Recent doctor visits revealed that three spots on my otherwise remarkable countenance were basal cell carcinoma, a.k.a. skin cancer. Okay, that’s not exciting. It’s really a bit of a downer, although if you’re going to have cancer, this kind of skin cancer may be the one to have since it is (by all reports) the most curable.
The treatment strategy has been decided: high level bursts of radiation. Okay, that’s not exciting either. Also a bit of a bummer as the possible side effects include vomiting which is also a bit of a bummer.
However, it is a well-known fact of comic book physics (especially MU physics) that radiation in some form may be the greatest single cause of mutations that result in super-powers! Pretty spiffy, eh?
So I’m wondering what sort of super-powers I might get. I know that I speculated like this once before but that was just an injection for a heart catheterization or something. I don’t remember and I can’t be bothered to look it up. Besides, it was something small like a particle for tracking purposes.
Obviously, since I never got any superpowers it wasn’t enough to trigger a transformation… and boy-howdy I still feel gypped! But this time it’s going high level burst of radiation! High level bursts, ladies and gentlemen! (I think that’s what they said.) As Nietche once said, what radiation bursts that don’t kill me makes me super-powered. You can look it up!
I have long posited that the powers a character receives are based on aspects of his personality or character and if that isn’t true, it should be.
So, working from this principle, I’ve been trying to guess what might my powers be.
I’m a writer so the ability to become invisible and observe people might be really useful. I’d would say it would allow me to sneak into a women’s locker room unobserved but this is the era of Harvey Weinstein and that’s not funny.
Maybe my power would be to step into other people’s lives such as Deadman or Dr. Sam Beckett (and while we’re on the topic of Quantum Leap, why – in the era of reboots and relaunches – haven’t they brought that show back?). As a writer, I invent other people’s lives; this power could be pretty useful, no? At my age, I could become OldMan with the power to get those kids off my lawn!
However, none of these powers would get me into either The Avengers or the Justice League, let alone my own solo movie. That and action figures are where the real money is. Not that I’m in this for money but, you know, what could it hurt, hmm?
Which makes me think I shouldn’t just limit myself to super-heroes. If I’m going to be in it for the money, I should consider super-villains. I’m good at writing them; they’re usually a lot more fun and they get all the best lines. Yeah, they get put in prison a lot but they never seem to stay there.
I have a fraternal twin brother so maybe I could be my own evil twin (not that my brother Joe is my evil twin; it’s more like I’m his goofy twin). I could be a super-hero by day and a super-villain by night; I could be my own arch-enemy! And neither personality is aware that they share a body with their foe. That might be fun.
Of course, fate could be cruel and instead of giving me super-powers, the radiation makes my nose fall off. Still, even then, I could be Lee Marvin as Tim Strawn in the movie Cat Ballou and wear a silver nose tied to my face. Or Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera. Maybe my nose will become bright red and I’ll become JohnO the Red Nosed Writer.
Naw. Fate won’t be that cruel. We already have Donald Trump.
Tomorrow I’m supposed to have what is called a nuclear stress test – checking on the old ticker – during which they introduce a nuclear particle into my blood stream and then will track it. According to comic book physics, this should result in my gaining a super-power or two. So I’ve been considering what power(s) I might get or want.
There’s a spectrum of possibilities. Spider-Man got his powers through radioactivity, as did the Hulk. The Fantastic Four got their powers through a form of radiation. In the back of my mind, I wonder if the radioactive particle might activate some recessive mutant gene or possibly Terrigen mists like the Inhumans to which I may have been unwittingly exposed.
Daredevil got hit by a truck and some radioactive isotope/bar clonked him on the head which obviously gave him his radar sense. The Atom got his powers from White Dwarf Star radiation. Superman’s powers come from the rays (radiation) of a yellow sun, but he loses them under a red sun.
So – what powers would I want? Flight is always a great one but there are problems. For example, why doesn’t Superman have bugs in his teeth? You drive a car down a highway and you’re going to wind up with bugs in the grill and bugs on the windshield. And big airplanes are often having collisions with birds; does Supes do that or does he dodge them? So flying is not as simple or cool as one might imagine.
Enhanced strength? I’d be the perennial bull in the china shop. How much would I destroy by accident? I’d have to get used to it and learn how to modulate it; shaking someone’s hand could cause them major bodily harm.
I’ve always had the theory that super-powers in some way should have a psychological component; the power somebody manifests should be tied in to who they are. So what powers would work for me?
