Your Own Universe

 

Now and then, I have a bit of problem falling asleep. My mind just keeps racing around, creating fantastic scenarios which usually involve dragons, The Edmonton Oilers, clones, clones of the Edmonton Oilers, the musical theme to Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension, or Salma Hayek and Zoe Saldana fighting over who gets to scale Mt. Watson and find the golden orgasm hidden at the summit as Katee Sackhoff watches, repeatedly blowing her whistle and yelling “WRONG!  Run it again!  We’re going to stay here all night until we get it right!  Again.  AGAIN!”

 

I have some issues, obviously.

But often my imagination drifts off into deep thought-land. And sometimes, every now and then, something really profound strikes me, and I gotta let it out.  This is one of those such occasions. Thanks for indulging me.

Deep breath.  Here we go.

The universe behaves in strange ways. When we observe behavior, we alter the universe. Photons and atoms collapse into the state we perceive out of multiple possibilities, and it happens every second of every day. Everything you observe with your senses…everything you see, hear, smell, taste, or touch…has collapsed into that state of being simply by your noticing it. It’s a rule of science that has become easier and easier to accept, even if it remains a hard concept to wrap our minds around.

And yet, this is also a kitty corpse.

And yet, this is also a kitty corpse.

Now consider this: your observations are your own. They are unique. No one experiences the world and the greater universe the way you do. No one else has your history, the sum of your experiences, your nervous system, your sensory organs or the brain that interprets them. Which means that the universe you experience is unique. Ergo, each person experiences his or her own personal universe.

 

And some of us believe we ARE the whole universe.

Some of us believe we ARE the whole universe.

There’s overlap, of course. Think of it like taking a video of your friend while your friend takes a video of you taking a video. You’re shooting each other. And a bird flies right between you as you’re recording. You both exclaim and shriek, “Did you just see that?! That was crazy!” And you watch the video, each of you holding your phones up side-by-side to review your respective videos simultaneously. You and your companion see the same bird, from different angles. But what’s more, you each notice little things. The bird starts a fraction of a second sooner on your friend’s video, because maybe she was recording sooner. The bird looks more orange on your phone, while your friend’s video is more reddish. The sounds from each phone’s speaker are different. You’ve both captured (and observed) the same event. But the physical variances of your recording equipment, along with things like the respective angle of the sun (in your face, at your friend’s back) wind direction, and a million other tiny little differences mean that the videos look very different. And yet they depict the same event.

"Mr. President, do you think we should bring some official news cameras?" "Ha! If anything happens, I'm sure a shaky hand-cam will be all anyone will ever need. Drive on!"

“Mr. President, do you think we should bring some official news cameras?”
“Ha! If anything happens, I’m sure a shaky hand-cam will be all anyone will ever need. Drive on!”

The point is that our bodies are much like those cameras. They observe the universe with sometimes minor and oftentimes major differences. You hear treble sounds better than I do, I see the color blue more vividly than your rods and cones allow. But that’s all just gathering and interpreting data. The fact remains that when I observe something, the way those quantum particles and events collapse into the state that I sense is unique to me. Because you may not have observed them at all, meaning they exist in an unresolved state. Or you observed something that I didn’t.

And some people aren't exactly sure WHAT they've seen.

And some people aren’t exactly sure WHAT they’ve seen.

Add to all this the notion of freewill and decision making. You and I could both read through the same old “Choose Your Own Adventure” book and come out with vastly different endings. All the possible outcomes are all contained within the book…but by choosing one page or the other, we alter the finished experience. It’s the same book…but we will always have very different memories and perspectives on it.

Unless it's this one, which has nothing but TOTALLY KICK-ASS endings.

Unless it’s this one, which has nothing but TOTALLY KICK-ASS endings.

That’s the multiverse, kids. That’s the world we share. Completely unique to each of us. Enough shared experience to make it “real” for everyone. And yet, a million different variations every day. Mind-bogglingly awesome. (And yet…also non-awesome, prior to observation. How ’bout that?)

