“In 1952, Erwin Schrödinger gave a lecture in which he jocularly warned his audience that what he was about to say might “seem lunatic”. He said that when his equations seemed to describe several different histories, these were “not alternatives”, but all really happened simultaneously.”

The number of universes is not “objective” but, following the work of Andrei Linde and Vitaly Vanchurin in 2010, is partly determined/limited by “our own abilities to distinguish between different universes and to remember our results.” And if this is true, then the ability to manage larger and larger data sets, like contacts, constituents, and demographics, may actually be helping to create more universes whose results we remember by retaining and managing as data

Now, it’s obvious these changes will have profound effects on our personal psychologies, our relationships, and even our minds. It’s a little premature and opportunistic to try to catalog these changes and market our insights about them. For example, when Sir Isaac Newton articulated a theory of gravity, revolutionary at the time, did some other idea-peddler think he might be able to teach a course on how to use gravity to improve your love life or “attract” money. It’s natural that advancements in science, especially in physics, give rise to popularized interpretations of the “metaphysical” implications of physics. But these byproducts aren’t necessarily enjoyable. 

The physics of parallel universes and realities is no exception. This physics is still easing its way into our collective consciousness; and as Marie Laure-Ryan writes, it is “not yet solidly established in our private encyclopedias . . . to suspend momentarily our intuitive belief in a classical cosmology.” It was inevitable that, when the nature of quantum reality and parallel universes developed in the early 2010s, there would emerge a new subcategory of life coaches: quantum life coaches. 

The transposition of quantum theory to life coaching practice and the self-help industry rests on this foundational argument: if reality is unlimited and there are possible worlds where different assumptions or outcomes had completely redefined the parameters of the possible, we can more easily change our lives, feel less fixed and permanent, not feel trapped by our choices or that which is beyond our choice. Thus, one life coach published Quantum Jumps in 2013, asserting “that we exist in an interconnected holographic multiverse in which we literally jump from one parallel universe to another . . . In a moment you can become smarter… more confident… happier… more outgoing… more effective… in better relationships… with more willpower. Gain practical tools to achieve real change in your life, regardless of past history.” Similarly, in Advanced Quantum Jumping Using Water: High Frequency Affinity to Attract Money, Love, Health and Attunement published in 2019, we learn that it’s our “frequency” that makes us “emotionally or financially unstable, overweight, and unhappy . . . all you have to do is tune into a new frequency where you are happy, emotionally, and financially stable, and at a healthy state.” Why? Because “there are these alternate versions of you in the universe where these things are present.” The author likely means alternate universes; but in any case, “the possibilities are endless”, an audacious conclusion based on a very cursory reading of the actual physics.

There is, of course, a tiny kernel of truth here that is, at least in a metaphorical sense, related to the quantum axiom that perception plays a role in shaping reality. Beyond that, though, these books don’t really engage the full paradigmatic implications of quantum reality on, say, personal ethics and relationships. 

A good test for how “wooey” these psycho-populist self-help approaches to quantum reality really are is how much they hype up our “freedom” to transcend material realities. Contemporary physics may be able to get by without a notion of time (thus enabling opportunistic self-help authors to suggest we shouldn’t dwell on the past), but it still retains the notion of causation (thus implying, I would think, that we can still “make mistakes”). To paraphrase a certain controversial theorist of political economy, we can make our history, but we can’t make it any way we please.

So I think there are better spaces to explore ethics, self-concept, and care for others in the quantum paradigm. Here are a couple of thoughts: First, we can critically examine our very strange ideas and applications of risk. For example, we normalize driving cars, an extremely risky act. But if we act “unnaturally” responsibly while driving, as David Pearce writes, being extra careful driving is a way of “minimis[ing] the number of branches [of reality] in which one injures anyone,” even if some injuries are unavoidable. The idea of the multiverse, with each subject’s choices influencing other universes, widely expands our concern for “others.” 

Second is a more historical and justice-oriented interpretation, which begins with an important metaphor: diaspora. In the multiverse, “diaspora” can be seen as a kind of involuntary universe-jumping. Artists from historically oppressed communities, like Stan Squirewell, see the ancestors as “ancient futurist or psycho-mystics” who encoded this universe-jumping. Squirewell’s “aesthetic is in direct lineage (but not limited) to the geometric patterns of West African indigenous peoples such as the Akan and the Ndebele etc. The black protean character that pervades my work is derived from mythological water deities like the Greek god Proteus and the Caribbean water spirit Mami Wata.” Visual artists can see the patterns in mythology, architecture, and other fields, myth becoming code. The coding creates the links; change the coding and we can change the links. The symbolic strategies of oppressed people link them with other oppressed people

So while it’s probably not harmful that people might sell a few books deploying watered-down quantum theory to convince us that we can overcome our personal limits, it’s far richer to consider larger social implications and the potential for new layers of human and ecological solidarity. Thinkers from east to west correctly predicted in the 20th century that the revelations of Heisenberg, Schrodinger and Einstein would inexorably change our ethics and politics. It’s about a lot more than re-imagining ourselves getting that big raise or improving our love lives (even if those might feel very important).