Here is a summary of my “froth of bubbles” infinite alternate universe model:
I have always been skeptical about the “infinite alternate universe” aspect of the multiverse model, at least the way it is rendered in Discovery Channel shows, my primary contact with contemporary physics. In its simplest form, as I understand it, at each juncture in one’s life (and the temporal frequency of such junctures seems never to be clearly specified), by either choice or accident or necessity, my lifeline goes off on one path while multiple alternate versions of me proceed on multiple (again, the number is never clearly specified) alternate paths, like particles flying off after a collision in the Large Hadron Collider. And on and on, all of this times billions of other lives and trillions of other junctures. This model seems to be exceedingly complex, random, clunky, and, honestly, nonsensical. I (prefer to) think that the universe is more elegant than this. Still, there is so much theoretical framing for something of this sort (inflation, gravitational waves, quantum duality, string theory, etc.), it is equally unlikely that the old standard model (one life, one path, that’s it) is adequately explanatory.
So I was walking in the woods one morning trying to fathom exactly what was wrong with the stereotypical infinite alternate universe model, and this thought came to me: It depends on a unilinear conception of time, the past always and only pressing into the future, the arrowhead of the vector of time locked in at the present moment, past receding behind, now fully formed (in infinite iterations), the future essentially empty, a blank slate waiting to be occupied by all those scattering particles. This way of thinking about time has seemed naive to me ever since I was a kid, frankly, and more and more so as I think and read more about time. Time, I believe is a fully extended, fluid field, the future already extant as something analogous to potential energy, and it approaches us, actually comes toward us, in a generally amicable way, as we stride into it, come to occupy it. In other words, the future is just as real as the past, though it remains immaterialized until we inhabit it. The image that came to me to capture this, at least as it pertains to infinite alternatives, was a wave tipped with a froth of bubbles, an infinite number of such bubbles, as it slips toward “shore.” All of the bubbles, as a whole, are relatively undifferentiated, like a froth is, rather than singlular, like the ones we might blow in the backyard. Each individual bubble pre-constitutes a futural space with the potential for life, but it remains indeterminate, “empty,” until we interact with it, filling it with life, realizing it in time. As we cross into that froth, we encounter only a small number of those bubbles, of course, and these are activated. As a consequence, a certain number of other bubbles on that wave and successive incoming waves become viable for life, waiting for us, full of potential, and a huge number of others become untenable, unlivable, dead, and these pop, done, gone. Only one life goes on, though it still has infinite alternatives available to it in the future that approaches it. Time in this model is more like a series of interacting tides, present approaching, past moving forward, back and forth, the present the scene of their interaction.
About a month later, on another walk, it struck me that this could also account for one of the other conundrums that has long afflicted my thinking: What part of our lifeline is a matter of choice, free will, responsive to our desires, controllable, and what part is a matter of “fate” or, my preferred word, “destiny,” essentially out of our control, even if not entirely pre-determined. I do believe that choice is foundational to the human experience, organizes our ways of being in the world. But I also believe, based on my experiences, that certain paths, events, whatever, are pre-cast, obligatory, insist on happening or not happening no matter how hard I might try, (have tried!), to avoid or achieve them. The frothy wave accounts for this in this way: Many, maybe most, of the waves we walk into and through are relatively mild, yielding to our intentions, letting us choose, more or less, the “bubbles” we prefer to interact with and enliven. Others, come at odd angles, surprise us, are beyond our control, like the sort of extrinsic historical or cultural or physical forces that are non-negotiable, belong to the time period and the body we are, for whatever reason, compelled to inhabit. These enliven “accidental” bubble chains, beyond our control. Then there are other waves that come head on, but strong, forcing us to “live” in certain bubble chains whether we like it or not. Many of the major events/changes in my own life seem to have been inescapable in this way. They just had to happen, for whatever reason. This is what I call destiny. All three of these can be accounted for, interactively, in the froth.
Finally, I think this can also account for that common human experience of seeing one’s life “flash before our eyes” when we think we’re about to die. There is no way one could “see” all the junctures and variations in the standard model of IAU theory in a flash. But one could see in an instant the string of interconnected bubbles that, in the end, account for our “life.” We might even be able to see them as one bubble, all of them collapsing into that single, integrated whole. When we actually die, of course, all of the infinite number of remaining bubbles on the waves incoming probably pop or evaporate. But who knows? Maybe we go to another level where we can see, simultaneously, not only the whole, “time”-less bubble of our lived life, but even all the other unrealized lives in the infinite number of bubbles that popped or remain. Maybe we can even see all of that in a flash, too. That would be cool.
Note: The bubbles in my metaphor have nothing to do with the “bubble universes” that inflation seems to make at least theoretically possible. Mine are bubbles in time first, then space, not vice-versa.