alternate englands - belated questions

Gili Bar-Hillel gbhillel at
Sun Feb 13 05:25:36 EST 2005

I think you've made very good points.
I wouldn't want to suggest that my favorite author may have possibly made a
mistake. But I do think that worlds would have to split off over something
more significant than a battle won or lost: winning or losing the battle
would be just a side-effect, a ripple in the water, not the actual event
that caused the split. The actual event could be something metaphysical that
would be hard to define in physical terms, for instance: a world shifting
one notch Naywards. Or perhaps the physical and metaphysical aspects are
linked, and, like the chicken and the egg, it's hard to say which came
first. For instance, if all the people in the world decided to hop on one
leg at the precise same instant in time, I'm sure that would be physically
significant enought to cause a metaphysical shift; but then again the
prelude to such an unlikely event would in itself be a metaphysical shift.
I'm not sure I'm making any sense.

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-dwj at [mailto:owner-dwj at]On Behalf Of
Charles Butler
Sent: Sunday, February 13, 2005 11:08 AM
To: dwj at
Subject: Re: alternate englands - belated questions


> The worlds are all the same age, and time passes at the same rate in
> them. This is because there was only one world to begin with, and the
> other worlds split off from it at the big turning-points in history.

Even so, this assumes that time travels at the same rate in all worlds, and
I don't see how we can know this, since other apparently-fundamental things
(like the presence or absence of magic - but see below) vary.

> The turning-point at which our world (12B) split off from
> Chrestomanci's (12A) was during the Fourteenth Century, when we went
> down the path of materialist science and technology and 12A stuck with
> magic.

Something about this bothers me, and I've been wondering for the last few
days what it is. I still don't think I quite have it, but it's something to
do with what kind of event causes worlds to split.

One thing that seems pretty clear is that in the Chrestomanci multiverse
world-splitting doesn't happen every day. DWJ has said she wasn't thinking
of (and indeed wasn't aware of) the quantum mechanical idea that new
universes are spawned every time a quantum event has to be decided, for
example, which would mean that billions of new universes were created every
second (as I understand it). And the nomenclature used in the Chrestomanci
books (12C and so on) suggests a much more limited number of worlds. So,
what causes worlds to split at some points in time but not others?

At one point in Witch Week, IIRC, Chrestomanci gives as an example the
outcome of a battle like Waterloo. Or, again, the success or failure of Guy
Fawkes. These are both recognized turning points in history (at any rate if
you're British!). This kind of counterfactual thought experiment is very
interesting to human beings - what would have happened if Paul Revere's
horse had cast a shoe?, etc - but it's hard to imagine it being a principle
of the universe as a whole (or at least a universe without a ruling
intelligence of some kind with some particular interest in human affairs).
How does the univese tell just which are the decisive events in history, in
a human sense, so as to know when to create a new universe? And why for that
matter should it care? Isn't it all distressingly anthropocentric (and
eurocentric too for that matter)? Do major events in the lives of other
species (one gang of chimps ousts another from a lush jungle clearing; a
group of white blood cells heroically defend an anteater from a vicious band
of bacteria) count for nothing?

Then again, to take Paul's example, the difference between a world with
magic and one without seems quite unlike the difference between a world in
which either Wellington or Napoleon won at Waterloo. The latter is a
question of the fortunes of war, which are notoriously fickle; the former
seems to require a different kind of world altogether, in which different
(ie. magical) laws either do or do not apply - surely a much more
fundamental split, and one dependent not so much on human action as on a
fundamental shift in the laws of physics (in their broadest sense) - as if
we were being asked to believe in a) a world where Wellington won Waterloo,
b) a world where he lost, and c) a world in which both armies floated up
into the air because the law of gravity had suddenly ceased to apply. The
phrase 'category mistake' hovers here.

Am I making a fuss about nothing? Have I missed something very simple?
Please spell it out, but be gentle.


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