"I am going to kill you," Septimus Whitlock told the man at the door. "I will butcher you. I will massacre you. I will carve you up and enjoy doing it. I will rob you of every cent you have ever made. In short, I will annihilate your very existence." Septimus moved aside. "Please, donít let that deter you from entering."
The two fifty-five-year-old men stared at each other, then Gavin Morsom shook his head. "Septimus," he said, as he walked into Septimusí house, "you are such a ham!"
Septimus closed the door. "Weíve had these weekly sessions for quite a while, and Iíve slaughtered you the last six times. I did not just win. I committed carnage. I think perhaps a certain professor of biology," he gave Gavin a condescending look, "is choosing to ignore the facts?"
"Thatís right," Gavin said as he let Septimus lead him into the kitchen. "Youíve won the last six. Which is why the odds are in my favor."
"Oh?" Septimus sat on one side of the kitchen table. It was filled with drinks, snacks, two equal piles of colored chips and a pack of cards. "How do you figure?"
Gavin seated himself opposite Septimus and took one batch of chips. "Poker depends on what cards you get. It is a game of chance. Youíve won six times in a row. Now it has to be my turn. Iím going to win all my money back. Perhaps a certain professor of mathematics is choosing to ignore the laws of probability?"
"Actually, probability doesnít work that way," Septimus leaned back and took a deep breath, inflating his chest. "Probability," he lectured, "doesnít pay attention to the past. It only deals with the future. So, statistically speaking, your losing streak has no effect. You should still have a fifty-fifty chance of winning. But thatís assuming poker is a game of chance. It isnít. Itís a game of skill. Of which you have none."
Gavin made a face. Septimus was unbearably obnoxious at the best of times. When he talked about his favorite subject - mathematics - he left the impression of being the single, worldwide authority. Gavin said, "Shut up and deal, you arrogant ass."
"In such a rush, are you, to lose that house of yours?" He began to shuffle the cards. "I hope your mortgage is paid up."
Gavin nodded. "Big talk. Deal."
"You know," Septimus said as he dealt five cards, face down, to each of them. "What you said about probability reminds me of an argument I had yesterday with a certain guest physics professor. He gave quite an interesting lecture about some concepts in quantum physics. I talked to him a bit after his lecture. Within ten minutes, he wanted to pound his fists into me."
"Really? I find that hard to believe," Gavin said drily. "I put down five," he a five-dollar chip in the center of the table. "What possibly could have driven him to such a reaction?"
"I mean besides the fact that you insult every other person you meet."
"And besides your unbearable condescending nature."
"I was just--"
"And besides your inability to treat people with even a hint of respect."
Septimus stared at his friend. "Can I speak?"
"I was just saving time, getting the obvious answers out of the way."
Septimus looked at him, eyes narrowing. "Well," he whispered vehemently. "Thank you kindly, but I can manage without your help." He collected himself. "I call, by the way."
"Give me three cards," Gavin put two cards, face-down on the table.
"Dealer takes one," Septimus replaced one of his cards. "Anyway, as I was about to say, his lecture was about quantum physics, something I really donít know anything about. But toward the end, he started talking about the possibility of the existence of parallel universes, which seems to be a popular speculation lately. After the lecture, I came to him and calmly explained that the very fact we have such fields in mathematics as statistics and probability invalidates the very basis for thinking parallel universes exist."
"Wait a second. You told him that parallel universes donít exist?"
"Itís either that or statistics and the laws of probability. And we know statistics and probability work. So..."
"So bye-bye parallel universes?"
Gavin blinked. Sometimes his friend stupefied him to the point of speechlessness. He took momentary refuge in the game, "I bet ten."
"Raise you fifteen," Septimus responded immediately.
"I-- I--," he looked at his cards. "I call. Now, correct me if Iím wrong, Septimus, but the existence of parallel universes is something that no physicist has yet been able to prove or disprove, right?"
"Right. Show me your cards."
"And still, you, who heard only one lecture on the subject--"
"No, the lecture was about quantum physics. The part about parallel universes was only two minutes long. Now show me your cards."
