Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives

NOVA aired an excellent program last night, focusing on the story of Mark Oliver Everett, frontman for the indie band EELS. Mark lost his father when he was just 18, and has only recently, now as a man in his 40s, began to come to terms with his father's death.

Mark's father was an academic. A devout atheist. A bit of an eccentric. Somewhat distant from his wife and children. And a brilliant theoretic physicist who invented the theory of parallel universes.

Hugh Everett III first published his theory in a 1957 dissertation. In very simple terms (simple because I am not a scientist) he says that although we only see one outcome from any given event, there are an infinite possibility of outcomes occurring in different, parallel universes. Of course, we know now, his idea is widely popular in mainstream science fiction (Lost, Star Trek, etc.). But his work only began to receive any credit from the scientific community in the late 70s. And Everett died in 82.

The work continues to gain in popularity. Now, as the oldest living son of a man with a legacy of mysterious genius, Mark Everett finds himself in the awkward role of playing caretaker to his father's memory. The NOVA special traced his path to document what he could about his father though surviving family photos, tapes, records, etc., and it recorded his thoughts serving as this strange sort of ambassador for his deceased dad.

In a way, we could say he is having the opposite experience of Christopher Buckley. Mark Everett is being trapped and confined by his father's death, not liberated.

Watch the program online here ... but only for one week. There are also background materials, including writing from Mark Everett and Hugh Everett's original dissertation here.

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