“Possible Worlds” by John Mighton is a very interesting play. It focuses on Complex scientific theories but presents them in a way that is very entertaining to watch. Yet despite educating its
audience about the marvels of science it also discusses the problems of scientific advancement. The
themes presented are similar to other popular works of fiction in both North America and Japan. Its themes are also very relevant to issues going on in our modern world.
The play jumps back and forth constantly between the main characters George, Joyce and two murder detectives. Throughout the play we see variations of these characters living in different worlds. In one world Joyce is a teacher, in another she’s a neuroscientist and in one world she’s a stockbroker. The play does this to reflect George’s ability to travel between different worlds. The idea that there are multiple universes all of which have minor differences between them is actually a real theory in quantum physics called “The many worlds theory ”. For those who do not know the theory states parallel universes, worlds similar to our own are possible. However like the play these worlds have various differences between the two. In one world instead of typing this blog post I could be playing soccer, drawing a picture etc, the possibilities are endless. It may sound a little far fetched but it is a theory taken very seriously by physicists. The Playwright John Mighton holds a PH.D in mathematics and a master degree in philosophy so his writings in “Possible Worlds” are based on these very real theories. By using real physics instead of technobabble commonly found in science fiction Mighton creates a play that both educates and entertains its audience, which is something very little plays or media in general can accomplish.
“Possible Worlds” isn’t the only story to use advanced scientific methods and philosophy as a key part of its plot and characters, the graphic novel “Watchmen” also does this. “Watchmen” is one of the most critically acclaimed graphic novels of all time and is listed in Time magazines 100 best novels. The story is noted for its gritty realism making it very different from most superhero comic books. Similar to how “Possible Worlds” jumps between George’s story and the story of the two murder detectives, the story in “Watchmen” keeps changing perspective and eras in time. “Possible Worlds” jumps between these worlds to reflect the main character George who can travel between them, “Watchmen” does this to reflect the mental state of the character Dr. Manhattan and how he views time. Both works are based on real life mathematics and physics with “Possible Worlds” focusing on the “Many world’s theory” many of Dr. Manhattan’s abilities are based off Albert Einstein’s view of time. “There is no future, there is no past do you see? Time is simultaneous, an intricately structured jewel that humans insist on viewing one edge at a time, when the whole design is visible in every way”- Dr. Manhattan (Chapter 9 page 6). “Physicists believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.” –Albert Einstein. Both “Possible Worlds” and “Watchmen” use complex science and philosophy to create stories that talk up to their audience by presenting them in a creative narratively rich way.
While “Possible Worlds” explores the wonders of science and it also touches on the problem of scientific advancement. “Possible Worlds” looks at the progression of neuroscience, the study of the brain and how it works. In the play Neuroscientist Pensfield studies brains he keeps in jars hooked up to machines. His lab is reminiscent of something from an old monster movie like “Frankenstein”. Seeing all the brains floating in glass jars is very uncomfortable. The problem of scientific advancement is a topic that is not normally seen in modern-day pop culture. One of the few exceptions is the Japanese animated series “Fullmetal Alchemist” In the series alchemy is used as a metaphor for science. The main character Edward and Alphonse Elric conduct in an alchemy experiment to try and bring back their mother but results in Edward losing his leg and Alphonse losing his body. The two brothers then journey across the world to learn the secrets of alchemy. At one point the boys meet Shou Tucker, an alchemist who claims to have successfully created a chimera (combined 2 animals into a new hybrid) that can understand and speak the human language. However when the two explore his research they are horrified to learn that Tucker’s creation were made by using his own family members as test subjects. In a scene that still makes fans cringe the boys discover that his latest chimera was the result of combining his own daughter and dog together. Tucker replies with “ This is how we progress, human experimentation is necessary step. I would think a scientist would understand”-Fullmetal alchemist Brotherhood Episode 4 This bears striking resemblance to Scene 5 of “Possible Worlds” where Pensfield gives a speech to the murder detectives who have come to question his work. “The question is why do we have imaginations? A rat can only imagine so much. It is limited by the structure of its brain. Creatures like us that can anticipate possible futures and make contingency plans have an evolutionary advantage. We’d be foolish not to use our imaginations, not to investigate every possible fact.”- “Possible Worlds” second edition pg. 27.
Both “Fullmetal Alchemist” and “Possible Worlds” look into the problems of scientific progression, specifically the compromising of ethics that research requires.
It is not just in television shows where scientific advancement is becoming an issue. In the current world we live in the problem of science specifically neuroscience is an issue for many people who consider themselves spiritual. For many the idea of a soul is paramount to the foundation of spirituality and religious belief. Yet as scientists like Pensifeld in “Possible Worlds” continue to study how the brain works concepts like imagination and love become are reduced to nothing more than brain movements and chemicals. Writer Andrew Sullivan has written a short blog post about this and it is an issue that will continue so long as the study of neuroscience increases.
Even scientists themselves are growing concerned with advancements in science. In an interview with the BBC last year famed physicist Stephen Hawking expressed concerns over the improvement of computers and artificial intelligence. “I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” – Stephen Hawking Dec 2nd 2014.
“Possible Worlds” will be playing at Stratford from July 1st to Sept 19th.