A seam in the multiverse

Strange things happen at my house. Mostly computer stuff: the sound on my desktop refuses to mute when I ask — no, demand — it; printers mysteriously chat with each other in the dead of night and print out seemingly — only seemingly — incomprehensible reports on their meetings; my ebook, charged to within a nanometer of its battery’s capacity, is dead in the morning despite having been turned off, then charges up perfectly and is fine. It’s possible the ebook is an invited non-voting observer in the printer meetings, but it doesn’t seem to attend them all.

Well, ok, I thought, maybe Julian Assange is using my stuff to communicate with Putin, or something. There are oddly slow periods on the internet, and recently my router went on strike and I had to bring in a scab, which is working fine, but some of my other electronics are behaving strangely since the switch. I am willing to admit I can’t fully control my cyber-paramours. But this morning, the insurrection spread to something not even attached to the internet: my coffeepot.

My habit is to freshly grind some coffee at night before I go to bed, and get everything ready so that when I wake, all I have to do is poke a button, and Bob’s your uncle. Don’t laugh, I actually have an Uncle Bob, although he died at the age of five back in nineteen ought something or other. Anyway, this morning I smugly poked the button, ate my breakfast, and went to pour myself a delicious cuppa.

All I got was hot water.

Damn, I thought, I forgot to put in the coffee! It’s happened before, though rarely. So I opened the top, and, what the hell, there sat the filter, and in it was the proper amount of ground coffee, dry, as they say, as a bone. This is where String Theory, multiverses, and what-not come in. The design of the coffeepot is such that the heated water literally has nowhere else to go but through the coffee and into the pot, unless it clogs completely, in which case it would erupt all over the counter. Which it did not do.

You may have read a piece I posted recently about Shakespearean monkeys, in which I pointed out that, according to the theory of probability, there was no reason they couldn’t crank out, say, Henry V the minute they sat down rather than eons later. Similarly, if we are but one universe in a bubbly lather of multiverse, and if these bubbles, each containing it’s own set of physical laws, are bound to encroach on each other eventually, why not now, and why not at my house?

On the other hand, is it possible I inadvertently put the carafe, still full of water, in its place without first pouring the water in the reservoir?


Shakespearean monkeys

I’m sure you’ve heard it. Give a monkey a typewriter and all of eternity and he will eventually type the complete works of Shakespeare. How you’re going to keep the monkey alive is another question. Does it still count if you have to switch monkeys in mid-stream? Will it still work if the dead one was half way through As You Like It?

As it happens, someone has created a virtual roomful of monkeys with typewriters, and claims that in less than a year, they’ve already written at least a poem or two. But he cheats. When one of his e-monkeys e-types any word that appears anywhere in Shakespeare, he saves it, and then puts the harvested words together to make up the desired result. Uh-huh. Not even close.

I don’t insist on live monkeys with physical typewriters, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the words come out pre-sorted into a play, or something. This does bring up an interesting corollary, though.

Purely in terms of probability, although the theorem is stated in terms of infinite time, it could happen at any point within infinity, like, for example, as soon as you plop the monkey down at his desk and say “Go!” Then, nothing for the rest of eternity, except maybe a Bill O’Reilly book or two. This is because, although the probability of it happening at all during infinity is 100%, the probability of it happening at any particular time is the same throughout infinity. It is vanishingly small, to be sure, but it isn’t zero. There is no reason to expect one particular period of time to have any advantage over any other, when it comes to random chance.

Then again, the nature of infinity, or eternity, if you prefer, is such that not only would you get all of Shakespeare, but all of O’Reilly as well, more’s the pity. If it makes you feel any better, you’d also get everything ever written in any language, millions of times over, as if the poor monkey had wised off to some cosmic schoolteacher and had to stay after and type things over and over. Presumably, that would include “I will not make fun of Shakespeare” on our virtual, typewritten blackboard. Infinity is infinitely elastic, and can hold an infinite number of iterations of anything.

Imagine, all the lost works of classical antiquity, if only you had an infinity of time to search through all the gibberish!

In any case, we have pretty good empirical evidence that there’s a monkey out there somewhere, typing merrily away. How else to explain social media?

Family values and me

For many people, family means refuge, a warm, inviting place where they will always be welcome, where there will always be unconditional support. Throw in a strong religious conviction, and they just add God to the list of familiars they can always count on.

For me, family was always about suffocation. Religion was there, a very strong presence, and stifling. The two together seemed absolutely crushing.

This had nothing to do with lack of love and support. That was always there, too, in abundance. It’s just that the totality was overwhelming, with no room left for the kind of soul-stretching I yearned for. I spent hours looking out doors and windows, dreaming of escape.

