Saturday, February 05, 2011

Parallel Vegan Universe(s)

Theoretical physics is catching up with science fiction—making the possibility of more ethically-advanced extra-dimensional worlds plausible

Have you ever wondered whether there might be another you wandering around somewhere, perhaps on a planet much like our own but subtly or even drastically different? If so, then you may have actually created such a person in another reality simply by thinking about it!

Sound farfetched? Well, Dr. Brian Greene doesn't think so. As a bestselling author and physics professor at Columbia University, he's done the math, and says it suggests that our universe may be merely one of a potentially infinite number that exists within an ever-expanding multiverse. Of course, we can't actually see or visit these alternate domains (just yet, anyway) because, according to string theory, reality vibrates on at least ten or eleven mathematically-identifiable dimensions, and we Earthlings only experience three spatial dimensions (plus one of time). Nevertheless, Professor Greene believes scientists could perhaps prove the existence of parallel universes by formulating a unifying Theory of Everything that resolves basic inconsistencies between Einsteinian relativity and quantum mechanics (thereby solving the great mystery of why matter behaves so differently on the macro and microcosmic levels).

If parallel universes were discovered, it would radically revolutionize how we understand the very nature of reality. Readers wanting a comprehensive but accessible explanation of these heady ideas should check out Dr. Greene's new book, The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos. However, what interests me most at the moment is not the nitty-gritty numbers behind string theory, but rather imagining what kinds of worlds may exist out there beyond our current ken. And, especially because Professor Greene is a vegan who stopped eating meat as a nine year old to avoid eradicating animals' existence, I'm considering a grand possibility: that somewhere, on some other plane of reality, there are worlds where people don't kill animals for food or any other unnecessary reason.

Illustration by Mark Middleton
Need context? Take an example of a parallel universe from pop culture—specifically the classic 1967 Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror”* in which a malfunctioning transporter beams Captain Kirk and three Federation starship officers into an alternate world (with their doubles simultaneously materializing on the Enterprise). In this strange reality, the intrepid interstellar space explorers boldly encounter their crewmates' evil counterparts—including a stylishly goateed Mr. Spock who is still eminently logical but trapped in an irrationally cruel and ruthless reality of imperial intrigue, genocide and assassinations. Like all Vulcans, Spock (the original at least) is a pointy-eared alien who espouses non-violence and practices ethical veganism. Meanwhile, in our reality, Leonard Nimoy, the actor who personifies the hyper-intelligent and super-strong Science Officer, is vegetarian—probably because he was convinced by the philosophy of the fictional character he portrayed to stop eating meat, showing how even “parallel” made-up people can have tangible effects on our world.  

If Spock's malevolent doppelganger is any indication of the potential differences between our universe and others populating the multiverse, then it is quite conceivable that perhaps, somewhere among the infinite possible realms, PETA president Ingrid Newkirk is CEO of McDonalds, for example, or there’s a world where sentient plant beings breed humans on factory farms for meat. Conversely, there may also be worlds where avid hunting enthusiast Ted Nugent runs a sanctuary for injured wildlife, carnivorous chef Anthony Bourdain copacetically hosts a popular vegan cooking show called Kitchen Compassion, or there’s a smartphone app that translates most known species’ languages into human speech and vice versa. Statistically and probabilistically speaking, the variegated details between alternate worlds are essentially limitless.

While we are all stuck living in just one reality (for the time being, anyway), in another sense animal rights advocates already live in a parallel universe ruled by a paradigm of brute force domination over other species. That is, we exist, individually and collectively, as a universe within a universe—right alongside a vast majority of people who either don't know, don't care, or deny that the meat they eat is actually the dead flesh of animals who were tortured on factory farms before being painfully slaughtered on mechanized assembly lines. We see the cruelty that others remain blind to, the horror hidden in plain sight, and feel empathy for the conscious creatures who so clearly share our inherent will to live and love. And as we strive to create a kinder, gentler world, one in which innocent animals aren't victimized for pleasure and profit, perchance our thoughts and actions in this reality are not only making a difference for animals here on our planet, but also creating divergent worlds throughout the multiverse where animal exploitation is universally condemned or utterly unthinkable.

1 comment:

  1. I credit Star Trek and other SciFi (like Planet of the Apes) for my conversion to vegetarianism in the 70's.