Tuesday, May 04, 2010

It's not the same on paper

The Last Psychiatrist graced us with The Copenhagen Interpretation of Lost recently. If you don't know who TLP is, he/she is a blogger who psychoanalyzes popular culture and, occasionally, the people who make the news.

If, like me, you didn't know what the Copenhagen interpretation was, I will greatly oversimplify it for you: every item out there has a set number of places it could be right now. If you actually measure the item, the possibilities of its location are immediately shrunk by the act of measuring.

Um... okay. So perception creates reality?

The Last Psychiatrist applies this notion to Lost, which has parallel universes. Confession: I've never seen Lost, but my previous experience with the Chronicles of Amber has made me familiar with parallel universes.

In this case, all possibilities exist before you (to varying probabilities), but once a selection has been made, all other choices are obliterated. Reality becomes a series of successive obliterations of potential realities. Just like middle age!
The point, for Lost, is that by having Desmond, Charlie, Jack, et al become aware of this other universe (e.g. Desmond's flash of Charlie drowning in the car) they are not jumping to the other universe, but in fact obliterating the one they are in, in favor of the other (Copenhagen interpretation.) This makes Locke/Smoke Monster's desire to leave the island, and the feared consequences ("everything will cease to be") more accurate. Locke isn't just changing universes, he is causing that one to obliterate.

Comparing it to middle age was very cold, but also very accurate. The older you get, the more choices you make. The more choices you make, the narrower your options are in the future. That's not entirely bad, by the way. You can cut down on a lot of bad outcomes through good planning and self-care.

Middle age, though, really seems to be when people start noticing the limitations on their future. Turning thirty is all about taking that 'last chance' with your youthful dreams. Turning fifty is more like getting a Triptik from AAA (showing my age with that reference, too!) showing where your future trouble spots are on the Highway of Life: You're really fat and have been for a while. Better watch that blood sugar... Your parents had cataracts. Squinting a lot lately? Your work history is clerical, and your degree is in journalism. You're probably not going to get a job in top administration anywhere, ever, especially since ageism is rampant and you're part of the wrong profile.

Oh, and you will die. You're just trying to control when, how, and what your circumstances will be.

I find the notion interesting, though, and think that writing fiction is an equally good example of the Copenhagen interpretation. When the story is still in your head, it is lovely and numinous - or evil and dastardly, for horror and mystery writers. Once you begin writing things down, though, concretizing those details necessary to creating a story, it comes thudding to earth. You have to name characters. You have to figure out how someone could introduce poison into a hormone patch. If you set the story in a fake town, you have to make up realistic-sounding details. If you set your story in a real town, you have to look up details. And, of course, all this is mere backdrop for the most important question of all: would Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine pay me to publish this?

One point in the writer's favor: Life always ends with death, but acceptance at AHMM still falls in the realm of possibility, no matter how remote that possibility is for some people (I won't name names). Maybe that's why I began seriously writing during the middle of a severe depression. If I felt like dying, what harm could a mere rejection slip inflict? (FYI, I now know the answer to this question.)

Another advantage: unlike life, 'past events' are malleable in a story... until it is published. You can change things around till you 'win'! Once it's in print, of course, it's set. If it's a standalone, no problem. Series character? The facts of the current story will limit certain things for future stories, but hey - it's still published. You're loved, and you win!

The drawback? It's going to be flawed. You brought it to earth, and now it's mortal. Every time you create or recreate the backstory, it limits what is feasible for the characters accordingly. The story will never be as lovely as it felt in your head, because defining it is the sun that burns off the morning mist. And people wonder why writers kill themselves...

We begin our own existence with numinous pictures of what our life will be like. In childhood, all things are possible, even becoming a superhero or a robot. This becomes tempered by the time we reach adolescence. Becoming a rock star or a model is possible, but we have some notion of what's 'unrealistic'. Many years later, we remember these younger times fondly - not necessarily because we had a good childhood or an enjoyable adolescence, but because we remember how wide open to greatness we felt.

Can we recapture that optimism somehow? Or does it only exist in ignorance and inaction? Because those are the only ways to 'beat' the Copenhagen Interpretation, whether in writing or life.