There are many versions of reality, some of which I’ve covered in previous essays. I’d like to focus this time of what I’ll term ‘single-path reality’ versus ‘multi-path reality’. Some definitions and examples are in order. A single-path reality has a unique beginning, a unique middle, and an unique ending, and if you rewind the clock, turn back the book or e-book to page one, or start the film again at the beginning (or the DVD or CD), then proceed forward, the exact same sequence of unique events happen in the exact same unique order. The Novel “1984” starts with “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen” and ends with “He loved Big Brother.” Every time, for every reader, Winston Smith takes a single unique path, with no variations.
Khan, from the motion picture “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” picks the exact same fight in the exact same manner with the exact same people and ends up getting blown up every single time. You never get the alternative where Khan wins and Captain Kirk, the Enterprise and crew get blown up. All the characters and events are in a single-path ‘reality’ – a virtual reality of course.
A CD plays the exact same tracks in the exact same order with no variations (providing no human intervention in picking and choosing track order) each and every single time – again, a single-path reality.
A multi-path reality is one where replays do not of necessity give identical results. If George Orwell rewrote “1984”, maybe Winston Smith wouldn’t love Big Brother at the end. “1984” would then have a multi-path reality and the reader could pick which version they wanted.
If someone remakes “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan”, maybe Khan will live to fight another day – again, a multi-path virtual reality will then exist.
A rerecording of the CD might alter the track order, or add new selections and delete others, or have a different artist(s) provide the contents. Again, a multi-path reality has been generated.
Now, extrapolating from recorded medium to the reality we perceive in the here-and-now, are we in a single-path reality or a multi-path reality? And is that real reality or virtual reality? Unlike a novel or movie or piece of music, you can’t rewind the cosmos and start again ‘in the beginning’ and see what transpires. If you could, perhaps events will play out again exactly as they already have – a single-path reality. Perhaps Mother Nature might create an altered or second version of events – a multi-path reality might ensue where there might not be either you or I or even a Planet Earth. There’s no real way of telling for absolute sure.
I’d like to believe that our reality is a single-path reality; a single-path reality being the be-all-and-end-all of cosmic physics. That’s because I’m a firm convert to causality – cause and effect. If you start with X, Y & Z bits and they are subjected to A-laws and B-principles and C-relationships, then you end up with say #####. If you rewind the clock back and start all over again, you should end up with ##### and not say *****.
I suspect however that our reality is a multi-path reality, for reasons quite apart from invoking parallel universes, an infinitely cyclic universe, the Multiverse or the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum physics (all of which do lead to multi-path realities).
Since we can’t rewind the clock, the next best thing is to take apparently identical situations and re-run the scenario, one after the other. For example, take the same two chess players, the same chess pieces, the same chess board, the same geographical location, time of day, all the nitty-gritty bits-and-pieces down to the last detail. The second game will most likely be different than that of the first encounter. And that’s not something confined to sports, or only humans who apparently have a metaphysical concept imbedded between their ears called ‘free will’.
It’s common knowledge in biology that under identical experimental conditions, the lab rat will do as it damn well pleases! You can’t predict with 100% confidence that the same animal will do the exact same thing under seemingly identical conditions the second or third or fourth time around. Scientists tend to learn to expect the unexpected. So, maybe lab rats also have a form of ‘free will’.
Two seemingly identical seeds will not of necessity respond in identical fashion to identical stimuli. And weather conditions seemingly identical – same pressure, same temperature, same humidity, same wind direction and velocity – might produce two decidedly and drastically different outcomes by the conclusion on each of two consecutive days. No one thinks that plant seeds or the weather has any form of ‘free will’.
If you take two identical uranium atoms and leave them alone, after a period of time, one will and one will not have decayed – gone ‘poof’. Even in mathematics there’s a branch where quantity A plus quantity B does not equal quantity B plus quantity A. You may think that strange because you normally think of mathematics as a single-path reality. Two plus three equals three plus two, with no variations allowed on the theme. But mathematics can mirror the ‘real’ world and in the ‘real’ world the order of things makes a difference. There’s a decided deference if you put your bra on first, and then your blouse, vis-Ã -vis putting your blouse on first and then your bra! Or, you can jump off a bridge and then die, but it’s rather more difficult to die and then jump off a bridge.
Translated, it would appear that our cosmos seems to be probability based from the human level right down through some branches of mathematics. There are variables that operate in every conceivable scenario so there are differing outcomes in apparently initially identical scenarios.
Probability is just another way of saying that there are not just known variables at work, but also hidden variables we don’t know enough about in any, or even if there is any, detail. That’s why they are hidden and those hidden variables operate at the level of the human mind, on down to the lab rat and the plant seed and the weather and uranium atoms even down to mathematics where seemingly identical operations can yield more than one type of result.
So any multi-path reality of cosmic scenarios contains lots of variables, some plain and visible, some hidden. I suspect that one of those hidden variables is an extraterrestrial computer programmer, and if that’s the case, it’s possible to have causality and a multi-path reality. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
One common area where the variables within scenarios are manipulated is collectively termed experimentation. You start by setting up some sort of experiment and just see what happens. Now you vary this bit and see what happens. Next you vary another bit and see what happens. Then you vary a third bit and see what happens.
