The “What if” Multiverse

This morning I woke up and ate a bowl of Special K for breakfast, but there’s another universe where I woke up and ate a bowl of frosted flakes, because in that world I never lost my taste after getting sick and puking frosted flakes everywhere.

The Multiverse theory posits that there exists a universe or dimension for every possible occurrence in history, for every individual. This possibility of billions of universes where you were actually cool in high school or didn’t hit the brakes in time is an extrapolation of various quantum physics concepts, such as the collapse of wave function and string theory, which are some fancy physics terms that I have heard of.

Multiverse, or Many Worlds, Theory may not have much grounding in science as a literal possibility, but in the world of Science Fiction, the possibilities are endless. The Sci-fi genre is itself a multiverse, in which authors speculate on the “what ifs” of both past and present and so a billion possibilities are ripe for exploration.

Here are some of excellent “what if” scenarios that I’ve encountered of late in this particular iteration of my life. Some of them stretch the imagination, some of them are possible eventualities, and in the Multiverse of Science Fiction, they all exist.

What if the Multiverse actually existed?

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Robert Frost was neither the first nor last to ponder that “road not traveled.” In Dark Matter, the protagonist, Jason Dessen actually gets to experience the road not taken in his life where he became a successful physicist who did some funky stuff with quantum superposition and created a conduit between multiverses, doors opening onto all the other possible worlds out there, many of them predictably apocalyptic.

While a little heavy on the sentimental and yet somehow lacking emotional depth, it is a rocketing ride, impossible to put down as it veers into territory that will have you eyeing your own self suspiciously in the mirror. As individuals, we like to think of ourselves as having some essential core that defines our personality and identity. But how much of that is influenced by our experiences? Would we be different people had we traveled different paths? Worse? Better? If we’re both the producer and product of our choices, what does that say about free will? About humanness?

It’s easy to look over our shoulder and connect the dots that led us from one choice to another, but that kind of inevitability is only clear in hindsight. At any moment, a single different choice could, as Frost says “made all the difference.”


What if we cured Death?

The Postmortal by Drew Magary and Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

In The Postmortal, a cure for death is discovered; it won’t prevent disease or those ubiquitous surprise buses so common in film. But it freezes your current age and should you not step errantly into a road or accept a ride from a serial killer, you get to live forever.

The Postmortal tells the story over decades of one man who takes the cure and experiences the fallout. Perhaps the biggest question that comes to mind is if everyone stops dying, where in the hell are we going to put them all? Resource scarcity is the most obvious facet, but the novel also explores the concept of marriage in a world where your spouse doesn’t ever kick the bucket, the ethics of “curing” both the very young and very old, and all sorts of nonsense religions that humans create in a world that’s filling up with people like a bucket.

The most prescient question the novel asks is: Does anyone really want to live forever? Sounds sexy, right? Vampires do it. Gods do it. But when death is rare, life is cheap, and hedonism seems to be the rule for the masses as China willingly nukes its own population to make room.

Although I haven’t read Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan, I have seen the Netflix series where the basic premise is the same: human consciousness can be stored in little disks called “stacks” making those bulky survival machines, our bodies, called “sleeves” expendable. Real death can only be achieved through that single Achilles heel. Predictably, this turns out to be a much better deal for the rich, who can afford upgraded sleeves and clones. Attendant also are the religious fanatics who believe that death is a thing.

The question becomes about bodies. If we can change bodies as easily as our shoes, then what does it mean for identity? What does race or gender matter? Most importantly, can we transfer our consciousness to a dog?

What if Ayn Rand ruled an underwater dome city?

Bioshock: Rapture by John Shirley

Written as a prequel to the video game, Bioshock: Rapture tells the story of the creation of the underwater city, Rapture and its objectivist creator, Andrew Ryan. Designed as the ultimate meritocracy, the city quickly devolves into corruption and poverty as jobs dissipate and the ruthless  are allowed to run rampant. Ayn Rand’s poisonous philosophy, taken to its extremes, quickly creates a nightmare scenario with authoritarian leanings as the desperate Ryan struggles to maintain power and his dream of a city free from stranglehold of government and regulation. The irony is not lost. Throw in some wacky sea slugs, and soon most of population are turned into mutant addicts that can climb walls and shoot electricity out of their fingers.

As an experiment, Rapture fails, and as a cautionary tale, it is as subtle as any of Rand’s novels.

What if nobody ruled a moon dome?

Artemis by Andy Weir

Also a dome with very few laws (and only one police officer), only instead of underwater, Artemis is the moon’s first colony. More a tale of the misadventures of mouthy smuggler, Jazz Bashara, than any kind of metaphorical or conceptual exploration, the technicalities are more specific, the physical actualities of constructing and maintaining a colony on the moon are explored with acceptable scientific rigor.

When the moon has no viable exports, how can it remain economically profitable? As a tourist destination, yes, but this requires the necessary “help” which, while not quite as dire as the impoverished in Bioshock’s Rapture, is not much fun for those forced to live in bunks barely larger than a coffin.



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