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ESSAYS Mousse 48

The Multiversalists

by Mark Von Schlegell

 

Daniel Everett, Constellation IV, 2010. Courtesy: the artist Daniel Everett, Constellation IV, 2010. Courtesy: the artist

 

Ever since the extraordinary intuitions of Giordano Bruno in the late 1500s, we have been aware of the possible existence of infinite universes. Mark von Schlegell takes us even further, towards the fascinating possibility of the Multiverse, a set of coexisting and alternative universes outside our space-time, a concept explored by science fiction writers and scholars of quantum mechanics like the boy wonder Hugh Everett III, whose theories imply the existence of infinite duplicates of ourselves that follow every possible time line.

 

The constructs of classical physics are just as much fictions of our own minds as those of any other theory, we simply have a great deal more confidence in them.
–Hugh Everett III, The Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, 1957

They had not given up on Multiverse making a comeback. The year before, astrophysicists interpreting readings of the BICEP2 telescope (newly observing the Cosmic Microwave Background of their visible universe from the South Pole) claimed to have detected hard evidence of Gravitation Waves. For the first time the Multiversalists sprung out of the closet. “Physicists needn’t be humble,” someone clearly stated on a panel of their own assembling. They were jubilantly coming near to saying they knew it all—when the discovery was declared (by a proponent of another kind of universe) null and void.[1] The investigating team hadn’t taken into account particles of cosmic dust between the Cosmic Microwave Background—a photograph of the Primordial Universe as it existed a mere several hundred thousand true years after the Big Bang—and Earth’s South Pole. With reactionary elements still not able to handle the final destruction of so-called modernism (always a pretense), a press storm was generated in reaction to their early rapture. Multiversalists quieted down that summer of 2014.

Multiverse was nothing but patient. Very naturally so; a theory that had been around at least as long as theory itself could wait a few years more for the coming glory. The WMAP telescope had been orbiting now ten years strong. Its data was increasing. New eyes were coming every day, new observers joining quietly, holding hands in preparation for this accelerating triumph of astronomy. The James Webb telescope was launching any day now. That would dwarf the Hubble. And way over there in the field of the small, the other direction? CERN had taken care of the Higgs field, which was the red carpet on which Multiverse made itself real. Today CERN sucked in more data in 24 hours than culturally celebrated corporations like Google touched in a month. They were more than 10,000 strong. And they were pressing on.

 

Daniel Everett, Grid I, 2012. Courtesy: the artist Daniel Everett, Grid I, 2012. Courtesy: the artist

 

Among themselves, they began to reason about Multiverse. For one thing, it very clearly made philosophy of the old school obsolete. Free will, for instance. Relative states were inter-determining, the Universal Function was One. No more insoluble paradox. The Conscious Observer of Multiverse was a Higgs Field creature offered determined choice against a specific or unspecific possibly observed number of super-positioned states of the Universal Wave Function. Case closed. And that is what is happening to us right now, they did not quite believe. They still argued among themselves, but didn’t speak too loudly. For observations these days were going on without them. In this universe they found themselves determined by the larger set of imprecise observers outside. They were not “over the horizon” of the CMB in a world there tending to collapse—but here, still on their home planet, where governments were no longer quite the institutions they had only recently been.

There were still fissures among the Multiversalists, as, it was still proclaimed, there was in physics. For their version of Multiverse some astronomers kept it at a distance, putting new Big Bangs in black holes, or over the horizon. From the quantum realm, however, issued reminders that there are also parallel Universes with us right here, just tiny and less than an inch away.

Just like faeries, the astrophysicists replied, showing teeth. The particle physicists chuckled, light in their eyes. “You know nothing about 96 percent of the Universe,” they gibed. But it was hard not to think of the fat artery of observations painting duplicate universes with CERN. Generating universes?

Not so fast. We (including literary theorists, science fiction readers and consumers of the paranormalist and pop-science press, etc.) objected, still back in the closet ourselves. Parallel worlds, we knew, hence Multiverse, would always be around. Nothing generated them. Parallel worlds were described by the Vedic manuscripts and Plato’s Atlantis. Hinduism speculated on different infinities (infinities and their possibility being like divinities in Multiverse), first developing the numerical system that had enabled the Multiversalists to crack the code to begin with. The quasi-mathematical I Ching, the first book we believed ever published, offered mathematical function first and interpretation later, creating theory to direct a voyage into Multiverse, a direct attempt to exploit math’s pathways into a world without luck.

