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Infinite Worlds

It was the summer of 1990, and I was with two friends, D. and S.,  walking through London, from Camden Town back down along Camden High Street towards the centre of the city. We stopped to wait at a pedestrian crossing for the lights to change — the standard British ‘pelican crossing’, a plain red silhouette of a man standing still.

As usual when waiting for the lights to change, we all watched them impatiently. Eventually they changed, to the normal British green man mid-stride, and we started crossing. As we walked, we kept an eye on the lights to make sure we had time to make it across comfortably.

About half way across the road, there was — quite literally — a ripple in reality, a brief flash of disturbance, and suddenly the lights had changed again… but not back to red.

camden

The junction as it is today according to Google Streetview

The plain green guy was now wearing wide-bottomed flares and glasses, had long, flowing hair cascading out behind him, and had a line of stars from in front of his forehead that trailed over his head and down his back, each one slightly bigger than the previous, like some kind of cloak. We all stopped dead and exchanged stunned looks. One of us (I forget which) said “Did you…?”; the other two both replied “Yes” before he could finish the sentence.

Then we remembered the traffic and hurried across the road, and waited nervously for the lights to go red again. Sure enough, on both sides of the road, the red guy had changed too. He was now carrying a briefcase, smoking a pipe (with wisps of smoke rising), wearing a little homburg hat, and he had big brogues on his feet.

We watched at the lights cycle for ten minutes or so, but eventually continued on, feeling really freaked.

A couple of days later, I was talking about it with a group of friends. To my amazement, one of the girls said “Oh yeah, I heard about that.” I muttered something incredulous, and she told me that she’d seen an article in the press talking about how the council had recently changed the lights on that pedestrian crossing.

Apparently it was some sort of tribute about the death of a singer who had been famous in the sixties, and who had lived in that street. She was certain  that the three of us there had just not noticed the difference in the lights until we were half-way across the road.

I was far from convinced — the council changing the plates over the lights made sense, but not in less than the blink of an eye. Anyway, L. promised to bring me the article to have a look at our next gathering a couple of weeks later.

A few days later, I went back to Camden to look at the changed lights more closely. The construction was standard — they were just black-painted glass, the top section red glass and the bottom section green, with the shapes of the men etched out of the paint, and white bulbs behind.

British Pelican Crossing

British Pelican Crossing

The figures were based on the original templates of the walk/go men, but with extra details etched out of the black paint to provide the outfits. The glass was bolted in, and took up the entire casing in front of the light bulbs. There was no possible mechanism by which they could have slid down in front of the other plates, or anything of that sort.

Just in case, I hung around at a cafe across the road for about an hour, watching the lights, but they stayed changed. A week after that, I went back again for another look, to get a sketch of the altered designs. I was disappointed to find that the lights were back to being perfectly normal.

It was our regular gathering a couple of days later, and I was quite keen to see the article that L. had mentioned. When I asked her if she had brought it in however, she looked at me blankly. She clearly didn’t have the slightest idea what I was talking about.

She didn’t remember me mentioning traffic lights, Camden, or anything else, and neither did any of the others there. She had never heard anything about the council changing some pedestrian crossing lights, or even of a sixties singer dying recently. In fact, none of them remembered me saying anything much at our previous gathering. When I re-told the story, everyone seemed quite spooked by it all.

I called D. and S. immediately afterwards, and yes, they still remembered it clearly. D. seemed amused by it all; S. was just terrified.

The only explanation I have that can even begin to stand up to Occam is that we briefly swapped into a closely-aligned parallel dimension. If the other two hadn’t been there, I doubt I’d trust my own memory of the event, it was so surreal. But as it happens, I have since had a couple of other experiences that also look a little like some minor dimensional swapping, although they’re less dramatic *wry grin*.

Now, I know I’m a writer. I’m expecting scepticism. I know that every word of this is simple truth, but you weren’t there, and I have no evidence. But if you can, please try to at least accept the possibility. Quantum mechanics indicates that parallel dimensions are possible, and that motes of energy may cross the boundaries. It’s found that things are only real while they’re being looked at, at least at the sub-atomic scale. That all matter is made up of nothing but energy (or possibly vice-versa, depending on how you call it). We live in a strange universe…

Red Phone Box, a darkly magical story cycle written by myself, Warren Ellis and twenty-six other writers, and edited by the sublime Salomé Jones, is out now. I think you'll like it.

Posted in paranormal, personal, wtf.


26 Responses

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  1. wildsoda says

    I have no way of saying for certain whether what you say could be true, but I know that I sure hope it is. :-)

    • Ghostwoods says

      *smile* Thanks. It’s true alright, and it’s an experience I cherish.

