Ah Yes, I Remember It Well – Why Quantum Theory Might Mean That You’re Not Getting Old As Quickly As You Think


Have you ever been reminiscing with an old friend about some joint escapade from your youth and then started to violently disagree with them about what actually happened? I don’t mean you started hitting each other or anything. Just that you were unshakably adamant that it happened the way you remember it. And your friend was equally convinced of his memories of the episode, to such an extent that you had to start talking about something else otherwise you might have actually started hitting each other.

‘Course you have. Everyone has. There’s even an old song about it from the film Gigi, sung by Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold. That’s Gigi by the way, not Gigli, in case you have misread that and try to correct me. Though I don’t think enough people have watched Gigli to make the possibility of anyone erroneously trying to correct a terribly likely one.

Anyway, here’s the song:

This performance proves two things. Firstly, if you are a man of a certain age trying to get back together with an old flame, it’s wise just to agree with everything she says. Your days of getting away with treating ‘em mean to keep ‘em keen are well behind you. Secondly, human memory is a frail thing and the older you get the frailer your memory becomes.

I’m firmly behind that first point. The second point I’m not so sure about though.

Quantum theory – one interpretation of it anyway- states that there are countless universes. Every time you take a decision, the “you” that made that decision splits off into one universe and the “you” that makes a different decision splits off into another one. There could be literally millions of different versions of you existing in millions of different but equally real universes.

This seems a bit wasteful, just creating another universe for every human decision. So there’s a theory that some of the universes get recycled. Habit and routine are very powerful forces, so it’s likely that a lot of the other versions of you will do exactly the same things and make a lot of exactly the same decisions despite having chosen a different filling for their lunchtime sandwich on a previous afternoon. So it’s possible that when you make a decision, you may pop into a universe which is sufficiently similar to the one you were in for you not to notice the difference and that you have inhabited this universe before.

What you perceive as your continuous existence is actually your consciousness wandering in and out of the heads of various different versions of you whose lives have run along lines similar enough to make any differences insignificant. In other words, the universe you went to bed in might not be the same universe you wake up in but you might well have previously visited the one you wake up in.

You don’t notice this most of the time. Except when you have that little nostalgia-fest with that old friend. You are both clearly inhabiting the same universe at that point. But perhaps, when the event you are disagreeing on happened, you weren’t inhabiting the same reality. Your friend remembers your joint hilarious escapade differently to you because for him, it actually did happen differently.

As theories go, this is a bit flimsy. It’s all a bit Star Trek and fails to account for the fact that you and your friend were probably quite drunk at the time, because that’s when amusing anecdotes tend to be formed. Or rather it would be a flimsy theory if it weren’t for one thing. The Random Stranger Reinforcement. This is something you have also almost certainly experienced.

The Random Stranger Reinforcement is when you are just innocently going about your business and someone suddenly seems to recognize you and strikes up a conversation. The stranger knows your name. They usually start the conversation with “long time, no see” and they know all about you. They know things you have done and mention the names of some of your friends. This turns out to be a very uncomfortable conversation from your point of view because you have absolutely no idea who this person is.

It’s not that you sort of know their face but can’t quite put a name to it. Or that you know you vaguely know them but you’re buggered if you can remember where from. You literally have never met them before in your life. You have met them before of course, but that was a different version of your consciousness inhabiting a different version of your skull. Their consciousness has wandered into a universe where you’ve never met them but they recall meeting you in a previous, slightly different one.

Whichever version of you is currently inhabiting whatever reality, you can be certain that it’s definitely not the reality inhabited by Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold in the film Gigi. That’s a reality where you have to believe that a 27 year old woman is actually a 15 year old girl. It’s not a universe I recognise. The cast of Glee might find it hauntingly familiar though.

© Copyright Michael Grimes 2015


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About thedailygrime

At that awkward age - too young to be a grumpy old man, but just acerbic and downtrodden enough to have an opinion. Read it here.

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