"So," Gavin said, as he put the five cards on the table face-up, "you," he had three tens, "who heard only two minutesí worth about the subject from a real expert, you know what our best physicists donít know. Is that what youíre saying?"
"Itís not my fault theyíre slow," Septimus said as he put down his cards triumphantly. "I win! What a surprise."
"Now, I donít want," Gavin said as Septimus collected the chips, "to appear... stupid--"
("Too late," Septimus whispered under his breath.)
"--But," Gavin bravely pretended not to hear, "what exactly do parallel universes and the laws of probability have to do with each other?"
"Everything!" Septimus began to shuffle the cards again.
"Care to elaborate on that... or is that too complicated for someone like me who hardly remembers his high-school math?"
"Not at all. Itís quite simple. You know what the idea of parallel universes is, right?"
"I think so," he nodded as Septimus gave him five cards. "Itís like, parallel universes split apart all the time. In one, an electron goes this way, while in another, the electron goes that way."
"Right. And since there are so many electrons in the universe, and since each electron can Ďchoose to beí in an infinite number of places, slightly here, slightly there - then in each tiny, instant of a millisecond we split into infinite parallel universes. This, of course, includes not only electrons. It includes photons, quarks, and all those weird subatomic particles."
"Fine," he said as he added ten to the ante. "So?"
"Letís imagine one parallel universe, shall we? A parallel Earth, in fact. But one very different from ours. Letís call it Septimusí Earth." Gavin smiled at this, and was about to say something. Septimus pointed a finger at him. Gavin reluctantly shut his mouth, and gestured Ďgo oní. Septimus continued, "On Septimusí Earth, thereís no gambling, no playing poker, no lottery, no games of chance whatsoever. And not because itís illegal or anything of the sort. Itís just that each time someone, letís say his name is... Gavin... So this Gavin comes up with the idea of holding a lottery, one in which, say, one has to pick six numbers out of forty. And a week later some machine randomly picks six balls from forty balls which have been marked 1 through 40. The winning ticket is the one that has the same six numbers chosen by the machine. Okay so far?"
"Raise you twenty. Now, Gavin thinks that since there are so many possibilities to choose from, the chance of anyone actually guessing the right combination is so remote, he canít possibly lose. So Gavin starts a lottery, and offers a big prize. Thousands of people buy tickets, and on the big day, six numbers are chosen randomly. To Gavinís dismay, each and every person that had bought a ticket had guessed the right combination of numbers!"
"Everyone? I call."
"Everyone. Without exception."
"Give me two cards. How is that possible?"
"The laws of probability. Dealer takes two. The chance of one person guessing six out of forty is one in a few million. The chance of all people guessing is one in a few million to the power of the number of the people that bought a ticket. Letís say the chance of it happening is one in a gajillion, okay? Now, gajillion is a very big number. Letís say itís more than a million million millions. It is still a finite number. And weíre dealing with parallel universes. There is an infinite number of parallel universes. So, for every gajillion parallel universes, thereís one Earth in which everyone wins the lottery. Okay?"
"Sure. I pass."
"Show me your cards."
Gavin put down the cards with a frown. Septimus then produced a pair of fours and a pair of queens. "I win. I am positively shocked! How could this happen?!"
"Pure luck. Iíll win the next one."
"Promises, promises," Septimus collected his winnings once more. Gavin took the cards and shuffled them. "By the way," Septimus looked up with a mischievous twinkle, "if thereís one for every gajillion, how many worlds would that make in which everyone wins the lottery?"
"I donít know."
"Thereís one for every gajillion. How many gajillions are there in infinity? Thatís like asking how many thousands go into infinity, or how many millions, or how many dozens. There is an infinity of any of them in infinity. That means that there is an infinite number of gajillions of parallel universes. So we have an infinite number of Earths in which everyone wins the lottery. Are we okay so far?"
"So, Septimusí Earth isnít so rare as it first seemed, is it? Iím in for twenty," he pushed the chips forward. "But letís take it a few steps further. On Septimusí world, games of chance never work, because chance is always one-sided. Dice always fall on the number Ďoneí. Card games are boring because the same person always wins. Gambling is boring for the same reason."