  2. Scary says

    Tim, you know I like you, but I’m going to be a dull physicist now:

    “Quantum mechanics indicates that parallel dimensions are almost certain”,
    Uh-uh. Quantum mechanics indicates nothing about the metaphysics of extra dimensions (although in this case I think you mean parallel universes? Parallel dimensions is more tesseracts, ‘imagine the world as a sheet on a sphere’ type thing.), it’s just maths. Where the weird shit comes in is in interpretation, and while Everett-Wheeler-Graham (many worlds theory – I have a fantastic shit comic about it if you’d like to borrow) intepretation does have backers, it’s by no means ‘almost certain’. No conclusion has been reached and most quantum physicists leave thinking about it to the philosophers.

    “and that motes of energy can cross the boundaries.”
    What? When did we find that? You prove that and you get the Swedish prize, mate. I mean there are theories about it, sure, but the Time Cube is a theory. I’m a little unclear as to whether you’re talking about parallel dimensions or parallel worlds now.

    “It’s found that things are only real while they’re being looked at.”
    Well, I mean.. um. Depends what you mean by real, really. Cf. Einstein-Podolosky-Rosen. And this is only true on a quantum level. At what level quantum rules stop and normal ones begin, we don’t know. All we can say for sure is that observation affects the thing observed for an ensemble of at least 7 atoms. Which isn’t a lot. At some point between 7 atoms and, say, a cat, things stop obeying this rule. To quote Einstein, ‘Do you really think the moon is not there when noone is looking at it?’

    “That all matter is made up of nothing but energy.”
    Well, yeah, if you want to use energy as the basic definition. You could equally say that all energy is made of mass. Generally we just say mass-energy to avoid accusations of favouritism. Neither mass nor energy is really the right word, just as it’s not really a wave or a particle and god isn’t really a big beard in the sky. They’re just pictures of things to help our little everyday brains handle things too big and weird for us bald monkeys.

    Sorry to get all facty on your ass. While quantum is strange and provides beaucoup de material for fans of the woo-woo, it’s still not magic. I can lend you some books or talk to you on the subject if you wish to know more.

  3. Ghostwoods says

    I was rather anticipating you might… :)

    First off, yes, I’m using ‘parallel dimension’ strictly in the sf sense rather than the rigorous scientific one. I know that’s scientifically inaccurate, and, well, sorry!

    My understanding — possibly faulty — was that vacuum energy indicated pretty strongly that either energy can be created and destroyed, or that the universe was a multiverse (to use another wolly sf term!) and the conservation of energy held true only across the whole net, requiring both the multiverse and limited energetic travel between variants. Assuming I wasn’t misled, then perhaps the original sources overstated the general revulsion for abandoning the conservation of energy. If you can put me straight here, I’ll make the post more accurate!

    As for Eintein’s comment on the moon, do you really imagine that there’s ever
    a moment when the moon isn’t being looked at, or that only humans can do the looking *grin*? I know that it’s a philosophical issue, but the fact remains that by definition, we can’t really know what ‘observation’, in the sense of holding the world together, consists of. And no, I’m genuinely not trying to claim that the contents of my fridge aren’t there when the light is off. Only that reality is much woollier at a fundamental level than most of us realise.

    I do understand that both mass and energy are, by the mere existence of E=mc^2, meaningless and inaccurate terms. When I said so to my physics teacher, I got shouted at, so I knew I was on the right track :) But the implication of that is one that most people miss, and the best way to convey the oddness of that is, to my mind, by characterising matter as energy. I know it’s kinda tautological, but it does get the idea across.

    I’m always up for more quantum goodness, so hell yeah, bring it on :) I plan to do a post about the dual track experiment some time too, which I’ll try to make sure sets your teeth on edge less *grin*. I do indeed know it’s not magic; my point here was to try to show, just a bit, how the underpinnings of our reality are much less concrete than most people imagine.

    • Scary says

      Now that’s interesting, am I a man because I talk physics, because I’m on the internet, because I’m a doubting thomas or because I have a silly pirate name? Or was it just a fifty-fifty chance that went wrong? We shall never know.

      Regarding vacuum energy in the context of C.O.E ( as it’s known to its friends), I always understood that the level of energy was only constant on average – you’re allowed to pinch some as long as you return it in a time interval such that amount of energy borrowed times time borrowed for is less than or equal to planck’s constant. The consequences of this can be observed, for instance, as the Casimir force, or in the incidence of some ‘forbidden’ decays, whereby A changes into C via an intermediary particle B which has a higher mass-energy (massrgy?) than A.
      You can maintain a strict C.O.E interpretation in the face of this by invoking the multiverse, true, but whether this is acceptable to Mr. Ockham is a moot point. Personally I am of the opinion that positing an infinity of other universes is far from the simplest and most elegant solution.

