Nautilus

The Multiverse As Muse

In his short story “The Garden of Forking Paths,” the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges describes a present that can, at any moment, bifurcate into different futures—an endless labyrinth of worlds. Taken together they form, he writes, “an infinite series of times, a growing, dizzying web of divergent, convergent, and parallel times. That fabric of times that approach one another, fork, are snipped off, or are simply unknown for centuries, contains all possibilities. In most of those times, we do not exist; in some, you exist, but I do not; in others, I do and you do not; in others still, we both do.”

Borges conceived of his garden in 1941, 11 years before the quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger famously spoke in Dublin about the different results described by his equations and the possibility that parallel universes “be not alternatives but all really happen simultaneously.” It wasn’t until 1957 that the physicist Hugh Everett formally proposed the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics, a theory that bears a striking resemblance to the forking temporal paths of Borges’s story—and it took more than a decade after that for the scientific community to start taking the idea seriously. (By then, Everett had abandoned further

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