On “Do-Overs”

I love “do-overs”. Not because I want to change anything in particular about my life, but because they are so rare, and so interesting. On my way to Vancouver on Monday, I got to do one.

We (myself and the other passengers) boarded our flight at Denver. I usually get on the plane early, and so have the change to watch people go through their routines of boarding and all that entails. After that was all, the plane full of passengers waited for the plane to get ready, doors to close, and so forth. It did not happen. After a while, the pilot came on and explained that they were trying to fix the radio, and it would be another half an hour. So we waited. After another long while, the pilot came on and said that they did not expect that the radio would get fixed in a timely manner after all, and so they were going to try something else. We would “de-plane” (a word I hate by the way – what is wrong with the perfectly good word “disembark”?) and all make our way to another gate where eventually another plane would arrive, and we’d take that one. It would be exactly the same type of plane. We would keep our ticket stubs and just re-board an hour and a half later.

I wandered for a bit, found something not too repulsive to nibble on (seems to get harder and harder in some airports), was disappointed by the meagre bookstore once again, and otherwise killed some time. Then the boarding started again. A “do-over”. Everybody would be going back to the same seats, it would be exactly the same people as before. How interesting it will be to see what would be different and what would stay the same!

  • Will people put their baggage in the same place? (I know, it might seem a little odd that I notice where people put their bags, but I seem to – well, some of the nearby stuff).
  • Will they enter in roughly the same order as before?
  • Will that cute family come on in the same order as before? No, the little girl is not giggling and running ahead this time. Her older sister leads the way, and she almost bumps her face into the bag of the tall man who stopped suddenly in front of her. She makes a melodramatic twisted face at this, to herself, and I smile at this. She sees me smile at her personal drama.
  • Will that overly-muscled guy again fail to help that tiny woman heave that huge case up into the overhead bin?
  • Will I smile at that same striking woman this time? Would she look sharply away this time as she did before?
  • Will we take off this time around?
  • Is anyone else thinking about the do-over details, or is it just me?

This time I know in advance that the fascinating, beautiful woman of my dreams won’t be sitting next to me. She never does, of course. (Except that one time). I know this since last time, 90 minutes ago, it was the grey-haired business man. Pleasant enough guy. So I know I won’t be playing that usual guessing game where you look into the faces of the people who come in and see how soon you can determine that they will or won’t be sitting next to you.

All of this leads me to think about parallel universes a bit. Not too much, but a bit. Parallel in the sense of being very similar except for slight details. People like to speculate about them, including asking questions about whether they really exist in some meaningful sense. It’s fun to think about, but I’m pretty sure that at the human scale two such universes would be unlikely to remain similar for very long. I imagine they’d get very different from each other rather rapidly, just like the little girl in the family not coming in first the second time around, the older sister doing so instead and bumping, almost, and so forth. In physics terms, we’d think of parallel universes as similar-but-different in a more fundamental sense. The laws of physics could be similar, but with slight differences brought about by different values of certain fundamental constants perhaps. But there’d not likely be similar copies of you or me walking around, making ever so slightly different choices from the ones we’re making today, indefinitely into the future.

Do parallel universes really have a role in real physics, as opposed to fun movie scenarios or TV shows? I don’t know. Most likely nobody knows right now. Some people are thinking about it. There may be ways in which their existence could be meaningful even without having some means of ever visiting another one and returning to tell the story in some reproducible way. Perhaps there will be properties of our universe – you know, the real measurable one – that somehow rely upon the existence of other universes. Some quantities we cannot explain without an ensemble of other other universes. Right now, that’s all total speculation, but it is interesting to think about.

Hmm…. anyway, this has all reminded me of a beach shoot for a TV show I did some months back that I have not yet told you about. It was all about parallel universes, you see. More on that later. I’m back in Aspen now and back to work and retreat mode.

-cvj

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