      Dual slit, surely?

  4. Claudio says

    http://blog.japundit.com/archives/2005/11/25/1589/
    Follow this link, ther is a possible “normal” explanation!
    Claudio

    • Ghostwoods says

      Thanks for the link and the suggestion, Claudio. I appreciate you taking the time.

      I love the little walking man! That can’t have been the case in my experience, though. The light that changed wasn’t made up of LEDs. It was a solid piece of glass with a painted stencil of a man, and one bulb behind it.

  5. IQXS says

    Outstanding post! More and more people are coming forward with these stories. Interested folks should check out Whitley Strieber and Starfire Tors for some awesome Time Slips. Much fun indeed! FYI: The LINK to this post has been Twittered at http://twitter.com/IQXS and shared with 1,280+ die-hard UFO Twit-thusiasts galaxy-wide. We track the latest in UFO/Alien Affairs News, Views, Pix and Vids. Come join the loop and be in the know. Tin foil hats, optional! ;) ATT: We do not re-post videos or data, we only share the link to yours. Ciao!

    • Ghostwoods says

      Wow, thank you very much. I’m flattered, and look forward to checking out your tweets!

  6. Martin J. Clemens says

    Does this mean that the other side of the moon, the side which no one has ever seen, doesn’t really exist? Those alien’s building the industrial complex on the dark side are going to be dissapointed!

    • Ghostwoods says

      *grin* I’m sure any aliens on the dark side of the moon would count as observing it :) Besides, what about VALIS/MANDI/SPECTRA, the giant super-intelligent AI from the future that hangs out there making life interesting for people like Philip K Dick and Uri Geller?!

  7. wehaveinternet says

    i did this to you. for surprises more be there this boxing day at 11:12 am.

  8. Dave C says

    Time Cube ftw.

    “You are educated stupid” :)

    • Ghostwoods says

      I’m going to have to find out what this whole ‘Time Cube’ thing actually means, aren’t I…

      • Emperor says

        At your own risk, as it gets weird quickly and keeps on going and going. You can loose a day or two just trying to get a handle on this, yet it will always elude your grasp.

        Start here

  9. David S says

    As the D involved, everything Tim says about this incident is true. Mind you, I still regard it as pretty tame.

    • Ghostwoods says

      I didn’t want to speak for you, David. Many thanks for stepping up to the plate *smile*.

  10. Dr. Quantum says

    The commenter above, Scary, is one of those debunkers who probably truly believes what he’s espousing are “facts,” when the truth is he’s just projecting his own skeptical opinion and quoting those who support his biased POV. For the truth about recent incredible discoveries in Quantum Physics, read Dr. Fred Alan Wolf (his book “Parallel Universes” says how indeed they are proved in quantum mechanics), Dean Radin, Amit Goswami, Dr. Charles Tart, to name just a handful out of the many physicists out there who believe this sort of thing is indeed possible.

    • Ghostwoods says

      Actually, Scary’s post, it’s not trying to debunk anything — it’s just pointing out (and quite fairly, too) that I wasn’t especially rigorous with my characterisation of the physics. I happen to know that Scary is a professional physicist currently working at CERN. If she says that there’s doubt amongst physicists, she’s just laying it down like it is. She didn’t say at any point that she thought my experience was impossible, or that she doubted me — just that she wasn’t convinced with my interpretation of the QM info I cited!

    • Scary says

      Oh, I am awful, aren’t I. Presenting standard quantum results as used in modern experimental technique and saying that the philosophical interpretations of them have not been finally thrashed out, rather than citing the handful of physicists who have the ‘truth’.

      Bad debunking Scary. Bad skeptical scientist. Go sit on the naughty state of an infinite quantum well.

      • Scary says

        I didn’t mean that to sound as snarky as it does. Imagine I’m smiling during it.

  11. Dave C says

    “proved in quantum mechanics”

    On theory? Or actually proven in experiments?

  12. hbackslash7 says

    quantum wormholes don’t have to have infinite length in the time dimension. seems possible enough >:D

  13. Ralf says

    Something very much like this happened to me, but I don’t wish to publish the details in public. How may I contact you privately, Tim?

    • Ghostwoods says

      My gmail.com mail address is my surname, dedopulos. You can email me there. I’d love to hear about your experience!

Continuing the Discussion

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