Fate, Destiny and Quantum Handcuffs

I think everyone has those times where they look at something and think “that should have been me” or “that could have been me”.  Normally it’s off the back of a number of decisions that could have gone either way.

I’ve spoken before in Que Sera Sera about Fate and Destiny.  In my profound way of thinking, both concepts work together.  Fate is something out of your control or a series of decisions, while Destiny is an end point.  I likened it to a journey that I make; I can go one of two ways, but I always end up at the same place.  This gives me a nice balance of autonomy and the feeling that everything will work out in the end.

However, what when you look at something and feel that things aren’t quite the way they should be?


There have been a number of decisions I look back on and wonder what would have been different had I decided on the other thing.

When I started college I wanted to do Vet Science, so decided to study 4 subjects instead of the usual 3 to give me an advantage.  When the Physics teacher put a chart up towards the end of the first term that indicated that I was one of very few people in the class under-performing when compared to their previous exam result, I decided to drop it to concentrate on the other subjects.

When I did, my tutor recommended I also drop with Maths with Mechanics (largely Physics based) for Pure Maths.  I didn’t, on the basis that I enjoyed my Mechanics class and if I did Pure I wouldn’t get to hang out with the girl I was seeing during free periods.  Not the most sensible choice, because I was spectacularly bad at Mechanics exams (yet really good in class and at practice exams).

Would this have got me in to the university course I wanted? If it did, I would have gone to university in a different city and so much of the life I had now could have been very different.

As it happens, I didn’t get in to uni to study what I wanted.  With a back-up plan that I didn’t really fancy much, I was going to go travelling or start my own business.  I did neither, and went and studied Law.  Who could I have met while travelling? Where would my own business have taken me, rather than what I’m doing now where I spent 7 years of my life travelling round the world to different offices?

And, yes, you probably knew a reference to this sort of thing would be coming… Where would I have been now had I have realised that a friend’s blog post suggesting I should kiss the person I liked was addressed directly to me about her? What if I’d not have run the other way when she suggested handcuffing me to her newly constructed bed frame?  What if I’d have gone back to her place that night when I wanted to kiss her but got scared by a drunk guy peering in to my car?


There’s a principle in quantum mechanics called superposition.  It basically says that, while we do not know what state the matter is in, it can actually be in all possible states simultaneously.  Only when we go to check and measure that our subject’s state is limited to the one possibility.

In 1935, Erwin Schrödinger proposed a theoretical experiment which is pretty cruel to cats.  He proposed that a cat be sealed in a steel container containing a small amount of radioactive material and a device containing a vial of hydrocyanic acid.  If any of the radioactive material decayed, a mechanism would break the vial, release the acid and kill the cat.

Source - http://www.neatorama.com/2012/10/06/Schroumldingers-Cat-is-Alive/

Source – http://www.neatorama.com/2012/10/06/Schroumldingers-Cat-is-Alive/

Since the casual observer can not see inside a sealed steel container, they would not know whether or not an atom of radioactive material has decayed and therefore the cat is both dead and alive according to quantum law, in a superposition of states.

A real experiment that demonstrates superposition is Thomas Young’s double-slit experiment.  For this experiment, a beam of light is aimed at a barrier with two vertical slits. The light passes through the slits and the resulting pattern is recorded on a photographic plate.

If one slit is covered, the result is as expected – a single line of light, aligned with whichever slit is open.  Knowing that, what would you expect to see if both slits were uncovered?  Two lines of light, right?

Actually, wrong.  When both slits are uncovered the photographic plate is entirely separated into multiple lines of light of varying degrees of lightness and darkness.  What this should be demonstrating is that, despite the fact both beams  of light should be on two non-crossing trajectories, they are in fact interfering with each other.  Even when the beams of light are slowed down enough to allow only individual photons rather than waves to pass through the slits, there is still interference and still the spectrum.

As Richard Feynman concluded, each photon not only goes through both slits, but simultaneously takes every possible trajectory en route to the target, not just in theory, but in fact.  The fun bit is that experiments have been done to track the paths of individual photons to find out how this might actually happen but, when the photons are tracked through the slits we see two bright lines on the photographic plate, aligned with the slits in the barrier.  Cease measuring, and the spectrum reappears!

Many Worlds

OK, so let’s make things a little more complicated by first asserting that the idea that a cat can both be dead and alive at the same time is ridiculous despite this being what we’re expected to accept when applied to photons and electrons and atoms.  How do we get from quantum to single reality?

One of the main ideas is “wavefunction collapse”.  This is a bit of a concession on behalf of physicsts and it states that all quantum states exist right up until measurement, but doesn’t define what “measurement” is and what it does to cause the collapse.

In the 1950’s, a Princeton graduate named Hugh Everett III suggested that you don’t actually need the collapse caused by measurement.  Instead, we are actually part of the wavefunction and so see a single outcome, but the wavefunction continues retaining the multiple branches corresponding to the different possible measurement outcomes.

This is called the Many-Worlds Interpretation.  It’s a hypothesis that states that there could be an infinite number of worlds or universes.  Everything in our history on this world which has not happened, has happened in these other worlds.

Think of it like this.  The girl offers to handcuff you to her bed.  Two worlds split off – the one where you go to the bed, have amazing sex and live happily ever after with your best friend, and the one where you go the other way and end up four months later not talking to her again because she’s thinking of you whenever she’s with other guys / you won’t move to Canada with her / you have a mental health condition so big that she won’t be able to help you with it.

