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Being a person who believes that life, at its core, is basically absurd, it's difficult for me to be serious about it. There might be very important things transpiring around me from time to time, but I always have a hard time fully connecting with them. Given my peculiar gnostic slant on life, I've always felt that everything happening on my own personal plane is primarily influenced either by angels squabbling amongst themselves above me, or from liver cells grumbling about the crappy job they have to do below. I feel I'm nothing more than some temporally fleeting ectoplasmic epiphenomenon that spontaneously popped up in between them. Sometimes I just want to shout "quit yer bitchin'!" at them. But when and if those unseen agents ever do cease their commiserating -- then I will be no more.

Nevertheless, in the meantime they don't seem to notice me focusing on the details of this strange trip I'm on:  the one spanning the untidy gap between my birth and death.

One of my main problems is that I've been mentally contaminated by the one (and to date only) logically consistent explanation of quantum mechanical theory, otherwise known as "the Many Worlds" hypothesis. This was developed back in 1957 by Wheeler & Everett, and it basically holds that every physically permissible outcome that could happen in a subatomic transaction does happen. But because the results of each potential transaction are all mutually exclusive, they spin off their own separate, adjacent universes, therein to fully manifest themselves. There are untold new universes spinning off every picosecond, in every conceivable direction, in response to every single possibility. In some of these, Hitler won the Second World War. In others, the digital computer was never conceived. There are many where dinosaurs still rule the Earth, and we small mammals scuttle from one rock to another, avoiding them.

To be fair, many scientists pooh-pooh this idea.  They claim that the effects of quantum mechanics are constrained within the sub-atomic scale, and that macro events are determined by classical Newtonian physics alone.  It's obvious that these folks don't have any grounding in Chaos theory.  Given time, the most infinitesimal of changes, occurring at the smallest scale you want to arbitrarily define, manifest themselves in huge perturbations on the larger scales that comprise our natural world.  This is related to the popular notion that a butterfly flapping its wings off the coast of Madagascar can impact global weather patterns.  I hold that notion to be true -- only because I've experimented at length with Chaos mathematics and related recursive functions, and I've gained a sense of the extreme affective power inherent in the smallest of entities.  Though you can deny it, I continue to believe that all the visible patterns we see in the universe around us are produced by point-sized transactions grown large.

Taking the above to its logical conclusion, there are countless adjacent universes where I died of Scarlet Fever, others where I was maimed by Polio. In many, I died as a result of poor teenage judgment, or I was shot full of holes in a Vietnam jungle. In others, I spawned many dirty children, and I scratched life out day-by-day in a rundown trailer park. There are a few where I was born in Bangladesh, or in Namibia, where my odds of surviving my first year were limited indeed. So why did I -- this particular vessel of my consciousness -- end up here, in this privileged, comfortable -- and alive -- condition?

Once in awhile I think I sense a certain shuttling, where my id seems to shift from one universe to another. I can't describe this in any reasonable way, nor can I prove it. You just feel it sometimes. As an analogy, consider when the Chrysler Corporation produced the PT Cruiser.  Who called for that?  It was something certainly not of my universe or any current time-stream I was on. I would "wish it back into the cornfield", were it not for the fact that it probably came along -- as unfortunate baggage -- with a more important content, one that protected me from some terrible personal catastrophe. I guess having to tolerate that aesthetically godawful PT Cruiser is a small price to pay, in relative terms.

We sometimes talk about Guardian Angels, protecting us from harm. I've always felt that more than a few were close by me. What if there really were superluminal beings that stood outside this roiling quantum foam, pulling us up by the collars when necessary and depositing us into a more secure branch of time and space? You can certainly at least imagine the possibility of being protected from any physical harm. Be assured, I'd never test their beneficence by jumping off a tall building. But I do wonder…

Sometimes the Angels act through fellow humans. I will here give thanks to Maharaj, an innkeeper in Savusavu, Fiji, for literally saving my life once, many years ago following a particularly poor personal decision. His was an unsolicited act of responsibility for the safety of a fellow human being. I can't say that I ever consciously saved anyone else's life that I know of -- but who can truly know what a kind word, a bit of generosity, a moment of sympathy, a smidgeon of encouragement, or a helping hand will spin off into? It's hard to see what difficult trials and tribulations a fellow planetary citizen may be going through at any given moment. (In the Western cultures, we are trained to keep them hidden.) We have to be ready to act as a benevolent agent for greater Powers at any time. In the meantime, we can make a tiny contribution here and there, on our own cognizance.

Drawing it all closer to home:  In 1974 I began to experience some personal events that are hard to place within the context of traditional science or psychology. While the first of these may have been associated with severe mental stress, I'm not convinced it was merely the chimera of impending psychosis. Rather, I think it was the dawn of recognition of something that had been long-ignored.

