universe

PEDANTRY

SPECU-CRANK: I’VE A SPLITTING HEADACHE, IN THIS UNIVERSE AT LEAST

Parallel universes pop up everywhere. My first encounter was a short report about a professor building a machine to move between universes in order to prove such things existed. There was of course a disbelieving world, his non-disbelieving daughter, and…well, it’s a long time since I read it. Written by John Wyndham, was my hazy recollection. A search of our bookshelves failed to find my copy—perhaps it was a victim of our buy one, throw one out rule for managing finite (bookshelf) space. No doubt, in one of the infinite number of universes, we have more bookshelf space—with a copy still there. In the end I resorted to Google to find it—and lo. [1] Now, after the professor’s daughter crossed from one universe into another, her discussions with her there-but-not-here husband could pin-point more or less when the two universes had parted ways, but not why. And that is my headache: what causes a universe to split?

A significant event—that seems to be the consensus, with the duplicated universes taking the different possible outcomes. The typical example cited is the Naz—oops, that was close, if I’d used that word I’d have lost the argument—a war having a different outcome. The problem with the significant event theory is that the universe is so vast that there would be a universe-splitting event occurring somewhere all the time. We wouldn’t have time for the paint to dry before we split again.

This might not be a big problem if the split occurred simultaneously, but the speed-of-light limit seems to rule that option out. Perhaps the split is synchronised by a note being passed around: ‘we split at noon, on a day quite a few years away’. But by then the effect of whatever event caused the split would be firmly entrenched and splitting would be rather pointless. That suggests a split must ripple across the universe, though that also leads to difficulties. What happens when the ripple from one split meets the ripple from a different split? Do we get Siamese universes, four half-sized universes, or perhaps gross distortions? That’s all too hard—let’s go back to the why question.

How significant must an event be to trigger a split? Completing an article for CRANK? Creating 8,145,060 duplicate universes after each Tattslotto draw would seem to put a considerable strain on the universe splitting infrastructure, however well-oiled. Is the problem left to a committee to decide? Maybe, but setting up such a committee would be a highly significant event, and so there must be a universe in which it wasn’t done and has been undergoing unregulated splitting ever since. The likelihood that splitting is event-based is fading fast. 

To counter this doubt, some philosophers have suggested that splitting is localised, say planet by planet. If that were the case, which of the duplicate Jupiters do we Earthlings see, a not insignificant question given that Jupiter turned into a small star in 2010 in some universes. [2] Hence local must be something larger. But however big, this argument can be repeated again and again until we must conclude that universe splitting is all or nothing.

Looking at how the theory of evolution evolved suggests an answer to the why question. We went from a deterministic theory to a serendipitous theory: the idea giraffes actively grew longer necks to reach higher leaves was replaced by an extended lottery, where those giraffes that by chance had long-necks had an advantage and were more likely to survive. That suggests to me that, rather than being triggered by a specific event, the universe splits in two at some random point in time, a bit like a bacterium or an amoeba. This animate analogy isn’t so far-fetched in light of Professor Challenger’s successful but odoriferous demonstration that planets were alive, like giant sea urchins, floating through space. [3]

Serendipity, Warrnambool 

Because the ripple from of a split was delayed by the Senate, the author’s clone was able to send a profuse apology for the above which, he assures us, is very much better in his universe.

  1. John Wyndham, 'Opposite number' in The seeds of Time, 1956
  2. Arthur C Clark, 2010: Odyssey Two, 1982.
  3. Arthur Conan Doyle; When the world screamed, 1928.
In a parallel universe giraffes developed long necks specifically for the purpose of snatching small children from over short fences, in order to devour them whole. It is therefore necessary, in this universe, to build giraffe-proof fences around all townships. This fence is dangerously short, probably accounting for the lack of small children in view. [Giraffe in Cairo zoo], glass lantern slide, ca. 1915-1918, by T. P. Bennett. State Library of Victoria accession no H83.103/123.

In a parallel universe giraffes developed long necks specifically for the purpose of snatching small children from over short fences, in order to devour them whole. It is therefore necessary, in this universe, to build giraffe-proof fences around all townships. This fence is dangerously short, probably accounting for the lack of small children in view. [Giraffe in Cairo zoo], glass lantern slide, ca. 1915-1918, by T. P. Bennett. State Library of Victoria accession no H83.103/123.

CRANK fans! Have you pre-ordered your copy of Materiality: SURFACE? You can do so at the pinknantucket press Pozible campaign page, until 21 September! Sign up to be a subscriber, friend or patron and also receive our annual CRANK zine!

REPROACH

ASTROLOGY: IT’S A LOAD OF BULL

As I write this (on 24 December 2012, to be precise) I look north in the Australian skies. If it’s clear, I can see Taurus hunting down Jupiter. Taurus, visualised as a bull, is one of the twelve constellations of the Zodiac (the celestial zoo, because scales of justice are totally animals), being the stars that occupy the ecliptic plane—that is, the plane of the apparent path of the sun, as seen from Earth.

There are 88 modern constellations grouped into eight families: The Zodiac, The Ursa Major Family, The Perseus Family, The Hercules Family, The Orion Family, The Heavenly Waters, The Bayer Family and the La Caille Family. Over time we have made sense of the chaotic distribution of stars by finding patterns and creating relationships between them. For our intents and purposes, it hasn’t mattered that the points of light we link together come from wildly varying times and locations in the galaxy: from our perspective, the stars are distorted into a single, synchronous, flattened image. In reality, the individual stars in our constellations often have nothing to do with one another; with the time it takes their light to reach us, they may not even exist in the same moment, but we see them as a single event.

It seems the Zodiac is the most well known of these constellation families—not because we can easily recognise them (I’d bet my bottom dollar that most believers in astrology couldn’t find the constellations in the sky to save themselves) but because the planets also like to hang out near the ecliptic. Back in the day, the planets visible to the naked eye were believed to be wandering stars. The ancient Greeks and Babylonians equated their gods with these planets, and thus the idea that there was some mystical connection to the Zodiac was born.

Isaac Newton, the man who discovered gravity and invented calculus, believed in astrology. So did Johannes Kepler, who wrote the laws of planetary motion, and a number of other famous scientists and physicists who lived around the same time. Why? Because our knowledge of the universe was limited back then, and from what we did know, astrology made sense. Almost everyone believed in it, and many great discoveries of science stemmed from research into astrology. And when we started seeing the results of this research, it slowly dawned on us that a model where the planets had some kind of mystical influence over us just didn’t cut it anymore. All studies to date confirm this. We evolved as a species.

The universe is a big place. Huge. Think of the biggest thing you can, then multiply that by 10 billion to the power of 10 billion and you’ll be imagining just a fraction of the universe. The idea that a handful of balls made from rocks and gas that are falling through space in a pattern governed by gravity have anything to do with our personalities and/or fates is absurd.

In the end, people who believe in astrology do so because they want to. It’s far, far easier to put your faith in something else than it is to take responsibility for your own actions. What people don’t seem to realise is that when you take control and things go well, the payoff for believing in yourself is exponentially greater.

(Moral of the story: the best way to stop making your horoscopes appear in my Facebook feed is to stop posting them in your own. Just stop.)

LEONIE CONNELLAN, MELBOURNE

If you enjoyed this crank, why not buy it (and others like it) in hard copy? So retro! And only $4.99! Visit the pinknantucket press shop!