last weekend, riding in my friend's silver Acura RSX, we were driving behind a silver RSX. Whenever that happens, I like to pretend that the driver in the leading car is actually me, just a few moments from now. It sounds silly, but it's happened enough times that I have done some thinking about it.
First of all, it only happens for a few seconds, so it's just kind of whimsical fun to think about the significance of it while it's happening, and then the bozo makes a left or something and you're thrust back into reality without so much as a "how's your father?" Second, I enjoy anything that allows me even a moment of basking in the consideration that time travel is nice and possible. I'm like Calvin with his cardboard box. I can think of endless uses for a transmogrifier or a time machine or a teleporter, even though I know I'll never have one.
But time travel is an impossibility. The FAQ on the Back to the Future DVD says it's impossible because of the fact that it leads to paradoxes like the ones you see in Back to the Future Part III (once Marty breaks the tombstone in his showdown with Buford Tannen, there's no tombstone in 1955 to cause him to want to go back to 1885, in which case he couldn't have broken the tombstone). That's fine for them, but I know it's impossible for a much simpler reason. I haven't met anybody from the future, and none of us has heard of anybody from the future. Now perhaps there's time travel in the future, but you can only travel forward. Well, to me that's really just a flashy form of suspended animation. You're not really a time traveller if you can't come back. Or, perhaps there's time travel in the future, but it's just so well-regulated that everybody who's travelled back to our present has done so undetected. If you saw Timecop, you know that no attempt at regulating time travel could prove 100% successful, and also Gloria Reuben thanks you. If you've been to an airport ever, you also know that the concept of the government regulating anything is a joke. And if you've seen Timechasers, you know that thirty years from now looks exactly like three years from now.
Still, in my little fantasy world, it works something like this: there exist an infinite number of parallel universes. In these parallel universes, everything is everywhere at every time. Which is to say, each individual universe is one possible representation of where everything could be at any given time. You can see why an infinite number are needed. Ordinarily, you can't see the other universes and they can't see you. You exist in one at a time, but over time you're skipping from one to the next constantly, always existing in the one where – for you – everything is in the position that it's in in your universe. So far, this is all theoretically possible and Stephen Hawking actually says that's how it really is.
So, you're driving along in your universe (or, through your universes) and everything's fine. Except, for a brief instant, you can see into one of the other universes. Maybe this is happening all the time, but you don't realize it because you're seeing into universes where there's not anything right ahead of you in the road. I don't know. But, you're seeing into one of the other universes, and at this point in time, the one you're seeing into is the one where you left the house three seconds earlier. (Or that stupid kid cleared the crosswalk three seconds faster, allowing you to make that right turn at the light.) Anyway, your position in that universe is in your car on the street driving along, but forty feet or so further ahead. Trippy, huh?
In this model, time travel is really less about travelling through time and more about travelling to another parallel universe. And while you're not travelling to the other universe (that would mean actually being in the other car), you're at least getting a glimpse through a little portal in the fabric of space-time. (And, yes, I was just looking for an excuse to work in the phrase "fabric of space-time.") But it's still fun, because it would be super-cool to travel through time and it would be great to see if it was like The Simpsons, where the tiniest change in the past has wide-ranging effects in the future, or like Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure where you can be the reason your dad lost his car keys, or like the Terminator movies, where if you send a robot back to the past to accomplish something and it fails, you inexplicably send another robot back into the more recent past, rather than the more distant past where it could just take care of things before the first robot even showed up.
It gets even stranger when you stop to think about what "now" is anyway. I mean, "now" can't really exist, because nothing ever happens "now." Stop reading this for a second, clap your hands, and then continue reading. By the time you've heard the sound, you're already not clapping any more. The instant of the clap is gone forever, and exists only as a memory. Can you trust that memory? Or were you just born into the universe this very instant, with a memory of clapping your hands a few seconds ago and reading the word "now" right now? Maybe you were. Maybe because the instant before, you were in some parallel universe reading the sentence before that. Or something.
I remember in high school mentioning to someone that maybe none of us were actually walking through the halls changing classes, we were actually in a desert somewhere walking around in the sand, but all sharing the mass hallucination that we were participating in a common fantasy where there were lockers and classrooms, etc. And then five years later somebody thinks of The Matrix, and those guys are labeled the visionary geniuses.
Some parallel universe this turned out to be.