Life, The Multiverse, and Everything
I’m a big believer in the multiverse. I can’t quite explain why, but from the first time I heard the concept, I knew it was true. It just made deep, intuitive sense.
Sometimes I have trouble understanding why most people find it counter-intuitive and troubling, when it fills me with wonder and amazement. But I suppose that is to be expected. New discoveries are always problematic to the world in which they were born. The theory of relativity, the concepts of quantum mechanics, and the idea of the big bang all met with extreme mental resistance when they were introduced. But a generation or so later, most people understand and accept all of these ideas rather intuitively.
Most of us are a little behind on quantum physics, and very few of us have really been introduced to the concept of multiple universes co-existing. But in another generation, not only will these ideas be taken as intuitive, but these ideas will change the way people look at the world.
I can see a new mentality coming; one that rests in its understanding of the vastness of the multiverse, and in that light, lives differently. What I want to do, is to sketch out what that mentality will look like.
The vastness of reality
If Copernicus changed our viewpoint on the arrangement of the universe, the 20th century changed our understanding of the vastness of the universe. No longer is the earth or the solar system large in the scheme of things. Instead, we float on the outskirts of a vast galaxy, in a sea of galaxies just as unfathomable, in a universe that is nearly 20 billion light-years across.
Just ONE light-year is more than 5,878 billion miles in empty space, more than 65,000 times the distance from the earth to the Sun. So the width of our universe is the distance from the earth to the Sun times 65,000, times 20 billion. Sorry that those numbers don’t help much. We inevitably shrink our conception of reality due to our own lack of experience with things that big.
But, if you can, try to grasp the vastness of the universe for just a moment. Then turn your mind around and conceive of a beginning point from which everything sprang - not only our universe, not only every variation of our universe, but every variation of the very idea of universe itself. Every being that could ever exist, every world conceivable by human mind, every point throughout infinite space and time, not only exists, but exists in vastness so unfathomable as to stun the very sense of existence.
All that exists stretches so high above us; and when it reaches the top of our perception - it stretches for an infinity of worlds beyond.
The nature of existence
Throughout human history, the quiet debate has raged, asking:
Is the world caring, or heartless? Is it cruel, or gentle?
If the suffering in the world has encouraged many to label it violent and evil, the realization that we are small in the order of things has only intensified that perception. What has gone so largely unnoticed is that existence itself bends towards creation, proliferation, diversity.
A beautiful theology in the middle ages was called The Great Chain of Being. The idea was that God was loving, and a loving being all by himself is compelled to create something which it can love. But God, being all-loving, couldn’t just create one thing; instead, he created everything which can be loved, from the single-celled organisms which can fathom nothing, to humans who can contemplate their own existence, to beings of ever greater capability and complexity…the chain stretching all the way from nothingness up to very God himself. The concept was that if God was, then he was infinitely loving, and infinitely creative.
Unfortunately, the idea fell out of favor when it was realized there were gaps in the animal kingdom. The chain was apparently missing a few links, and so dropped out of the limelight.
But we now know that the chain does exist, and does stretch all the way from nothingness up to infinity, including in it every being which could ever be loved, in this universe or in any other. The nature of existence is creation, is giving life; and the primary thing which existence exists to do, is to give life to every being possible!
Things are sometimes hard, and suffering is real. But beneath it all is the great river of existence, giving life to everything which can be named, from here to infinity.
Living beyond choice and fate
For centuries, people have argued over free will and determinism. The most reasonable proponents of free will have admitted that the world is probably a mixture of the two, while most determinists have argued that the very concept of free will makes no sense. After all, everything in this world has a cause, and if we could know the cause fully enough, we could know with absolute certainty what would happen.
The advent of quantum physics shook up the balance a little, suggesting that not only are there things that seem to behave randomly, but there are things that are ultimately unknowable. Still, determinism held on strongly in both philosophy and science.
Contemplating life in the multiverse will require going beyond this dichotomy between free will and determinism. It turns out there is both choice and fate, and not in tension; in the multiverse determinism is precisely what gives rise to free will. Classical determinism supposed that there was one universe and one history, determined in a single line from beginning to end; the multiverse shows us that what is predetermined is the existence of every possibility, every history, every possible choice a person could make. And so the deterministic equations unroll, continually unleashing new possibilities and choices by the literal infinities.
A new sense of identity
Traditionally, a person’s sense of identity was held to be the one constant that remained unchanged throughout their life. But the past hundred years has challenged this significantly. From geographical mobility to the collision and diffusion of cultures, from the breakdown of racial divisions to the changing roles of people within society, from new theories of human origins to new understandings of the mind and the brain, people are faced with a more complex sense of identity than ever before.
We now understand that a person’s body is constantly changing its composition. We now understand that a mind is constantly changing too; and we’ve seen people with split brains, multiple personalities, and all kinds of conceptions of who they are.
There are two directions we can move. On the one hand, we can affirm that there is something at our core that is the true us, that is deeper than our bodies, our thoughts, and our emotions. We can shrink the boundaries of self to this perfect, shiny point; nothing that extends outwards from it is truly part of it. It is pure and alone. So we are ourselves, whether we lose hands or feet or skin cells or even memories; the center-point of self remains.
On the other hand, we can affirm that our self is messy and inclusive. We can extend the boundaries of our self to include the past versions of ourself, with our former perceptions and personality traits. We can extend the boundaries of our self to include future selves, and selves that could have been. We can extend the boundaries of our self to encompass the infinite branching tree of existence that starts at our creation, and stretches all the way to the end of time.
In the end, I think either direction brings us around to the same place. Much like seeing in 3D, our perception of self in the future will have to involve maintaining a dual focus on the central moment of awareness, and the vast expanse of what we ultimately encompass.