Schrödinger's Monkey
Greg Knauss

If nothing else, it explains a lot.

For those with a technical education in physics, it seems the Everett-Wheeler-Graham interpretation of quantum indeterminacy, with a few addendums, turns out to be correct. For those without, a little explanation is needed.

Physics, for years now, has had a central question: What is wrong with quantum mechanics? Quantum mechanics is a method of calculating values on the atomic and sub-atomic level, a little like Newtonian mechanics can be used to calculate values on a larger scale. Newtonian formulas can predict where a rock will fall if someone throws it in the air, quantum formulas try to do the same thing for atoms.

But it never worked quite right. Newtonian physics, real-world physics, always comes up with one specific answer -- it many not be the right answer, say, if some factor was forgotten, or some measurement misread, but it is always a single answer. Quantum physics, though, always produces more than one answer, ALL of which are technically, mathematically correct. It's called "indeterminacy." Newton says the rock will land HERE; quantum mechanics says that the rock will land HERE and HERE and HERE.

This is, of course, impossible.

In the real world you can't have more than one answer. It's not a question of actually throwing the rock and seeing where it lands. The formulas should provide one answer, and one answer only. Period.

Schrödinger came up with his famous cat to try to illustrate the problem. Imagine: there's a box, with no holes or windows, that contains a cat. The cat has some sort of lethal device hooked up to it -- I always liked to think of it as a guillotine, but Schrödinger used poisonous gas -- that can be triggered by some nameless quantum event.

Now, after a specific period of time, is the cat dead? Quantum mechanics will return a number of answers, one of which might say that the cat has been killed, another of which might not. So without opening the box, is the cat dead or alive? Schrödinger said it was both -- an obviously false statement -- just to point out that quantum mechanics has a gaping hole in it.

There were a number of explanations for what was going on. Einstein had the Hidden Variable, Von Neumann and Finkelstein had Quantum Logic, Bohr had the Copenhagen Interpretation, Walker and Herbert had "Consciousness" Nonlocality, Sarfatti had "Information" Nonlocality. They were all attempts to rectify what quantum mechanics predicted with what actually happened, ways of looking at the universe to make it fit quantum answers.

As it turns out, events have proven Drs. Everett, Wheeler and Graham correct. Their model suggested, perhaps fancifully, that for every indeterminacy -- every Schrödinger's Cat -- an entirely new universe is created, exactly the same as the first, but for that single quantum event. In one universe, the cat would be dead; in the other it would be alive.

Of course, quantum events are happening by the trillions every second, by the trillions of trillions. Universes would be splitting and re-splitting and splitting again, taking every possible course imaginable. Judging by the rough estimate that the universe is 10 billion years old, the number of entirely separate universes is beyond human imagining. The amount is inconceivable.

I suppose it should be obvious that eventually they'd run out of room.

The way I see it -- and this is just my particular model, obviously derived in a hurry, last night -- each universe acts something like an atom of hydrogen might, enclosed in a glass jar. When there are only a few hydrogen atoms, they float about freely, gaseous, and rarely collide. This is the Gas State.

If these atoms, however, were able to duplicate themselves, along the lines of Everett-Wheeler-Graham, the jar would slowly begin to get crowded. Collisions with divergent universes explain a lot of what we're seeing.

Of course these collisions would become more frequent, and pressure would eventually begin to build. As more atoms were created, eventually liquid hydrogen -- the Liquid State -- would condense out of the ever more crowded gas. Collisions would be innumerable nearly constant, even.

And that's what's happening to us. I don't claim to know what the "jar" is -- Thornton Wilder would probably call it "the Mind of God" -- but I think that collisions don't take place physically, at least not in the lower three dimensions. There's no thud of our universe running into another one.

Universes seem to "tap" each other lightly -- perhaps there's some sort of natural repulsion or elasticity -- and only a small exchange takes place. Parts of the other universe slosh over into ours and parts of ours spill over into it, following some upper-dimensional conservation of momentum, like giant bowls of milk.

What does this mean in practical terms? If nothing else, it explains a lot.

It explains Jesus rising from the grave, for instance. Say three days after his crucifixion, there was a rare Gas State collision with a universe where he wasn't killed, and their Christ was bumped to our world.

It explains what happened to a Spanish book that disappeared from my locker in high school.

It explains what happens to everyone's car keys, and the one sock that's always missing from the dryer.

lt explains Atlantis and Big Foot and the Loch Ness monster and unicorns and every other myth or legend in the world.

It explains why there's another me, very close to an exact duplicate as far as I can tell, sitting in the kitchen gorging himself on bananas. We talked for a long time last night, after he appeared in my bathroom, and the only glaring difference we found between our universes was that in his, bananas never evolved. Some quantum event far back in the past prevented whatever it was that eventually became bananas from mutating in a certain way. He -- the other me -- loves them, and has eaten over three dozen by my count.

Now that the universes are condensing into the Liquid State we'll be seeing a lot more of that sort of thing. I wonder how much longer some sort of societal order will hold out. Somehow I doubt people will be too concerned with the law if they know that everything they know as fact might cease to exist at any particular moment.

And I wonder how long we have before the Solid State.

Greg Knauss ( is a computer programmer and the creator of An Entirely Other Day. He's also a frequent contributor to TeeVee.

InterText stories written by Greg Knauss: "The Talisman" (v1n1), "Schrödinger's Monkey" (v1n1), "New Orleans Wins the War" (v1n2), "The Explosion That Killed Ben Lippincott" (v1n2), "The Damnation of Richard Gillman" (v1n3), "Novalight" (v4n3).

InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 1, Number 1 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1991 Greg Knauss.