Dark Matter


illustration from Wikipedia based on Schrödinger’s cat

“Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist.” Right?

This definition, as I’m sure you know , is the opening sentence of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, a great work that I read at least twice, beginning back in college and then again some years later. (Despite the Latin title, the book was originally written in German. The English translation is published with facing pages, German on the left and English on the right. If you have some reasonable knowledge of German but are not fluent, you will find this an ideal setup, as I did.)

There’s no need to rush to Google Translate: the sentence means “the world is everything that is the case.”

That isn’t clear, is it? So you may want to read the rest of the book.

Or maybe not.

The point here is simply that our naive, non-philosophical view of “the world” is very limited. But I want to focus on the definite article: the world. What if there are many worlds? The so-called “Many-Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics” is, as the name suggests, the view held by some philosophers and physicists that our perceived universe is only one of an inconceivably large number of possible universes. Every action, every decision, no matter how small, has consequences. If a different action is taken, a different decision is made, a new world is created and the timeline of reality immediately forks. The mind-blowing piece of this is that all these worlds exist simultaneously; we’re perceiving only one of them, and in theory we should be able to move from one to another.

This concept forms the basis of Blake Crouch’s science fiction novel, Dark Matter. I certainly wouldn’t pretend to understand the philosophy or the physics, and you don’t really have to try to do so if you just want to treat the novel as a thriller — but you’ll be missing a lot. At least scratch the surface, or you’ll be making it harder to appreciate some of the less daunting sub-themes involving identity, work/life balance, family, and relationships. And hang on for the ride; it’s rather like a roller coaster.

Categories: Books