Minutum

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The weathermen had predicted apocalyptic snow. Drifts that would muffle the regular profane hum of the City’s populace and convert its cabs into yellow tea trays resting on the surface of the deep white frosting filling its streets. Blizzards to turn quotidian existence into a battle for survival. To someone from Scotland, it seemed a little hyperbolic. To New Yorkers it was a personal provocation.
However, I had more important things in mind than ice-capped annihilation. A student of NYU’s Creative Writing Programme, it was my turn to lead a class by parsing one of the course texts in my own image. My chosen novel, Ben Lerner’s 10:04, mingled science, existential meandering, and humour, with a healthy disrespect for chronology. This formed a neat blend with my own reservations about time and its general reluctance to bend to my will.
I maintain a devout atheism in time’s alleged linear structure and struggle with the lack of wonder imbued in the idea that A follows B follows C until expiration. Embracing this perspective, my proposed lesson plan centred on the potential overlap between literary time and Hugh Everett III’s Many Worlds Interpretation.
I had discovered the concept via a documentary produced by the physicist’s son - and musical genius - Mark. Everett the Younger’s travels into the dense logic of his father’s Theory had given me a tenuous grasp of the basics, largely courtesy of cartoon depictions of quantum calculations (nothing says δΨ/ δt = UΨ like a dancing electron with a face).
Would multiple personalities, parallel worlds, and infinite outcomes fill a two-page handout? Despite Hugh’s thinking, there are only two possibilities: yes or no.

As I left my apartment, flakes were starting to litter the darkening grid of the sky. An audible slush was building on the roads but hadn’t yet clotted the cabs in the City’s congested arteries.
Reaching the comfort of the library, I wandered the physics section, eventually locating Neil Graham’s ‘The Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics’. It pains me to concede that, in this new world of ‘Rock Paper Scissors Internet’, internet should ever trump paper, but this time it did. Abandoning Graham’s impenetrable pages, I fled online to find an Everettian biographer doing a sterling job of translating the complex mathematical into the Real World. In short, at a microscopic level, a particle in a system can be in any state. Happily whirling away in its orbit, it only becomes isolated to one location the moment an observer looks at it. This snapshot traps it in position forever, creating one destiny or world. Alternatively, should the observer have delayed observation for just a fraction of a second (dust in eye, cute fellow scientist passing by etc.), the particle would have shot off somewhere else and its new position would then be the defined location: parallel world number two. And so on.
Using serious mathematical graffiti, Everett transposed this replication of microscopic worlds to the macroscopic level. Or in my Interpretation, having not looked at the cute colleague the observer would be going home alone to feed their cats and cry into their solitary beer. Alternatively, having engaged the cute colleague in conversation, coffee could be shared, possibly resulting in marriage and eventually a small flock of mini-scientists. Two very different worlds, same players, all possible and, according to Mark’s dad, all happening simultaneously.
And they say scientists have no imagination.

Back in the apartment, my laptop lay before me like a cat: warm, unproductive, and both dead and alive. Even with Billie singing ‘Me, myself and I’ in the background, the blank lesson-less screen intimated not one of me was wonderful. I decided to relocate to the University’s Lillian Vernon House for inspiration.
The snow was softening the thickened night as I reached the aristocratic old townhouse. I pushed in the key code and entered the impressive hush of its hallway. The delicate stained and leaded windows, dark wood panelling, and austere white walls and paintwork evoked a sense of my somehow having enrolled in the 1800s. If I glanced out the window, I would surely see Walt Whitman swaying past in a dour misunderstood stanza.
I walked through the ghosts of residents past, the painters and sculptors, moneyed families and writers before me, to the kitchen to make coffee. The mélange of identities, soaked into the fabric of the building, fostered a sense of even being able to reach out and touch those still to come.
Coffee in hand I pushed open the tall double doors to the lounge and flipped on the wall lights bookending the hearth. The white space glowed warmly and I settled into one of the box chairs beneath a lamp. White fluff was building outside the window as I set my cup on the recessed ledge to my left and, in the peace of the empty house, I could hear the silence of each flake’s soft descent. Lerner had likened snow to falling “fragments of time”. I sat for a short while watching the minutes drop from the sky then turned to the comparable whiteness of my laptop screen.
The climax of Everett’s Theory repeated in my mind like a mantra. “The totality of experience is never available to us.” I wasn’t so sure. With every decision we make, our minds however briefly experience each and every option. If we didn’t we’d have no basis for reaching a conclusion and would remain paralysed by choice. We access these parallel lives through imagination, allowing us to live out existences absent in this world: as the macroscopic equivalent of that particle spinning in its orbit we can be everywhere at once.
I looked over at the mahogany bookshelves, stacked high with the multiverses of icons. Perhaps as authors we play the role of Everett’s observer, not so much directing the moves of the players in our ‘systems’ as bearing witness to them.
I reset my laptop on my knee and began to type.

About the Author: 
Part writer part scientist, Sheila most enjoys sitting with pen and paper turning idle thoughts into narratives and doodles. A Glasgow resident and MLitt graduate, she’s had work published in Causeway and Qmunicate, has an intermittently hyperactive Twitter account (@MAHenry20), and a short story collection 'Love Death and Public Transport'.