The process of ‘growing up’ (or is it ‘growing old’?) is a strange one, but I was thinking about it yesterday and it seems to me that reaching overall impressions and conclusions about the world just doesn’t get any easier.
This self-revelation is somewhat disappointing because – perhaps partly in a desperate attempt to remain somehow relevant in the modern world so that I’m not put out to grass before my due time – for the past twenty years I’ve been lecturing my adult kids on the benefits of heeding the advice of older generations who often – may – have wisdom to impart. The selling point being, I suppose, that surely it is better, easier and ultimately more efficient to acquire that knowledge, that understanding of the world, by listening to someone who’s already been there and done that, i.e. rather than by just living your life and gradually learning it the hard way.
I’m not going to reveal the entirety of the mundane Mr Pooter-ish lifestyle that I lead but last night, whilst waiting for my ready-made Waitrose chicken breast meal to cook, I tuned in to The Great British Bake-Off on BBC1, got bored and – for want of anything better to do – switched channels to find Which Universe Are We In?, an edition of Horizon, then transmitting on BBC2. I joined the hour-long programme about twenty-five minutes in.
Science was never a favourite subject of mine but – as a dumb layman – I quite enjoy having complex or difficult scientific/mathematical issues explained to me by screen-friendly eminent practitioners operating in language, and with analogies or examples, that I can readily understand.
This show was a good example. It was reviewing the latest theories of astronomers, cosmologists and mathematicians about our universe, Big Bang, Black Holes, the Milky Way … and ultimately the likelihood (apparently quite strong) that there may not be a single universe, not just several, not just many, but in fact an infinite number of them.
The first headline I took on board was that much of the theoretical and predictive work in this field is done by mathematicians. Apparently, if you run enough of the right numbers, you can compute the likelihood of an extraordinary possibility occurring somewhere ‘out there’. Step two is then to start looking for stars, planets or heavenly manifestations that bear out that theoretical mathematical ‘prediction’. And not infrequently, such discoveries are made: we were given several examples last night, illustrated or explained by eminent scientists etc. from around the world.
I don’t want to go into the full details of the programme here and now because I’ll start to confuse myself, let alone my readers. However, let me just mention a couple of theories that are currently doing the rounds.
The first is that there exist potentially millions of universes, possibly even an infinite number.
Many things observed or predicted about our solar system and indeed the universe we can see up there in the sky suggest this is quite likely. From that, logically, there is a near-certainty that several of them are similar to our own universe, or indeed inside several of them will be planets which will either contain the necessities for life as we live it on Earth, or alternatively some form of life which may be very different from ours, but just as scientifically and culturally advanced. Or even scientifically and culturally far superior to ours.
The second still presumes that the number of universes is infinite.
In this theory, potentially, every time we make a decision we create a new one. The American scientist explaining this theory used the following example. He goes for an hour’s walk along the street, making decisions as he goes by flipping a coin. At the corner of the first block he reaches, he can go straight on, or he can ‘take a right’ into a dark alley. He flips a coin and acts on the result to ‘take the right’. Under his theory, one version of him goes straight on (in the universe he started in) and another version then goes down the dark alley to the right and into another universe, as was determined by the flip of his coin. Both versions then exist in their different universes and carry on their lives. Maybe the version that went down the dark alley gets accosted by a criminal and stabbed to death just minutes later. However, the other version (that went straight on) may live for another forty years.
Under this theory, every time anyone makes a decision in their daily life, in effect they create another universe and a new version of themselves. In other words, every day we could each personally potentially create say 200 universes, each operating in parallel and simultaneously – I hasten to add that this is still just a theory, of course, and one not yet proved by evidence. But just because there’s no evidence discovered so far, it doesn’t mean the theory doesn’t hold water. (According to the theory and mathematics) it just means that we haven’t found it yet.
It’s all pretty heady stuff.
What’s more, it got me thinking – which is no bad thing.
Maybe I’m just a wizened little old man and my kids, now in their thirties, have already surpassed the sum of all my knowledge and understanding about the world and how it works. It’s quite possible. Sometimes, for example when I catch myself thinking that they’re more worldly-wise than I am, I begin to wonder what my purpose in life has become.
I’m still waiting for the answer(s).