Making sense in Paralleltown

September 27, 2007|By TIM ROWLAND


I like science a lot. I'd like it a lot more if I understood it. The problem, as I see it, is that just as science starts to get interesting, mathematics raises its ugly head, and any chance I had at understanding the concept vanishes into - maybe into a parallel universe.

Explaining math to me is like trying to explain knickers to a rattlesnake. So when Oxford scientists announced this week they had discovered mathematical evidence for parallel universes, I was both excited and dismayed.

It's such a neat concept that I wish I knew how it worked. Makes me wish I'd paid more attention to the multiplication tables in fourth grade.


But in a nutshell, the parallel universe theory was proposed by Hugh Everett in 1950. Under this idea, according to a news source that I would be happy to credit if I remembered where I saw it, "every time a new physical possibility is explored, the universe splits. Given a number of possible alternative outcomes, each one is played out - in its own universe."

The news story does not mention what Everett may or may not have been smoking when he thought this one up.

But it does say, for example, that a motorist who has had a near miss in this universe may have been killed in another and gravely injured in a third.

That is because at the subatomic level, nothing exists until it is observed, like a flipping coin or the Orioles' bullpen. Only when the coin is "caught" can you say whether it is heads or tails.

If this explanation makes sense to you, clearly you have the type of mind that would benefit from walking out of your parents' basement and getting some fresh air.

But there is some interest in thinking that there may be a whole bunch of you's and I's walking around in significantly different circumstances.

And if you are like me, upon hearing of the validity of parallel universes, your first thought is: This sure explains Hagerstown.

In some other universe there is undoubtedly a normal Hagerstown. A rational Hagerstown. A Hagerstown that makes sense. We just happen to be existing in the whack Hagerstown universe. The Hagerstown universe where, given an option between normal and abnormal, our coin of cosmic existence always turns up goofy.

It explains everything, doesn't it?

In the rational Hagerstown universe, they already have a new hospital. It was built five years ago. No people are suing on the grounds that the county ought to stay the same as it was in 1924, or because of the theory that a helicopter can ruin your SATs.

In fact, no one would have been tempted to sue, because the hospital would not have been proposed to be built in the hands-down most congested area of the county.

In the parallel universe, 47 persecuted Hagerstown refugees fled to Africa, where they were ridiculed and spit on because they didn't look like everyone else - I mean because the program wasn't administrated properly, or something.

In this universe, the Africans were angry that the Hagerstown transplants might one day tap into Madagascar Social Security benefits.

In this parallel Hagerstown universe, the County Commissioners - given a choice between spending $5 million on a new jail or $400,000 on a school designed to keep at risk-kids out of jail - choose the school.

That could never happen in this Hagerstown universe. That concept is WAY too other-worldly.

As a matter of fact, in the other Hagerstown universe, Hagerstonians don't automatically assume that everything the Board of Education does is evil. They believe that the School Board probably does want to do the best it can for the students. In this universe they do not believe that the School Board holds secret meetings where the only agenda item is "How can we stick it to the children and rob the taxpayers at the same time?"

In the parallel universe, Hagerstown leaders weighed the number of users against the costs and concluded that $80 million for a runway was not as cost-effective as $200,000 for an ice rink.

In the parallel universe, construction workers at Maugans Avenue didn't hit a sinkhole, they struck oil.

Not that what goes on in the parallel Hagerstown universe benefits us in the slightest, sad to say. The other Hagerstown has its successes, while the best we can do is take a whimsical flight of fancy and wonder "what if" as we stroll down Willie Mays Way.

Whoops, wrong universe.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324 or via e-mail at You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on

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