Besides being very engaging for those of us who like to stretch and expand our minds, contemplating concepts of time and space is a very powerful spiritual practice as it’s being taught by a Tantric text, called Vijnana Bhairava Tantra. Linear time and fixed locality are the limitations that keep us from accessing the God’s superpowers of omnitemporality and omnipresence. I guess parallel universes aren’t exactly a direct match to omnipresence, but it explores an aspect of it.
A lot of the modern physics discoveries are about non-linearity of time, and the possibility of existence of parallel universes (multiverse). Finally the science is starting to catch up with the science fiction.
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The concept of parallel universes is rather simple. Take yourself exactly as you are at this moment. Now imagine that there is another universe where you’re slightly taller, and another, where you’re even taller, and so on. Another universe where you are slightly shorter, and in another, even more so. Now take each of your body parts, the health of your organs, your smarts, etc., and create a new universe where everything else is the same except that one is slightly different. You have just visualized a pretty big number of universes in your mind.
Next, imagine yourself standing at the cross-road – take a random decision and let’s say you turned left. Imagine another universe, where you turned right, another, where you went straight, another, where you went backwards and yet another, where you just can’t decide how to proceed and so you just stand still. Apply this to every time in your life you have to make a choice. Here we end up with a finite number of choices since your life span is limited and so is the number of choices. But it’s a helluva lot of choices.
Now, consider how many sentient and insentient beings there are in this world at any given moment and multiply that number by the number of variations created in the previous two paragraphs. Now you can tell the numbers start to become infinitely large.
Finally, modern science tells us that there is an infinite number of galaxies out there, with their own suns and planets like ours – and this is just in our universe.
Science fiction works often like to play with the concept of pulling different versions of the main characters from different parallel universes and making things delightfully complicated.
I remember one of my Tantra teachers, while teaching the concept of parallel universes, introduced a very interesting proposition, explaining how Jesus could have possibly made the lame walk and the dead alive. After all, if someone has been lame all their life, even if Jesus could cure their physical illness, their muscles would need years of rehabilitation (physio!) before they could walk. So his explanation was very simple — Jesus simply swapped the present lame or dead person, with their parallel universe copy where they are not lame or dead. What a chutzpa!
I find it interesting that the writers don’t encounter any spacial paradoxes related to multiverses, unlike those who tinker with the concept of time travel, where the paradoxes are plentiful. I suppose this is because it’s much easier for us to imagine how time travel can impact our life.
So here are some masterpieces , exploring the concept of parallel universes, that I have enjoyed and would recommend to you.
- The G.O.D. Inc Trilogy (1987-1989) by Jack L. Chalker. Someone discovers that there are parallel universes of this Earth, each a bit different from the other, including speed of the time, events, etc. They build a machinery to move between different universes and build a G.O.D. Inc. company to exclusively control it. The books don’t go much into exploring the idea of the differences between various versions of this earth, but concentrates on a detective work of how people try to manipulate and take advantage of the situation. The trilogy explores the issue with the same but slightly different individuals meeting each other.
A lot of other of Jack L. Chalker’s works involve parallel universes/alternate realities. I enjoyed reading almost all of his works.
The Disappearance (1951) by Philip Wylie. This novel is about what happens when everyone wakes up one day and finds that all members of the opposite sex are missing (all the men have to get along without women, and vice versa). The book delves into the double standards between men and women that existed prior the woman’s movement of the 1970s, exploring the nature of the relationship between men and women and the issues of women’s rights and homosexuality.
- Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974) by Philip K. Dick. A parallel universe where all is the same but where the main character doesn’t exist.
I haven’t found any yet that really explore parallel universes, where one shifts in and out of several universes, not just finding himself in an alternate universe. Perhaps you can help.
- The Farnsworth Paradox (Season 4 Episode 15 of Futurama) (Animated). The Planet Express crew goes to a parallel universe made accessible by Professor Farnsworth’s latest experiment.
- Sliders (1995–2000). A boy genius and his comrades travel to different parallel universes, trying to find their way back home.
- Rick and Morty (2013-) (Animated). The exploits of a super scientist and his not-so-bright grandson, traveling back and forth in time and parallel universes.
These are like parallel universes, but happening within the current universe, often in a nested fashion. Akin to when you dream that you dream that you dream…, or you wake up from a dream, but this is actually a dream of you waking up… and you no longer know which one is the reality and which one is the dream.
- OtherLife (2017) [IMDB] A virtual reality where time moves a a very different speed.
- Existenz (1999) [IMDB] A virtual reality that invokes another virtual reality from within itself.
- Inception (2010) [IMDB] A stacked dream within a dream consciousness manipulation.
