2011 : WHAT SCIENTIFIC CONCEPT WOULD IMPROVE EVERYBODY'S COGNITIVE TOOLKIT?

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Emeritus Professor of Psychology, London School of Economics; Visiting Professor of Philosophy, New College of the Humanities; Senior Member, Darwin College, Cambridge; Author, Soul Dust
The Multiverse

The scientific concept of the "multiverse" has already entered popular imagination. But the full implications of the idea that every possible universe has been and will be actualised have yet to sink in. One of these, which could do more to change our view of things than anything is that we are all destined to be immortal.

This welcome news (if indeed it is welcome) follows on two quite different grounds. First, death normally occurs to human bodies in due time either as the result of some kind of macro-accident — for example a car crash, or a homicide; or a micro-one — a heart attack, a stroke; or, if those don't get us, a nano-one — accidental errors in cell division, cancer, old age. Yet, in the multiverse, where every alternative is realised, the wonderful truth is that there has to be at least one particular universe in which by sheer luck each of us as individuals have escaped any and all of these blows.

Second, we live in a world where scientists are, in any case, actively searching for ways of combatting all such accidents: seat belts to protect us in the crash, aspirin to prevent stroke, red wine oxidants to counter heart attacks, antibiotics against disease. And in one or more of the possible universes to come these measures will surely have succeeded in making continuing life rather than death the natural thing.

Taking these possibilities — nay certainties — together, we can reasonably conclude that there will surely be at least one universe in which I — and you — will still find ourselves living in a thousand years, or a million years time.

Then, when we get there, should we, the ultimate survivors, the one in a trillion chancers, mourn our alter-egos who never made it? No, probably no more than we do now. We are already, as individuals, statistically so improbable as to be a seeming miracle. Having made it so far, shouldn't we look forward to more of the same?