I tend to be more cerebral than physical, so I think I would tilt more to the Professor X end of the scale. Mind powers. Or like Deadman, I’d have the ability to inhabit other people and take over their bodies and live their lives for a while. It’s sort of what I do as a writer; I go into other lives.
Eh, then you also have Dr. Sam Beckett on Quantum Leap. I thought he was kind of creepy. He’d “jump” into other people’s lives and be them for a while and then, when he leapt out, the real person would come back, aware that they had been possessed and dispossessed at the same time and they’d be stuck living with the changes Sam Beckett had made in their lives.
Green Lantern would be up my alley; manifesting whatever I can imagine through sheer force of will. That, too, is what I do as a writer. But that falls outside the parameters of the concept – it’s not radioactivity that gives GL his powers but the ring. Same thing with Batman; no radioactivity involved in his creation. Unless we want to suggest Bruce was bitten by a radioactive bat when he first fell into the bat cave as a boy. Hmmmmm.
Of course, I could also wind up with less useful powers such as being able to sniff out chocolate within a mile. Or with a gesture make meatballs and sauce fly out of my fingers. With my luck, that would be more likely.
Well, we’ll just have to wait and see. If I get something, I’ll let you know next week. Unless, of course, I need to preserve my secret identity. If you hear nothing further from me on the subject, you’ll know why.
As the creator of so many great super-heroes would say – Excelsior!
“Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Doctor Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator – and vanished. He awoke to find himself trapped in the past, facing mirror images that were not his own, and driven by an unknown force to change history for the better. His only guide on this journey is Al, an observer from his own time, who appears in the form of a hologram that only Sam can see and hear. And so Doctor Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap – will be the leap home…”
Quantum Leap • Donald P. Bellasario, Creator • NBC, March 1989 – May 1993
I was cruising the channels on the Sunday before Memorial Day – which I still think of as May 31, not the last Monday of the month – when I discovered a marathon of Quantum Leap airing on Cozi, an obscure cable network which is broadcast as one of those extra local channels. (I’ve also discovered that it airs episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show on weekday afternoons.) Being a rabid fan of the show back in the day, I sat back and enjoyed the view.
I’m obviously not well versed in quantum mechanics, but here’s an explanation of the term “quantum leap” by Jim Loy in 1996:
“Some people think that a quantum leap is a particularly large leap. This is incorrect. In fact, in quantum physics, where the expression came from, a quantum leap is usually a very tiny leap indeed, often smaller than the diameter of the nucleus of an atom. So what is a quantum leap?
“A quantum leap is a leap from A to B, without passing through any of the points between A and B. Imagine that you enter a train in A-ville. You sit in your seat, and the train is instantly transported to your destination of B-ville. You just made a quantum leap. The train didn’t pass through any point between A-ville and B-ville.
“A train on tracks is essentially a one-dimensional system. The quantum leap idea works just as well in 2 to 3 dimensions. Something performs a quantum leap if it goes directly from some point A to some other point B, without passing through any other points from the time it left A to the time it arrived at B. Cartoon characters can perform quantum leaps, very easily. In fact, the art of cartooning is mainly involved in making the characters seem to move smoothly from A to B, instead of in leaps.
“Outside of cartoons, we don’t see quantum leaps in real life. We only see quantum leaps at the sub-atomic (or quantum) level. A sub-atomic particle (an electron, for example) can often go from A to B without passing through any other points. This is counter-intuitive. But, it happens. Besides leaping across a distance, sub-atomic particles can change by leaps in other ways. An electron can change energy from energy-level A to energy-level B in a leap, without having any of the intermediate values of energy. In fact, this is where the term “quantum” comes from. At the sub-atomic level, energy is created and used up in well-defined amounts called “quanta.” “Quanta” is plural, “quantum” is singular.
As you can now see, the quantum leaps in the TV series, Quantum Leap, were true quantum leaps. The main character did indeed leap through space and time, without passing through any of the intermediate space and time.”
Pretty cool, huh? And I bet all you professional and aspiring sequential storytelling – i.e., comics and cartooning – artists didn’t know you were quantum physicists, leaping your characters from panel to panel in your own bubble universe.
But can you and I experience a quantum leap in the real world? Maybe the answer is yes. Oh, I don’t mean the way Sam Beckett does – his theory is that “a person’s life is like a length of string; one end represents birth, the other represents death. If one were to tie the ends of the string together, their life becomes a loop. Next, by balling the loop together, the days in one’s life would touch one another out of sequence. Therefore, jumping from one part of the string to another would allow someone to travel back and forth within their own lifetime, thus making a “quantum leap” between each time period” – but have things ever happened to you that suddenly bring you to another level, another reality, another existence?