Your Brain on Science!!!

Boy, do I love me some science.  If you read this blog with any regularity you already know this, especially my fascination with quantum physics.  I maintain that not only will quantum physics change EVERYTHING that we know about our universes (that’s right: plural, bitches) it will lead to a new way of worshipping, as we gain an understanding of  how close we are to the creator at all times and how very tangible and “close” that presence is.  It gets me giddy and excited.  But there are plenty of regular-old scientific principles and miracles that get me fired up.  Stuff like space travel and medicine.  There’s so much that we don’t know, and seeing humanity figure that stuff out gives me a big ol’ knowledge boner.  I am literally in awe of the world out there, and equally impressed with the complex machinery that is the human body.  For example:

I’m driving down a busy street in Ft. Wayne the other day.  Lima Road, to be exact. (For those outside of our great city, that’s pronounced like the bean, not the Peruvian city.)  As I drove, I casually reached over to my dashboard and selected for myself a delicious piece of Trident gum.  I do so enjoy good gum!  So, as I drove with one hand, I unwrapped the little piece of chewy, minty goodness (they are incredibly small when you think about it) with the other.  It was right at this moment that  a woman in her (seemingly) early-eighties with Idaho plates drifted right on over into my lane without signalling, forcing me to apply the brakes to avoid disaster.  During the course of my Star Trek-like “full stop” maneuver, I was able to get the wrapper off of my gum and toss it into the trash bag on the floor of my passenger seat area.  Eventually the nice elderly fellow traveller got her speed up and I eventually made it to my destination unmolested and with a completely intact vehicle.

I’m going to END YOU, Watson!!!

After this incident, I sat there in traffic and thought about what had happened.  The whole thing.  It was fucking mind-blowing.  A goddam miracle.  Fuck!  (Sorry about the language.  I was just sort of overwhelmed, asshole.)

“Whoa, whoa, WHOA!!” you yell at your computer monitor.  “You got all psyched because you almost hit an old lady?”

No, although that did give me a momentary sense of elation.  Moreover, I was intrigued by everything that had happened in that fifteen-second span.  Let’s break it down:

1) I’m driving a fucking motor vehicle.  Forget about the technical marvel of American ingenuity itself, my Ford Escape.  Never mind that this thing works on a principle of burning a fuel made from the carcasses of animals and some plant material that existed several million years ago and was subsequently mined from the ground and refined so that I may cause a chemical reaction by applying heat as the result of a combustion predicated by a tiny spark when I turn a metallic key, resulting in continuous pressure moving pistons in a manner that turns a crankshaft which propels my vehicle forward in a speed ratio that is determined by how much pressure I apply to a footpedal.
God DAMN that’s a lot of stuff to wrap your mind around already.  But forget all that.  No, it was the fact that I was using literally all of my senses simultaneously. Eyes detecting a bunch of variables:  the cars in motion around mine, the distance to the intersection a block away, the fact that the light is green now but calculating that by the time I reach said intersection it may have turned yellow or red, meaning that I must anticipate the braking required to come to a complete stop.  My sense of touch on the wheel and sense of inertia.  My ears listening to the radio but also picking up engines, sirens, horns, etc. all around me. My mouth is watering at the thought of a delicious piece of chewy candy, and my nose can already smell the mint. And now we get to the motor skills…

