Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives
Science Fiction and Fact
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Science Fiction and Fact

Stick your finger in your ear... Did you do it? If the so-called Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct, there's at least one universe in which you did, one in which you didn't, and universes for everything in between. Physicist Hugh Everett III was just 27 years old when he introduced this interpretation—also known as the theory of parallel worlds—in the published version of his 1957 doctoral thesis. According to Everett's theory, every event that could occur in a number of ways, even something as simple as how you decided to respond to the above request, triggers a split that generates multiple universes, which collectively contain every possible outcome. While new to science, the notion of parallel worlds was hardly new to science fiction. In this time line, track some of the scientific milestones (blue) that led up to Everett's theory and see how the idea of parallel worlds showed up in science fiction (red) all along the way.—Rachel VanCott

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© | Created October 2008