The Washington Post

Golf and the Many Worlds Interpretation

The other day I teed ‘em up and whacked ‘em around and in the process got to thinking about the Many-Worlds Interpretation. You know, from dipping into the A-blog, that quantum mechanics has led physicists to some puzzling conclusions, not least of which is that reality isn’t deterministic in the way that a purely Newtonian universe would be. One thing doesn’t necessarily follow the next in a predictable way. Rather, at the scale of the very small, there are infinite possibilities at any given moment, and the path of nature is deeply random. You might say that things can go right or left or dead straight and there’s no way to predict the direction. This is my golf game.

Indeed my game is so erratic that it lends support to the astonishing Many-Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics. This is the notion, first promulgated by Hugh Everett in 1957 and today championed by David Deutsch, that there is no single “real world.” Rather, there are an infinite number of worlds in parallel, each generating new worlds constantly as each quantum fluctuation spits out a new version of the universe. What appears to us to be the singular, “real” world is but one take — by just one of our conscious selves — on an infinite number of parallel realities. This means that there is a world out there, somewhere, in which my 8-iron off the tee on the seventh hole did not skitter along the fairway at groundhog elevation and then plunk into the pond protecting the green. Somewhere out there, I aced the damn thing.

It does not seem the most parsimonious of theories. It’s unwieldy and flamboyant. Which brings me to my golf swing: Randomness seems built into it, as though no two swings could ever be identical. My swings are snowflakes, fingerprint. The crazy thing, which gets you back on the course again and again, is that every so often the ball does exactly as commanded, the clubface catching it flush, the trajectory majestic, the landing soft on a forgiving green, the whole thing creating the momentary illusion that one can actually play the game (an illusion shattered minutes later by an Evel Knievel putt — one struck so hard that the ball actually leaps the hole).

You do have to wonder, sometimes, if there were wildly other paths in life that one might have plausibly taken.

Could I have ever been a golfer? No. Nor a scientist, compelled to tunnel deep. There are limits to our options.

But do we wind up where we meant to go?

Do we even have a choice?

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."


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