"And the physicist took your head off for this?"
"Oh, no. He agreed with me so far. This is just the setup, to warm up to the subject. Now things get... strange. By the way, youíve yet to put money down."
"Iíll call your twenty."
"Give me two cards."
"Dealer also takes two."
Septimus looked at his cards, raised an eyebrow, then continued, "Letís go back to Septimusí Earth. Say that Gavin invents the mirror. Iím not an expert on mirrors, but letís say he puts together glass and whatever one needs to make a mirror. Now, Gavin discovers that whenever someone stands in front of this invention, it reflects the personís left hand. It doesnít reflect anything else. The entire mirror is a sea of murky gray, except for the piece which reflects the personís left hand. When the person moves his or her hand, the image moves, too, reflecting the hand perfectly. The rest is always gray. I put down thirty."
"Wait, wait, wait. Hold on." Gavin put his cards on the table face-down. "You didnít say anything about different laws of nature in parallel universes!"
"No, no. Iím still within the rules as physics as we know and understand them today."
"A mirror that reflects the hand and nothing else? How is that possible?"
"The laws of probability."
"What does probability have to do with mirrors?"
"Everything. This is part of what he explained in his lecture. Look," and he put down his own hand. "You learned some physics, didnít you?" Gavin nodded. "They must have told you that light goes in straight lines all the time."
"Actually, I did learn some physics as part of my biology studies. Light sometimes goes in straight lines, and sometimes it acts like a wave."
"Ah, you got the advanced version." Gavin smiled. "Too bad your teachers had it wrong." Gavinís smile vanished. "Light-- That is to say photons, they donít go in straight lines, and they donít go around like waves. Photons go everywhere. Theyíre all over the place. Theyíre a rowdy bunch of particles, and when you send one off you never know where it will end up. Thatís what the physics professor himself explained."
"Hold on. When you put photons together, however, itís a different story. Only when light travels in packs, you see, does it obey the straightforward rules of optics: all that stuff you must have learned about lenses, telescopes, microscopes, and mirrors. So, put lots of photons together, and you can predict the outcome. Stand in front of a mirror, and when you see your shoe, it will obviously appear to be reflected halfway down between your eye and your shoe. Thatís where the light bounces off the mirror, right? Wrong. This is not so straightforward, either. Light only seems to go in straight lines when you stand in front of a mirror. Actually, it still goes all over the place. Some photons that come from your shoe do bounce off the middle and go to your eye. Most photons, though, bounce from slightly off-center. Some photons bounce from the center to of the mirror to your left elbow instead of to your eye. Still stranger, some photons that come off your shoe go to the top of the mirror above your head and bounce back to your eye. Light goes all over the place!"
"Wait a minute, that would mean--"
"Hold on. It was found, however, that although light goes all over the place, it obeys certain laws of probability in such a way as to seem to be reflected off the middle spot. Statistically, most photons seem to go in straight lines when you stand in front of a mirror. Itís just a matter of probability. Itís the same when light seems to act like a wave. It obeys the same equations of probability, and only appears to go in waves. It still goes all over the place!"
"Youíre inventing this!"
"No, this is Quantum Electrodynamics. Now, since light reflecting off a mirror is all about statistics, there is a chance that a certain mirror will only reflect your nose and not the rest of you. Itís not impossible, itís just extremely improbable. It is so improbable, that the chance of it happening is once in more time than the universe has got. So, naturally, physicists automatically consider the chance of it happening as zero. But it isnít zero, itís just an amazingly, unbelievably small number. It is so small and so improbable that you never have to consider it in your real life. But it is possible! And weíre not talking about real life, weíre talking about infinity! Letís take our old gajillion and define it as something even bigger than it was. One in a gajillion is the chance of this happening. Now in this case gajillion is humongous. Neither of us had ever seen such a large number. But, however large it is, it is still a finite number. Parallel universes are infinite. And infinity is bigger even than a gajillion. In fact, infinity is so big that an infinite gajillions still go into infinity. So, even though itís so unlikely, itíll never happen in our world, it will happen in one in every gajillion parallel worlds. And since there are an infinite gajillions in infinity, there is an infinity of such parallel worlds!
