I recently had the most disturbing experience, and the narration of it to you now makes it even more disturbing, and perhaps even meaningless. You will understand what I mean.
I am not the kind of man who is loved instinctively, you know, that essential person who people wait for before beginning parties and upon whose arrival everyone stands up and begins smiling and laughing and shaking hands for no apparent reason. I do not mean a popular man, for in all modesty I can claim to be well-liked, but instead the sort of fellow who seems to lighten the spirits of all around him. I am not that man, but still, I do have friends of a particularly light-hearted kind, and these friends rely on my conversation for important philosophical thoughts and meaningful debate. In fact, I am the opposite of that man, because my friends indulge in revelry until my entrance, after which they settle down in chairs and place their feet on nearby objects and only sip at drinks thereafter.
Last week, a similar party was convened, and by the used glasses and empty bottle, I saw that my friends had made the most of the time before my appearance. However, they quickly settled down in eagerness, because they enjoy this kind of banter, and though more tipsy than not, they turned to me in anticipation. Knowing the expectations of me, indeed indulgently priding myself on them, I usually come prepared with a small speech on some topic that has occurred to me during the week, and that I feel will satisfy their willing minds. To be honest, I mostly chose things on which I have a personal opinion, and about which I have some academic knowledge, so that I can impressively quote experts and dead philosophers to my admiring audience.
This time, however, I had been planning to turn down the regular invitation; my week had been stressful and I was too tired to perform for this crowd, who in my innermost heart I believed to be beneath my standards in matters of the mind. But one of our mutual friends had returned from a vacation and he had specially requested my participation. So, unable to justify hurting a friend for a night's sleep, I showed up without anything superficially intelligent to say.
Re-reading my last line, I think that perhaps you may have got the wrong idea, and though this justification may prove to be futile, I must clarify. It isn't as though I do not have things of real worth to say. On the contrary, I have been blessed with a robust and curious intellect, one able to follow complicated thoughts to completion and discover new arguments along the way. I often take a topic of contention, whether local politics or ancient Greek theory, and pit the two (or more) sides against each other in my own mind. In fact, I have the ability to debate complicated and tedious issues with ease even in the course of my daily activities. In college, professors of philosophy and logic often consulted me on difficult problems, and I am glad to say that my reasoning always impressed them. Later in life, too, many insightful people have praised me, saying that I am one of a diminishing race of original thinkers, and that I should write a book or manifesto outlining my numerous ideas. So you see, at these gatherings, or parties, I come prepared not because I must prove myself but because I must talk down to these dear friends of mine, and limit myself to easily understandable ideas.
This time, as every time, the conversation began with pleasantries and small talk, with questions about families and work and finances. These inanities were for them a buffer, and for myself also, because it is difficult to quickly find a mutual meeting ground for unequal intellects. This was also foreplay of sorts, exciting for everyone, because at any moment I might grab some common thought and turn it into a wonderful discourse on deep matters. But like I said, I was tired, they were inebriated, and I had not decided what to talk about, and so we continued discussing unimportant things.
While this worthless session was going on, I was also thinking to myself. I am usually quite controlled, but I was irritated that I was forced to spend my time with these sycophantic buffoons, and it occurred to me that I should for once try to extract a fee for my weekly generosity. Of course, I did not think in material terms, money being unimportant to me, and I decided to set these amateurs upon a train of thought that would trouble them deeply, thus giving me a perverse but deserved satisfaction.
I enjoyed this humorous vision of my confounded friends very much, and so I cleared my throat pronouncedly, being fond of a little drama, and began to explain to them the theory of parallel universes.
The theory of parallel universes, put simply and briefly for your benefit, is this. For every event that occurs, or does not occur, there are an infinite number of possibilities. For example, suppose a red apple falls from a tree; in another universe the apple would be green, and in another it would fall to the ground and split, and in yet another universe the apple would be green and also fall to the ground and split. In an infinite number of universes, the apple would be different in an infinite number of ways, even seemingly ridiculous ways, flying up into the sky for example, or turning into a bird. In some universes the apple would not exist and in some others the tree would not exist either. In short, every imaginable variation of this situation exists in some universe or other. When this logic is extended to every single thing and every person, in an infinite number of combinations, we get the first part of the theory.
The second part is this. Assume that all these various universes are laid out on some three dimensional plane, parallel to each other. Also assume that each is placed in a series of progressive still frames, each frame depicting a moment in time in that universe.
Thirdly, assume that the human soul has the ability to move through this plane, in a direction of its own choosing. Just like a movie is a series of still photographs, which are played too fast for the eye to distinguish individual pictures, the soul would move through these separate sequential moments too fast for the mind to set apart individual ones. The result: the apparent forward motion of human beings through time.
This is exactly the idea I presented before them, and expectedly, they became very excited.
The first to speak was a trader of foreign exchange. He often took a light-hearted approach to my discourses to hide his inability to contribute constructively.