How to account for the difference? Hard to say, but I suspect it is rooted in the style of upbringing. Mine was very rigid and inflexible, and the same can be said for my religious upbringing: twelve years of Catholic school, ironically much more flexible than my father’s idea of what was appropriate for children. Still, the razor-wire was there all the same, just a bit further out.

These days, only three of us remain from the family, siblings. We live thousands of miles apart. We get along very well. Words like love and support are bandied about so often nowadays that I don’t trust them; basically, we live our own lives, and are interested in each other’s lives, and would undoubtedly rally to each other in case of a crisis. Let’s leave it at that.

As for religion, I’ve left it far behind. The still faithful erroneously think that’s because of a grudge against God. True, anger and rebellion initially caused me to examine the tenets of Catholicism, but once the cat was out of the bag there was no going back. Occasionally, protestants of various flavors tell me the problem is Catholicism, that their particular variant is more loving, more forgiving, etc. They miss the point. Nowadays, I’m no more angry at God than I am at Santa for not bringing me Christmas presents.

God, in the form of an omnipotent creator who nevertheless tinkers with his creation at the request of believers, is an insupportable idea. Once you start questioning dogma, and persist at it, this is inescapable. God was created wholly in the image of man: spiteful, loving, patronizing, generous, egomaniacal, vengeful, forgiving, take your pick; it’s all there to reinforce your decisions wherever your personal inclinations lead you.

Do I miss any of that? Rarely. The more I think about things like eternity and immortality, the more I realize we’re already there.

Non Credo

In unum deum, but that’s another story. Lots of people go on at length about the things they believe; I thought it might be useful to list all the things I have trouble believing:

• In the piety of people who spend all their time making sure we know it
• That anyone is actually made happier by all those inspirational quotes
• That when I hear the words ‘this is for your own good’ it actually is
• That corporations are benevolent and are looking after our interests
• That corporations are evil and are trying to control the world
• That we are all brainwashed except for all the people telling us we are
• That everyone who disagrees with me is stupid
• That everyone who agrees with me is smart
• That everything I believe is true
• That everything I believe is consistent with everything else I believe
• That what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
• That it’s possible to become a billionaire honestly
• That you can be anything you want to be if you want it badly enough
• That giving money to some church will save my immortal soul
• That I have an immortal soul
• That whenever one door closes one door opens
• That poor people are just lazy
• That rich people just work harder than everyone else
• That just being yourself and ignoring what others think is a great idea
• That this list is anywhere near comprehensive

Don’t beam me up, please

It’s an old dream, the ability to move instantly from one place to another, far off.  Only shamans were ever able to do it, though.  But now, there’s a chance it might actually happen for all of us, in the not too ridiculously distant future.

Technically, there is no reason why we can’t eventually have teleporters – little booths you can walk into and walk out of thousands of miles away at the speed of light, providing there’s one at each end.  Sort of.

You knew there was a catch, didn’t you?  Using existing technology, the process involves reading all the information of which you are composed at one end, and reassembling you at the other end by dumping it.  This does involve your complete destruction at the transmitting end, of course.

That’s the interesting part.  The reassembled you at the destination would have all your cells, synapses, and nerve endings reproduced exactly as they were at the moment of your dismantling.  This includes your brain, where everything you know is stored in the precise configuration of its parts.  The original you may be destroyed, but the new you will remember going into the transmission booth, and coming out unscathed at the end.  So, is that you, or isn’t it?  What exactly do we mean by “you” anyway?

To an outside observer (scientist, friend, mother) it would be indistinguishable from you.  Come to that, to an inside observer (the reassembled you), the same would be true, since it would contain all that defined the earlier you.  But the original you was destroyed in the process.  What we always knew as you is dead, my friend.  It has been reduced to its constituent components, little electrons whizzing around little protons and neutrons, completely devoid of the patterning we came to love all those years before the experiment.

Here’s the weird part: because the teleportation involved reading all the information that constituted you, then transmitting it to a new location, it could presumably be saved.  You could be stored on a disc and not reassembled until later.  Much later.  Multiple copies of you could be made, all of which would insist it was the real you.  Each of them would be the real you, by any existing standards of evidence.

So, we end in a situation in which you are dead, because we killed you to get at your information, but you are still walking around in multiple iterations, perhaps having violent confrontations with each other over their authenticity.

Here’s the real question, which is so bizarre I’m having difficulty putting it into words:  Would you, that entity which now lives in and looks out at the world from your body, which is the experiencer of your history, which debates with itself over the nature of the reality presented it by your senses, would you inhabit any or all of your new selves?



Participating in democracy is not just shouting your particular dogma more loudly.  It’s having the courage to face that dogma, and test it, to research and confront your most ingrained ideas.  This requires hard work, I’m afraid, and may cost you some fair weather friends.  If this doesn’t appeal to you, I’m sorry.  Maybe democracy is not what you want.