Ecker's Little Acre

Reflections on Life and Other Stuff

by Ronald L. Ecker

August, 1999

I Guess Things Happen That Way

Do you ever worry about awful things that have never happened to you? If you don't, you should, because you don't know for sure that they haven't happened. You may never know about them but they may have happened--I'll explain this paradox presently--and they may have had dire consequences for those dear to you. So it's pretty selfish not to worry about these things, even if your dear ones themselves don't know if they've happened. In fact, you may have dear ones who you don't even know about, who may have suffered, although they don't know it, because these things have happened.

I vividly remember the most awful thing that as far as I know never happened. I was driving alone late one night on I-75 on my way from Atlanta to Florida. I fell asleep at the wheel, and woke up just in time to avoid hitting at full speed a car that was sitting on the shoulder of the highway. I saw in my headlights, as I corrected just in time, that a man was busy working on the car's engine. There is no doubt in my mind that had I remained asleep for two or three more seconds, that man and I would both have been instantly killed. And what still worries me is that in a parallel universe--in one of the countless other universes that according to quantum theory may exist--that is exactly what happened. That fellow and I both died that night, leaving grieving loved ones behind, though none of us know it.

It's enough to drive one to drink in this universe, just thinking about what happened in another one. And we can be fairly sure that it did, if such other universes exist, because in countless universes anything that can happen inevitably does. It's just a matter of infinite time.

There is some comfort, of course, in the idea that these other universes exist, parallel worlds in which what doesn't happen to us here happens there. For though bad things can happen there, good things can happen too, even if they don't happen here. There we do all the things we regret not doing here, we take all those roads not taken, because with each choice we make, worlds split off, in which we make every possible choice. As I have written elsewhere in verse, in the many-worlds interpretation of quantum theory

. . . the idea's that
Worlds branch or split at every juncture at
Which we observe; each possible event,
Each outcome, every way things might have went,
Thus happens. So if things don't turn out right
In this world, in one right next door they might.

It can be nice to know, for example, that you get the girl in that universe even if you don't get her here, or that you win the lottery over there, though here you're simply wasting your money. But then, on second thought, what good does it do you here to know that you got the girl there, or that you won the lottery there, when you can't even hold her hand here, or spend a dime of the loot? The possibilities of happening and non-happening are endless, and it's enough to drive a person crazy in several universes at once.

My advice, then, is not to worry about these things if you can help it. There's really nothing we can do about what happens here (I'm pretty fatalistic), not to mention what happens somewhere else. So forget that I even brought this subject up. That may be hard to do, since you've already read this, so maybe you're already worrying. But at least you have the comfort of knowing that in some other universe I haven't written this and you haven't read it.

Related links:

Ecker, Ronald L. 1996. "Epilogue to the Philosopher's Tale," in The Evolutionary Tales: Rhyme and Reason on Creation/Evolution, Rev. ed. Palatka, FL: Hodge & Braddock.

Jones, Douglas S. 1997-1998. The Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. World Wide Web.

Zolfagharifard, Ellie, 2014. "Parallel Universes DO exist.", October 31.

Copyright 1999, 2007 by Ronald L. Ecker

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