The multiverse concept gained huge popularity over the last years. The idea that along our dimension countless other universes exist is an old one. It appeared in theoretical science for some time but even the Ancient Greek philosophers had already similar ideas. But it isn’t science in the first place, it is popular storytelling in films and series which accelerated multiverse concepts as new world views.
The Rise Of The Multiverse
The idea of parallel universes in films or series centres around the idea that there are several or countless universes which showcase different “possible” realities. Sometimes this universes are very similar, sometimes the show very different options or alternative realities different from our ordinary reality. Famous Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh (Hidden Dragon, Crouching Tiger, James Bond) seems to have a special relationship with multiverse concepts in film and TV: She was an outstanding character in Star Trek – Discovery where she appears as Emperor Philippa Georgiou in the mirror universe of the Terrans. In the first place in the normal universe she was a Starfleet commander and mentor of Michael Burnham, the main character. Now, Michelle Yeoh is the lead actor in the successful movie “Everything Everywhere All At Once” where she has to face more than two different universes. The appeal of the movie is related to the old “what if?” idea: The heroine, a Chinese migrant, explores the other lives in other universes she could have lived but did not in her normal universe where she comes from.
What if our everyday reality is only a realisation of one of many options, and what if we could flip through different “timelines” of our lives as we flip through different TV-channels in the evening?
The concept of the multiverse attracts writers as audiences because it allows you to play around with different possibilities of one and the same thing. In Star Trek Georgiou is a positive figure in the “normal universe” but appears as a completely different character in the Terran parallel universe. The character changes over time and one typical aspect is the implication that the character in the parallel universe represents hidden aspects of the character in the normal universes.
Both in the movie and in the Star Trek series there are travellers between the different universes. In many of theses movies portals or hidden trapdoors allow the actors to slip through between different worlds. And it is also always an interesting question if and how the different universes interact. Another very common idea in storytelling is that something which happens in one universe can have an effect in another universe.
I think one reason why we embrace the multiverse concept is there is that ever present secret wish that we could change the course of our lives if we could go backwards in time. Avoid the things we regret later. Avoid the mistakes. Experience that one alternative possibility, that path we didn’t chose but is still in our heads. But we would like to have that backdoor too, which allows us to continue our normal lives.
Is the idea of the multiverse only a concept for shows to have more options in storytelling?
At the moment the question if the multiverse really exists is theoretical. Even there are news announcements from time to time about some “discovery” there is no definite proof all scientists would agree with. That’s something physicist Clifford V. Johnson said in a recent interview on the Science and Entertainment YT Channel.
Nevertheless there are numerous multiverse concepts in science. This seems like a logical development since we see an expanse of our idea of the universe. We discovered that our planet is not the only one and not the center of the universe, later we discovered there are countless of galaxies and we find more and more exoplanets every day. Why not having parallel universes? The other idea is the quantum multiverse. Quantum physics suggests these possibilities.
Evidence in a normal sense might be a difficult thing to come by. However, the concept of a multiverse is real because we can relate to it. Most people would agree that they only exist in our universe but for example dreams suggest sometimes different realities with different options. What would have happened if…? It is normal that we create that type of multiverse in our imagination. These are alternative universes which are very similar to our own. And then there are these countless mysterious stories all around the world. From people who vanished and suddenly where back. Maybe there are glitches in our reality where the boundaries between different universes are momentarily blurred.
There are many more ideas out there. What about a multiverse where time runs backwards Perhaps our laws of nature do not apply there? Or our logic might not work? Thus, the multiverse concepts are not so far away from the idea of the otherworld. Otherworld concept in different cultures are full of fantastic dimensions which work in a complete different way as our common everyday world.
As with the otherworld we should ask, where are these other universes? Are there far away or are they right here? Do they overlap with our ordinary reality? Or is it impossible to cross from one universe to another?
Again, contemporary science might not give us the answers we are seeking for. There are certainly yet many theories out there which might be proven some day. What we have is the imagination and the hints of a deeper reality. It is the idea of a deeper reality as represented in the outstanding series Twin Peaks – The Return. A multiverse would be a very helpful model to interpret the different interwoven timelines in David Lynch’s and Mark Frost’s masterpiece. However, there is an important thing here which makes a difference if we compare it to Marvel movies presenting a multiverse. It is not like different levels in a game. It keeps its mystery. A thing I am working on with the Forest Dark Movie project too. Keeping the true nature of the multiverse a mystery. Because this is what it will be for us. We might get to a more complex worldview in time. But we shouldn’t go for a reductionist model of the world. If we see it as a fantastic and mysterious world we might be as close to the truth as we can ever hope for.
Peter Engelmann, May 24, 2022