Nerd Factor: The Trouble with Alternate Worlds

Marvel’s What-If Poster. Photo retrieved from…%3F_(TV_series).

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     A multiverse appears to offer a variety of options. There are, however, a number of problems that confront the would be probability tourist who wants to visit Elseworlds based upon the simple question of “What If?”

     Some alternate universes just do not work: 

     The basic idea behind alternate universes is that something has changed historically. We tend to think of them as counterfactual tales. What if Abraham Lincoln had not been assassinated? What if the Nazis had won World War II? The mind staggers at the possibilities. 

     These worlds become intriguing places to visit or perhaps nightmare worlds to escape. One can understand their appeal to cross-dimensional tourists.  

     However, there are many other probabilities that have played out. For example, what if the ratio of matter to antimatter had been different shortly after the formation of the universe? One might step out into such a world and be instantly annihilated. And, of course, there is always that chance that the Sun or the Earth just did not form in another universe.  

     Some alternate universes are achingly mundane:

     By contrast, many other alternate worlds are not particularly different from our own. For example, on Sunday I treated myself to a Thomas’ English muffin for my egg sandwich breakfast. But perhaps in some other universe, I did not make that choice and had my more traditional toasted bread. 

     Did the fact that I had a faux Egg McMuffin for breakfast radically alter the nature of the universe? While I do believe that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can create a hurricane somewhere else in the world, it is very hard for me to imagine that choice leading to dramatic changes. Particularly if I visit the alternate faux Egg McMuffin universe shortly after that decision was made. 

     I will stop by my alternate universe house and be like, “Hi Mike, I am you from an alternate universe. Oh, I see you did not have a faux Egg McMuffin this morning.” 

     And Other Mike will reply, “Damn, I should have thought of that!” 

     Some alternate universes make your life look too good:

     The banality of the faux Egg McMuffin dilemma brings up another problem inherent to alternate universe travel—one is bound to meet an alternate version of oneself. 

     While I lack the mathematical proof of all of this, I tend to believe that the slight change universes are somehow easier to get to, somewhat “nearby” for lack of a better term. A bit farther out, still within an easy drive in the alternate universe neighborhood though, are the worlds where things have gone different. 

     That is where things get personally scary. I am not talking about so-called evil twins here though. I am talking about alternate selves who are less fortunate. The old saying is that “someone always has it worse.” But in an alternate universe, one can see that happen to oneself. That would be heartbreaking to know what the other self had gone through. 

     Some alternate universes are like midlife crises:

     Worse still though are the universes where the double has done much better. Visiting those worlds would prompt a terrible sense of introspection. Oh sure, there have to be other worlds where Other Mikes won the lottery. That can be attributed to luck. 

     But what about the alternate worlds where the alternates achieved more or just did something far more exciting. To borrow some terminology from a popular hit by Bad Company back in 1979, everyone has a “rock ‘n’ roll” fantasy. In some parallel world though, those fantasies of fame and fortune have come true. 

     And that is when the envy kicks in. Even those with the strongest moral fiber are going to be tempted. I mean Other Mike is me, right? Is what Other Mike owns also mine? 

     And then, before I know it, I have become the evil twin. 

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