"Letís get back to our mirror. So there is a chance that, for a tiny instant, a mirror will only reflect your hand and nothing else. Now the chance of it happening again and again all the time with every person that crosses its path would be one to gajillion to the power of gajillion, gadzillion times over. But it would still not be zero. Which means itís possible. Which means that there are still is an infinity of parallel worlds in which this actually happens.
"Now, on Septimusí Earth all mirrors do exactly this. Or maybe they have a mirror that only reflects peopleís noses and a mirror that only reflects their eyes, and so on. Hey, itís the laws of physics. I didnít invent anything."
"Oh, no, youíre just an innocent bystander."
Gavin stood up. "I need a drink."
"Take one." Gavin poured himself a glassful and picked up his cards. He was about to place a bet, when Septimus spoke, "Now, I was just getting warmed up."
Gavin froze. "Excuse me?"
"On Septimusí Earth, glasses, I mean glasses you put on to see better, they only work on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and they never work on national holidays."
"Iím not talking to you." Gavinís cards fell face-down to the table, forgotten.
"Iím serious. This is exactly the same principle as with the mirrors. Glasses work because, statistically, photons behave like theyíre supposed to. But thereís an extremely tiny chance that they wonít. The chance is so close to zero that it never happens. But that number is still not zero! And since parallel universes are infinite, every one in a gadzillion shmillion gablillion worlds is like this. And since there are an infinite gadzillion shmillion gablillions in infinity, there is an infinity of worlds in which this happens.
"In fact, on Septimusí Earth, some people can see around corners."
"You forget. Photons only seem to go in straight lines. They donít really have to. The chances, again, are so small as to be always negligible in our world, but if the chance is not exactly zero--"
"I know, I know. Then there is an infinity of worlds in which this actually happens."
"Very good. Now, apply the same principle: Sometimes when you turn on a flashlight and point it forward, it lights your backside; when you turn on a light bulb in the kitchen, the bulb lights another room and not the kitchen. Because thatís where the light happens to choose to go." Gavin glared at Septimus with unhidden skepticism. Septimus continued, unyielding, "Oh, and the sun, letís not forget the sun."
"What about the sun?!" Gavinís lips began to quiver.
"Why, it seems to turn itself off every afternoon between noon and two p.m."
"When itís in mid-sky?"
"Why not? Light doesnít have to go where it usually goes, not in certain parallel universes. In Septimusí universe, at certain times, light simply goes around the Earth without as much as one little photon entering our atmosphere. Again, itís so improbable, it will never happen in the universeís lifetime. But weíre dealing with parallel universes, and if itís possible, then no matter how small the chance, there are universes in which this will happen. In fact, there is an infinity of universes in which this will happen."
Gavin stared at him.
"This is the part where he wanted to hit you, right?"
"Not at all. We did have a little tiff in which he tried to explain to me how unlikely it is. But I reminded him that weíre dealing with infinity. No, the part that angered him is still to come."
"You mean thereís more?! Werenít you happy turning off the sun at high noon and letting reading glasses take a vacation on national holidays? Wasnít that enough for you?"
"It all went to prove a point. I told you. I was only trying to prove that statistics negate the ground on which parallel universes stand."
"Because the idea of an infinite number of universes in which the sun turns itself off is just too much to accept?"
"Just the opposite. I have no problem with the existence of such universes. I have a problem with our universe."
"What the hellís the matter with our universe? Itís not anything like your universe. Our universe makes perfect sense!"
"Exactly my problem. I say that a universe that makes sense makes less sense than the universe I just described to you."
"This is where he hit you, right?" He said. "I feel an itch myself."
"Look, am I going to regret asking this question?"
Deep sigh. Then, slowly, "Why would a universe that makes sense make no sense?"
"The laws of probability."
"Of course. Silly me."
"Silly you indeed."
"Septimus, I followed everything youíve said until now, but, I swear, I donít see the logic of this last thing. What the hell do the laws of probability have to with this?"
"Of course. Silly me, again."
