Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Illusion of Duality

Since I enjoy TV series and movies that involve science fiction, I'm happy that stories involving altered realities and quantum physics seem to be en vogue.  There is a somewhat disturbing trend with these stories, though, and I wonder how much is just a matter of convenience for the plot and how much is a fundamental flaw in logic.  It's not my intent to get overly technical, and my thoughts have led me ultimately to a more practical point, so I do hope you'll stick with me through the technical part.  I won't go too much into the plot of Source Code since it's still in theaters, and I don't want to spoil the experience for anyone.  It's safer to address the issue as it manifests in the television show Fringe, in which there is an alternate reality -- a world very much like our own with some subtle differences.
Do we need technology to create another reality?

The storyline of Fringe doesn't go into detail about how this other dimension came into being, but often such a phenomenon would be explained as two different branches splitting off from from the same trunk.  Some event happened one way in one reality and differently in the other, and that distinguishing event was the catalyst for the two alternate versions of the world developing differently.  One determining point split the two different incarnations of reality and sent them off in subtly different directions.  For more detail about the way this is presumed to work, you can check out the Many Worlds Interpretation, which is a thorough and widely accepted model.  Essentially, the assumption is that any time multiple outcomes to a situation are possible, all of the possibilities occur; we just witness one and keep moving forward in our experience.

A "Dual Worlds" model
What you will have a difficult time finding is a "Two Worlds Interpretation."  This is because if one assumes that reality can split into different streams as the result of several possible outcomes occurring simultaneously, one would wind up with many different "dimensions" from any one event.  Very few circumstances operate on a toggle switch, as neat and tidy as that would be.  While we want to see things as black or white, this perspective often does as much to trap us as it does to make our decisions easier.  If one wants to acknowledge the existence of other dimensions, there is no reason to assume just one alternative.  If two dimensions are possible, then a nearly infinite number of dimensions is possible.

Admittedly, that would make for a difficult story on prime time television.  In life, however, it can pay off to recognize that there are more than two possible outcomes.  We often have many more options than what we allow ourselves to consider.  When we look beyond the immediately obvious, our creative minds can get engaged in seeing possibilities that might be more ideal than anything else.  Some people believe that there is no way around their destiny, that Fate will carry them toward whatever is supposed to happen no matter what choices they make.  I prefer to claim a certain amount of personal responsibility for the direction my life takes, and with that in mind, I rather like the idea that there are always more options and possibilities than I might see at first glance.


  1. I think those who choose to believe that their destiny is predetermined like the "safety" it provides. If I'll arrive at a set end no matter what decisions I make, then I can't make mistakes with my choices. There is a certain comfort in that, I suppose. Like you, I prefer to take responsibility for my path. I don't believe in alternate realities, but they are fun to play around with in storytelling.

  2. Yes, destiny is certainly safer than constant potential for making a misstep. I think some people still wrestle with the concept of what they think they are "destined" to do, however, so the belief doesn't always make for smooth travels.

    Being a fan of theoretical physics, I appreciate the possibility for alternate realities, although I don't think we can alter our linear experience of time. It's interesting that the week after I posted this, I learned that the Chinese government had banned all movies and stories involving time travel, presumably because it was an insult to the glorious past. I wonder, do alternate realities fall into a similar category because "things are exactly as they should be"?