Sunday, February 4, 2024

How Many Monkeys?

Almost eleven years ago, in another blog, I introduced several fictional characters to the world. What often amazes me is how characters who we imagine are our creation sometimes turn out to be at least as real as we are. In some senses, they choose us. In the case of one, Aadi, her choice to reveal herself might have saved my life.  

In that post, calling my curiosity an endearing quality (s)he confirmed an idea that I had somehow discovered by intuition - the idea that the world that our consciousness resides in is but one of a seemingly infinite collection. She told me that I should "Stop by and visit again" if I got stuck. I did visit her again, but never with knowledge that physicists are now widely accepting a theory of reality known as the "Many-Worlds Theory of Quantum Mechanics"*. 

The idea proposed, in a paper entitled "The Theory of the Universal Wave Function" by doctoral candidate Hugh Everett in 1957 was an elegant solution to many problems that had bothered the minds of physicists, such as Albert Einstein, among others. Yet, at the time of its publishing, most rejected Everett's thesis.

I recall seeing somewhere the idea that if you had enough monkeys playing with typewriters (yes, it was that long ago) one of them would eventually type out the complete works of Shakespeare. Clearly this sort of mind game requires a very large number of monkeys yet this seems to be the answer to a great number of puzzles in the world. 

For example, we could ask how it could be that an animal could be created that had the ability to fly silently at night, to detect food on the ground below, and to catch it. For a very long time, we reasoned that a god was responsible. There might indeed be a god or goddess at work as well, but a great number of us now believe that a fellow named Charles Darwin got it right with his natural selection theory. Given enough time, creatures 'evolve', because genetic mutations that give them some small or large advantage (like flight or night vision) will tend to breed and pass these advantages along. Given enough time, and small mutations, you end up with an owl. 

Another example is 'the miracle' that is planet Earth. How could we be so lucky as to be placed upon a planet that has all of the advantages of Earth? The simple answer is that if we hadn't been evolving on this planet, but instead on Mars say, we would never have survived. We only exist because we are here. No supernatural force is needed in this explanation. We know very well now that there are billions of other planets circling billions of stars in billions of galaxies (thank you, Carl Sagan). We might be the only 'lucky' ones. But is it really lucky or supernatural that we are here and being here means having life?

I recall a particularly religious family member saying to us "everything happens for a reason". Over the decades since, many of the seemingly religion-associated ideas have managed to turn themselves into ideas that make sense in very different ways from what those family members could have thought. For example, the admonition "Thou Shalt Not Kill" was converted in my mind to "Thou Cannot Kill", a promise that while we have a body that decays (even while we are in it) we are not our body. An essential part of us won't die when that body is no longer able to support us. 

In the case of everything happens for a reason, the fact (strange as it seems) is that everything does happen but we are only conscious of one particular version of the universe. We are blissfully unaware of the others where we are either very different from who we think we are or where we don't exist at all. 

*If you are an avid reader here, you might remember another post on the "Many Worlds Theory". Get entangled here

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