Most of this blog supposes that the theory of parallel universes exists. Now, before you dismiss that idea out of hand, I ought to tell you it’s not a made-up concept from the Sci-Fi world: there are theories relating to this that have been proposed by sensible physicists, and they descend (mostly) from String Theory. You might have heard Sheldon mention String Theory a few times on The Big Bang Theory – it’s that stuff that says everything is connected and is a purely theoretical field.
There are four key types of parallel universes, and it’s the third type I want to focus on for this blog: Level 3 parallel universes which posit that if you stay where you are you’ll eventually run into yourself. This third theoretical type of parallel universe is the one you mostly think of if you’ve watched enough Sci-Fi – the idea that different decisions in our lives lead to us taking different directions, but that the alternate decision leads us in a different direction which is theorised to actually take place in the same time and space – coexisting simultaneously in time and space with the reality we are aware of. For more information on this, read this article on Parallel Universes from the ‘Dummies’ website, it’s a relatively easy to read summary.
I started thinking about the idea of parallel universes when I was watching Fringe, which is a series I would very highly recommend if you like Sci-Fi: some fabulous storylines and acting, I was hooked for all five seasons, and only recently finished them. There are various timelines covered in this series, it’s not one to watch if you want to stare blankly at a TV, thought is definitely required as there are multiple themes of which some are only clear during the final season.
Part of what the series deals with is the idea of a universe coexisting in the same time and space as our own, using real scientific theory (the Level 3 parallel universe theory) rather than supposition as most Sci-Fi tends to do. Naturally, this is Sci-Fi after all, the different members of the parallel universes (the prime and alternate universes) meet and there are differences and comparisons which get noticed and discussed. At one point two versions of the same character (one from each universe) are talking and appear very different to each other, so are trying to work out where their ‘paths’ diverged.Different versions of ourselves are suited to different individuals, even when it’s only a subtle difference. We know this already: as we change in relation to our environment, the more we experience and the more we change as a result. The person I was at 19 is a distant relation to the person I am now as I’m approaching 40. And yet there are fundamental similarities. Because it’s not all environmental when it comes to influences, it’s partly genetic, and those don’t change. The basics of the person I am are still very much what they were.
Now, supposing you’re still with me and think that if some very sensible physicists think that parallel universes are possible then it’s worth thinking about, it’s unlikely to be as simple as a single point in the path that varies. But there are always points in our lives where we wonder ‘what if’. We all of us experience crossroads where we have to deliberately choose one path over another. I don’t know about you, but I tend to wonder ‘what if’ in relation to the alternative. What if I took the other path, what if we made the opposite decision? Different decisions means we end up slightly different (possibly very different) people, with different relationships and having different friendships.
Now, we know that our lives are shaped by a combination of genetic inheritance and environmental influence (the things we interact with and who we meet along the way), and this environmental influence is what determines in what direct we go and what decisions we ultimately end up making. Are there an infinite number of parallel universes as the key theorists have posited? Whatever, we can’t ignore the fact that a certain amount is highly likely to be similar between different versions of ourselves. We have the same genetics as our parallel selves, the same inheritance, so the same basic variations will be identical. This means that there are many, but possibly not infinite numbers – it’s theoretically possible that only the big decisions, the crossroads, will be the ones where ‘paths’ diverge. Of course there are plenty of those.
Some crossroads are more significant than others though. We can all think of points in our lives where we wonder what would have happened at a significant moment in time, where we made a momentous decision at a distinct crossroads in our lives. The moments are often only significant in hindsight, as we realise their significance and that they represent clear forks in our decision making process – in ‘either/or’ situations. Much like Schroedinger’s cat, we need to open the box to find out whether the cat is alive or dead: the concept of parallel universes posits that in one universe the cat would be dead, while in another universe being very much alive.
The particular crossroads that has got me thinking about all this is December 1995. Yes, that’s a long time ago – almost 21 years, I know. I made a decision then, a significant decision with a clear dualistic choice, that I have been unsure about ever since. I never found a way to articulate it properly and I’m still not going to now, that is for the individual it involves, if they ever want to hear it.
But where would I be had I taken the other path? Would some of my most important friendships be any different? Some would be different, some would be the same. Would I be in the area of the country I am now? No, I wouldn’t, I would still be back in the city I used to live in. Would I be married? Almost certainly. Would I have kids? Yes, possibly a couple instead of one. Would I have the beautiful daughter I have now? No. I’d almost certainly have kids, but not my girl now. And for that reason, regret is pointless.
I fundamentally cannot regret decisions that have led me to my daughter, she’s the best thing I have ever done and I wouldn’t be without her. I don’t regret the trail of events that have led me here, to her, nor the trail of decisions I have made. But that doesn’t stop me wondering ‘what if’. What if I had not made the decision I did in December 1995, what would have happened? The significance of the decision and some recent events mean wondering this is almost inescapable.
Now, this pondering is unrelated to changes in emotions. Those emotions I had back then never went away, they got stuffed in a box where they have remained unopened for the past 20 years while I got on with my life. It’s been opened a crack recently, and processing them is a bit more difficult than I’d like. Partly as there are current emotions evolving as well, which makes for a complicated picture in my head and heart right now. Mind you, forwards is generally preferable to backwards.
‘What if’ is a dangerous game, it can leave you dissatisfied with your life and lead you down the road to fantasy and leave you disconnected with your life and those around you. But in small doses, and with a solid grip on reality and a contentment with that reality, it’s safe enough.
As it happens I have never wanted to change my decision from back then, and, from a relationship perspective, two men who are now incredibly important to me would not be in my life had I made the alternative choice back then. And not having them as friends is unthinkable.
Are there more crossroads ahead? Of course there are, and my decisions will be made in line with how I feel I need to make them at the time. Age, experience and hindsight are all handy decision-making tools though and it becomes easier to be ‘sure’ about the choices we make. Fundamentally as long as everyone is happy it doesn’t matter much what decisions are made or which directions are taken. Life is short, and being happy with what you choose to do is important.
In the meantime, I am left to ponder what might have happened if I had made the alternative decision. I get to wonder whether there is a parallel universe in which I did pick that option. Where would we be in that universe?