What if all we know and experience was simply a film reel of a static existence and time is simply an emergent illusion?
The tiniest moments of time are the frames on a reel of film – a snapshot from a camera. Play the film and you get a deterministic movie. The characters in that movie are trapped there, a perfect illusion of acting out their lives in a sequence that appears to change and flow from their own perspective, but to an outsider you know it’s a film projected on the silver screen. The actors overcome various challenges in a cause and effect way, but in reality it’s all there at once. Every frame, every moment.
How the film of our reality is actually played is another subject for debate.
The main kink in this idea is that scientists don’t actually think existence is this deterministic, at least when you also consider reality beyond the universe of this moment.
What do I mean by the universe of this moment? Let’s make this fun and add in the weird fact of quantum mechanics that at first appears to throw what we understand as ‘certainty’ out of the window.
There are several interpretations of quantum mechanics as to how it might all work. The currently dominant one describes a probability wave where a particle may be positioned. Once ‘observed’ that wave collapses to a definitive outcome, revealing a particle’s position just like in the double slit experiment. Multiply this effect to the entire universe and you get what we see all around us in everyday life. Instead of a universe of probability waves (whatever that would look like), we see a universe of particles, and thus you and I.
This interpretation of reality is known as the classical Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics… and it’s probably wrong.
Another idea known as the Everett Interpretation or the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics gets us closer to what I think is reality but with a twist. It states that the wave function collapse splits off a near identical copy of the universe at the moment of observation. That copy exhibits the other possibility of what could otherwise have been in the original universe.
Previously there was a single universe and the probability spread, the wave function, was realized only one way or the other. There remained a mystery as to why it went the way it was observed when it had at least an apparent chance of doing so otherwise. Instead, Everett’s Interpretation suggests there is no conflict of interest. The particle actually did go both ways but in separate universes. It went left in universe A and right in universe B. The observer of that split also gets split to observe both possibilities separately.
You did win the lottery, just not in this universe… sorry.
This idea is also absurd, but surprisingly less so than the former.
Now here’s where my thinking adds another twist to this already crazy idea.
While there is indeed a sort of wave function and multiple universes, it’s not a system that changes and reacts to observations… at all. It doesn’t magically split universes at every moment of probability and somehow makes room for them ‘somewhere else’. The wave function is the entire spread of all probabilities of all of existence in a singular collection of individually packaged moments of simultaneous and static possibilities.
Yep, that’s a mouthful.
To extend the film analogy, the universe we ‘experience’ is simply its own reel of film next to all the others in a near infinitely long bookshelf of every other possible film. Every single thing that has ever ‘happened’, ‘could happen’, or ‘will happen’ has ‘already happened’ and is simply its own reel of film in a library stuffed with them. The library doesn’t change because it doesn’t need to, everything that’s possible is already there. It’s only how the library is interpreted does it seem to then take on a different perspective.
How am I making the ‘choice’ of writing this very thought then if nothing is really changing?
I haven’t made a choice at all.
This series of moments we share is once again just a single realized possibility on one of the reels in an admittedly enormous library. Put it another way, there’s only so many combinations of a roll of dice and where they could land on a given table size. We’re just actors on a much, much larger stage. Select any reel you like and discover your unique circumstances on that particular slice of reality. Think of any possibility that’s actually possible and there’s a reel of reality somewhere depicting that very outcome.
Play the film to find out where you exist in it, if at all…