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Causes and Effects

Bud Sparhawk has published two print novels Distant Seas and Vixen and has two print collections, Sam Boone:Front to Back and Dancing with Dragons. He has three e-Novels and several collections available through Amazon and other channels.

Bud's short stories have appeared frequently in Analog Fact/Fiction, less so in Asimov's, as well as in six Defending the Future and other anthologies. A complete bibliography can be found at: budsparhawk.com. He also writes an occasional blog on the pain of writing at budsparhawk.blogspot.com.

"The future," the mathematician intoned, "is both unknown and unknowable," which seemed an interesting contention at the time, somewhere near the end of the meal, when all were pleasantly sated and ready for one of their usual debates. "There are, after all, a huge number of variables involved in any outcome."
The group, a military engineer, two mathematicians, a physicist, and a philosopher had met at this beir stuben every month to share a pleasant meal, frothy beer, and conversation. Their political member had demurred, begging other pressing issues, as usual.
"An interesting conceit," the engineer replied. "But flawed. Any future event must have a cause and, since there are only a few relevant factors involved, we can certainly predict what will happen." He sat back with a self-satisfied look.
"Of course, that only applies on the macro scale,' the philosopher said. " Our physicist here can probably think of a dozen reasons that wouldn't apply on the quantum level."
The physicist threw back his head and chuckled. "He also forgot that chaos theory says that seemingly unrelated factors can cascade into any given event. The number of past events need not be large at all."
"Besides, the number of factors has to be both finite and countable," the other mathematician countered. "There can't be an infinite number of variables."
"Naturally," the engineer interrupted, "once one knows all the variables and their relationships, you can predict with near certainty what will happen. That is why we've prevailed over our enemies."
"Isn't there some theory that disproves the wisdom of such certainty?" the philosopher suggested.
The engineer looked suspiciously at him. "I hope you aren't denying the inevitability of our country's destiny."
As the philosopher blanched, the first mathematician cleared her throat. "Mathematically speaking we're talking about near certainty, which makes it a probabilistic exercise. Look here." She scribbled five lines emanating from a single point on the tabletop and tapped on the centerline she. "Let's assume that, for any discrete event, there is a pencil of outcomes that differ only by their probability of occurrence. This line," she indicated the center one, "represents the most probable outcome. These other lines are lower probability outcomes that could stem from the same event." She drew another point with six more lines, one of which connected it to the original point. "See here, now let's suppose that the original event is not on the centerline--the most probable line--of this second point, making this event one sixth of the probability of the first outcome's probability."
The physicist touched the centerline of the first point. "Then this line might represent the six of us leaving. Would the other lines be the probability of us doing so, but in a different order?"
"That's too limited a view," she replied. "Think instead that the first event might be invitations to different groups." She then touched the second point, "now only this connecting line contains our group. See, on these other lines I could replace you, or any of the others, with someone else."
"Like our political maven not being here tonight." A ripple of amusement went through the group: He never made the meetings.
"Nonsense," the engineer argued. "Since that line came from our original dinner, that would collapse the probabilities to this group alone. I can't see how it could be anything else."
The mathematician smiled. "But from a mathematical perspective, they are all possible and, if multiple alternate universes concepts apply to this exercise, we theoretically could very well exist in a sea of equally possible universes, universes without counting, universes that branch to multiply infinitely."
"And in all our glorious vision will prevail," the engineer declared as he slammed the table.
"There is another aspect no one has mentioned," the physicist suggested in the sudden silence that followed the engineer's outburst. "These concepts, the math and this diagram," he indicated the crude drawings, "Don't apply only to the future."
The philosopher had recovered his composure and, looking nervously at the engineer, said: "Now that is an interesting statement. Go on, please."
"Sure." The physicist drew a dozen additional pencils of lines and points and connected each to one other. "Consider that our line can just as easily be the result of alternate pasts--that you could, given sufficient sequences of improbable events, bring about this gathering from a nearly infinite number of initial states.
"The group of us meeting here, for example, might equally stem from having lost the war, the demise of airships, the invention of the radio, or even the arrival of aliens who turned out to be communists." That last drew a ripple of laughter from the group.
The engineer cleared his throat. "Come on, are you seriously contending that we could exist in a probabilistic sea that has both an infinite number of futures and pasts? I seriously doubt how this gathering," he swept his eyes to take in the others, "could equally result from any of those ridiculous events."
The physicist smiled weakly. "Of course," he emphasized the words to be perfectly clear as to his political leanings, "Those are all highly improbable, as we all know, but consider that this now, this present, might be on the extreme end of some past series of events but in the high probability center of others. After all when we hypothetically deal with an infinity of pasts and futures all things could be imagined as possible."
The big clock on the mantle struck ten.
"Das Unmogliche kann nicht bewiesen warden," the mathematician intoned. "We can debate all evening but never be able to prove the impossible. Just the same, the time has come for us to part. Thank you friends. This has been a most interesting and informative discussion."
The engineer glanced at the clock. "I agree, most interesting. Now, I have to catch the next dirigible to Berlin. I have a meeting regarding modifications to Herr Volker's Schiff-Rakete proposal."
"Ah, the rocket ship idea," the physicist said. "Will that succeed, do you think?"
The engineer smiled. "That future is certain. We will be on the moon by 1970, I guarantee it." Saying that, he rose, straightened his black uniform, raised a palm in salute, and marched out the door. They could hear the clicking of his boots fading into the night.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

Author Comments

This idea came about during a lecture on causality where the focus was entirely on the multiple universe theory that every decision spins off a new universe containing each possible consequence. If that was true, I thought, every NOW would be the result of earlier branchings and, in all probability, resulted from multiple decisions.

- Bud Sparhawk
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