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Not Quite the Parallel Universe Story We’ve Seen Before on TV

By Mike Brotherton

Parallel universes are popular mainstays in science fiction, but they’re more than simply a science-fiction construct. The probabilistic equations of quantum mechanics, and more than a few experiments that spawned them, suggest that parallel universes may be real. One such experiment–usually done only as a thought experiment, thankfully–is the case of Schr¶dinger’s cat.

Put a cat in a box. Add some poison gas with a trigger that depends on a random event: radioactive decay. (According to quantum mechanics, microscopic systems like a radioactive atom exist in a superposition of decayed and undecayed states. It is only when the system interacts with the rest of the world [e.g., an observer] that it is forced to stop this blurry dual existence–called a superposition, or superposed state–and exist as one or the other.) Let some time pass, until there’s a 50 percent chance that the poison has been released. Until we check, the cat is both alive and dead. A single reality is forced on the cat–the cat only settles on being either alive or dead–when someone opens the box to see what is going on inside.

Schr¶dinger’s poor boxed cat, if brought in to Walter’s lab to be both autopsied and not autopsied, represents two valid realities, although eventually only one path is taken in our Universe, while a second universe takes the other. As Walter explained in “The Road Not Taken” (1-19) in season one:

WALTER: Most of us experience life as a–a linear progression just like this. [Draws a horizontal line on a  …

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