In fact what these experiments are doing is preforming simulations on how the cosmos works. If you have X, Y & Z objects and A, B & C forces that can act on them, what happens after you allow A, B & C to naturally strut their stuff on X, Y & Z? Having gotten an answer to that, then what happens when you add or subtract or alter any of the objects and/or forces? Slowly but surely you build up a Big Picture of a multi-path reality cosmos.
One tool useful for performing experimental simulations that just cannot be preformed in a laboratory is the computer and associated software.
Here are some of the types of ‘experimental’ simulations using computer software. We’ve probably seen simulations of the gravitational interactions between two colliding galaxies. The physical relationships between two binary stars that are orbiting one another over time have been explored via simulations by varying the masses of the stars and the distances between them and seeing what transpires. The weather is an obvious area where simulations can produce probable outcomes based on an initial set of atmospheric conditions. We can simulate the drifting continents into the future. These are just a few of the thousands of applications of computer-generated simulations applied to ‘what if’ problems that can’t actually be explored via an actual laboratory experiment.
Apart from that, there are practical applications of this sort of computer-generated experimental approach. One can take a standard scenario and alter the various values or parameters or variables that are part and parcel of that scenario. That’s something that’s again akin to a multi-path reality.
Take pilot training for example. Before you put a prospective pilot in a real aircraft and cockpit, you subject them to simulations, so if they ‘crash’, no one gets hurt; no property gets damaged. Okay, so you have this wannabe hotshot top-gun who’s going to be initially trained in a computer simulated aircraft and cockpit. The first simulation or experiment is the standard routine takeoff – smooth flight – perfect landing – no problems scenario. It’s repeated several times. Once Mr. Wannabe gets that part down pat, the flight instructor supplements textbook theory by altering some of the many variables Mr. Wannabe will likely encounter – sooner or later. Those variables might include simulating a blown tire on takeoff or landing; varying the output of one or more of the engines, maybe having one or more catch on virtual fire. The instructor can simulate an out-of-control dive or how to react to a stall scenario. By the time the flight instructor is through with all the standard variations or variables the Mr. Wannabe trainee should be ready to get behind the wheel of a real aircraft and be fairly confident of his/her ability to handle all those variables – the probabilities that this, that and the next thing might happen without warning.
You can extrapolate the above to medical training, driver training, astronaut training, and so on and so forth.
Another non-practical but equally valid simulation experience is by varying variables in a video (virtual reality) game. You play the game and get a result. You play again and alter your strategy and get a different result.
Now take all the multi-thousands of unique video games that have been, are now, and will be on the market worldwide. Now take the multi-thousands of copies of each unique video game. That’s a lot of virtual reality. In fact, in a related form of virtual reality, virtual and real realities are no longer easy to tell apart.
When watching a recent movie or TV show loaded with special effects, I now find it impossible anymore to distinguish what was filmed as real reality images and what was added on as computer-generated virtual reality images.
Now it is clear that there are a lot more virtual landscapes, worlds, even universes in existence within our reality than that reality. You can interact with thousands of virtual realities; you can even create your own virtual reality, even realities, yet you’re stuck with just being able to interact with only one real reality.
Now extrapolate that idea to encompass the wider cosmos and all the intelligent life forms it contains. Let’s just call that collection a generic ‘ETI’ for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence(s). Assuming they might be somewhat akin to us, perhaps they too have found it useful to create simulations and virtual realities for practical reasons as well as for amusement. How many hundreds of thousands, millions, even billions of virtual realities might have been created within the one real reality we call our Universe? If that is logical, then the obvious question arises is what odds are we residing in one of those virtual realities as opposed to existing in the one real reality? Okay, the odds are as close to certainty that we, our planet, our perceived cosmos is just a virtual reality residing the computer system of an ETI.
So of course if ETI created us as virtual beings on a virtual planet in a virtual cosmos, then they more likely as not would probably be somewhat akin to us, or rather we, their creation, akin to them. Alien they might be, but not too alien that they would be beyond comprehension.
So what has all of this got to do with our multi-path reality, virtual or otherwise?
I’ll assume first that we’re not the product of a training simulation. But, if we are an experimentally simulated life form, then our ETI ‘scientist’ will no doubt alter variables either in-situ or by rerunning their program from the start. We have no way of knowing what the ‘start’ point is in our perceived time frame. It could be the Big Bang event from 13.7 billions years ago or much later where all prior historical evidence, evidence of our past before the actual ‘start’, is just planted virtual evidence. For all we know their ‘start’ time associated with our calendar could have been just seconds ago and your memories and knowledge of events of anything before that was just implanted into the virtual reality software program hence into what you think of as your memory. We would have no way of knowing anything to the contrary. If ETI does reruns, perhaps that might provide a clue to our often common sensing or experiencing DÃ©jÃ vu.
And even if our ETI is just a nerdy video game fanatic, and the game is called “Planet Earth” or some such, that still leads to a similar result.
But whether it’s ETI as a scientist or as a nerdy video gamer, whether they are rerunning the program, or tweaking it while it’s running, we still end up having a multi-path existence in a virtual reality.
Science librarian; retired.