Multiverse Madness

Some physicists believe in Multiverse Theory. If you haven’t heard of this, it’s a pretty neat little theory that goes like this: for every event that has an evenly-distributed probability, or a Poisson distribution, there’s no explicit reason why things can’t go in a number of different ways. The example always used is the Schroedinger’s Cat thought experiment, where a cat is locked in a box and has a 50% chance of surviving, but you won’t know until you open the box. Since the odds are exactly fifty-fifty, there’s no definitive explanation for the cat being alive or dead. This is where Multiverse theory kicks in, and argues that there are actually two universes that split off from the main universe: one with a live cat, one with a dead one. Pretty neat, right? Multiverse theory posits that for each event of this nature, a tangent universe (or two, or three or whatever) splits off from the original, meaning that each event exists along a probability curve in which every universe that can exist, does exist.

Of course Multiverse theory is complete gubbins and serves as a great example of how physics in the last decade has completely lost its head and why physicists should just stick to maths. It cannot possibly be true for at least an infinite number of reasons, but here are three good ones:
A) Common sense – As in, “An infinite number of slightly different universes? Get a grip.”
B) Occam’s Razor – As in, “Stop adding things you can’t explain to the one thing you were trying to explain to be begin with.”
C) Schroedinger’s Cat thought experiment – As in, “You do know that Schroedinger was taking the piss, right? The whole cat being alive/dead is a criticism of physics, and was never intended to be taken seriously”.
So Multiverse theory is silly nonsense. Media Multiverses are, on the other hand, extremely cool. These are fan theories of how disparate and unconnected (sometimes impossibly so) movies, TV shows and books connect together into a larger universe. The most famous example of a Media Multiverse is something called the Tommy Westphall Universe or, in a larger scope, the St Elsewhere Multiverse. Usually attributed to writer Dwayne McDuffie, the theory follows these lines: in the NBC drama St Elsewhere, which ran between ’82 and ’88, there was an exceedingly minor character called Tommy Westphall, an autistic boy largely locked into his imagination. The reveal of St Elsewhere was that the previous six years of events had happened inside the mind of this boy (sorry if I spoiled it for you, but you obviously have some catching up to do).
As a reveal this sort of sucks and is every bit as bad as “and it was a dream the whole time” ending that is the hallmark of bad writing or every M Night Shyamalan movie, or both. The implications, as Dwayne McDuffie realised, were immense. Several other characters on the show had either featured in other shows or gone on to spin-offs, meaning that if St Elsewhere was inside the mind of Tommy Westphall, then so were these shows. St Elsewhere was strongly-tied with Homicide : Life On The Streets, which connected (via Detective John Q. Munch ) with The X FilesThe Wire, and latterly with Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Veronica MarsVeronica Mars lies on a tangent with Lost, while Buffy The Vampire Slayer connects to Angel, its spin-off, which has connections to (of all things) Firefly and Red Dwarf, which cross over with Star TrekAngel also shares a link with Frasier which, by a set of well-known connections, ties it in to Cheers and Friends. I could go on, but you get the idea. The implications of this theory are massive : on the one hand, it means that most American television of the last fifty years actually happened inside the mind of a ten-year-old autistic boy (no jokes, please, come on, that’s not nice). On the other it means that all of these shows, and by extension their characters, are playing a giant version of the Kevin Bacon game. It means that, if you were able to visit this universe, you could hop like Scott Bakula in Quantum Leap from one bizarre place to another without ever leaving the one universe. How would you like to live in a universe where Doctor Who, the Simpson Family and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air all commingle?
I won't use this again. Promise.

I won’t use this again. Promise.

St Elsewhere is a well-known version of this game, but there are others, and some of them rely on tenuous connections. A good example is the Star Wars expanded universe, which, due to writers playing around, connects loosely with other universes, like Indiana Jones finding a dead Han Solo. The best two canonical examples are worth looking at. The first rests on this image:
That’s the pod from the spacecraft Discovery from 2001: A Space Odyssey. As it happens, it looks worse for wear in the above picture because it’s resting in Watto’s Junkyard on the planet Tatooine in 1998’s Star Wars : The Phantom Menace. Placed there as an homage to the influence 2001 had on George Lucas, it’s visible for a split second, yet does a really excellent job of tying together a universe with humans discovering a giant alien monolith to a universe with the Force, lightsabers and cool spaceship dogfights. More obscure but less satisfying is the fact that the alien species that E.T. The Extraterrestrial belonged to (the Grebleips, or “Spielberg” backwards) appear in the Galactic Senate arguing about tax or some nonsense. Add that to the above 2001 riff and the Indiana Jones thing and it would appear that the Galaxy Far, Far Away isn’t so far away after all.
Other connections are even more tangential. Firefly, which we mentioned above as connected to St Elsewhere, features several homages  and visual nods, including logos and weapons, to the evil Wayland-Yutani corp of the Alien franchise. Alien is, of course, connected to Predator, but also by dint of several crossovers ( Green Lantern vs AliensBatman vs Aliens) connected to the DC comics universe. DC is connected to Marvel via the hugely under-appreciated Amalgam Comics cross-overs, as well as to the grown-up comics of Vertigo, including the superb and majestic HellblazerThe Books of MagicSwamp Thing, and The Sandman. At a stroke we have there a connection between every comic book character, no matter how odd.
I could go on, but I can sense you getting tired and fogged up. I haven’t even talked about the Wold Newton family, which poses a genetic connection between Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, and Philip Marlowe.  All of these shows, books, comics and characters, to my mind, exist in what’s charmingly called the Omniverse, a massive sprawling universe containing not only our own world, but the world of every fictional character. More connections exist, just waiting to be discovered.
The best connections, I think, are those that sneak up on you. I was watching season five of House M.D. the other day when I realized that Kal Penn, who plays an young Indo-American doctor called Kutner who aids Greg House, was previously famous for playing Kumar, a young Indo-American medical student who, in Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, aided Neil Patrick Harris and got seriously stoned with Harold and a Puma. Does House M.D. occur in a universe where Kumar gave up smoking pot and focused on his career? I think we should be told.

One response to “Multiverse Madness

  1. Pingback: Ode to Tommy Westphall | Stories in 5 Minutes·

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