"So there's a universe in which I have a harem of a thousand women? Wonderful! Or better yet, a thousand women and a thousand garages with a thousand cars!" he began to guffaw loudly at the prospect. Another friend, a bespectacled accountant and reader of science fiction novels, interrupted him.
"Sure, sure, that's bound to exist, but more importantly, this theory implies that our 'souls', as you called them, have the ability to move at will between these universes, yes? So you're saying that I could, at will, make any possible outcome of the future actually happen? That seems improbable."
I was expecting this argument; indeed it is the common first response to the theory.
"As a matter of fact," I explained, "many cultures believe that one can do precisely that. Meditation is supposed to be a way to focus your soul's energies on a better future. Some people think that visualizing the moment of achieving a desired goal can actually bring that moment to pass."
The trader spoke again, "So why doesn't anyone do it? Why aren't we all in our perfect universes? Why don't I have all the money and fame that I want? And why aren't you a brilliant leader of the world?"
I sensed a trace of mockery in his voice, and I was ready to deliver that final mind-numbing response when the fourth of our party, who had been silent so far, spoke up.
"My dear friend, there is a good reason why that isn't so. First, even if we picture a perfect moment, there are an infinite number of universes in which that moment exists. All of them have different paths leading up to, and continuing from, that ideal moment. To use your harem example, it could be that in one such universe you managed to form an army and overthrow some sultan with a thousand women and cars. If you picture one moment when you have all that, you will reach it, but there is no telling what will happen next. The sultan's son may slay you in revenge, or you may be struck by lightening! The risk in having a single moment as your goal is that your soul, which still has to make the journey to that instant, may suffer much greater hardships until and after that moment. To lead the perfect life you want, you'd have to visualize every single moment along the way to make sure that it is also perfect, and that, of course, is not humanly possible."
We all sat in silence after his speech. I must confess that I too was impressed. It isn't that his argument was new or unprecedented; it's just that I had not believed this professor of mathematics capable of such lateral thinking. The others, of course, were astounded by his reasoning and broke out into applause.
The accountant, inspired by his fellow, rushed to present a new argument.
"So, then, if you say that each of us in this room exists in an infinite number of universes, and so does every person who lives and has lived and ever will live, then that would add up to an infinite number of souls speeding around these universes, yes? Why don't any of these souls bump into each other, or chose conflicting paths? It seems to me like there would be some serious traffic problems on this plane, yes?"
Again, I was just about to respond, when the mathematician proudly gave his answer, glancing at me slyly out of the corner of his eye, as if he had outdone me in some way.
"There is a possibility of that. But when the souls do come into contact, the result could be intangible, or perhaps, to borrow from common superstition, it could be that the meeting is expressed outwardly as a shiver down the spine, or a yawn, or even friendship, a connection of souls. Why, I think that our four souls have chosen this same universe to inhabit, and so we have come together in this amicable manner!" He was feeling very clever and was smiling broadly.
"False!" I yelled, victorious. "False and illogical! Four souls will not exist together! The very term infinite is non-restrictive. An infinite number of souls cannot fill an infinite number of universes. If I am in one universe then everything else in that universe is most likely to be impassive! One soul runs through one single track, alone. There is very little chance of meeting any others. It is like a child's video game, with one outside source taking an active part while the rest is there only for his benefit. That soul is the center of that universe, you could say! You have made the mistake of taking the model too literally. When my soul experiences something, it experiences it in isolation. Your responses and actions are simply a set of meaningless responses and actions that exist in one universe out of many, one that I currently inhabit. You do not even really exist, you are just empty images. Why, I am not even talking to you right now, I am alone, I am simply talking to myself."
And it was at this point that I became severely disturbed. The others burst out in response, but I was not even listening. I had just realized the terrible implications of my own words. I was alone. My soul was alone. Whatever these three did or said made no difference, because they were only accidents of my own presence in this space. Trying to convince them of my logic was futile, because there was no one to convince. Arguing further with them was ridiculous, I was arguing with puppets. Their souls were off on some other path; I was talking to their shadows. Why, in some other universe, one of them might be laughing at my image there, some imbecile, unreal manifestation of my existence!
I staggered to my feet, and making excuses I rushed out the door, feeling very silly, because I was excusing myself to nobodies. I hailed a taxi and then refused to direct the driver, because how does one address a figment of one's own imagination? The taxi wasn't real, the driver wasn't real, these roads weren't real. Nothing I did was of any worth, because there was no real being to see it. I felt as if I were trapped in a senseless nightmare, horribly alone. I began screaming and finally fell sobbing against the window.
And so you see, the telling of this story is even more disturbing to me, and completely meaningless, because I am writing into a void. My careful selection of words is pointless; I am the only one who will ever read them, even though it will appear otherwise in this horrible, horrible farce. I am very scared, and very lonely, and I feel petty and insignificant. I have lived all my life for the praise of a non-existent world.
And this is why I write; I am not embarrassed to admit it.
After all, who is there to see my shame?