The Misadventures of Quinxy truths, lies, and everything in between!


Criminals Invoking the Evil Parallel Universe Defense

A thought occurred to me today, at the intersection of my thoughts about the justice system and the parallel universe theory.

We accept certain "excuses" for crimes.  The situations are relatively rare, but they exist.  If you are in an area devastated by a hurricane, with normal food sources cut off, you are effectively allowed to steal food from an abandoned store.  If someone has carjacked your car with you in it and is demanding that you drive at 100 mph you are not criminally responsible for your speeding.  If your life is in danger you may kill in defense of your life.  If you are clinically insane or seriously mentally retarded you will not be held criminally responsible for your actions, whatever they may be.  The point is not so much the specific excuses that are acceptable as the concept that the legal system does not hold people criminally responsible for crimes they did not have the capacity to avoid committing, whatever they may be.

And now we come to the theory of parallel universes.  For those that don't know, a beautiful conceptual way out of quite a few sticky quantum mechanical problems is to imagine that for every situation where multiple events could happen, we avoid the question of why did this or that happen by saying that there exists a parallel universe in which every possible outcome exists.  To bring it to a macroscopic level, imagine you flip a coin.  It lands tails side up.  There exists an inaccessible parallel universe exactly like the one in which you got tails, with the slight change that in that one an identical you got heads.  And in fact there are an infinite number of variations on the theme, tracing out every possible combination of ways your brain could tell your thumb to move, the weather systems could cause the air to gust, etc.  If we imagine that scientists might be correct in this theory then on a macroscopic level there must exist parallel universes in which otherwise "good" people do "evil".  You may be a kind person in this universe but in another you are a homicidal murderer.  This must be, if parallel universes exist.  And so, too, the evil people in this universe manifest themselves in saintly ways in parallel universes unknown to us.  So the quantum philosophical question then becomes, how responsible can any individual be for any actions, when there exists a version of themselves in another universe doing something completely different?

Why couldn't the homicidal murderer invoke the Evil Parallel Universe Defense at his trial, saying in essence, "I am not responsible.  The laws of physics dictate that there must exist some universes in which I am evil, and this happens to be one of them.  In others universes, you, Mr. Prosecutor, you, your Honor, and you, the Jury, are all murderers, just like me.  We are all guilty, somewhere.  I'm no guiltier than all of your collective parallel selves."

Of course, this argument is rendered moot by the fact that every outcome of the trial will exist in parallel universes; and so this excuse must work in some universes, but not in others.   The criminal would just have to hope that his was a universe which not only made him evil but also made his excuse acceptable.  I suspect there's a smaller infinity of those particular universes. 🙂

^ Quinxy

(One final note, I was reminded of a more practical moral dilemma nations face, a situation in which people are "excused" for something because they are in a "fated" situation.  The government, for the good of the people, attempts to control the economy by taking actions to control inflation and unemployment: varying lending rates, controlling the money supply, etc.  Contrary to what you might expect, the "optimal" rate of unemployment is not 0% but something in the nature of 5%.  The government will modify policy to target that number, creating more unemployment if the number is too low, and trying to create jobs if the number is too high.  It's my belief that this artificial manipulation of the unemployment rate, this requirement that citizens be unemployed, morally obligates the government to support those who have been "artificially" made unemployed.  Of course identifying those who are "artificially" unemployed and those who are "naturally" unemployed is tricky, and in a sense meaningless.  It is, therefore, better to support all who are unemployed for a period long enough to mean their continued unemployment is squarely the fault of the individual and not the economy.  And that's pretty much what we do, as a nation, with the unemployment benefits we provide, though I would guess few (if any) would explain its necessity as the fulfillment of a moral obligation created by forced unemployment; but I like this argument because far from it suggesting some sort of creeping socialism, it is merely doing what is morally obligated by the government's own actions.)

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  1. A common thought physicists often over look, is that since those parallel universes are inaccessible they become irrelevant and therefore you can treat the observable universe as the one and only universe. In your courtroom example, The judge could say that we are in this universe where you are a murderer and so we of this universe must prevent any future tangent universes where you kill again by locking you up.

    I however subscribe to the Newtonian theory that since the movement and position of every particle is exact then the future is exact, meaning only one possible future.

    Applying this into the courtroom, if there is only one future past and present, then can anyone be held accountable for their choices, since they are not really their choice?

    Again applying my engineer’s mind to a scientist’s problem, it doesn’t really matter that we are automatons playing out our predestined roles, because no one can see the future and therefore this destiny cannot be a factor in any decision.

  2. Paul, but doesn’t quantum mechanics get us out of the Newtonian predestination problem? That’s always been my takeaway. Since some things at the quantum mechanical level are truly random, and since the quantum mechanical world does impact the Newtonian world, then predestination cannot exist. My concern has always been that the “randomness” within quantum mechanics is simply higher dimensional matter/energy interacting with matter/energy in our dimensions, thus simulating randomness while being not at all random, and just as rigidly governed and predictable as Newton would have it; but I’ve been assured that those working in the quantum mechanical world have somehow ruled this hidden variable-ish alternative hypothesis out.

  3. The theory I often hear used to explain this multiple realities idea, is that of the uncertainty principle. The uncertainty principle shows that the momentum and position of a particle cannot be precisely measured. And so this uncertainty is said to cause multiple realities to exist within this error. But this is not true. The uncertainty is not in the position and momentum of the particle. It is in the measuring of these values. By measuring one value you increase the uncertainty of the other.

    This subject is beyond me. I’ve never understood any other explaination about parallel universes.

  4. I’m definitely no expert in this area, either, and perhaps because of that I think I know what you mean about people seeming to confuse (at least in their explanations) the “real” value of a thing with the measurement of that value. I’ve never been entirely sure if I’m the confused one or they are. I think in particular about most of the lay explanations of the theory of relativity which involve one person in motion (say on a train) and another at rest (at a train platform) and how as the train moves away at nearly the speed of light the person at the station would see a clock mounted on the rear of the train as appearing to slow down, but if we assumed the reasonable thing, that light did not have a fixed speed, we’d expect the clock to look as though it was slowing down, since its light would be taking longer to reach the stationary observer; the observation of time in this case having little to do with the actual passage of time. But that seems not to be how they mean the example…

    The many worlds interpretation is pretty well described on this page, if anyone is interested and unfamiliar with it:

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