I’m not learned enough in the sciences to genuinely understand the concept of “parallel universes” as put forth in theoretical physics, but I read enough in the popular scientific media to appreciate it. It occurs to me that we all live in parallel universes.
Let me call them the “chronoverse” and the “neuroverse.” The chronoverse is the world of brute reality, of time and space as we ordinarily experience them. Time moves on. We age. We live in one place, and then another. And then we die and are gone.
But the neuroverse is the universe created by the firing of our synapses and the electrochemical processes of our brains (thus the “neuro”). The neuroverse is the world of imagination and desire, memory and possibility, the hypothetical and the fantastic. In the neuroverse, I live here in Columbia, but I also live in Quincy, and in my childhood homes. In the neuroverse, I am a child and also a great-grandfather. My parents are living, and my grandparents and great-grandparents, and all my ancestors and descendants, because as I think of them, they are created in those neurochemical sparks.
The chronoverse is unforgiving and linear. The neuroverse is plastic and pluripotential. In the chronoverse, I know who I am and what I’m capable of, but in the neuroverse, these questions are always open, a prospect that is both exciting and scary.
It’s tempting to say that the one is “real” and the other is not, but what is real? What I perceive through the ordinary senses comes to me through neurological filters as well, and is similarly edited before I experience it as normal. Practicality and experience keep me in the chronoverse most of the time, functioning like a regular person. The longing for other lives, for realities beyond what is currently within my grasp, draws me to the neuroverse again and again.
As a fiction writer, I spend a lot of time in my neuroverse. I have lived in the 19th Century for many years now and feel quite at home there. But I think all of us live in our neuroverses a lot. We dream, we fear, we imagine, we remember, we project. All of these states create alternate universes for us to visit, some desirable, some not. Whenever I am creating a scene in a novel, or thinking of a loved one who is not physically present, I am there in my neuroverse just as much as if I were there in “real life.” It’s just happening in a universe that others cannot perceive.