Separations

They blamed it on the large hadron collider. I’ve never been convinced. They blame everything on the large hadron collider.

The explanation goes something like this. It was switched on. It hummed and whirred and trembled, glowed and burned and radiated, all that shit, and then, as all that tremendous bunched-up coiled fucking energy burst out and collided with itself, in that momentary momentous moment, through some fundamental altering of some fundamental aspects of the fundamental, it split the world into two.

Or untethered it from an adjacent identical world. Or scuffed away the muck between this layer of reality and the next, rendering what once was opaque now ultimately translucent. No one was really sure. But something along those lines anyway.

And like I said, I don’t believe a word of it anyway.

It’s a fucking delusion to think we can know what the fuck it is that happened. It’s insane to think we did this.

I mean, it’s not like I have any better explanation. I’m not claiming I have all the answers. I’m just saying they definitely don’t either. Just cause I don’t know the truth doesn’t mean I have to believe theirs.

And if it was the large hadron collider, it sure took a long time to take effect, for anyone to notice. Like, when was it they turned that infernal machine on, anyway? Ten years ago? Twelve? I don’t know. Fucking ages ago, anyway.

Yet, no one noticed anything until, what, a year ago? Two? I mean, what the hell was happening for the other ten years. Yeah, yeah, I know, it was incremental, too small to notice, a rift so tiny that even if you did notice you just ignored it anyway, all the usual excuses.

That hardly sounds scientific, does it. It barely even sounds rational. Oh, we just ignored it! For ten years! Yeah, right. And they say I’m the one that won’t face reality.

Then suddenly, two years ago, it was noticeable. A persistent little fuzziness round the edges, of everything. Like when you look in the mirror and there’s a ghostly set of teeth offset just slightly behind your real teeth. But not just in the mirror, and not just with your teeth. Our world and the next were parting ways, ever so slightly, like two previously overlapped images slowly being slid apart.

It’s an entirely visual phenomenon, soundless, smell-less, heatless, and at first it seemed pretty trivial. You’re handwriting always looked ever so slightly smudged. People would complain at the cinema that the projector wasn’t focused properly. At Wimbledon, no-one could tell for sure if the ball really was in or out, no matter what the machines claimed with such implacable certainty was true. Eye tests at the opticians were a right fucking futile faff.

But then, things got worse. You’d try to look someone in the eyes, to show the deep sincerity of what you were telling them, but instead you got distracted by the shimmerings of their pupils, the overlapping edges, the glints of light where all should be dark, and I’d end up looking so shifty and evasive as I looked from edge to edge, eye to eye, finally down and away, or up or away, off to the side, anywhere but that mesmerising, terrifying separation of edges and lines and circles at the centre of their irises.

I gave up eye contact pretty quickly, moved instead to looking at people’s mouths as they spoke. But then even that, as the separation of worlds continued inexorably, soon presented problems, ghost mouths, ghost teeth, ghost tongues.

Ghosts all the way down.

People calculated the rate of the separation – sixteen point one eight something something and so on micrometres a year. A millimetre and a half every century, or whatever. I mean, it’s nothing, is it? We could have just ignored it and it’d have been okay. We’d have got used to it. We’d never even have noticed it.

And, christ, we’re all getting old, everyone’s eyesight’s getting worse every year anyway. It’s barely even worth worrying about. It’s fucking stupid.

So, apparently, anyway, this is why it took so long for anyone to notice, and therefore, if you accept their measurements, if you believe their extrapolations, this proves it started then, when they turned that thing on, like they’d always said. This proves, they say, with pinpoint high powered laserlike accuracy, the moment we started drifting apart.

Yeah, yeah, right. I mean, how convenient. How terribly fucking lucky. It’s always easy to make up facts now to fit your theories of what happened then. Well, maybe they should have come up with a theory then that explained all these subsequent facts now.

Maybe if it’s all so bloody certain and incontrovertible they never should have flicked that fucking switch in the first fucking place.

My wife calls me irrational. My wife, ever the scientist. It’s always someone else that’s wrong, isn’t it? Not them, not their calculations, their theories.

It’s always me that’s wrong.

Hannah’s a physicist. She’s spent years working on this. She thinks this makes her an expert. Yet all the physicists everywhere have spent years working on this. It’s all they ever fucking talk about. They can’t all be experts. They can’t all be right.

They can’t even fucking agree.

The most fundamental contention when it came to the split world theory – with all the theories, to an extent, but especially the split world theory – was that, as the universe is, at its base, probabilistic, once the universe is split things should diverge, not slowly, but wildly. Chaotic infinitesimal quantum events should cascade until these atomic micro fluctuations became macro deviations.