- Infinity Chamber (2016) [IMDB] A man trapped in an automated prison must outsmart a computer in order to escape.
Many use the terms “parallel universes” and “alternate universes” interchangeably, but to me an “alternate universe” is an exploration of a very different reality, whereas “parallel universes” are those with slight or almost imperceptible variation of the normal universe as described at the beginning of this article. I think it’s much easier to come up with an idea of a very different world. It requires a much more refined imagination to come up with a subtle or peculiar variation to our normal world. It’s much easier to relate to a slightly different, yet familiar world. It perhaps helps us to transform and make the familiar world a better place to be in. An alternate universe, which usually represents a far removed reality, is fun to imagine, but it’s very difficult for it to have an impact on our daily reality, IMHO.
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871) by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson). These masterpieces require no description.
- Mither Mages Trilogy (2011-2015) by Orson Scott Card. Three universes, only one of which is populated by humans.
- The Man In The High Castle (1962) by Philip K. Dick. Alternate history and alternate parallel universe.
Here are good movies exploring alternate universes:
- Alice in Wonderland (1951). Probably the most famous alternate universe of all. Of course make sure to read the original.
- Being John Malkovich (1999) . A portal to John Malkovich’s head.
- The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). A movie can have its own alive universe.
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). A cartoon universe.
- Jumanji (1995). Don’t let the scary universe come into yours!
- The Thirteenth Floor (1999). Parallel universe replicating the 30s.
- MirrorMask (2005). Escape world with fantastic creatures.
- Logan’s Run (1976). Life is terminated at 30 whether you want it or not.
- In Time (2011). In this universe the time is a commodity that one could trade and thus making one life’s duration very short or infinitely long.
- Run Lola Run (1998). One of my favorite movies with 3 alternative endings.
- Mr. Nobody (2009). Anything is possible, and one’s destiny is unset.
- Possible Worlds (2000). A man lives in parallel worlds, falling in love with the same woman, while the police hunt down a serial killer who steals brains.
- Repeat Performance (1947) [IMDB]. A woman kills her husband and then wishes to fix things by reliving the last year.
- The Man In The High Castle (2015– ). Alternate history and alternate parallel universe.
Also see wikipedia’s extensive list of fiction employing parallel universes.
While I’m yet to encounter any astonishing fiction works on omnitemporality, i.e. where one can perceive all of time at once, there are lots of magnificent works that explore the concept of time travel and its paradoxes. Here is modest list of suggestions that that I have enjoyed and would recommend to you:
The Overlords of War (1970) by Gerard Klein. Time-travel, aliens, war & why we fight it. George Corson, earthman, is sent on secret mission to end a long smoldering war with the birdlike inhabitants of the planet, Uria, 6000 years in the future, only to be used as a pawn by powerful god-like beings. Is there such a thing as the ultimate weapon? Can war be ended once & for all? Is the destruction of the universe necessary to achieve peace? The original French title is “Les Seigneurs de la Guerre”.
The End of Eternity (1971) by Isaac Asimov. Andrew Harlan is an Eternal, a man whose job it is to range through past and present Centuries, monitoring and, where necessary, altering Time’s myriad cause-and-effect relationships. But when Harlan meets and falls for a non-Eternal woman, he seeks to use the awesome powers and techniques of the Eternals to twist time for his own purposes, so that he and his love can survive together.
Time Cursor (2010) by John David Krygelski. Dealing with time travel paradoxes, while trying to prevent deaths and crimes, and a bit of parallel universes talk.
- Replay (1998) by Ken Grimwood. A “Groundhog day”-like story, spanning over decades, with a twist.
- Somewhere in Time (1980) [IMDB]. Time travel with the power of self-suggestion alone!
- Back to the Future Trilogy (1985-1990) [IMDB]. Probably one of the best time travel movies.
- The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009) [IMDB]. Try to have a relationship when you’re affected by involuntarily time travel.
- Predestination (2014) [IMDB]. A timecop tale.
- The Butterfly Effect (2004) [IMDB]. Exploring one of the main most likely effects of time travel.
- The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) [IMDB]. A Japanese anime on how time travel aids a teenager in her daily life.
- Peut-être / Maybe (1999) [IMDB]. A heart touching French-made movie, dealing with a time portal into the future.
- Looper (2012) [IMDB]. Assassinations in time.
- The Time Machine (1960) [IMDB]. H. G. Wells’ classic.
- Twelve Monkeys (1995) [IMDB]. Traveling back in time to prevent a future disaster.
- About Time (2013) [IMDB]. Have the time machine, will travel.