Like…you come home from work and the phone rings and you pick it up and there’s a man on the other end of the phone, and he asks you out, and you say yes, and as you hang up the phone you suddenly realize that you have “quantum leaped” into a new life.
Like…you sit down and write up a story because you’re bored and you mail it off and in a few weeks you’re sitting across the desk from the editor of a comics company who wants to publish your story and when you get on the elevator to go home just like that you suddenly realize that you have “quantum leaped” into a new life.
Like…you’re at work and your husband calls you and he tells you that he’s leaving you and the world goes upside down and inside out and just like that you suddenly realize that you have “quantum leaped” into a new life.
Like…you’re in the car with your daughter and son-in-law and they start to laugh and they tell you that you’re sitting on something and you move your tuchas and you have been sitting on a photograph of an ultrasound of a baby in utero and just like that you are a grandmother and you suddenly realize that you have “quantum leaped” into anew life.
Like you’re visiting your parents for a holiday and you offer to go food shopping for them and you leave them laughing and talking and dancing and when you get back from the store your father is acting strangely and you think he is having a stroke and as you call your brother and 911 you suddenly realize that you have “quantum leaped” into another life.
Yeah, quantum leaps do happen and they happen all the time. Sometimes they’re great and sometimes they suck, but like electrons in the sub-atomic universe, our lives can jump from point A to point B in an instant…and like Schrödinger’s cat, our experiences shape our reality.
One of the most imaginative uses of time travel as a story platform was Don Bellasario’s Quantum Leap, which starred Scott Bakula as quantum physicist (among other things) Dr. Sam Beckett and Dean Stockwell as Rear Admiral Al Calavicci:
“Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Doctor Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator and vanished…
“He woke to find himself trapped in the past, facing mirror images that were not his own, and driven by an unknown force to change history for the better. His only guide on this journey is Al, an observer from his own time, who appears in the form of a hologram that only Sam can see and hear. And so Doctor Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home.”
Sam was changing history.
Or was he creating alternate histories?
Alternate histories that led to whole new universes.
Multiverses within the meta-universe.
The multiverse (a term coined by American philosopher and psychologist William James in 1895—I wonder what he was smoking?) is a hypothesis that states that there are infinite numbers of universes existing parallel to our own, but at different “levels” within the meta-universe. The meta-universe is the hypothetical set of infinite—or maybe finite—possible universes (including our own) that together comprises everything that exists, i.e., you, me, the iMac computer I’m typing this on, the New York City skyline outside my window, President Obama, Vladimir Putin, Syria, the sun, the moon, the planets, the stars, space, time, matter, and energy, and the physical laws and mathematical constants that define them. (In other words, 1 + 1 = 2 no matter where you are in the meta-universe.)
Confused? See if this helps. Think of the meta-universe as a sort of giant department store. The store is stocked with merchandise, but each floor is a separate department, and a little different; they are contained within the same number of square feet, but the first floor sells cosmetics and leather goods and men’s wear, the second is dedicated to children, the third to women, and so on. But each floor, while having its own standards and imperatives, must obey the rules set by the larger store within which it exists.
So, if Sam Beckett was creating alternate histories as he “quantum leaped” through time, did he eradicate himself from any or all histories? In the last episode, Sam rights what he believes is his greatest wrong—not telling Beth (Al’s first wife and true love, whom he met in a previous jump) that Al isn’t dead, that he is a POW in Vietnam:
Sam: I’m going to tell you a story. A story with a happy ending, but only if you believe me.
Beth: And if I don’t?
Sam: You will. I swear you will. Instead of ‘Once upon a time,’ let’s start with the happy ending. Al’s alive and coming home.
The screen goes black. A caption tells us that Al and Beth will be celebrating their 49th anniversary this year.
And another caption tells us, “Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home.”
But what does that mean?
The Grandfather Paradox: Some fans believe that by changing the course of Beth and Al’s life, Sam wiped himself out of existence because Al Calavicci and Sam never met, therefore Al never became a key element in the development of the Quantum Leap project and so it never got off the ground. But if Sam never existed, then how could he leap to Beth and tell her to wait, for Al was coming home?
The Novikov Self-Consistency Principle: Other fans say that, so what if Al is happily married to Beth? Sam still developed his quantum leap theory, and Al still became his liaison with the government and Sam is still out there, fighting “to put right what once went wrong.” History rights itself. History is consistent.