An atom here should instead have been an atom there, causing that atom to go there, and so on, all that well-rehearsed chaotic butterfly nonsense from Jurassic Park. It shouldn’t be like this, orderly and neat, everything exactly still in its right place, all just slowly, neatly, sliding apart, atoms and molecules and organisms and structures all obediently locked together, arm in arm, even as we all slide inexorably, predictably, continually apart.

This had always implied an entirely deterministic universe, the end of free will, all that shit. And no-one wants that, wants to admit that we’re just tiny little cogs in a relentless, remorseless machine. Everyone agrees that that would be awful, unimaginable, unacceptable. Hannah agrees.

I don’t.

I want that.

I would kill for that.

But there’s no going back now.

Hannah solved the problem, proved it beyond doubt, won the Nobel prize, everything. Free will’s a fact we’ll all just have to accept now.

I came home from work one day. Hannah was sitting at the kitchen table, facing me. And she was, transparently, sitting at the kitchen table, her back to me. The two Hannah’s – my Hannah, the real, solid, Hannah, and the other Hannah, the transparent Hannah, the ghost, the duplicate from the separated world – were talking to each other – talking to themself.

The conversation was conducted soundlessly, the pair of them signing faster than I could understand, babbling on excitedly, in the snippets I could translate, about the incontrovertible nature of their proof.

This proof that sat, transparently, before me.

They worked through the implications of their forced separation, questioned whether they should publish, and how – singularly? jointly? Was there even any distinction yet? Would there be later?

They spoke about whether they should risk the revelation of their method, of their accomplishment, of how anyone, everyone, when they wanted, could see their own ghost.

And about how, just by having accomplished this, even if they kept it quiet, even if they never published, they had already changed the world – both worlds, ours, theirs – forever. There would be a cascade now. There was no going back. They both agreed on that.

They both agreed on everything, but they especially both agreed on that. Already atomic chaos had been unleashed, divergence that could never now be converged.

There was, like I said, no going back now. The differences would stack, multiply, cascade. Change will become chaos.

They didn’t say that last sentence, I did. The two of them jumped, turned, looked and finally saw me. The one me, still overlapped, still singular. Ghostless. My Hannah’s me, and that Hannah’s me, standing there dumbfounded, locked together, frayed at the edges but intact at the core.

They looked at me, and I looked at them. One, then the other, back and forth, back and forth.

At least, Hannah said, both Hannah’s said to me, although I only heard one, that this proves she was right all along. Free will, split worlds, the large hadron collider, all of it.

I didn’t agree.

I will not agree.

Even now, with the Nobel prize, with all of it, with everyone separated out into two, with the whole world doubled, I still hold out. She’s wrong. They’re wrong. Your wrong. Everyone’s fucking wrong, but me.

It might make me sound like an arsehole. I can live with that. I’ve lived with that all my life. But, accepting that… I can’t. I can’t.

I came home today. It was like the first time again. They were there in the kitchen. Hannah and Hannah. And Hannah and Hannah. They’d separated out a third layer, and a fourth, teased new selfs from beneath each of themselves, one to My Hannah’s left, one to the Ghost Hannah’s right.

Even I could see the implications of that. This is never going to end. Soon now there’s going to be a fifth Hannah, a sixth, a thousandth, a millionth, and so on, forever. A trillion separated lives, all interacting, all wilful and realised and free, fractalising the complexity of every goddamn fucking thing.

There’s going to be so much free will now. So much it’ll never fucking end.

The four of them look at me. Still just me, singular, solid, tethered me. Four layers deep, all held together by my own fucking defiance.

My own fucking fear.

I look at her, and her, and her, and her. They’ve decided to leave me. I can see it in their eyes, see it behind their smiles. And I can’t say I don’t deserve it.

Still, that doesn’t mean I can accept it. I can’t. I just… can’t. I mean, I’d acquiesce if I could, I really would. I love Hannah. I do. I promise I do. But, but, oh god, but…

The thought of it. The thought of seeing myself. That’s what I can’t…. I just can’t. Urgh. Seeing myself. Seeing myself. Seeing myself sat there, across the room, outside of the mirror. Seeing myself like others see me. Hearing myself. Talking to myself, listening to myself. It’s just. Oh god, it.. it…

It’s bad enough in here already, alone in my own brain. The thought of that, duplicated, triplicated, it’s… it’s too much.

It’s too much.

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Notes:

1. Written on August 1st, 2019
2. The illustration is Separation by Edvard Munch
3. but split
4. and duplicated
5. etc

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