- Synchronicity (2015) [IMDB]. A physicist who invents a time machine must travel back to the past…
- Timecrimes (2007) [IMDB]. A series of disasters of unforeseeable consequences due to time travel.
- Click (2006) [IMDB]. Not so much time travel, but time fast-forward with some interesting consequences.
- Time Lapse (2014) [IMDB]. A mysterious machine that takes pictures twenty-four hours into the future is found and is used for personal gain, until disturbing and dangerous images begin to develop.
- Timeline (2003) [IMDB]. 21 century archaeologists are trapped in 14th century France.
- Timecop (1994) [IMDB]. Must prevent a politician from changing the past to control the future.
- 12 Monkeys (2015– ) [IMDB]. Traveling back in time to prevent a future disaster.
- Steins;Gate (2011– ) [IMDB]. Anime. A group of students travels in time to stop evil.
- Sapphire & Steel (1979–1982) [IMDB]. Evil forces try to disrupt the universe’s timeline.
- 11.22.63 (2016) [IMDB]. A high school teacher travels back in time to prevent John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
- Timeless (2016– ) [IMDB]. An unlikely trio travel through time in order to battle unknown criminals and protect history as we know it.
- The Department of Time (El ministerio del tiempo) (2015– ) [IMDB]. 3 persons from different centuries cooperate to keep the history unchanged.
Time Loop Movies
In these movies the characters get to re-live the same period of their life again and again, sometimes a day, sometimes just a few minutes of it.
- Groundhog Day (1993) [IMDB]. The classic – a model for all time loop movies since. Another chance to love.
- Edge of Tomorrow (2014) [IMDB]. Another time loop in war with aliens.
- Source Code (2011) [IMDB]. A time loop used to find and disarm a bomb on a train.
- ARQ (2016) [IMDB]. Using a time loop to overcome armored raiders.
- Before I Fall (2017) [IMDB]. Reliving the last day of her life a teenager untangles the mystery around her death and discovers everything she’s losing.
- Cruel & Unusual (2014) [IMDB]. Wrongly condemned for killing his wife, a man finds himself in a mysterious institution where he is sentenced to relive her death for eternity. I can’t help but think of “Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006) [IMDB]” in this context.
- 12:01 PM (1990) [IMDB]. A man is stuck living his life in the same 59 minute time frame.
Time Loop TV Series
- Day Break (2006) [IMDB]. A detective on the run, same day all over again.
- Re: Zero – Starting Life in Another World (2016) [IMDB]. Anime. A very interesting storyline with multiple timeloops. Modeled after computer game players, who intermittently save the state of the game, and roll back to it, when their character dies in the game, so that they won’t need to start the game from the very beginning.
Also see wikipedia’s extensive list of time travel works of fiction.
Lives of Immortals
These are stories of those few who have been living much longer than us normal humans. It seems that the main character of this genre is vampires, but occasionally we find other unusual characters. For vampires it’s relatively easy, since they usually don’t live amongst people, but for non-vampires it’s very difficult to conceal their lack of aging and thus usually forces them to move all the time and moving is the least of their troubles. So in the lists below I skipped vampire movies since they don’t really help us experience how to be an immortal amongst people, with exception to scenarios where vampires blend into the human society.
- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. A masterpiece of storytelling.
- Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) [IMDB]. Love amongs vampires. Tilda Swinton at her best!
- Orlando (1992) [IMDB]. A man moves through several centuries of British history, experiencing a variety of lives and relationships along the way, and even changing sex. Tilda Swinton once more!
- The Man from Earth (2007) [IMDB]. You must not know what the movie is about before you watch it – a strikingly powerful movie.
- The Age of Adaline (2015) [IMDB]. A woman becomes ageless after an accident.
- The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) [IMDB] and a remake: Dorian Gray (2009) [IMDB]. A man who doesn’t age, but a painting of him does.
- Tuck Everlasting (2002) [IMDB]. A young woman meets and falls in love with a young man who is part of a family of immortals.
- Zardoz (1974) [IMDB]. A savage enters into a secret abode of bored immortal humans, many of which want to die but cannot.
- Highlander (1992–1998) [IMDB]. Immortals and their struggles in the modern society.
- New Amsterdam (2008) [IMDB]. A New York homicide detective is cursed with immortality.
I will be updating this article as I find good additions to the above lists. Thank you all who helped me with suggestions when I first posted this article on FB.
If you have recommendations on good fiction books and movies on time travel and parallel universes please share. Thank you.
Tags: multiverse, parallel universes, time travel
Murray Leinster ‘s story ” Sidewise in Time ” (1934), showing different parts of the Earth somehow occupied by different parallel universes, was influential in science fiction.