August 17, 2019 § Leave a comment
For someone with zero background in physics, I’ve developed quite an interest in quantum mechanics via the Many-Worlds Theory. Given its frequent appearance in literature and film, how could I not?
The Many-Worlds Theory was invented by the Princeton physicist Hugh Everett III, who published his dissertation in 1957. Like the Bohr model and Schrödinger Equation that preceded it, MWT explains the wave-like properties of protons and electrons, but it diverges in important ways: where Bohr and Schrödinger envisioned duality, Everett saw an infinite branching of outcomes. In Everett’s view, each event creates a split, and therefore a parallel universe, each with its own reality. His hypothesis is supported by physics: just as atoms can be in two places at once, so could everything made up of atoms, including us.
Though Everett’s theory was met with derision by Bohr and others for most of his lifetime (he died in 1982, at 51, having left academia to work in the defense and financial industries), it has gradually gained acceptance among theoretical physicists. Today the Many-Worlds Theory is taught and written about in universities, but its greater significance might be in popular culture. Decades after its controversial beginnings, Everett’s work has become a major theme of novels and films.
I first saw it illustrated in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 1991 film, “The Double Life of Veronique.” Two identical women, one French and one Polish, both musicians, sense each other’s existence throughout their lives. Though their paths almost cross in Krakow on a single occasion, when Veronique inadvertently captures Veronika in a photo, they never meet. Nonetheless, as Veronique says, “All my life I’ve felt like I was here and somewhere else at the same time.”
Anyone who has wondered how life might have turned out on the road not taken has felt the possibily of parallel worlds. In Bruce Wagner’s 1996 novel, I’m Losing You, the agent Donny Ribkin runs into his ex-girlfriend and experiences a Many-Worlds reverie:
It was two years since the breakup, but their life together–for him–continued on a parallel, spectral track. He watched….as shadow-Donny and shadow-Katherine went about their daily couple-life: saw them vacation and marry, go to movies, buy a house….Their love continued to grow the way nails were said to grow on a corpse.
In the 1998 film, “Sliding Doors,” the world is split by the closing of a train door in the London Underground. When Gwyneth Paltrow’s character misses the train home, her life hurtles away from the one she would have lived if she had caught the train. Though two stories proceed with some similarities, they never converge.
Then there’s Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood,” which I’ve so far seen three times. Its daring counterfactual ending is so fitting and just that it renders the real events of August 8-9, 1969 fantastical, an unreal nightmare. Whether or not he intended to illustrate Everettian physics, Tarantino has perfectly explained the Many-Worlds Theory: a single event sets into motion a series of others, moving reality onto a different track.
It was in the early 2000’s, considerably after I’d seen its depiction in art, that I learned of the existence of the Many-Worlds Theory. My gateway into quantum mechanics wasn’t film but music: specifically, that of the band Eels, whose frontman (and only full-time member) is Mark Oliver Everett, Hugh Everett’s son. The 2007 documentary “Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives” follows Mark as he talks about his father’s life and work with physicists, both his father’s former colleagues and current faculty members at Princeton, one of whom is visibly moved to meet his mentor’s son.
The Many-Worlds Theory asserts that time is not an arrow but a fork, branching endlessly. . Because of art, it now enjoys widespread acceptance even among people like me, for whom math and physics were baffling, off-putting subjects. I hope that in some parallel universe, Hugh Everett is pleased.
August 14, 2019 § Leave a comment
Note: This post contains plot spoilers
The ending of Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood,” which arrives after a long series of historically accurate storylines, is both a bracing exercise in alternate reality and a stroke of genius. Both times I saw the film, audiences were giddy at the depiction of Manson Family murderers meeting their just ends at the hands of Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and Cliff’s pitbull Brandy. The much-criticized violence with which the fictional heroes dispatch Tex Watson, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel is anything but gratuitous: rather, it is fitting punishment for a horrific crime.
Like Tarantino, I was a child during the 1960’s, too young to participate in the era but old enough to remember the Vietnam War, the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and the Tate-LaBianca murders. Though not yet an Angeleno, I visited Los Angeles shortly before the murders and clearly recall their traumatic aftermath. Contrary to Joan Didion’s cynical claim that “no one was surprised,” the shock was palpable and the horror indelible. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Manson Family permanently altered Los Angeles: installers of alarm systems, security gates, walls and fences did a booming business after the Tate-LaBianca murders, and have thrived ever since.
In rewriting reality, Tarantino bestows on the audience that rarest of emotions: catharthis. For those of us whose childhoods were abruptly ended by the Manson Family, the conclusion of “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood,” is nothing short of thrilling. By showing us what might have been, Tarantino lifts us up, assuaging a fifty-year-old wound.
Next time: “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” and the Many-Worlds Theory
September 29, 2010 § 1 Comment
The thing about up here was that it didn’t feel like I was in the city anymore….I felt like I was in a national park, in the middle of some great wilderness. –Artist Jesse Vital, in “Under the Hollywood Sign”
On Monday at 12:15pm, the temperature in downtown Los Angeles reached 113 degrees, the highest of any day since record-keeping began in 1877. Here in Beachwood, always slightly cooler because of its higher elevation, the temperature reached 110. In my house, the air conditioner was unable to cool the upstairs below 91 degrees; downstairs, where I work, the atmosphere was somewhat better, around 85 degrees. Though I kept my dog and bird indoors rather than expose them to stroke-inducing heat, I ventured out in my much cooler car to run a few cross-town errands. Traffic was nonexistent due to the temperature, and I got home in record time.
As night fell and temperatures dropped to bearable levels, I gave up on air conditioning and threw open the windows. Helicopters circled overhead, and as the evening wore on I began to wonder if a fire had broken out in Griffith Park. Eventually came word that the helicopters were assisting in a search for a lost hiker. Besides thinking it was the worst possible day for hiking, I wasn’t surprised: hiking accidents are an occasional occurrence in the Park.
It wasn’t until yesterday morning that I learned the hiker was found dead in a ravine in Bronson Canyon, just east of Beachwood. She was Sally Menke, 56, an editor best known for her work on the films of Quentin Tarantino. Despite the heat, she had begun hiking that morning with her dog and a friend, carrying only 16 ounces of water. When Menke decided to cut the hike short, her friend went on without her. It wasn’t until hours later than anyone realized she was missing.
Search-and-rescue teams found Menke’s body just after 2am. Her dog–who miraculously survived–was standing guard.
It’s hard to convey the vastness and wildness of Griffith Park to those whose idea of a park is Central Park or some other man-made green zone. Its size–over 4,200 acres–not only makes it the largest municipal park in the United States but gives it more in common with a county or state park. As the Park’s website makes clear, it is largely wilderness and contains not only deer and coyotes but bobcats and mountain lions.
Its 52 miles of trails are a huge civic resource, allowing residents to enter the natural world without leaving the city. Nevertheless, hikers often underestimate the trails’ dramatically varied elevations and levels of difficulty. In Bronson Canyon, the trail begins easily but becomes increasingly steep and narrow as hikers approach the Hollywood Sign. This isn’t the first time someone has gotten into trouble there. A couple of years ago, helicopters were called in for a pair of hikers, one of whom was injured and needed rescue.
In the wake of this tragedy, one can only hope that hikers will take better precautions in Griffith Park, carrying adequate water and knowing their limits. I know all too well the urge to go hiking on the spur of the moment: because the trails are close by and hiking is commonplace, it’s hard to see it as a risky activity. But everyone, regardless of ability, should understand the dangers of hiking in extreme heat.