The Multiverse Theory: Quantum mechanics—Sam is a quantum physicist—describes existence as probabilities, not definite outcomes. And the mathematics of quantum theory suggests that all the possible outcomes of a situation do actually occur. Robert Frost described it this way in The Road Not Taken:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
By taking the “one less traveled by,” the narrator has led a life with a certain outcome. However, in quantum mechanics, the narrator also took the other road, the one “more” traveled by, and so a “bubble” or “daughter” universe was created, one in which the events and outcome of the narrators life were just as true, but just as different.
“And in each universe, there’s a copy of you witnessing one or the other outcome, thinking — incorrectly — that your reality is the only reality.”
So in this universe I have a daughter named Alix who is married to Jeff and they’re about to have a baby any minute, and I work as a nurse in the operating room and write for ComicMix.
In another universe I stayed married to Alix’s father, only in that universe Alixandra is Alexander and I never became a comics writer so I’m not writing this column for ComixMix because I never met Mike Gold who talked me into this thing in the first place.
In another universe, everything happened just like it has happened, only I never got better from my clinical depression and when I’m not in the hospital I’m on Welfare and Medicaid and my daughter doesn’t talk to me.
And in another universe, my father doesn’t have Complex Partial Seizure syndrome and he is going strong at 90 and my mother doesn’t need a walker and doesn’t have emotional, crazy outbursts and she’s as healthy as a horse and my Aunt Augie never had cancer and died and she and my mother talk every day on the phone….
In another universe I don’t have black hair (yeah, I dye it) but let myself go gray and I never married at all but Alixandra is still my daughter and Jeff is still her husband and they live on the East Coast and I’m a film editor who lives in Laurel Canyon with a couple of Oscars and SAG Awards under my belt.
Imagine you had a time machine and went back into the past. While there you meet and accidentally kill your grandfather before he got married and had kids, one of them your own parent. Then you automatically wipe out your own existence, right? But if you have never existed, then how do you go back in time and kill Grandpa?
This is called The Grandfather Paradox, and it is probably the most famous example of what is termed a temporal paradox. This scenario was first described by science fiction writer Rene Barjavel in his 1943 book, Le Voyager Imprudent – translated, The Imprudent Traveler. (I didn’t know that, either. I looked it up.)
The Grandfather Paradox is not exclusive to killing Gramps. The entire plotline of Back To Future depends on Marty, um, “pre”-uniting his parents after he inadvertently interfered with his father, George McFly, being the one nursed by his mom (thus kindling their romance) after dad fell out of the tree into the path of a passing car. Because George did not marry Lorraine Baines, Marty cannot exist, and we see this principle at work as his first-born brother and then second-born sister disappear from a family photograph, until, at the prom (and the penultimate scene), Marty starts to fade away as he plays guitar. But just in time, George (who has saved Lorraine from being mauled – raped? – by Biff Tannen, the town bully) dances with her – they kiss, and suddenly Marty springs back to life and his brother and sister reappear in the photograph.
Marty inadvertently changes history in other ways, because in his efforts to bring George and Lorraine together, he has given his father new confidence in himself. When Marty returns to 1985, he discovers that his sad sack family are now examples of the American success story. George is no longer a stumbling failure, but a successful science fiction writer. Lorraine is no longer a slovenly, overweight, complaining, straight-laced mom, and they are a happy, openly loving couple. His brother and sister are happy, too, and Marty discovers his parents have bought him his long-dreamed of truck.
Is time travel possible? Can history be changed?
Another example of the Grandfather Paradox is Star Trek’s “The City On The Edge Of Forever.” Written by Harlan Ellison, and winner of the 1968 Hugo award for Best Dramatic Presentation, City is the story of Jim Kirk and Edith Keeler, a social worker in Depression-era New York City.
It begins with the Enterprise investigating “disturbances in time” emanating from an unknown planet. Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, sick and paranoid from an accidental overdose of cordrazine, transports down to the planet, and a landing party follows him, led by Kirk and Spock. While searching for Bones, the team discovers the Guardian of Forever, a self-aware portal into the time stream. Still delusional, Bones jumps into the portal. Uhura tells Kirk that she was talking to the Enterprise, and now, suddenly, there is nothing, not even static. The Guardian tells them that the past has changed and the Enterprise, indeed the entire Federation, no longer exists. The landing party is stranded and alone in a universe that is no longer theirs.
Kirk and Spock determine that McCoy somehow changed history, and they realize they must follow Bones and stop him from doing whatever it is he did that changed history.
