In a universe near you, there is a wobbly ladder…

Recently I’ve been on a quantum physics kick. The vague thought behind it was, ‘If I read a coupla books about quantum physics ‘for idiots’, I’ll be able to discuss multiverses and the principle of locality and sound like I know what I’m talking about. It hasn’t worked, so far, but it did occur to me that the existence of multiple universes is a reason to be cheerful. In one or more of those universes, my son is not dead, Donald Trump works for the Salvos handing out blankets to the homeless, and nobody got round to inventing the atom bomb. On the other hand, in other universes… Anyway, I highly recommend ‘What Is Real‘ by Adam Becker, though (especially if you enjoy reading about physicists behaving like the Spanish inquisition).

Multiple universes also sews up the problem of determinism vs free will. If cause always determines effect, then the entire course of history has been laid out since Event 1, and there is no such thing as free will. You think you’ve made a decision – but in fact, external and internal circumstances have come together in such a way that you couldn’t have decided anything else. Well, forks in the road with a universe for every possible decision gets rid of all that rubbish.

Last week I decided, in my wisdom, to get up on a wobbly ladder and steady myself with one hand on a nail-studded plank. In this universe, I fell off, the nail ripped a chunk out of my palm (it looked like the bite of a hungry were-toddler) and I went to hospital for three days. I couldn’t write, I couldn’t garden, and worst of all, I couldn’t play guitar! Still can’t. In another universe, none of that happened and I’ve already finished my novel to critical acclaim and public adulation. And in another, I broke my neck instead of my hand, but let’s not go there…

I did manage to write a very short (and grim) story while my left hand was in plaster, on the general theme of ‘What could be worse than COVID19?’. It’s called Plague… And I also promised to promote some free books (thankfully, this promotion bypasses the usual sexy billionnaire crap and most of the books seem worth a look, plus, apparently, you can win a pendant!).


  1. Sorry to hear about your accident. I fell yesterday and am now more hurty than usual. I did not write a story about it or anything else. Just kinda moping around feeling sorry for myself. I love the concept of multiverses!

  2. I find it interesting the picture you have here as a historian I know it depicks a horrible period in history called the Black Death. The outfit was created and imagined by a doctor though he ‘Never’,wore it and it did not work. It was all rubber see. The Bubonic resembled Carbuncles.Bumps within the bumps was the deadly foul infection. No one thought out was better then in so they awaited the buggers to rupture. And it was mostly those carrying for those bitten that got splattered. You can readily find a character in my favorite PS3 game port Assassin’s Creed. You are a great writer.

  3. I love blog posts like this, casual yet philosophical, self-effacing and funny. I had a bout of thinking I’d learn QM if I put my mind to it, and it didn’t work for me either. I suspect multiverses (which are just a hypothesis, AFAIK) wouldn’t fix the problem of free will – we’d still have to choose which alternative future to be in at a particular moment, which isn’t any different from just choosing what happens next in one universe. But I’ve not read that Adam Becker book. It looks great; I think I’ll get it; thanks for the tip, and for supporting free books and avoiding the sexy billionaire crap. Now, just avoid wobbly ladders and were-toddlers, eh?

    1. Thanks 😊 I’d be interested in your opinion after you read the book. I think the free will problem is that according to a deterministic view of reality, we don’t really get to choose at all. But perhaps you’re right, it just multiplies the number of inevitability machine universes (infinitely) rather than bypassing determinism. Anyway, yes, I will avoid were toddlers in future, for sure!

      1. “…according to a deterministic view of reality, we don’t really get to choose at all. But perhaps you’re right, it just multiplies the number of inevitability machine universes (infinitely) rather than bypassing determinism.”

        That’s a good summary of the problem. It’s really a kind of double problem stacked against free will. If the universe (or “Reality” generally) is deterministic, and nothing in science has ever suggested otherwise at least until QM, our choices are also determined and we just don’t know it. But if we try to imagine what reality would be like without (complete) determinism – if a set of circumstances don’t always inevitably lead to just one particular outcome – the usual alternative (especially citing QM indeterminacy) is randomness. If some things just happen by pure chance, maybe that restores our free will somehow. I’ve never heard a decent argument as to why that could be so. If a choice relies on chance, or a combination of chance and determinacy, we’re not making it freely with our will-power.

        The more we delve into the question, IMHO, the more we realise free will depends on a separation between the thinking, deciding “self” and the causal process, and that seems unscientific and magical (i.e. it relies on the proposition that humans aren’t purely physical beings). A heck of a lot of philosophers, e.g. Daniel Dennett, have tried to describe a process by which evolution overcomes the problem, but they make no sense at all.

        If you’re into all that, a good website to browse around is Trick Slattery’s (“…for the Betterment of Humankind”) – he’s written a book, which is good too but the website is better – or my own summary of the problem

        It’s a lot easier than QM, thankfully! But Slattery goes into the QM arguments for free will in some detail too in his book, and why they’re not solutions.

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