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Back in high school, I loved physics right up until the last part of grade thirteen. Newtonian physics made sense to me. Wave theories made sense. But I started to ask why questions that stumped my teacher. And the closer to relativity theories we got, the harder I found it.

In university, I took one chemistry class. Chemistry was straight forward. Matter cannot be created or destroyed, so in a chemical reaction, you just add things up. If a molecule is divided, all the atoms have to go somewhere. However, as an english student, I ended up in a section for math majors. Fortunately, there were people from my residence in the class. In second term, to calculate certain processes, we had to use natural logarithms. I needed to be taught this.

Again, I ran into trouble. What is natural about using the number 2.718281828459? My friends taught me how to use the formulas without understanding why. That was the last science course I took.

I am still interested. I find string theory attractive. I mean, I had already accepted atoms. I am okay with the idea that all the solid things around me are mostly empty space with the gaps between electrons. So why not argue that all the particles are made of waves. I like waves. But then we get to quantum mechanics, and I get into trouble.

I am okay with quantum entanglement, that particles can remain matched to each other despite distance. But quantum tunneling starts to get beyond what my brain can understand. And then there is the quantum multi-verse theory which argues that all possible outcomes exist. Really? I am enough of a science fiction buff that I am okay with a couple parallel universes. The two Star Trek universes make for great alternative stories. But every possible divergent option existing? At this point, I quit.

I think I don't want it to be true. I think choice matters. I love Robert Frost's poem The Road Less Traveled. It beings, "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,/ and sorry I could not travel both/and be one traveller, long I stood/and looked down one as far as I could/ to where it bent in the undergrowth." There is a moment of regret at the end of the poem where Frost reflects that he thought he would take the second path at some point, but the way one choice affects the next, he doesn't think he'll ever go back.

This is how I think about choices. Not that in some universe I take all the possible choices, but that the one I make will affect where I end up. Not that it matters which tea I choose to drink in the afternoon, but which way I walk down the road in the morning will affect what I see and who I talk to. If I had taken a different direction the other day, I would not have seen three foxes.

There is one thing about Frost's poem that most of us ignore: while he claims that in the future he will argue that he took the road less traveled, in the moment, he declares that the two paths look the same. No one has walked on the newly fallen leaves. Both are equally worn. The sadness in the moment is that he will tell himself in the future that he made the right choice, the courageous less-traveled choice, and that it actually made all the difference.

I hope I don't deceive myself into thinking that I always make the better choice. Seeing racing foxes is not intrinsically good. But I can't undo the fact that I saw them run right past me. At least, the "I" that I know made one choice not both. If there is an "I" that walked the other way, I don't know her.

I guess I have to admit that my relationship to science comes down to what I am happy to accept and what I don't want to be true. I do not want quantum mechanics to predict an infinite number of universes. I want to think that I have to make choices and make them well. Which maybe is why I am a writer and a minister not an astrophysicist.

Cathy Hird lives on the shore of Georgian Bay.




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