Have you ever tried to count to 14 billion? I have, but after 67, I gave up out of utter exhaustion. Still, what if I had stuck with it? Well, to reach the end of that useless goal would’ve taken me approximately nine decades. This is assuming I could recite five counts a second without sleep for 89 years (14 billion/31,536,000 [seconds in a year] = 444. 444/5 = 89).
The example above is meant to demonstrate the mind boggling enormity of where we live. To put it more poetically — the earth is a speck of dust on the infinite buttcrack of the universe. To put it more angsty — despite all of Smashing Pumpkin’s rage, they’re still living in a very large cage.
The current theory regarding our universe predicts its size as 14 billion (give or take) light years across, that’s 4.3 billion parsecs! Unfortunately, even at Millennium Falcon speeds, a parsec is still a unit of distance (my inner-nerd refuses to let this go). And apparently, for shits and gigs, the universe is expanding into…something.
In recent years, for the world of entertainment, this incomprehensible vastness hasn’t seemed enough. Thus, we entered the multiverse (The Flash, Dr. Strange, Crisis on Two Earths, etc.). And, despite every stoner reminding me of its genius, I didn’t ask myself why until a few nights ago.
I agree with my Marijuana-enlightened friends. The multiverse is genius and Ranch on pizza is delicious. I do, however, contest that Fruity Pebbles are a good follow up to this meal. I also disagree on WHY the multiverse is a genius concept in entertainment.
In 1957, physicist Hugh Everett proposed an idea in Quantum Mechanics which stated that quantum wave function did not collapse. The main implication was that the outcome of a quantum experiment was realized in some ‘other’ world. In other words, everything is happening everywhere and all at once (I couldn’t help myself). Everett’s paper was a clever solution to the EPR Paradox (faster than light travel in quantum entangled states) and Schrodinger’s Cat. And, if we believe him (there is debate to be sure), we have to accept two things about Everett himself. 1 – there is no doubt that he was a hit with the ladies, and, 2 – The man simply doesn’t like cats. According to him, the multiverse is littered with them.
Joking aside, Everett’s idea is an interesting one. Also, I’m not good enough at math to say whether it’s true or false. The purpose of this essay is not to debate its merits, but rather its frequent use in media. To understand that, one must first try to understand the Octopus.
The year is 2015 and a peer reviewed journal entitled, Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, puts forth an article stating that Octopus DNA came from an ice comet. What a glorious day! Unfortunately, as with all fun, it was not meant to last.
Now, the year is 2022. Several other scientists have ridiculed this paper (as good scientists are supposed to do), embraced my inner skeptic, and ruined any joy I had in pretending that our invertebrate cousins had telepathy. Still, let’s forget that the reasonable people prevailed and discuss the intrigue of my favorite cephalopod.
By every male human standard I can think of, Octopuses are the coolest of all animals. They can camouflage themselves instantaneously (Mystique). They are very intelligent (Tony Stark). Octopuses make a neurotoxin that says, ‘Back off, Mother-Effer’ (Professor X). They have jet propulsion (Superman), can regrow severed limbs (Wolverine), and the ink they spray when frightened makes them talented at graffiti (Graffiti…person?). Lest we forget, Octopuses have eight arms, meaning, they can show up to an ocean party with eight female cephalopods in tow (Bruce Wayne). They are the original superhero of the animal kingdom. However, like all superheroes, they are weird.
It’s easy to see why a researcher might think these ocean defenders are alien. Octopuses have three hearts. Their central nervous system is only partially located in their brain. Their other neurons are distributed in a complex manner throughout their bodies. Octopuses have camera like eyes and they taste stuff with their arms (gross). The list goes on. All in all, as a human, it’s very difficult to understand how an Octopus interprets the world. That is why you’re unlikely see a good story written from their point of view. It’s also why multiverse television shows, books, and movies exist.
To write from the perspective of a completely foreign species is a monumental task. To make the same story connect to its audience is nigh impossible. Writer’s often maneuver these obstacles by making the species a furry human with four legs. Examples of this are numerous, but two that come to mind are: The Call of The Wild and The Art of Racing in the Rain. I liked both these books, but I never really believed either animal was a dog (despite the latter making me sob for hours).
Assuming a writer is willing to hurdle these difficulties, their next task is almost insurmountable. What does a culture of such beings act like? There have been efforts to do this, of course. The androgyny in The Left Hand of Darkness by Le Guin sticks out in my mind. Still, I don’t think that’s going to be a major movie any time soon. Also, I doubt its theater run would be successful. Radical imaginations like Le Guin’s tend to be under-appreciated (Side note, there are stage productions of this book).
So what does this all add up to?
Well, we live in a vast universe of Octopuses. Writers have difficulty imagining their species and audiences have trouble connecting with them emotionally. Without either of these things, an artist runs the risk of being Galileo. You remember him, right? He was the dude they Rapunzeled in a tower because he claimed the sun was the center of the universe. Unfortunately, I think a similar outcome would be likely for writers attempting to speak from the same pulpit. Humans don’t go to the movies to be reminded that they are a speck of dust on the infinite buttcrack of the universe. They go to be reminded that they ARE the center of the universe. Or, in today’s age, that they are the center of the multiverse.
The multiverse does not appeal to our sense of wonder. It appeals to our sense of ego. We can see ourselves in different colors, at different jobs, or even with different tribulations. What we can never imagine is that the sun doesn’t revolve around us. Frankly, this concept is the backbone of today’s entertainment.
Is the idea of the multiverse genius? I’d say so. Hugh Everett, by all accounts, was very intelligent. Is putting his hypothesis in entertainment, genius – absolutely, but not because of the science. Its genius lies in its profit driven motive. A critical concept in revenue return is reminding the customer of their importance (customer service in a nutshell). That’s a hard thing to do in a universe that is 14 billion light years across. It’s an easy thing to do in a multiverse. Even if that customer dies in their reality, they still know they’re a highly paid government intelligence operative in another.
To paraphrase Queen Amidala – this is how creative liberty dies, with thunderous applause. Audiences are so caught up in themselves that they’ve forgotten about a whole universe of Octopuses waiting to meet them. I, for one, hope our eight-armed visitors are nice. If they’re not, I find solace in the fact that a species capable of intergalactic travel would want absolutely nothing to do with us. Or, do they? Maybe my writer friends can imagine a legitimate reason for them stopping by (Arrival was just the beginning…)
Two words of warning, I imagine, would be helpful for the writer intent on the universe route. First, the universe is falsifiable. Your idea of the future might not match up with reality (Blade Runner anyone…seriously, where the f@*k are the flying cars?). Second, imagining the universe risks flowering creativity in a hovel. There’s a good chance no one is going to read your shit. Or, perhaps, you’re exactly what a self-centered world needs right now.
Very interesting article!
Great article, but it needs more harpsichords! Even just one harpsichord. In the multiverse, a single harpsichord can play all possible songs. Simultaneously.
Lol, I’m convinced we are the only iteration of the universe in which a harpsichord exists.