Thursday, 13 October 2011

Infinite (Im)Possibilities for Writers: by Rosalie Warren




In an infinite universe, anything that can happen does happen - an infinite number of times.

Of course, the idea of an infinite universe is a tricky (possibly an infinitely tricky) one to grasp, and there's no proof as yet that our universe is infinite. Some theories propose that we may be part of a multiverse - a (possibly) infinite number of universes embodying all possible physical laws and values of important constants like the strength of gravity. Many of these universes would contain little of interest (a low gravitational constant, for example, makes it impossible for galaxies and stars to form, so life is most unlikely). Other variants would look more like ours. There might even be one in which I don't like chocolate, though I'm not sure that counts as 'possible'.

And then there's the interpretation of quantum theory which says that when you open the box to reveal Schrödinger's cat, the universe splits into the 'cat-alive' and the 'cat-dead' version. By the time a few splits like this have occurred, you get a fair degree of diversity and some interesting narratives evolving.

Which brings me to the connection (there is one, I promise) with writers and writing.

If the universe really is infinite, then all our books, even our wildest fictional fantasies, are true. There is a universe somewhere, or perhaps a pocket of our own universe, where the characters you and I have invented actually exist - and do exactly the things they do in our books. And, in a 'neighbouring' universe, they make slightly different choices and perhaps write themselves into a better book.

This may all sound incredibly far-fetched. I am not an expert, though I did some physics at university long ago. These days, I'm a keen reader of those books that thrill you with the exciting bits of cosmology, quantum physics and neuroscience. They set my imagination alight... and nothing does that more than the idea that every work of fiction ever written has actually happened, somewhere way out there. I'm not sure why this thrills me, but it does.

As I sit and write, often feeling that I am listening in to my characters' conversations and observing their actions rather than making them up, the idea that I am tuning in to something real is a very powerful and poignant one.

I realise that the question of what 'actually exists' plunges one into some deep waters of philosophy. I'm going to stay in the shallows for the purpose of this post, but if anyone wants to wade out deeper, I'd love to know what you think.

Thanks to Brian Greene and his intriguing book 'The Hidden Reality' (Allen Lane, 2011), which gave me some insight into all this stuff and made me marvel all over again at the wonderful place in which we live. It seems safe to assume that the universe is even more amazing than our current theories tell us, and that, for me, feels exactly right.

[Photo of Earth from space by Terra satellite, image copyright NASA]

7 comments:

Stroppy Author said...

Rosalie, the cat is both dead and alive until observed. (Leaving aside the role of time in this for a moment...) In which case you, as observer/recorder of your invented universes are surely the god of them, since they don't solidify until you observe them?

Except, of course, that if they do exist the people in them are already observers. For our reality, they exist when you write them. Or maybe when you imagine them. (But now we are entering alternate realities rather than alternate universes, which is not the same thing at all....)

malrostan said...

Spike and Ali Enson live! On planet Earth AND on planet Aledela. In my heart, I always knew this was true. It's rare for me, but the feeling of listening in and observing a parallel universe or two always makes the writing flow. Great post, Rosalie.

Susan Price said...

I love physics... As mind-blowing as LSD, with few of the drawbacks.

Lynda Waterhouse said...

Love the phrase multiverse. Just had a scary thought - what if my life is the product of an author's imagination!

Sue said...

Not as far-fetched as it sounds, when you think that on our own humble planet Jung and others found almost identical folktales from every corner - OK, not the right word - of the earth as evidence of a collective unconscious...

My mind is properly boggled!

Fiona Faith Maddock said...

Great post. I love this stuff too...

Rosalie Warren said...

Thanks, all.

I just discovered yesterday that a character in one of my (as yet unpublished) YA books seems to the almost exactly the same as (though 5 years younger than) a character in someone else's (as yet unpublished) YA novel, written in the same year but without any knowledge of each other or our respective work. The characters are unusual, to say the least, so it's a big coincidence.

Make of that what you will...