Smart Television

Season Three, Episode 1 of Six Feet Under, “Perfect Circles,” just blew my mind.  Wow.  As it begins, we don’t know if one of the characters (I won’t give it away) is dead or alive, and we’re taken through a variety of possible situations — he died, he lived, he never existed.  In one of the situations, the character is this total redneck guy sitting on the couch with his redneck woman, watching TV.  The show that’s on is supposed to be a comedy, and there’s canned laughter and the characters laugh along.  But the dialogue is actually mind-blowingly philosophical and serious.  Here’s a chunk I borrowed from an essay I found online (Leigh Teresi’s “Quantum Enlightenment from Six Feet Under)

“That was Dr. Schrödinger. Kitty didn’t make it.”

Her lover replies, “The universe has split in two.”

“Two? Try two billion!” She laughs, trailing into a tone of concern, “What’s going to happen to us?” [Will we collapse and cease to exist?]

He comforts her and says, “There, there, …we always end up in a universe in which we exist… Remember Copenhagen?”

You can see a video of this part, too — start at 5:30 for the clip I’m talking about…

Teresi does a nice job filling in the (vast) blanks in my knowledge of philosophy and physics, but I picked up on some of it…  First, Schrödinger’s Cat, which is basically a cat in a box that is either alive or dead — we can’t know whether it’s alive or dead until we open up the box, and so while the box is closed, we have to assume it’s both.  And once we’ve opened the box, the cat doesn’t exist in the same environment we meant to observe it in, but we have to open the box in order to observe it at all.  Observing or measuring something might actually change its state.  For the record, I stumbled upon this theory not through science, but through literature — a play I saw several years ago called Copenhagen, written by Michael Frayn.

And then the many-worlds interpretation, which I think I thought about when I was little (what if there was another world with another me who was doing something different right now?), but not in a molecular sense.  And then (back to literature) it showed up in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Matters trilogy.  On a large scale, it works like this: In this world, I chose to have coffee at breakfast.  But in another world I chose tea.  So when I made that decision, the world split into two, and in one I had coffee and in another I had tea.  And in some worlds I don’t exist at all because my parents never met, etc., etc.  And in the interpretation, this happens on a molecular level.  I’m sure it has some sort of application in quantum physics that I don’t understand, but for me this theory is a little haven for those of us prone to regret — in another world it is different.

Anyway, at the end of Season 2 I had my doubts about the show, but I’m really, really liking it again now…

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