Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Open the box and the kitty dies. Or does it?

I've entertained/confused/annoyed friends with crazy beer-and-bonfire talk about an infinite number of parallel universes, telling them there is another universe in which everything is exactly the same as in this universe, except that they have two heads. And every time you make a decision, the "split" or fork in the road creates two new universes, one for each alternative that you might have chosen. I don't completely understand the theory and its implications (hence the lame Wikipedia links) but I like to at least ponder it and pretend I do. And I love Schrodinger's Cat--another famous and crazy quantum physics theoretical mindbuster--the cat is neither dead nor alive, until you observe it.

Setting aside for a minute that this means there is a universe in which I do not have PMP (and thus another universe in which I have something far worse), I just read a fascinating short essay by Dr. Robert Lanza. See his bio here--it's probably hard to be humble with that pedigree, heck, the dude was experimenting on the DNA of chickens in his basement when he was a teenager (okay, that makes is sound more creepy than scientific). Dr. Lanza theorizes how the multiple universe theory impacts theories of human consciousness, and, ultimately, the concept of death. Here is an excerpt from the article:
There are an infinite number of universes, and everything that could possibly happen occurs in some universe. Death does not exist in any real sense in these scenarios. All possible universes exist simultaneously, regardless of what happens in any of them. Although individual bodies are destined to self-destruct, the alive feeling - the 'Who am I?'- is just a 20-watt fountain of energy operating in the brain. But this energy doesn't go away at death. One of the surest axioms of science is that energy never dies; it can neither be created nor destroyed. But does this energy transcend from one world to the other?
Okay, got that? Accept it? Dr. Lanza continues:
...The linkages between these various histories and universes transcend our ordinary classical ideas of space and time. Think of the 20-watts of energy [your consciousness] as simply holo-projecting either this or that result onto a screen....

[S]pace and time are not the hard objects we think. Wave your hand through the air - if you take everything away, what's left? Nothing. The same thing applies for time. You can't see anything through the bone that surrounds your brain. Everything you see and experience right now is a whirl of information occurring in your mind. Space and time are simply the tools for putting everything together.

Death does not exist in a timeless, spaceless world. In the end, even Einstein admitted, "Now Besso" (an old friend) "has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us...know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion." Immortality doesn't mean a perpetual existence in time without end, but rather resides outside of time altogether.

This was clear with the death of my sister Christine. After viewing her body at the hospital, I went out to speak with family members. Christine's husband - Ed - started to sob uncontrollably. For a few moments I felt like I was transcending the provincialism of time. I thought about the 20-watts of energy, and about experiments that show a single particle can pass through two holes at the same time. I could not dismiss the conclusion: Christine was both alive and dead, outside of time.

Perhaps humans, at some subconscious level, have always understood this concept, but could only express it through parables about the various theories of heaven and hell. Just like we used to think planets were gods. It seems the Hindu may have got it a little "righter," or at least explained it better, than "in the beginning" God separated the lightness from the darkness. But it's not a contest.

I find some comfort in Dr. Lanza's concept. I've always struggled to place spirituality somewhere in my life, because since I was a kid I have had problems reconciling those concepts with my geekiness for history, anthropology, and science. Maybe I don't have to struggle, and just accept that it is more complicated than I can understand. Here's the entire article, although I quoted most of it above. In another universe you have already read the whole thing with your 2 sets of eyes.

And if you need more, read this blog entry from Bad Astronomy, written by the always awesome Phil Plait.