One of the most controversial scientific hypotheses to emerge from the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum theory is known as “quantum immortality.” While it does have the ring of New Age tripe, it at least has the benefit of having been postulated by a number of legitimate physicists.
The idea can, essentially, be summarized as follows: If the laws of physics are, at base, quantum mechanical, then they are probabilistic rather than deterministic. And, even though probability fluctuations tend to even-out on macroscopic, high-temperature scales (such as those on which Human life takes place), the outcome of any event governed by the laws of physics must therefore ultimately be a matter of probability. Now, the Many Worlds interpretation holds that a separate universe exists for every different possible outcome of an event. Supposing that we are talking about a life-threatening event–say, a bomb which has a fifty/fifty chance of exploding based upon the spin value that it measures for a proton–it would follow that there would be one universe in which you would survive, and another, equally-probably universe in which you would have died. However; in order for you to be conscious of the event, you must, by definition, have survived. Extending this logic, we can see that your consciousness must exist in a universe where it survives, regardless of the circumstance. Thus, we have a sort of “subjective immortality”: any consciousness will perceive itself as never dying, even as its continued survival grows more and more improbable; circumstances will always conspire to keep such a consciousness alive, at least from its own perspective*.
Speculation in this direction always leads me back to the same question: under what circumstances would you start to regard this hypothesis as being true? Under what circumstances do you think that it would be reasonable to start believing that you could never die?
From my own personal experience, I can honestly say that I would need to be at least three hundred years older than anyone else I knew of, and I would need to have survived at least ten major events which, by rights should have killed me.
“My own personal experience,” did I say? Why yes, I did. You see, circumstances have recently conspired to convince me, by the standard of proof that I have just named, that I cannot die. I am already more than four hundred years old, and just yesterday I withstood my tenth all-but-fatal event–an unfortunate run in with a locomotive, which, “miraculously,” left me with only a few scratches. Add to that my nine of previous bouts with death (which need hardly be described at this juncture, but which include such notable episodes as contracting typhus, being shipwrecked, and charging with the light brigade) and I don’t think that I am being unreasonable in supposing that I am living proof of immortality.
It’s hard to nail down a firm date for when I was born–changes in the calendar and such– but my mother always told me that it was the summer before the Spanish Armada set sail for England, which would put the year at 1587. It’s hard not to slip into a sort of vulgar solipsism when life seems so subjective, but after a few centuries, you start to get the hang of it.
Try not to be surprised; when you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. How else, after all, would I manage to know so many obscure facts about history but from having lived through it? And honestly: does my written English not come across as strangely quaint and old-fashioned (not to say archaic)? Perhaps you have even surmised why I feel such a connection to the novel “Orlando: A Biography“: it is because it is literally my life story, as narrated by my dear old friend Virginia Woolf, who knew me back when I was calling myself Vita Sackville-West.
So why, you ask, am I revealing all of this to you now? I can say only that it feels good to get this confession off of my chest–and to do it on the one day when I know for a fact that it will have no lasting repercussions, for the very simple reason that no one will believe me.
The one day known as “April Fools Day.”
*Robert Charles Wilson has a good short story on the subject, outlining what an unpleasant fate this actually is.