Saturday, April 12, 2008

dramatic considerations of multiple worlds

Lawrence-Watt Evans is a fantasy author who has written an interesting essay on alternate realities titled On Infinite Possibilities. He argues that in science fiction (as opposed to fantasy) you have to give a physical basis, unrelated to humanity, for the existence of parallel worlds:
Larry Niven, in "All the Myriad Ways," pointed out that given all these parallel worlds, not only does everything become possible, but everything possible becomes necessary--if something could happen, then in some world, it did happen.

And if you start to think about this too much, it becomes unmanageable. You realize that everything happens.

You can take it clear down to the quantum level--in fact, you're required to, if you want to approach it logically. There's no reason that only differences resulting from human action should exist; the rationalistic universe of science fiction does not give humanity special privileges. Any time there is any event that could go more than one way--the breakdown of a specific atomic nucleus, for example--then it must go all the possible ways, each in a different universe. If something has a one-in-a-million chance of happening, then it does happen in an infinite number of universes--and it doesn't in 999,999 times as many.
What he doesn't discuss (nor does anyone else that I've seen discussing this) is that such a physics eliminates the possibility of drama because it eliminates the possibility of anything mattering. Imagine that you are reading a riveting story where a hero rescues the damsel just before the train runs over her. Great news, right? Well, not really because in some other universe the hero didn't make it and the damsel got mashed. Why should we care more about the universe where the damsel is saved and ignore the universe where the damsel gets mashed?

You might argue that we care about the universe where the damsel is saved because that is the one where the story takes place. But not really. There was just one universe up until the branch point where the damsel either got saved or didn't. Where the universes branched, we just picked the happy one to follow. And I'm simplifying here; in fact there are an infinite number of branch point and an infinite number of damsels smashed. Taken as a whole, this one incident (in the new physics) turns out to be a greater tragedy than all of the tragedies in human history (in the old physics) going by sheer numbers of tragic deaths.

How can there be drama when you know that by hypothesis of the story, every good thing that happens is accompanies by an infinite number of grotesquely evil things that happen? How can you even have moral choices? Sure, the hero can save this damsel, but then he is condemning some other damsel in the possible world where he didn't save her. Why not let his own world be the one where she is not saved, thereby letting some other him in another world live happily ever after and taking the tragic consequences himself? Wouldn't that be the noble action?

In a multiverse where everything that is possible is real, nothing real matters.

You don't have to go to such desperate lengths to have a respectable science-fiction of parallel universes. Instead, suppose that universe splitting is a rare event rather than happening an infinite number of times per second. It might be related to the build up of dark energy over time to a critical point that requires bifurcation to preserve some conservation law. It might happen once every thousand years or once every two or three hours. Make it frequent enough to give you the selection of worlds that you need for your story and infrequent enough that the reader cares what happens to the characters of one particular world.

Friday, April 11, 2008

the China problem

Could it be that simple? I've been wondering why the San Francisco leftists have suddenly developed a concern for an oppressed people where the United States can't be blamed for the oppression. Then tonight on the TV I saw a local news station leading with the story about how Bush is being pressured to skip the opening ceremonies or the entire Olympics. The same sorts of news was making the rounds last night. The protests gave impetus to the languishing story of China's behavior.

This is turning into a real problem for Bush. Bush's supporters, unlike the San-Francisco Left actually do care about oppressed people, so they want Bush to do something about China. Bush knows that China is an important trading partner who will retaliate if he does anything. If he does something and China retaliates, then he will get blamed. If he does nothing then he will get blamed. They've managed to box him into a no-win situation.

Could that be the entire point of this exercise? Could it be that simple?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Olympic protestors

I've been watching the coverage of the San Francisco protests during the Olympic torch ceremony. I'm opposed to the totalitarian government of China, and I'm opposed to the way that they are treating Tibet, but the wild protests in San Francisco is enough to make me think that the relationship between the US and China is more important to the US than I thought.

After all, these are the people who only protest brutal governments that are US allies. When China was an enemy of the US, they were big fans of China. Same for Russia, Cuba, Iraq, Iran, North Vietnam, North Korea, and any number of other anti-US governments. Those governments were all, at one time or another more brutal and totalitarian than China is today, but the San Francisco crowd wasn't protesting them then. Quite the contrary, they had protests in favor of those governments: anti-Vietnam-War protests, unilateral-disarmament protests, anti-Iraq-War protests and others.

The fact that these people are protesting against China makes me think that China is a far more important and reliable ally to the US than I had thought.

criminalizing infanthood through young-adulthood

OK, it's not really criminalizing, it's private citizens treating them all like criminals based on their age
The Mosquito emits a high-pitched whine inaudible to the majority of adults over 30, while causing yoof ne'er-do-wells a level of irritation sufficient to drive them from any premises packing the device. Successful trials a couple of years back in a grocery store in Barry, South Wales, and a shop in inventor Howard Stapleton's home town of Merthyr Tydfil, provoked plenty of interest in the product, and there are now an estimated 3,500 deployed nationwide in the fight against anti-social tearaways.
The article says that the device causes discomfort to "ne'er-do-wells", but that's only true if you assume that every human being under 30 is a ne'er-do-well. I think this is pretty outrageous and I can't imagine the economics of an area where merchants are happy to drive off every potential customer under 30, just to get rid of potential trouble makers.

Of course, that's their decision if they don't want young customers, but what happens when grandma takes the baby to the store and the kid starts crying for no reason? Grandma doesn't know that the baby is being assaulted by high-frequency sound and doesn't have any reason to think that the baby will stop crying when she leaves the store so she might stay there for an hour, torturing the poor kid.

In the US, they would get their butts sued off the day after they installed one of these horrors. What's wrong with England that this is actually an issue?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Head Noises

I've been meaning to add Head Noises to my blog roll since Foxfier started to become a regular commenter, but as usual it takes me weeks to get around to these things. I always appreciate comments, even when the majority from Foxfier seem to be scolding me :-). She's an interesting lady, please check out her blog.

Right now her front page features an announcement of Charlton Heston's death. This is a great loss for America. If you want to know why, read the quote on Foxfier's post.

On a less serious note, her blog title always makes me think of headcrabs. Obviously, I spend too much time playing video games.