"Look, letís forget photons for a moment and look at something simple like flipping a coin, okay?"
"I flip a coin, whatís the chance Iíll get heads?"
"One in two."
"Right. Now suppose there are parallel universes, so that everything that can happen, does. I flip a coin in all the universes. In how many of them did I get heads?"
A huge, twisted smile spread across Septimusí face. "Really?"
Gavinís face froze. He talked slowly, "Thereís a fifty-fifty chance of getting heads. What did I miss?"
"How many universes are there altogether?"
"Right. And in half of them I got heads?"
"In half of them you got heads."
"And how much is half of infinity?"
"Itís--" Gavin realized he had no answer.
"Let me help you - half of infinity is infinity. It isnít another kind of infinity, it isnít a smaller infinity, it is, in fact, exactly the same infinity. It is exactly the same as the whole thing! Half of infinity is exactly equal to a third of infinity or a hundredth of infinity or a millionth of infinity, and, again, itís even the same as the whole thing! Thatís the nice thing about infinity. So, fifty percent of infinity is exactly the same as a hundred percent of infinity, which is exactly the same as ten percent of infinity, which is exactly the same as one percent or zero point zero zero zero zero one percent, or any other percent that isnít zero. See, Gavin, youíre not in Kansas anymore. Infinity isnít anything like any number you know. In fact, it isnít even a number. But thatís another discussion. Half of a gajillion, as big as a gajillion may be, will never be the same as a gajillion. But half of infinity is always equal to what you started out with. God and infinity both work in mysterious ways.
"Now, back to the coin I supposedly tossed. Saying I would get heads in half of the parallel worlds is the same as saying that I would get heads in a millionth of a percent of the worlds or even in a hundred percent of the universes, right? Both of them are right and both of them are wrong. So you canít talk in percentage when youíre dealing with infinity or, in our case, with parallel worlds. For the same reason, you canít talk about probability when dealing with infinity or parallel worlds. A sixth is the same as a tenth, and a tenth is the same as a gadzilionth."
"I have a headache."
"Iím coming to my point. The physics professor I was talking to, when I talked to him about Septimusí Earth and all the strange things that happened in it, he kept talking about this thing called Ďzero sumí. Zero sum, he explained, is what physicists call something which is so unlikely it can be discarded and treated as zero. This only meant he didnít know what he was talking about. Because if something happens in one in every gajillionth worlds, it happens in an infinite number of worlds, which means that itís the same as if it happened in half the worlds. Are you starting to get it?"
"Maybe. Thereís something there."
"Iíll help you. There is no such thing as a small chance of something happening when youíre talking about parallel universes. If the sun Ďturns itself offí in a gajillionth of the universes, it Ďturns itself offí in half of them! There is an equal Ďchanceí of the sun Ďturning itself offí at noon, as you have of getting heads when you flip a coin.
"When you get infinity involved, thereís no such thing as chance! Probabilities donít exist! Statistics donít exist! The likelihood is that anything that could happen will happen."
"Oh, my God!" Gavin went pale. "Now I see what you mean. Itís like thereís a fifty-fifty chance for anything! No matter how unlikely! Like all those weird things you talked about."
"Now I get it! Thatís why there canít possibly be parallel universes, because our world is too normal! Crazy things donít happen here all the time! If parallel universes exist, this Earth would be like Septimusí Earth!"
"You are getting it. Unfortunately, youíre totally wrong."
"Oh, come on!"
"Look at it this way. Youíre right that it would be unlikely to have a likely universe." Gavin nodded. "But," Septimus continued, "no matter how unlikely, it is possible. And if itís possible, there would be an infinity of parallel universes which would be statistically stable, meaning Ďnormalí, like our world."
"Stop right now! Youíve been leading me all this way for almost an hour, and youíve led me right to the beginning! The fact probability works doesnít negate parallel universes! There would still be an infinity of worlds in which probability and statistics work! Weíre right where we started."
