The trousers of time, and why I’m not always willing to suspend my disbelief

First, a bow to Sir Terry Pratchett who rightfully owns not only those timely trousers but also the concept of L-space.

I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. Like Julie Czerneda says on the blog of John Scalzi – “[…] there are times when it isn’t enough to think outside a box, you need to blow it away“. THAT is the potential of science fiction.

Fantasy, now, is another matter. There it’s not so much blowing the box away as the possibility to dissect and analyse society and the concepts and preconceptions at it’s foundation. This is equally true of science fiction, but where sf gazes into the future fantasy often uses variations of the past as backdrop.

Anyway, whichever of the two it’s a given that you as a reader have to be willing to suspend your disbelief, to some extent. This is equally true of lightweight entertainment and more heavyweight books.

So. Why do I have severe troubles with the idea of parallel universes? I can accept magic, given that it’s a consistent and well-functioning system (aw, I’ll accept the bad one’s as well, just look at the magic in The Lord of the Rings!). I can accept Faster Than Light travel, like Star Trek warp drives or whatever is at the core of Bok’s Equation (of Cherryh’s A/U universe). Then why not parallel worlds?

I’ve read at least one really good book based on the concept (Anathem, by Neal Stephenson), but most books (like Brasyl, by Ian Mcdonald) just fall short as soon as I discover the author has used the idea.

The general concept of many worlds is perhaps not widely accepted in scientific circles, just like quantum mechanics is disputed, but accepted enough for ordinary people to think of it as ‘science’. To me, though, it’s not science. It’s philosophy disguised as science. Like this – science to me is a method, not a certain amount of knowledge.
Some scientists are nevertheless on a quest to find the Theory of Everything, however unscientific this is. When on this quest they have to explain everything. This has given birth to a philosophy stating that a given atom can potentially be anywhere, in both time and space. Certainly this is true on a hypothetical scale. Potentially, then, every state of things that possibly can be – can be, and is, somewhere. As in parallel worlds. Very interesting.
Or is it?
To me that is just one big cave full of shadows. Maybe looking at the shadows aren’t the key; it’s time to turn around and look at what’s MAKING those shadows in the first place.

I’m sorry. Alternate realities, alternate histories, alternate futures. Unexplained stellar drives, paranormal powers. For the sake of the experiment I buy them all provided the storytelling and the characterisation is good. Parallel universes, were characters slip through realities – not so believable.

Those other things – we know they aren’t science, we know them as plot devices. Parallel universes masks as science. Maybe that’s what makes me sick of it.


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