Multiverse itself was first theorized by Giordano Bruno in On the Infinite Number of Possible Worlds (1584). Bruno was visiting England when he wrote it. He saw that our sun was not only not the center, but that it orbited in a galaxy and that that was not the end of the story. There could be no end. After a stint in Wittenberg, this “wandering teacher and author” was burnt at the stake in Italy in 1600, the same year William Shakespeare likely wrote Hamlet. Bruno’s books, as Hegel would point out in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, were burned ever after, wherever books were burned.[2]

 

Daniel Everett, Container II, 2011. Courtesy: the artist Daniel Everett, Container II, 2011. Courtesy: the artist

 

Hegel saw a primitive version of his own theory of “Spirit” in Bruno, banishing this late Renaissance mind into the Middle Ages volume! In fact, now we saw that the Multiversalists had demonstrated Bruno was the cutting edge. (Only here people stopped listening.) In fact, Bruno had developed Spinoza’s mysticism out of “philosophy” and into the Renaissance world of practically applied set-system mathematics. Bruno’s in-the-field interpretation of Copernicus and Galileo turned out not to have been the primitive glimpse of modernist conceptions Hegel and Joyce and others would cast it as, but well-communicated enough that via reader/observer Leibniz he collaborated on the development of the mathematics that would show Bruno still lively and superimposed on our world 353 years after his so-called demise.[3]

It was a boy genius/science fiction reader who did it, the numerically-named Hugh Everett III, a historical character as bizarre as any we came across in our disturbing research. Raw ability got him into Princeton for mathematics, joining its first-ever game theory department in 1953. By ‘54 he moved directly into physics.

Hugh conceived of the Universal Wave Function at the age of 23. He did it explicitly to challenge how the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics awarded a sense of agency to the Observer. Anyone who knew the stories of H. G. Wells, particularly a math whiz growing up in the sort of hallucinatory white suburbia Dan Graham would document in the ’60s, would conceive that Schrödinger’s Cat could wind up in parallel universes.

1957 was barely ready for rock n’ roll. For a revelation that QM oddity described not just inaccessible microworlds, but the vastness of the Universe itself, as well as the inaccessibility of the past, on the scale of Special Relativity? Everett’s dissertation The Theory of the Universal Wave Function was published (with forced edits amounting to censorship) in ‘57. The 27-year-old author was stiff-armed by the academic world.[4]

 

Daniel Everett, Grid III (Alternate), 2012. Courtesy: the artist Daniel Everett, Grid III (Alternate), 2012. Courtesy: the artist

 

Though Everett’s interpretation of quantum mechanics explained away all the problems of a probabilistic universe in the simplest, most large-scale terms, placing the Universal Wave Function like a spine defining all anything could ever be, nevertheless he found himself exiled, barred, cold-shouldered, and uninvited, as innovators often are by inheritors. They refused to observe him, believing he did not exist.[5]

In 1972 the magazine Analog first publicly disseminated his ideas. There were infinite duplicates of ourselves following every possible timeline. And Everett had been working for the U.S. military-industrial complex for years. Even before he’d finished his re-write, the Pentagon swallowed him up into highly controversial/classified forking histories.

There were those who claimed he grew into a cold and solipsistic inventor of some of the darkest of American missteps in foreign policy. This point of view left certain basement-dwellers rather fixated on Multiverse some nights, as it was about the same time Everett died conveniently in his sleep in 1982 that the timeline ?took a hard right turn for the worse. Philip Dick died the same year.

Everett was always a freelancer. More sympathetic histories had Everett as a helpful presence in the military scene, working to convince High Command of the seriousness of Mutually Assured Destruction and of the true power of the weapons they were dealing with. Some had him supporting an eternal Cold War as the optimal timeline for the current Future. All appreciated Everett had conceived of and programmed the first computer wargames ever for the Pentagon. He owned a personal computer before they were known to have existed. Friends implied he was the first actual hacker. Apparently convinced that Multiverse promised quantum immortality, Everett chain-smoked and drank hard all the way until 1982.[6]

When Dick was writing A Man in the High Castle in 1961 (the book that discovered in fiction a paradoxical exception to Everett’s rule that Parallel Universes could never in any fashion unite) by recourse to the I Ching itself, Everett’s was already a forgotten name. But as the ‘60s progressed, young scientists eager for change discovered Everett’s thesis.

 

Daniel Everett, Constellation I, 2010. Courtesy: the artist Daniel Everett, Constellation I, 2010. Courtesy: the artist

 

String theory was still a “slow train comin’.” But there it began with the light of that rediscovered published paper, and by the end of the ‘80s there were thousands working along lines that conformed with the Universal Wave Function who no longer even realized it. By the ‘90s, tens of thousands. As telescopes were launched and microscopes improved, computers began to analyze data at a rate that made astronomy a whole new ballgame. They now theorized that they could read the code of the still-packed Universe in the Cosmic Microwave Background of this set of copies of the Big Bang.

The Copenhagen tradition was strong. It worshipped the Nobel Prize and its Nordic-tinged culture committees. The Multiversalists had clustered in clans around various Masters. They used storytelling techniques and strong language to communicate their complexities to a bewildered public, and survived through the ‘90s into the next century, sparking technological development with their progress. At the time this story takes place, physicists saw themselves quietly as the only essential humans, the most elite observers and drawers-out of the real currently on the scene. Truly, all Art was superfluous. Interestingly enough, as if in some Beckett/Ionesco collaboration, lizards had entered their metaphorologies, Ouroubos tending towards infinity, and the “chameleon” towards that possible fifth force pretending it was weak around gravity.