See, kids, gum gets SOFT when you put in in your mouth, unlike…um…

2) Oh, did you say MOTOR SKILLS?!?!  YES, MOTHERFUCKER, I DID!!  And I ain’t talkin’ ’bout my skills behind the wheel, even though I know for a fact I am the greatest driver in Indiana. (Citation needed.) No, I’m just saying that it takes an INCREDIBLE amount of fine motor skills to open a piece of gum with ONE HAND while not even looking at it!!  Seriously:  how the hell does the human body do this shit?  How does the brain remember the exact, minute little adjustments to the electric signals it sends to your muscle fibers which tell them to contract or expand in a precise manner at the right fucking time?!?  While, Might I add, also running a million different computations related to keeping my dumb ass on the road or even remembering to apply the right amount of pressure to the gas pedal to maintain the current speed?  HOLY SHIT!!!  Seriously, we as a species are generations of scientists and their smart kids away from developing a robot that can successfully navigate a flight of fucking STAIRS, let alone a robot that can navigate a flight of stairs while carrying a load of laundry and avoiding that goddam cat trying to make you trip.  And here was I, just humming alone down the road at 40 MPH unwrapping a piece of gum, disposing of the wrapper, and totally not killing anyone, including myself, in the process.  And something else I can do that no stinkin’ droid can do?  Predict the future.

Although they sure know how to fuck it up.

3) “WHOA, YOU DONE FUCKED UP NOW, SON!” you’re yelling between sips of bottled water.  “Oh, have I?” is my smug retort.  Forget my simple “is the light going to change?” example.  I have a better one.  My lovely wife Heidi and I were enjoying some Stanley Cup Playoff Hockey in our home in New Bern, North Carolina back in 2002.  The Carolina Hurricanes were playing the evil Detroit Red Wings.  In one particularly awesome contest, the play was pretty balanced, but you could observe by watching that the Wings were slowly getting the momentum all to themselves.  Wave after wave of attackers crashed the net.  The Canes made counter-attack after counter-attack.  It was a nail-bitingly awesome contest.  Suddenly, there was a neat play by Detroit at the Carolina blue line and my wife, who had been in keyed-up silence for a while blurted “Shit, they’re gonna score.”  Two strides, a pass, and a shot later and the red light flashed.  Wings were up.  Fuck.  Why, at that particular time, had it occurred to her that a goal was about to transpire?  The last forty minutes of play had been literally back-and-forth, end-to-end warfare, a pitched battle for loose pucks and heroic saves by both goalies.  So why THEN?  How did she know (and she did, obviously) what was about to happen?  Because she saw the future.

Pictured: NOT my wife.

Okay, not LITERALLY.  But her brain took in all the available information.  It saw the positions of all the players from both teams.  It figured out who was out of position.  It was aware of how much time was left in the period and whether anyone was off-side. It perceived the Detroit players movements and predicted them.  Her incredible mind extrapolated all the data and came up with one inescapable conclusion: the red Wings were going to score.  The odds against it in that one microsecond were too great.  It was the only way things could transpire. Oh, and her mind came to this conclusion in about a tenth of a second.  Instinct?  Peh.  There is such a thing, sure.  But only because the brain makes it happen.  You know how they say that really good baseball hitters can literally see the laces of the ball as it comes at them?  Their brains are so finely-tuned that they literally notice the things we don’t and are able to act on them in a way that seems super-human, but that capacity is in everyone.  Maybe not equally so, but it’s there in some measure.  We just don’t use those skills all the time, those skills that require sifting through a massive amount of data and stimuli to do that one thing that is required in that moment: hitting the ball, scoring the goal, avoiding the cat, unhooking the bra…or unwrapping the gum whilst driving.

To say nothing of reading an overly-wordy blog about science and your incredible brain.  Yes, yours.

Things I Learned At Work This Week

I work at a radio station.  Sometimes things are crazy, sometimes they’re surprisingly dull.  But I’ve been doing this crap for nigh on twenty years, so there are very few surprises. But as I age, I realize that I’m surrounded by a crew of children.  And I mean that in the most literal sense: I am older than everyone in this building now, and some of our salespeople could feasibly be my children.  They were born about the time I was graduating college.  Damn.

Anyway, this was a good week to learn things from our salespeople.  Like, for example, how little some of them know about stuff that I find very important or fascinating.  I’m not calling our young sales staff stupid; quite the contrary, some of them are very bright.  They’re just…green.  And young.  (Did I mention how young they are?)

