Googolplex explores the ramifications of the existence of the multiverse. If near-infinite universes are possible, what does that mean for each of us? If we’re nothing more than one of a number of possible arrangements of particles, all playing out in parallel, what does this say for free will, and for love?
Author K.G. Johansson examines these questions through the eyes of Jack, a colonist travelling to settle the distant world of Shylock. Jack develops a surprisingly intense desire for another colonist. However, once in a relationship, he finds he is not happy, and has nagging feelings that there is something incomplete and unfulfilling about their union. He begins to suspect that he has purposefully hidden something from his own past from himself, and returns to his memory store on Earth to find out what he has lost.
As the book unfolds, we learn that the Earth went through a period of upheaval where it seemed mankind would be extinguished. Before humanity was destroyed it was visited by the multis, beings from other universes that taught humans how to manipulate their own DNA to save themselves. Eventually, they teach Jack to travel the mulitverse.
From this, Johansson uses Jack as a vehicle to explore the passion and obsession of love lost. Why do we make the choices we do? If we could remove part of our memories, would we behave as we do now? What would our lives be like if only we had acted slightly differently at a key moment in the past? Late-night dormitory discussions to be sure, but Googolplex reads like a smooth, languid river with unstoppable forward motion and I found myself completely swept up. As Jack explores his stored memories, the reader experiences his past in the exact same way as Jack does. I found myself becoming highly involved with his story, hoping desperately for him to find what he seeks. And, in doing so, I was exposed to a significant amount of science, philosophy, and metaphysics.
Johansson explains the multiverse as all possible moments existing side-by-side in space and time. In one example, he suggests there are billions of snapshots of 1592 in which Shakespeare had already seen his first plays performed, and as many or more where Shakespeare hadn’t managed to write anything. This resolves paradoxes of time travel, in that a modern traveler bringing a copy of Shakespeare’s plays to him in the 16th century is simply visiting a different multiverse where those events, while unlikely, are required as one of the possible arrangements of all particles in the near-infinite multiverse.
Is there free will? If eighty percent of all editions of Jack act in a certain way, does this indicate a desire on his part, or do they just represent the outcome of all the possible arrangements of particles?
As Jack continued his quest, I found myself thinking about something I had read recently concerning free will; how the unconscious mind has been shown to telegraph a decision before the conscious mind is aware that a decision has been made. I was shocked to stumble upon a discussion of this very research where Jack is told, “Everything that happens, everything that makes you who you are, is caused by feedback and interference, in this world and others.” Jack’s struggle to determine what this means for him and his choices led to much personal self-reflection whenever I was able to take a break from reading.
Googolplex is the breed of science fiction that uses science to explore our humanity. It is not always an easy read, but it is incredibly rewarding and a good catalyst for self-examination and philosophical reflection. At a mere $0.99 for the Kindle edition, I highly encourage you to grab a copy, sit back, and enjoy the ride.
Along with a few billion of your alternate selves.
Disclosure: GeekDad was provided with a review copy of Googolplex in this and almost certainly billions of other universes.