Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Many Worlds and The Meteorite Conundrum
Hugh Everett III was an interesting, complex human being. He was a bright, fascinating Princeton physics Ph.D., a polymath with wide ranging interests. He was also prone to indulging in food and drink, and died relatively young of a heart attack. Although he was an atheist, he appeared to believe in something that he called "quantum immortality." This involved the belief that because the universe was, in fact, a multiverse, then one could never actually die.
If all probability is materially actualized, then death can never come. At the last instant, something will happen that continues your consciousness. Even if that thing is insanely, wildly, impossibly unlikely, it will occur. Or so the idea in its most essential form goes.
It made it a whole bunch easier to eat and drink yourself to death.
I've ruminated on related topics before, particularly at the miracle of identity cohesion in such a wildly churning universe. Being of a somewhat contrarian bent, I find myself thinking about Everett's quantum immortality in the inverse. Sure, some version of myself could continue infinitely in a multiverse. But of equal likelihood within this cosmology is the extermination of myself at any instant.
Amid the functional infinity of universes, there is a "me," identical in every respect. That me is so me it could be me. I could not tell the difference.
Approaching the back of the head of that "me" at high subsonic speed is a meteor. It's about four centimeters in diameter, what's left of it after a descent through the atmosphere. It's mostly comprised of superheated heavy metals. In a fraction of a second, it will punch through the roof of my little suburban house and down through ceiling of my study. Splat, will go my head, rather messily. End of my existence.
If the universe is the functional infinity that Everett, Deutsch, and others have suggested, then this would seem to by necessity happen to some variant of me at every instant of my life, and at every instant of every possible life that I might possibly live. Taken together, those moments of my annihilation would be endless in and of themselves, a boundless splatter of skull shards and partially ionized grey matter.
And yet I am s
Kidding. What strikes me (heh) about this is the remarkable miracle of my own continued existence. I do not have to still be living in this moment. And yet I am. It is remarkable. Cause for thanksgiving, even. And for gratitude.