Reading a book recently about a grief-stricken young boy who goes searching for his dead mother, halfway through it I found myself feeling positively giddy.
Worse, the heart-wrenching plot line was in a children’s book!
Here’s the thing. “The Many Worlds of Albie Bright” by Christopher Edge—published last year—manages to be, in one reviewer’s words, “a book with a big brain, big laughs and a big, big heart.” It happens also to be a work that seamlessly, beautifully, opens children to the next stage in our evolution. It stretches their minds. Apart from the whimsy of how Albie gets to these universes, what is now science fiction could in the not-so-distant future become the stuff of real life. Parallel universes are where Albie goes looking for the mother he’s recently lost. Those he visits align in quantum physics with the ‘Many Worlds Interpretation.”
In this theory: “there are an infinite number of parallel universes, each one filled with a copy of you, living an identical life, but with one tiny change where a different choice has been made. Scientists working at the Large Hadron Collider in CERN think their experiments might even be able to detect whether these parallel universes exist by creating nano black holes.”
The foundation on which this story rests is intended for an audience best suited to absorbing, accepting, and putting to good use such discoveries. For my money, the most open-minded audience would be kids. Albert Einstein lamented that “common sense is nothing more than a deposit of prejudices laid down in the mind before you reach eighteen.” Some would argue that he’d have been more accurate if he’d suggested—before the age of ten. After this, we become closed-minded; that is, we close the door on infinite possibilities.
The brilliant scientist, Max Planck put it this way: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. (Emphasis mine.)
It’s always been this way. Consider that Isaac Newton—who coined the word spectrum—discovered that light showed up in rainbow colors because the prism bent the light shining through it. No mystery to most elementary students today. But when this seventeenth century scientist presented his proofs to the Royal Society, the Curator of Experiments dismissed Newton’s discovery as nonsense. Angry letters to the society did nothing, prompting Newton to have little to do with the membership for many years. It wasn’t until the death of the one who had so belittled the young scientist’s proofs about the nature of light, Robert Hooke, that, at last, Newton published his findings and shared the discovery with the world.
It irked Albert Einstein to no end that he never received the Nobel Prize for his mind-blowing theory of relativity (E=mc2), despite an existing proof. That so many physicists at the time remained unconvinced that this monumental work deserved the accolade also distanced him from his colleagues. At a lecture once by a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, I recall him saying that only one other person was able to wrap his mind around Einstein’s theory in the year following his discovery, and precious few could do so for a good number of years to come.
Inventor, physicist, engineer, and futurist, Nikola Tesla—“the man who invented the twentieth century”—was more realistic. He observed: “The scientific man [sic] does not aim at an immediate result. He does not expect that his advanced ideas will be readily taken up. His work is like that of the planter—for the future. His duty is to lay the foundation for those who are to come, and point the way.”
Madeleine L’Engle pointed the way in 1959 when she wrote “A Wrinkle in Time,” not only to shine a light on the dangers of conformity, the power of love, and a complex, courageous character who happened to be a girl—a rarity in children’s literature at the time—but to integrate ideas from the “new physics” about tesseracts, the fourth and fifth dimensions, wrinkles in time. Publishers hated the manuscript. Every firm rejected it. After a couple of years of nonstop rejection, she finally quit submitting it. Without question, it was a story that made greater intellectual and emotional demands than usual on young readers. Apparently, even more so on adult ones.
Sometime later, a friend suggested she send her manuscript to one more publisher, John Farrar. And though a trusted reader told him, “I think this is the worst book I have ever read,” Farrar honored his intuition and risked publishing it. In 1962, it won the most important award in children’s literature, the Newbery Medal. A member of the Newbery committee celebrated “the almost universal reaction of children,” “wanting to talk about it to each other and to elders” and their “deep desire to understand as well as to enjoy” the book.
Since its publication, the book has sold more than ten million copies, and it’s been turned into a graphic novel, an opera, and two films, one based on the book, currently in theaters. L’Engle famously wrote: “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” Amen, sister.
Tesla once said, “The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of existence.” Interestingly, both science and spirituality, long disparate and divided, seem to be on a path of convergence as the study of the non-physical gains precedence. Who says that other realms of experience, parallel universes, alternate realities can’t exist; not to mention other ways than physical ones to discern presence or consciousness, for communicating with same?
In junior high school, I had a very knowledgeable science teacher who ordered subscriptions to the “Scientific American” for every student in his classes, so eager was he to make all more enlightened. I’ve never forgotten the day the class whiz kid asked him the time he estimated it would take before humans sent a rocket into space. “Never!” was his immediate answer because, he informed us, no metal or other material could survive the fiery re-entry. Ten years later a human was walking on the moon.
Recently I heard a third grader musing about simultaneous alternate realities in which he might be the age of five or eighty, might even be a pig. A pig? I slammed the door on that possibility pretty fast, then reminded myself of this animal’s intelligence and feral pigs’ existence in the wild. Ha! Why not?
My faith lies in the spaciousness of mind that children bring to the unknown, to the future, whether you and I get to be a part of it or not. I’ll gladly pass the torch on to them.
*Einstein’s Nobel Prize would be given for the photoelectric effect, a phenomenon in which electrons are emitted from a metal sheet only under certain illuminations which he’d published in 1905. As one scientist noted, “to many, and to Einstein himself, this felt like a slap in the face.”