The many worlds interpretation is a startling and sometimes comforting concept of modern physics. Barely fifty years old it provides a near infinite number of what ifs for you and the universe (okay, I know near infinite is very non-specific, I mean something like “more than 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 what ifs, though that is just an estimate). Faced with a decision, you may find yourself choosing the wrong soup, the wrong shoes, the wrong wire to cut, or the wrong partner. Perhaps you can find some solace in the concept provided by quantum physics that you also made the right decision – the soup is delicious, the shoes are a hit, the medal you win for bomb disposal is not posthumous and the tea your spouse brings you doesn’t seem to taste of bitter almonds. And if that’s not enough, in the majority of worlds your parents never met, you were never born and no form of life exists whatsoever (one of the world’s you might be the slave of an Orang Utan but you’re not, so stop worrying). So if you are finding life a struggle, take comfort in the concept that in the majority of worlds you’re not having to go through any sort of life at all.
I hanker for a satnav that, if I place my current decision in, could then calculate all the possible destinations from that one decision alone. Whether free will is an illusion or not, and frankly I don’t care, imagining the near infinite numbers of other yous can wile away the hours and you are safer in the knowledge that another former you has splintered off to not waste the day mulling over what can never be much more than fictions in this world.
The one place these possibilities are real is in our own imagination. The things we can conjure up, the possibilities we can daydream of, can momentarily create as much joy when imagined as if they were happening to you there and then. When creating a piece of work, I hear people excited by the finished product, then they are disappointed when the chair they have made is not as good as the one they thought they were capable of (bloody Plato). I think the best moment is imagining what might be and never will be. When I started working on a film, I knew that my imagination of what it would be and the awards we would win and the invites we would receive would probably not really happen – but briefly it was real in my imagination, and that was fine. I don’t get too bogged down with reality disappointing me. When I was asked to host a TV pilot I turned it down for a couple of months, honestly and as it turned out presciently, pointing out that when push came to shove Channel 4 wouldn’t really want me for a series whatever they imagined at the non broadcast pilot stage. Once piloted, and surrounded by excitement, I reminded the production team that it wouldn’t be me for the series and we could still go for a drink when a TV name had been chosen and there would be no animosity. As it was, Griff Rhys Jones presented the pickle jar offspring that the show eventually became. I didn’t mind. I had imagined the plaudits and cultural chaos that occurred when I presented Channel 4’s biggest panel show hit, and that was far more fun than what would have actually happened.
This is not true of all things, fortunately the occasional poverty of imagination can mean reality is better – both fatherhood and Jarvis Cocker singing I Believe in Father Christmas were far better than I’d hoped for.
The many worlds moments are most often experienced when a phone rings or a door opens. It is then that I get a brief sneak view of the perhaps that is somewhere else. Unfortunately, in these off guard moments of perhaps, the haunting and the ghastly more often come to mind. When the toilet door slides open on a late night train, for a split second I see a corpse slumped on the bowl. When the phone rings, despite the likelihood it’s another case of missold PPI, I know it must be a call of doom. Why on earth would anyone ring me on the home phone at 8am/11pm/4ish unless it was news of a dash to hospital, a horrible accident, the end of life?
When someone shouts out, “cheer up! It might never happen!” , smile and reply, “it has or it will, but thank you for your concern. And be aware that in another world I was carrying a crossbow when you shouted that and thinks didn’t turn out so well”
A physicist once told me that many worlds interpretation is definitely true as it works on paper. I don’t know because I can’t do the maths, but I do know that some of them definitely exist in our minds as things to toy with. Occasionally, after a choking fit on some unexpected spice that had startled my epiglottis, drinking the water afterwards I think, “oh good, I’m the one that survived, pity the poor bugger that now lies in the other Punjab Brasserie making a scene with a sheet and an ambulance”.
Don’t live your life perturbed by “if only I had” accept that you did, just not here, and remember that in other places the decisions you made were far far worse – that’s you with that horrible beard spattered with dried and badly chosen soup, standing on the freshly nailed floorboards with your partner down below in some other world.
HAPPINESS THROUGH SCIENCE TOUR CONTINUES HERE
Fans of physics and Eels will enjoy this film in which Mark Everett going in search of his father’s ideas