The Necessity of Continuity
September 23, 2011 § Leave a comment
All these stories about the “Many-Worlds Hypothesis” have rubbed me the wrong way. I just didn’t buy all these “casual crimes” from Niven’s “All the Myriad of Ways”, and it took some thinking to figure out why. My whole life I’ve been taught that history matters; we need to see where we’ve been to see where we’re going. The “Many-Worlds Hypothesis” is often interpreted, however, with such a loose definition of decision that the past ceases to have an effect. Regardless of my upbringing, somewhere out there I suddenly decided to go rob a bank. No matter how hard I study for a test, some version of me passes while another completely bombs the exam. And I neither like this nor can agree with it, partly because I just don’t believe there are so many different universes, but mostly because I believe in causality. I believe that what I do now affects what I will be. I cannot have meaning in life if I assume anything else, because I live in the present—not the future. If what I do doesn’t matter, then I may as well do whatever I want. It can’t change that down the road one of me will succeed.
The question remains, then, is this the logical end of the theory? Because if it is, then I reject it completely. But I do not think that this is the only conclusion. Suppose that my life could be modeled by mathematical functions in two dimensions, with time on one axis and distances in the y direction representing degrees of change. I hold that this function, that my life, must be continuous. That if I am at some point on the graph, I cannot magically appear at another portion. Life is not so arbitrary. And this makes sense with the idea that our lives branch, that at each point some version says “yes” and goes up, while another says “no” and goes down. But not every question can be asked at every point. Long before I decide whether I’m going to go skate a figure 8, I have to get ice skates, I have to learn how. I can’t decide whether I should shoot someone if I don’t even have a gun.
But those examples are obvious enough because they reflect the physical world outside of us, the tools which we have to perform actions. Just as potent is the mind and its state of being. Just like not having ice skates prevents me from doing any sort of skating, so learning algebra is a prerequisite for doing calculus, so learning to think first of someone besides myself is necessary before I can ever love.
That’s why I don’t like this idea of “causal crimes”, the people’s lives seem to be discontinuous, to jump from being normal to being psychotic. But perhaps there is no discontinuity. After all, the crimes only really start after the “Many-Worlds Hypothesis” has been validated. Perhaps that key bit of information was enough to start people’s thoughts going downhill toward crime, enough to push people over the edge. It’s like the detective, who began in a relatively stable mindset, but as he mulled over the problems which he saw, and as the full reality of the theory hit home, he began to think that he could do anything and it wouldn’t matter. But the whole story was the journey from his initial state to the final state in which some version of him could kill himself. The whole story provided the continuity which I claim must exist.
Even then, I’m not sold on the theory, but now it doesn’t seem so utterly absurd.