"Weíre not back where we started. Weíre in the exact opposite place. From where the physicists started, at least. Letís look at physics for a moment, shall we? I mean, letís look at it historically. Until recently, physics looked at the world from a deterministic point of view. Physicists assumed that there are straightforward formulas for everything, and all one had to do was find the formula which described everything. Once you did that, you could simply (theoretically, mind you,) put all the data into the formula and actually predict the future using the formula. Okay so far?"
"But once they got into all this quantum physics stuff, everything changed. The Principle of Uncertainty, for one. And photons, like I said, you never know where one, single photon might go. You only know statistically where most photons in a bunch will go. All these new ideas threw the deterministic concept out the window. Like Einstein said, it looked like God was playing with dice. Thatís a concept which was hard for people to swallow. It still is. And not just for us ordinary people. The concept was hard to come to grips with even for some very prominent physicists. So some of them came up with this idea which made them feel better about the world. If parallel universes exist, then everything still happens. The universe isnít crazy and God isnít playing with dice. If quantum physics says that thereís only a seventy percent chance of an electron doing something, then in seventy percent of the parallel universes, the electron does one thing, and in thirty percent of them it does something else.
"But they forgot they were dealing with infinity. And thereís no such thing as statistics or probability when you deal with infinity. Thereís no such thing as seventy or thirty percent. With infinity, this has no meaning!
"So if parallel universes do exist, they exist despite the fact we live in a statistical world and not because of it!
"Physicists thought up this idea of parallel universes to explain why statistics exist in quantum physics. If that was their only reason, they should chuck the idea out the window as soon as possible."
"You know," Gavin said as calmly as he could, "I think Iíve had enough." He picked up his cards. "Iíll just concentrate on my game from now on, thank you. Iíll match your thirty and raise you... ten."
"I just want to say one more thing, except for the fact that Iíll raise you another twenty. Look, parallel universes may exist. They may not. I have no way of proving either. But! Iím willing to put some money that they donít."
"Like I said, if parallel universes exist, there would be an infinity of such parallel universes in which statistics are consistent. But the consistency is a thing of the past. It tells us nothing of the future. It has already happened. Like I told you when you came in: Probability doesnít pay attention to the past. Past consistency doesnít guarantee future consistency. Not when thereís a fifty-fifty chance of everything.
"So letís look at the future. Every millisecond weíre splitting into an infinity of parallel universes. A certain part of them is as statistically consistent as our past. But the rest are not. Whatís the chance of us ending up in a consistent universe? Itís the same as the chance of getting heads when you flip a coin. Precisely the same chance! So that means that if parallel universes exist, it is quite possible that the sun will turn itself off tomorrow.
"But, for some strange reason, I donít think it will. Want to bet against me?"
"Come on! If parallel universes do exist, you have a better chance of winning that bet than winning this hand. It is exactly like tossing a coin. Fifty-fifty. Come on, letís bet on it."
"Enough. Youíve made your point. You win." Gavin sighed. "I call." He put down his cards, face-up. He had four kings.
"I always win," said Septimus and revealed his own hand. He had a pair of fives.
"Damn, damn, damn!" Gavin furiously hammered the table with his fists. "How can you be so lucky all the time?!"
"Weíre back to probability," Septimus gloated. "Probability on our Earth works. And, on our Earth, the chance of getting two of a kind is consistently much smaller than getting a four of a kind. Which is why a pair is the winning hand. Now, consistency notwithstanding," he smiled as he contentedly collected the bounty, "you donít need parallel universes to know that some people have all the luck."
Authorís note: As you can see, I think that although I canít prove that parallel universes donít exist, itís a pretty safe bet that they donít. For a possible (and entirely made-up) physical solution that explains why quantum particles (and such) act as if there are parallel universes, I refer you to the story ĎLiving in the Presentí, which was published in Aphelion, No. 45, Vol. 5, two months ago.
Bio:This is Guy Hasson's fourth consecutive story in Aphelion. He is a playwright as well as a science fiction writer. His previous sf publications also include stories in Anotherealm, Millennium Fantasy and Science Fiction, Planet, and Demensions. His science fiction book, In the Beginning..., was published last year by 4goodbooks.com, and his next sf book, Hope for Utopia, will soon be published by Fictionworks.
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