Everything happens, must happen, and will happen, Everett had demonstrated, including my set replacing yours and yours mine, with equal certainty. Mathematics is the only law. But they still believed in their own priesthood, enough that they attempted to present Multiverse via the Anthropic Principle.

Organizing “Many Worlds” with the idea of the “Anthropic Principle” resolved the scandal that the Universe had appeared to have been fine-tuned for the sake of life to arise like us. Not yet truly Multiversal, they conflated this idea with the Observer. Multiverse showed the Observer was only a convenient window onto reality, determined by reality, where all levels have equal access to “measurement” and memory. It was specifically not necessarily human. Everett proposed a “servomechanism” for Observer enough to demonstrate his Many Worlds.[7]

Though we might say We, that whose being was made by our shared, observed Big Bang, made possible by the particular fine-tuning of this part of the Multiverse, involved a set larger than mere Anthropos. Everett discovered Multiverse through the possibility of multiple Observers of a quantum event.

 

Daniel Everett, Container III (Alternate), 2011. Courtesy: the artist Daniel Everett, Container III (Alternate), 2011. Courtesy: the artist

 

For each entered a new state of superimposed waves with the other. That which Multiverse made possible here then is not Anthropos but that set that contained science fiction readers, as well as computers, plant life, fish, the ant, bacteria, bees, moths, painters, chemists, bats, etc., and various other pieces making this same “world” around us, that is to say Earth, Nature. Each molecule here depended on the black holes, which also depended on the Constants, and most likely contained other big bangs inside them. All these depended on the coordinates along the Universal Wave Function our Universe rooted into, probably in eleven dimensions. As to subjectivity, in this timeline looking backwards, we had only the shared memory of a single possibly unpacking entity into the absence of other universes. The complication and difference of points of view, the multiplicity of present superstates, collaborated on the form of the information we managed. Mirroring universes, life on Earth had split into a shared set of histories that retain their only possible meaning between each other. Individually they were without identity. And so this very Anthropos, this Anthropocene was Death as opposed to Life, the reduction of the true balance of multiplicity of superpositioning agents psychoparallelism presupposed.

They couldn’t see the danger? All downward trends were now obvious. The solutions were mostly clear. Did suddenly the Multiversalists doubt themselves? Without getting into the true scope of the meaninglessness of the search for the “deeper meaning” of existence in a brane world, of cosmology and epistemology and religion after Everett, the Multiversalists still preferred not to see it outright: Capitalism was not multiversal.

The so-called plurality and infinity of inflationary Capitalism was a monoversal masquerade of the hoarding of finite resources. So against Monoverse we know nothing at all, they were realizing very late in the game. We are like ants in Multiverse, and are anyway in fact soon to be outstripped by machines. But ants were hardy creatures. Since Leibniz, they had long learned to employ the square roots of negative numbers in order to sustain the apparatus of the real during certain otherwise impossible procedures. “The imaginary number is a fine and wonderful resource of the divine spirit, almost an amphibian between being and not being.”[8] Why did he have to say “amphibian”? Many, including the ants, complained. Unfortunately, per usual, except for theory, only Nature—and a certain kind of science fiction (one that didn’t take itself quite seriously as science or art) offered a viable route to Multiverse.

 

[1] see Ian Sample. “GravitationWaves Turn To Dust” http://www.theguardian.com/ science/2014/jun/04/gravitational-wave- discovery-dust-big-bang-inflation
[2] see G.W.F.Hegel, “Bruno.” Lectures on the History of Philosophy. Section III. 1805-6. https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/ hegel/works/hp/hprevival.htm
[3] see James Joyce, “The Bruno Philosophy.” Dublin: Daily Express. 20 October, 1903.
[4] see Eugene Shikhovtsev. Biographical Sketch of Hugh Everett, III ul. Dzerjinskogo 11-16, Kostroma, 156005, Russia ©2003 Eugene B. Shikhovtsev and Kenneth W. Ford. All rights reserved. http://space.mit.edu/home/ tegmark/everett/everett.html
[5] see Peter Byrne, “The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett. ” Scientific American. Oct. 21, 2008. http://www.peterbyrne.info/stories/ byrne_sciam_many_worlds.pdf
[6] see Shikhovtsev EB., “Hugh Everett III in personal reminiscences,” NeuroQuantology. March 2013
[7] HughEverett III. Theory of The Universal Wave Function. 7. Princeton Thesis,1957.
[8] Gottfried Leibniz. 1703. Explication de l’Arithmétique Binaire (Explanation of Binary Arithmetic).

 

Originally published on Mousse 48 (April–May 2015)

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