My inner sci-fi lover has been driving my reading selections this summer and has had me immersed in books about space travel, apocalyptic societies, time travel and, most recently, parallel universes. In physics, they call this the “many-worlds theory” and it suggests that, every time we’re faced with a choice or diverging path, a new universe spins out for each possibility. In other words a new universe is created where the choices we didn’t make play out.
It boggles my mind a little to think of all the diverging paths my life has taken – marry at 16 or go to college, work for AT&T or work someplace else, live in Oklahoma or put down roots in another place myself or my ancestors have lived. For that matter, there are a million choices in my lineage that resulted in me even being here – what if one of those choices had been different? And then there’s all the divergences in the world at large – what if Nixon had made different choices or Lee Harvey Oswald never assassinated Kennedy (though, I also read Stephen King’s 11/22/63 this spring and that particular alternative didn’t pan out so well).
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of time travel – to go back and experience events that seemed ordinary at the time and iconic to us now – well, that would be the adventure of all adventures! But traveling across different universes, where we don’t have history to tell us what to expect, that’s a whole other ball game. I love a good adventure and wouldn’t mind peaking through a window just to see how different choices might’ve played out, but I don’t think I’d want to be an active participant.
When I really sit down and think about that, I realize it’s because I’d be too tempted to make adjustments – to alter those realities to more closely match the one I know. And, no matter how many times I’ve wondered what my life might have looked like if different paths had been taken, I always to come back to the idea that everything has happened for a reason – everything I’ve chosen and experienced in my life has brought me to this point where it all sort of makes sense and my life feels right, maybe even a little bit preordained. I suspect if I was talking to a version of me in another universe, she might feel the same way. It’s all contextual – we appreciate and accept what we know and feel nervous and uncertain about what we don’t know.
I think the thing I love about the theory is the idea of all those possibilities floating around somewhere. In a strange way, it proves to me that I can never make a wrong choice – because the alternative may well have a chance to play itself out in the universe next door.