We’ll throw in a free remote! Also, I just shit my pants!!

Example number one: One of the cuties in the sales pit asked what I was doing for Halloween.  I proudly answered that I would be going as Captain James T. Kirk.

She stared at me, and I couldn’t figure out what to do next.  I stood there, looking around, waiting for her to say something. And so she did.  She replied “You mean Kirk?” and pointed at one Kirk T. Flatter II, another member of our crack sales team.  Kirk shrugged, because he “gets it” and probably hears jokes about his name every goddam day.  I then tried to explain the history of the U.S.S. Enterprise, but got more blank stares.  Okay. I learned that no everyone is a geek. Fair enough.

I take it all back. They’re both Captain Kirk. Fine.

Later in the week, I had a more fulfilling convo with a Senior Member of our office staff.  Now we’re talkin’. We discussed childhood candy, and I learned that I was not the only kid to collect their weekly cash and then make a mad dash for the local convenience store for an exercise in fiscal responsibility (or at the very least a lesson in worth.)  See, our old Kwik Pik had the standard Aisle O’ Sugar (sometimes called The Golden Mile or Cavity Alley) that featured the usual strata: Snickers, Milky Way, and the like, i.e. the Premium Candy was at the top shelf, and ran at least fifty cents a piece, sometimes more.  Right below that was the B-list candy.  Clark Bars, Charleston Chew, and their ilk. Third shelf was Lemonheads, Wacky Wafers, Lik-M-Aid, Laffy Taffy, Chick-O-Stix.  Finally, the lowest shelf was for those in steerage:  five cents (or LESS!) per. We’re talking That crappy PAL gum.  Bazooka gum.  Jolly Ranchers (not the big ones.  Those were one shelf up, and if you sucked on them long enough you could fashion a shiv in case a playground rumble got out of hand.  Absolutely true.)  But the lesson was always this:  Johnny has $1.25 in assorted change.  Should Johnny go big and pick up two Butterfingers with change to spare or buy Big League Chew for EVERYONE?!?!  In retrospect, I see why my parents let me blow all my money on candy and comic books.  There was a tangible risk/reward system.  That is, until the store put in a Ms. Pac-Man arcade cabinet, and any fiscal conservatism went right out the fuckin’ window.

THANKS A LOT, OBAMA!!!

Back to the cute little 20-somethings in the sales department.  One of them wore some sort of crocheted afghan-looking skirt.  Conservative.  Nice.  Like something draped over the back of grandma’s couch, only with much less cat hair. I asked her if she made it herself.  “It’s knit,” she responded.  Okay. I wanted to learn some more, so I inquired whether it was “knit” or some sort of macrame, and what the difference was.  She didn’t seem to understand my question, so I got a little smarmy and asked if it was fabricated from some sort of nano-particles.  Her reply: “What are those?”  Okay, you got me.

So again, I learned a couple of new things.  One, nobody in this country knows anything about science and two, I am so glad I met, fell in love with, and married my wife, because there’s no WAY I would be getting laid in the current state of the world.

No, really.

The final lesson of the week was from a dude who works down the hall producing a local sports-talk show.  Like everyone in radio NOT doing sales, he’s poor and worries about his job.  But like many of us, he’s also learned that he’s probably not making enough to fire.  In other words, finding people to do what we do and do it well for LESS than we’re getting paid is a longshot, so we’re reasonably safe.  Anyway, this guy mentioned that he’d just gotten a text from his mobile provider telling him his bill was overdue.  I thought that was awesome.  I learned that yes, apparently your cell phone company will keep your phone service going even if you’re behind in your payments…so that they can tell you you’re about to have your service shut off.  That’s fantastic.

“Eligible for upgrade? The fuck is wrong with THIS phone?!?”

See, kids? You really do learn something new every day.