The wonder of parallel worlds




There could be a parallel world by which the global lingua franca is Swahili, or one in which there exist 200, or 300, million Jews, and Holocaust never took place, or one in which women are countless times far more superior to even the most able-bodied men. Or even one in which there is an alternative version of homo sapiens, that is us, but with height surpassing over 10 meters, wings to roam the sky (that means airplanes do not exist) and IQ scores exceeding 500. And all these take place in an alternate Earth over 10 to the power of 100 to the power of 1000 light years away from us.

But how has this notion influenced our mindsets throughout the centuries? Read the full article on Aeon Magazine.


Recently, physicists have been boldly endorsing a ‘multiverse’ of possible worlds. Richard Feynman, for example, said that when light goes from A to B it takes every possible path, but the one we see is the quickest because all the others cancel out. In The Universe in a Nutshell (2001), Stephen Hawking went with a sporting multiverse, declaring it ‘scientific fact’ that there exists a parallel universe in which Belize won every gold medal at the Olympic Games. For Hawking, the universe is a kind of ‘cosmic casino’ whose dice rolls lead to widely divergent paths: we see one, but all are real.

Surprisingly, however, the idea of parallel universes is far older than any of these references, cropping up in philosophy and literature since ancient times. Even the word ‘multiverse’ has vintage. In a journal paper dating from 1895, William James referred to a ‘multiverse of experience’, while in his English Roses collection of 1899, the poet Frederick Orde Ward gave the term a spiritual cast: ‘Within, without, nowhere and everywhere;/Now bedrock of the mighty Multiverse…’

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