Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Bridge Between History and Astrophysics

There are a few more introductory words about the connection between "counterfactual" history and potentially non-fictional parallel universes that I have to say. First and foremost, this whole nexus could breed a lot of interaction between historians and astrophysicists. They can pool their resources together, and research and discuss different ways that history can interact with physics and astronomy. And no, I don't mean the history of astronomy - I mean taking historical events such as World War II or the various Roman conquests, and situating them in parallel universes according to the scientific theory, so that these events come to life with different outcomes in those worlds. Right now, the historians and the astrophysicists are totally separated, and their fields seemingly have nothing to do with one another, but in fact, they can bond together on some level.

For example, let's take Professor A (who specializes in Ancient Roman history) and Professor B (who deals with quantum physics). Professor A may be studying any of the Punic Wars (between Rome and Carthage) and postulates some theories about what if Carthage, not Rome, had overall been victorious in the Punic Wars. Meanwhile, down the hall, Professor B is conducting research on how quantum physics results in a given universe splitting up into two daughter universes from a single event. These professors can meet together and discuss their results, so that maybe, a battle in the Punic Wars could be shoehorned into Professor B's quantum theory. The history could then be told such that in one daughter universe, like ours, the Romans beat the Carthaginians, and in the other daughter universe, the Carthaginians won.

All this collaboration between historians and astrophysicists would have the potential to spawn a whole new discipline devoted solely to placing alternate or virtual histories in appropriate parallel universes. As I have said before, such what-if histories would be stripped of much fiction and would be set in the reality proposed by the physicists. Maybe this discipline could be called historical astrophysics, or parallel history - anything but "what if" or "counterfactual".

On a related note, a union of alternate history and parallel universe astronomy/physics would be very fruitful for both parties, considering that they're both speculative areas. One of them speculates what history would have been like in a given place had an event resulted in something different than what we actually experienced, and the other speculates that there is more to the cosmos than just our universe. (Of course, there is also science fiction, but that kind of speculation is more fictional and less factual than what-if history and parallel universes.) On a normal basis, at least parallel universes are very often thought of as science fiction, and even alternate history sometimes (e.g. Harry Turtledove). But I am here to say that they can be science fact. If you combine those speculative areas, what you get is a super-speculation!

Another thing I wanted to say is that the "alternate history as parallel universe" theory can be a valuable addition to the argument in support of virtual history advanced by Niall Ferguson in his book Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals. In that book, in the beginning chapter, Ferguson talks about how, for example, virtual history can shed incredible light upon history as we, in our universe, know it. He also criticizes those who dismiss alternate history as a "parlour game", as E.H. Carr would put it, or otherwise irrelevant. I highly think that Ferguson should have added that alternate history is the history that has happened in other universes, away from our own. So if alternate history is what may go on in other universes, and if alternate history the way we explore it now (i.e. mainly what-if scenarios), they are surely not parlour games or wild fantasies!

1 comment: