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Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives

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Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives

Cover of Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives, from BBC and PBS Nova.

PBS Nova

The Bottom Line

This documentary demonstrates a powerful juxtaposition of an intimately human tale with the quest to understand the deepest levels of physical reality. As Mark Oliver Everett searches to learn more about his father's groundbreaking work, he learns about the immense impact that Hugh Everett III made on (some of) the physics community.

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Pros

  • Exploration of a fascinating scientific concept - the many worlds interpretation of quantum physics
  • Humanized by the tale of a son searching to connect with his deceased father

Cons

  • Many worlds interpretation is highly controversial, dismissed by many physicists

Description

  • 56 minutes
  • Starring: Mark Oliver Everett, Max Tegmark
  • Originally created for BBC Four, and also run on PBS as part of their NOVA series of documentaries.

Guide Review - Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives

The many worlds interpretation of quantum physics was created by physicist Hugh Everett III in 1957. Facing ridicule for the implications of the theory, he left academia to become a government analyst and consultant. He died suddenly at age 51 of a heart attack, leaving behind two children.

One of those children, Mark Oliver Everett, has since gone on to become frontman for the band the Eels. In this documentary, Mark Oliver Everett goes on a journey to discovery the scientific legacy created by his father.

In this quest, of course, Everett needs the aid of some physicists and that comes most notably in the form of MIT physics professor and many worlds guru Max Tegmark, who provides impassioned support for Hugh Everett III's ideas and their crucial role in understanding the foundations of quantum physics.

Where the film falls short is in making it clear why the rest of the physics community has not embraced the many worlds interpretation - and, in fact, making it clear that the majority of the physics community likely considers any such question about "foundations" to be something of a waste of time.

However, for the sake of the documentary, that isn't really much of a loss. Everett's search isn't really about understanding with certainty the fundamental nature of quantum physics, so much as understanding what role that search played in his father's life. It is the story of a son trying to come to grips with the realization that his broken father was, in fact, at one time (to some) a great visionary. And, in that respect, the documentary tells a powerful story with science as the backdrop.

And, along the way, you learn some interesting science, too.

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