Sunday, December 8, 2013

Infinite diversity in infinite combinations? Not so great after all.

Suppose there were, as some scientists have proposed, an infinite multitude of parallel universes, each differing from the next in only the minutest detail. For instance, in one universe, my favorite color is red, while in another, my favorite color is blue, and in a third, I still can't make up my mind.

This might sound like a wonderful thing - it means that anything truly is possible. But is it really all that great? I think that if such a thing were true, it would mean that we actually have no free will. Because all the choices we make would be preordained at the creation of our universe, our actions would have no meaning - for every choice I make, my counterpart in another universe would make a different choice. For every time I say "yes" when my sister asks if I want to play a game, there's a universe where I say "no". There's also a universe where I walk off silently, a universe where I punch her in the face, and a universe where I spontaneously combust, then teleport to Mars. What kind of freedom is that if I'm constrained to do only what's within the parameters of our particular universe?

Now it could be that there are so many universes that there's room for more than one identical copy of each. That would allow for free will, and it would be the ultimate expression of God's creative power. But is that actually a good thing? A simple look at history would say: almost certainly not. You thought the Holocaust was bad? Multiply that by infinity! Of course, there would also be universes where the world was at peace all along, and unicorns frolicked among the verdant truffula trees. But would God actually allow an infinite amount of human suffering? Somehow I doubt this; it seems beyond cruel, even if he can make it up in the end.

So, I'd have to say that if there are multiple universes (whatever exactly that means*), there are only a finite number of them, because if there were an infinite number, either life would be utterly meaningless or God would be infinitely cruel.

*What's "multiple universes" mean? Well, I suppose that a "universe" can be defined as a self-contained region of spacetime to which there is no entry or exit. So, obviously, the universe we live in is one, as there's no way to enter or escape it. Also, any alternate dimension is a universe, as we can't get there, and whoever lives there can't get here. A black hole, though, while it might appear to be a universe, is not, because it has a connection (albeit one-way) with the outside world. Likewise, a warp bubble as envisaged by Star Trek is not a universe, because even if it is isolated spatially from the outside world, it is still connected via time at the moment the ship enters or drops out of warp.