From the Editor; December 2007; Scientific American Magazine; by John Rennie; 1 Page(s)
Storytellers have traditionally found it useful to isolate the strange lands, people and events of their wildest fictions far from the precincts of their audiences. L. Frank Baum put Oz on the other side of a whirlwind; George Lucas set Tatooine a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away; C. S. Lewis had Narnia; and Homer's Odysseus navigated uncharted isles of the ancient Mediterranean. Enough separation in space and time can make almost any circumstance seem more plausible. The corresponding trick of good storytelling is then to make what seems impossibly odd and distant also still feel both real and relevant to the here and now.
Physicist Hugh Everett managed to pull off a similar trick for quantum mechanics by proposing a many-worlds interpretation of it half a century ago. His novel idea was that we occupied only one member of an infinitely branching set of "what if?" universes that were each as authentic as ours but forever isolated from it in a parallel reality. As the story by Peter Byrne starting on explains, physicists were slow to take that interpretation seriously, much to Everett's disappointment, and of course it remains debatable, but today parallel worlds are useful devices for physicists and fabulists alike.