If I told you that somewhere in the universe, there was a duplicate you, sitting in a duplicate room, in a duplicate chair, reading a duplicate article, would you believe me?   Well according to modern science, it’s almost certainly true.  And I’m afraid to say, your duplicate self might just be a better version of you.

Today, we’re going to delve a little into quantum mechanics, without all the math and formulas and such.  I’m going to talk a little bit about alternate universes and how they work, and then I’ll share three reasons why I wouldn’t trade this universe for anything, and neither should you.

But first, let me ask you if you’re familiar with the NPR radio show “This American Life”, with Ira Glass.  On a recent episode, Ira discusses an amazing smart phone app called Universe Splitter. To use the app, I must first think of something I’m having trouble making up my mind about.   Let’s say:  “Should I go running this morning?” The app has two boxes:

  • In the first box, I type:“In one universe I blow off my run.”
  • In the second box, I type:“In the other universe, I lace on my shoes and run around the park.”

Next I hit a button and zip zip zip… the app sends a signal to a piece of equipment at the University of Geneva in Switzerland.   The device in Geneva then takes a single particle of light, a photon, and fires it at a mirror that can make the photon go left or right. I have to do whatever the particle says! For example, if the photon goes left, I blow off my run.  If it goes right, I get up and do the run. But here’s the thing.  According to the law of quantum mechanics, the photon, in fact, goes BOTH left and right, at the same time. In short, the particle is in BOTH places.  It’s in different universes. And here’s the concept that really melts my mind:   the device in Geneva has in fact created a duplicate universe.  That means that in a duplicate universe, there’s a duplicate me, holding a duplicate phone, and on that phone, it comes back with the other answer. In that duplicate universe, I blow off my run.  In this one, I run.

Is your mind now sufficiently melted? Please believe me that this is not just a metaphor.   According to many, many physicists, the math actually works.  The Geneva photon device actually creates a parallel universe. And, in fact, this is happening all the time—not just at a lab in Switzerland.   The universe is constantly duplicating itself. Replicating “multiverses” seem to be a fundamental nature of our universe. This leads to a fascinating philosophical question: If you could swap places with yourself and jump into a parallel universe, would you do it?   It’s tempting, isn’t it? What if you could un-do your worst mistake and then enter in a world where it never happened. The particle – zip, zip, zip — goes right instead of left, and everything changes.  What choices would you make differently?   If given the chance, what parallel universe would you step into?

As tempting as it all sounds, I would argue that we shouldn’t necessarily be wasting time and energy, looking for life do-overs, for alternate universes, for three simple reasons:

1) “Shouldas” and “Couldas” don’t serve us.
Sad to say, we don’t in fact currently have a way to walk between universes.   We’re stuck in this one, for better or for worse.    Living in regrets and “what ifs”, wishing for a different life, just makes you more miserable.   The grass may indeed be greener in the alternate universe, but there’s currently no way to get over the fence.   You might as well make the best of this world, and live with your choices.

2) We learn from our mistakes.
I have to say that I’m really, really sorry I put gum in Mike McKean’s hair in fourth grade. That was very naughty of me.  BUT I learned some valuable lessons that day, like:

  • I learned about consequences.
  • I learned about the importance of impulse control.
  • I learned to say “I’m sorry”.

In an alternate world, I’d have been spared that pain and embarrassment, true.  But I’d also have missed the opportunity to learn and grow from that experience. Would you give up all the wisdom you’ve gained in life simply to be the spared discomfort? I think not.

3) If you wipe away all the mistakes of your life, you also wipe away all the pleasures as well.
Think about it.  If you could do-over a mistake and bring about an alternate universe, you’d create a branching path. In the new branch, everything would be different from that point on…for better and also for worse.   Sure, if I hadn’t married my ex-wife, I’d have spared myself a lot of break-up distress. However, I would also have missed travelling together with her to Vietnam, Italy and Dubai. I would have missed moving to Berkeley, fixing up a house, and enjoying my wonderful Greyhound dog, Granger.  And later, after the divorce, I would have missed moving up to the wine country and meeting the love of my life.

In conclusion, I urge you to look back on your lives and consider all the benefits that have arisen from your mistakes.  Consider all the learning and wisdom you’ve earned from the choices you’ve made. And if you just don’t like what you see in your life, then by all means enroll at MIT, get a degree in quantum physics, and discover a passage between our world and the mulitverse.

All I ask is, if you meet my suave and sophisticated duplicate self out there, could you ask them where I left my keys this morning.