They say you do your best thinking when you're down and out; in 1974, that certainly described my situation.  At that particular point in my life, I had thrown my past overboard and I was trying to avoid looking head-on at my future, which had taken on the visage of a black, bottomless pit.  Quite literally, in lieu of suicide I had commended my soul to the world, to do with what it would.  Reading a book by Alan Watts in a hotel room in Western Samoa, quite near the edge of the world, I began to lose my temporal connection with the universe. What was in the near future suddenly intermixed with what we call "now". The frames of time got shuffled. I began to have word-for-word precognition of paragraphs written on the succeeding pages of the unread book I was reading. This continued for some time. It began to feel as if the book had been written for me alone, and no other -- and I knew the precise content of it just by holding it in my hand.  For those few moments I was like Madam Blavatsky, tapping the aether for her preposterous Akashic Records. (And no, there were no drugs involved here!)

Needless to say, being schooled in the concrete sciences, this situation was terrifying to me. I later felt that it must have been some extreme, long-duration deja vu event -- a brain spasm, or some kind of seizure that just wouldn't quit.  But it wasn't the only time something like this happened to me, in the years to come. In each case, there was an unmistakable sense that my universe was being produced, stretched and/or altered for me, and no other. I know it sounds like the epitome of psychotic delusions of grandeur. But I'm no god, or saint, or savant.  In truth, I have a very well-developed inferiority complex -- indeed, one that's reinforced daily by the mute testimony of my various inadequacies and failures. Perhaps that's part of it; that my ego has been compressed enough to allow it to wend in between the warp and woof of reality. More generously, perhaps each of us has our own personalized universe that stretches and contorts itself to accommodate us, to protect us from our more serious, stupid blunders. Why would it not be so, if we all carry some spark of divinity within us, and if God were truly as infinitely benevolent and patient with us as we've been told He/She is?

Holding onto this notion is the only way I can tolerate the extreme suffering and waste of human lives I see around me. It takes the edge off to know that all those unfortunate people (and, hopefully, animals too) who got caught up in a bad Karmic trip in my world, have a much more benevolent universe out there in which their "true" selves are thriving and happy.

Is there a way of controlling one's course through this near-infinite weave of universes, of steering through the multitude of possibilities? Are there some magical incantations, or Words of Power which allow a person to go left, right, up, down, forward, back, or in directions perpendicular to the four we're equipped to sense? If so, how would you know that one universe is necessarily better than another? Certainly, a personal pattern that is more well-ordered or more richly endowed may seem to be the one to jump to (if you could). But we all know that the best path is not often so straight or so obvious. Sometimes you have to break some eggs to make a cake, or undo a completed side to solve a Rubik's Cube.

That's the Engineer in me talking. Engineers think in terms of how (precisely) you can get from a predefined point A to desired point B. Point A is defined by the Beancounters. Point B is the creation of the Marketeers or the Managers. The poor shlub Engineer is charged with laying out a doable, practical map to span those points, no matter how fantastic or difficult the route may be. In my own experience, you don't necessary start at A and plod doggedly to B. Instead, you lay out a plan that has paths emanating from both points, and arrange for them to meet somewhere in the middle. That describes the art of Engineering -- or at least, how I do it.

In the case of spanning adjacent universes, I think the navigation is not so much accommodated by conscious act, as by the power of "creative imagining". It's obvious there is a huge variety of possible outcomes to any action, and those outcomes are probably distributed pretty evenly along the continuum of "good" and "bad" ones. One may focus on the bad ones, but golly -- you would be hugely remiss in not including at least the possibility that the best outcome to any situation is out there, just waiting to fall into place. Why not try to imagine exactly what that universe looks like, in a deeply creative and detailed manner? That will reveal all kinds of doors and paths trailing in all directions - some of them leading back to you. Once this is clear, it could hardly hurt to do a few small practical things to give that particular teetering universe-option a little nudge in your direction. (After all, none other than that master of modern magicians himself, Aleister Crowley, once said that any human action directed toward a goal is itself a form of magic. If so, an Engineer is truly an expert magician by trade and training.)

To be sure, no matter how dire a situation I've ever found myself in, I've learned that there was always a definite path extant, leading to that best of all possible personal worlds. Hope still resides somewhere in the world, and her presence underpins all human action. She holds a map, and she is anxious to give it to anyone who would take it. For me, that is a comforting thought, indeed.

Postscript: Ursula K. Le Guin wrote a wonderful novel that probed some of these ideas, called The Lathe of Heaven. It was very well-made into a TV movie in 1980 by PBS (WNET, I believe), starring Bruce Davidson and Kevin Conway. There was an absolutely awful remake (this one from A&E) with James Caan and Luca Haas. It truly sucked; stay away from it.

And this little flick sounds interesting, along the same lines: "What the Bleep Do We Know?!"

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Image at top is Pandora, by Rosetti (1869)


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