Max Tegmark says in his book Our Mathematical Universe that among physicists the reaction to the parallel universes theory has shifted from, “This makes no sense and I hate it,” to “I hate it”. The inflation theory of the universe predicts that our universe is just one in a multiverse of myriad universes where everything that can happen does happen somewhere. This theory is the one most physicists currently subscribe to since it corresponds to what is observed by cosmologists, and predicts we are currently living out infinite versions of our lives.
Ask anyone in the street whether it is possible to stop ageing and grow younger from now on and you’d get a definite no and probably a funny look. However, the probability of rejuvenation is not zero if inflation theory is correct, for in a multiverse even the most unlikely things are bound to happen in some universe somewhere, including being the only human being on the planet who ever actually reversed ageing. The question is of course, is this universe it ?
“Everything is possible” is a notion with which spirituality is much enamoured. Where physics and ‘new age’ thought part company is in the concept of free will. If all outcomes are possible, then for every ‘you’ who took one decision, there are many ‘yous’ who did not, and so any sense we have free will is just a consequence of the multiverse.
In quantum physics the observer effect states that observing a ‘system’ effects its end state. There may be a superposition of several states, known as a wave function, but the presence of human consciousness causes this to ‘collapse’ into one single state. Spiritual thinkers have suggested that our consciousness is able to make the wave collapse one way or another according to our expectations – the “thoughts create reality” theory. If this is true, and if according to the inflation theory of our universe’s origins rejuvenation is possible somewhere, we in theory have the power to shift our reality to one where this actually happens.
However, according to Hugh Everett’s Many Worlds theory, the wave function never does collapse. Instead, reality splits to encompass all possible outcomes. Most of us do not like the idea we are consequently splitting into many different versions of ourselves – one which dies of an early heart attack from an unhealthy lifestyle, another which succumbs to Montezuma’s Revenge on an exotic holiday and still another which lives to 80, the current average life expectancy in the West. Which one of us is the real me? we might wonder. Perhaps the world really did end in December 2012…somewhere else. The day before he/she gets the results of an important examination, a cosmologist might muse I hope I end up in the parallel universe where I pass. But this too would be meaningless, since there is no real you; they are all real.
In fact even immortality may be real, since for every you that has an accident and dies or contracts an illness and passes away, there are others who do not, and there will consequently be one ‘you’ that survives everything, including – rather like Tithonos in the Greek myth – extreme old age. Tegmark describes what he calls a quantum suicide experiment, using a quantum machine gun, with us playing the role of Schrödinger’s cat. Death therefore, according to inflation theory, which is the leading theory currently explaining how we got here, may truly be an illusion.