“Turning all this over in my mind, I started to imagine another me somewhere, sitting in a bar, nursing a whiskey, without a care in the world. The more I thought about it, the more that other me became the real me, making this me here not real at all.”
– Haruki Murakami, ‘A Wild Sheep Chase’
So how are the other Cormac Looneys doing?
The one I left in my early 20s studying in the library at Trinity College? The one I last saw as he walked to La Taqueria in The Mission in 1998 to pick up dinner? The one who cursed the cold as he slipped half an hour behind while descending from the Zumsteinspitze in 2010?
They’re fixed in my memory, set in linear time.
But are they? Is each one where I left him, back there in my past? Did they move on too, just like this me did? How did their lives develop? Are they happy? Are they alive?
They exist – if you believe (or understand) the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. This concept suggests that multiple versions of me exist, living an infinite number of lives, succeeding and failing, living and dying, in parallel with the Cormac Looney who is currently typing these words on a screen.
Each version of me that I can recall (in fact, an infinite number – more than I can comprehend) lives on, as an alternative me. The me that walked to the taqueria is as real as the me who didn’t and who is typing these words.
This begs an unsettling question. As Murakami’s character asks, which one of these is the ‘real me’? Is the ‘real me’ somewhere else, and the me existing here in Dublin in 2015 just a quantum shadow? Does a ‘real me’ exist? Can a ‘real me’ exist?
Am I the total of an infinite number of Cormac Looneys, all bar one of which I will never be aware of? Am I universal? Am I immortal (given that at any given moment I can both die and not die)?
This is all possible, indeed it’s scientifically undeniable.
But one final piece of the jigsaw remains, without which the mind-bending wonder of many worlds remains just an almighty cosmic tease.
How can I be aware of these other me’s?