Do you ever wonder if there are alternative universes? That wonderful staple of so much science fiction (albeit generally at the cheesy twaddle end of the spectrum), the alternative world where your life could have been different, where the entire history of humankind could have been different, where evolution itself could have been different... Perhaps this is simply further evidence of my being a bit of a saddo, but I do wonder about it. What if there really were numberless, infinite, endlessly variable alternative worlds?
I don’t wonder much about the perfect life I’m not leading (& that is probably pretty revealing, come to think of it!). But I do wonder about all the universes in which I didn’t exist, or didn’t exist past the age of four, or fourteen, or twenty-two, or twenty-nine... I could have been drowned, the first time I saw the sea (I threw myself into it headlong in my excitement, and was pulled out literally by my hair). I had a mysterious fever when I was fourteen; it went away after a few days, but there could be universes where it didn’t... It feels as though I am bending my brain and squashing it through a slot in a thick steel wall, when I try to imagine how I can imagine a world in which I am not there to imagine it.
I have jay-walked across so many busy roads in my life. Every time I have ever taken a risk – whether jay-walking or something more serious - it could have worked out differently; and from each of those branching points, how many alternatives could have come?
There are positive possibilities, as well as all this “I might not exist” stuff. Things I look back on as horrible low points in my life could have been far worse, with the smallest twist of fate or shift of decision. Several relationships that didn’t work out could instead have worked for longer, and then have failed far more dramatically and messily, than they did in this life. We were pretty poor when I was a child, but we could have been far worse off. My parents fought; but they could have fought far worse. I hated school, but I could have had far more reason to do so.
If there are other universes, I’ll never know, anyway. The song says “The roads you didn’t take run through rotten ground – don’t they?” But I’ll never know. My road has had its bumps, but by and large has run through good ground – or at least, through an interesting terrain.
There might be a universe somewhere in which I have always enjoyed perfect health and perfect self-confidence, a universe in which I got a great degree, made a wonderful marriage, had four lovely children, owned a beautiful home, was successful in every career choice and every pastime, and never had to lose anyone I loved. Would that blessed lotus-eater me have been bored rigid, though? - maybe even have been dissatisfied with her lot? She might not have been aware that it was perfect, after all.
And would she have wondered about alternative universes, in which she and her perfect happy life had never existed at all?