The life and death the Schrödinger cat. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Schroedingers_cat_film.svg

The life and death of the Schrödinger cat. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Schroedingers_cat_film.svg

Actually, the worlds don’t really split off.  That would mean that there are loads of worlds for every single measurement or decision and that would get a bit out of hand.  That’s just how the metaphor goes.  The real theory is that the world we’re currently in now exists in an expanding state of superposition.  Or, simply – our current real world gets more complex.

Sticking with the metaphor though (because we can), is there a way to detect these other worlds?

Scientifically speaking, there is probably no way to detect these other worlds simply because there are too many variables to take in to account.  Without being able to measure the constant variables, you’ll end up with just the one result like you get with Double Slit experiment – and that’s the existence that you’re living in now.

See? We roughly got back to the beginning of all this quantum stuff again! But why did I get thinking about Many Worlds and alternative universes in the first place?

Well, actually, it was because of some dreams I’ve had recently.  They felt very real and they felt very topical.  I recently had a friend come back to visit the UK from Australia and we’d organised for a group of us to go out with him.  The night before we went out, I had a dream of us all taking a selfie together with one notable addition of a person who I hadn’t spoken to for a while as a result of a particular decision.  The dream felt so real, so normal and, indeed, parts of it even felt tangible.

I woke and felt like it had really happened, only to be disappointed.  While I knew why I was disappointed, I wondered why it felt as real as a few other recent dreams had done that were along similar lines.  A few Google searches got me to quantum mechanics and got me to this rather fanciful idea.

Interaction through dreams?

Right then.  We have Hot Girl With Handcuffs and Terrified Me, branching off in to Happy Me and Depressed Me worlds.  What if, somewhere further down the line, these two worlds could interact, possibly through dreams?

A lot of theorists and philosophers say that interaction between the two worlds can’t happen.  It’s not certain that Many Worlds Interpretation allows interaction.  Some say that it’s because the worlds are too far apart.  Whatever the reason, most would suggest that Happy Me and Depressed Me are simply identical counterparts who will never meet and never interact.

However, there was once a German philosopher named Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and his Law and that of The Identity of Indiscernibles suggest that there cannot be separate objects or entities that have all their properties in common.  At the inception of the branch that splits my worlds, Happy Me and Depressed Me are the same person with identical physical characteristics and memories and feels.  Therefore, Happy Me and Depressed Me must be the same person irrespective of whether we were handcuffed to a bed frame or not.

It therefore makes sense that, as our stories diverge, Happy Me and Depressed Me know what the other is thinking.  That knowledge is genuine knowledge about that other world.

Another reason to allow for interaction between the worlds is because, if it wasn’t allowed, we would simply be walking along a predefined line with not an ounce of freedom about where we turn up.  If all those relevant alternatives were not available to the person, you have no choice.  We all, though, know that we make choices all the time and when this is added to a part of Many Worlds Framework that says that those alternative outcomes are relevant to us, it makes sense that there would be some interaction between the two worlds.

There are supposedly a few reasons why we dream, and some of those reasons are that our dreams are actually simulations of what has happened or what might be to come.  While it’s very easy to say that dreams only happen in the mind of the dreamer, is it not possible to apply the Many Worlds Framework and ask whether the dream might actually be depicting what is happeing to the other Me in the other world?

Did I dream of Happy Me holding Handcuff Girl while taking a photo because in the world where I let her handcuff me to the bedframe we were now living happily ever after and, well, that’s what we were doing at that point in time, somewhere else?

Destiny and Fate

So let’s take this all the way back to the very beginning and my thinking of “it should have been me” alongside my idea of Fate being decisions and Destiny being an end point we’ll get to anyway.

If a decision forms a branch, I wonder if it’s possible for the branches to rejoin at some point.  Using my previous analogy about multiple routes all leading to the same place, it would seem possible that we could make any number of decisions that would all get us to where we need to be, just through a different route and a different number of branches.

We have Hot Girl With Handcuffs and Terrified Me, branching off in to Happy Me and Depressed Me worlds.  I think she must be joking because that offer is too good to be true.  She’s then faced with Depressed Me and the branches of Handcuff Him and Handcuff Someone Else.  Through a series of other decisions, Depressed Me World and Handcuff Someone Else World begin to converge again ultimately forming Handcuffed And Happy Me World at some point in the future rather than at the time of Hot Girl With Handcuffs and Terrified Me.

Maybe it’s not just that is should be or it could be, but it is, has been, never is, never has been and never is has hasn’t been.  Or something.  I could just be talking rubbish!

You say life is a dream where we can’t say what we mean
Maybe just some roadside scene that we’re driving past
There’s no telling where we’ll be in a day or in a week
And there’s no promises of peace or of happiness

Well is this why you cling to every little thing
And pulverize and derange all your senses
Maybe life is a song but you’re scared to song along
Until the very ending

Oh, it’s time to let go of everything we used to know
Ideas that strengthen who we’ve been
It’s time to cut ties that won’t ever free our minds
From the chains and shackles that they’re in

Oh, tell me what good is saying that you’re free
In a dark and storming sea
You’re chained to your history, you’re surely sinking fast
You say that you know that the good Lord’s in control
He’s gonna bless and keep your tired and oh so restless soul
But at the end of the day when every price has been paid
If you’re gonna rise and sit beside him on some old seat of gold
And won’t you tell me why you live like you’re afraid to die
You’ll die like you’re afraid to go

Oh, it’s time to let go of everything we used to know
Ideas that strengthen who we’ve been
It’s time to cut ties that won’t ever free our minds
From chains and shackles that they’re in
From the chains and shackles that they’re in

Well life is a dream ’cause we’re all walking in our sleep
You could see us stand in lines like we’re dead upon our feet
And we build our house of cards and then we wait for it to fall
Always forget how strange it is just to be alive at all

Life Is A Song by Patrick Park


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