Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Archie, Betty, Veronica, and the Many-Worlds Hypothesis

Two paths play out in a comic book,
When Archie walks down memory lane
“The road not taken” is the hook;
So now, the writers take a look
And re-write Archie’s life again,

This time with Betty as his bride;
Veronica the woman spurned,
Who once upon a time, with pride,
Was wed to Archie. Thus allied,
They lived while many seasons turned.

With either girl, he could not fail,
And Archie lived a happy life.
No matter which one wore the veil,
They were the toast of Riverdale,
Young Archie and his lovely wife.

Oh, we shall be buying them in the stores,
And looking to see what we shall find:
Two girls, whom Archie both adores,
Are made his mental paramours
Within the redhead’s tortured mind.

The New York Times reports that Archie is getting married. Again. This time, to Betty. Last time Archie made the NYT, he was getting married to Veronica.

In an attempt to be classier than Dallas ("it was all a dream?"), the writers (at least according to the NYT; I would not be surprised if this is their own attempt to salvage respect) claim that one of their inspirations was Frost's "The Road Not Taken". I'd claim it as one of my inspirations, too, but you would all know better.

Rather, my inspiration is quantum physics. In particular, Everett's many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics (which, for all I know, got its inspiration from Frost--at least in some branches of the wavefunction), and the popular "parallel universes" framing of the interpretation.

In fact, I wrote a song (many, many years ago, long before I was a cuttlefish) using the notion of parallel universes as a metaphor for our (my? I doubt it) tendency to re-live important conversations (or other interactions) many many times after the only "real" conversation (in this universe, anyway) was long over: "If only I had said this instead of that"; "If only I hadn't stuttered and stammered so much"; "what if I had kissed her?" These important conversations get one shot in our universe, then get replayed over and over again countless times with small but important variations in our obsessive thoughts.

Or maybe it's just me.

But I know I am not the only one thinking of many-worlds and being wistful about the wonderful things happening to some other me, some other universe. I am in very good company with Emmy.
I'm sitting at the computer typing, when the dog bumps up against my legs. I look down, and she's sniffing the floor around my feet intently.

"What are you doing down there?"

"I'm looking for steak!" she says, wagging her tail hopefully.

"I'm pretty certain that there's no steak down there," I say. "I've never eaten steak at the computer, and I've certainly never dropped any on the floor."

"You did in some universe," she says, still sniffing.

I sigh. "I'm going to move the quantum physics books to a higher shelf, so you can't reach them."
I've read the book, so I know that Emmy is going to get a better explanation than I can give--seriously, I recommend it highly. (even wrote a review.) But Emmy is more of an optimist than I am:
"Hey, look on the bright side," I say. "In the universe where a version of me dropped a piece of steak on the floor, there's also a version of you."

"Yeah?" Her head picks up.

"Yeah. And you're a mighty hunter, so you probbaly got to the steak before I could pick it up."

"Yeah?" Her tail starts wagging.

"Yeah. So, in the universe where I dropped steak, you got to eat steak."

"Oooh!" The tail wags furiously. "I like steak!"

"I know you do." I save what I was working on. "Tell you what, how about we go for a walk?"

"Ooooh! Good plan!" and she's off, clattering down the stairs for the back door and the leash.

She's really a very silly dog.
Me? I want the universe with the perfect conversation, and the kiss, to be this one. I don't particularly care about some other Cuttlefish, even if it happens to be another me.

And I really don't care about Archie.

(excerpts from "How To Teach Physics To Your Dog" are not actually from the book, but from the blog-post that inspired it. I like the book version better, but I am much too lazy to type it all in.)


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