The portal lands them, as I said, in a New York City circa 1933. Kirk and Spock meet Edith Keeler, who runs a soup kitchen for the down-and-out. While Spock puts together a rudimentary tricorder (“I am endeavoring, ma’am, to construct a mnemonic memory circuit using stone knives and bear skins.”), Jim and Edith fall in love. And meanwhile, unknown to both men, Bones is being nursed back to health in Edith’s soup kitchen.
Spock discovers that Edith is a focal point in time. His machine shows two possible futures for her. Either Edith, a determined pacifist, leads a movement that delays America’s entry into World War II, which allows the Nazis time to perfect the atom bomb and win the war, or she dies in 1933 in a car accident. Kirk realizes that Edith Keeler, the woman he loves, must die.
Jim and Edith are on their way to a movie – “A Clark Gable movie. Don’t you know? You know, Dr. McCoy said…” – Jim tells Edith to “stay right there” and runs back across the street to the mission, calling for Spock. Spock comes out, and so does Bones. Edith, curious and watching this reunion, starts to cross the street; her eyes on the three men, she doesn’t see the truck. Kirk instinctively moves, but Spock stops him, and instead of saving Edith, Kirk restrains McCoy from acting as well. Edith is killed. “Do you know what you just did?” Bones says in disbelief. Spock answers for Kirk. “He knows, Doctor. He knows.”
With Edith’s death, history is back on track, and the three men are returned to the Guardian’s planet. Uhura tells them that the Enterprise is there and awaiting instructions.
“Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Is time travel possible? Can history be changed?
The Novikov Self-Consistency Principle, theorized by Russian physicist Igor Dmitriyevich Novikov and American theoretical physicist Kip S. Thorne’s work on wormholes and other astronomical data – can the laws of physics actually permit space and time to be “multiply connected,” as Thorne put it, so that time travel through machines or via wormholes is actually possible? – both rely on the same hypothesis, i.e.,
there is no danger of temporal paradoxes because anything that a time traveler does in the past is (was?) an established and predetermined part of history.
In “Assignment: Earth,” a second season episode of Star Trek: TOS, Kirk and Spock discover that the Enterprise and its crew were actually part of the events of 1968 which led to the failed launch of a nuclear warhead platform into orbit by the United States. If they hadn’t travelled back in time, if they hadn’t interfered, then history (from the 23rd century perspective) would have been changed. But history couldn’t be changed, according to the Novikov Self-Consistency Principle and Thorne’s hypothesis; the Enterprise’s presence was an established and predetermined historical fact.
Can history be changed? Is time travel possible?
In 1937, physicist Willen Jacob Van Strickum proposed an idea he called the “Closed TimelikeCurve.” He theorized that if time is linear, you should be able to fold it in on itself, making time travel possible between any points touching each other.
This was the basis of Quantum Leap, although Dr. Sam Beckett, the time traveler in the series, used the term “string theory.”
From the episode “Future Boy”:
Moe: Time is like a piece of string. One end of the string is birth, the other is death. If you can put them together, then your life is a loop.
Al: Hey! Sam, that’s your theory!
Moe: If I can travel fast enough along the loop, I will eventually end up back at the beginning of my life.
Al: He – He’s got it!
Sam: Well, let me ask you what would happen if you would ball the string, right? And then each day of your life would touch another day. And then, you could travel from one place on the string to another, thus enabling you to move back and forth within your own lifetime. Maybe.
Moe: That’s it! That’s it! Then I could actually…
Sam: Quantum leap.
So, according to Quantum Leap, you can time travel, at least within your own lifetime.
But can history be changed?
In Quantum Leap, the only way that Sam Beckett could move on and try to find his way home was to “put right what once went wrong.” Which of course he did. So Sam was changing history.
Or was he simply creating alternate histories?
Alternate histories that led to whole new universes.
The Big ComicMix Broadcast for the weekend is here, complete with the scoop on a Quantum Leap movie and how YOU can help get it made. We also talk with one of the best known radio voices of the past four decades – Cousin Brucie Morrow – and top it off with heaps on news on new anime projects, High School Musical 2 and even a little jaunt to Funky Nasseau!
Our Golden Anniversary Broadcast is stuffed with pop culture nuggets that include more with Quantum Leap‘s Debroah Pratt and a profile of the upcoming Heroes Convention with organizer Sheldon Drum. There’s plenty of news including 20 or more ways DC Comics wants our Christmas cash and a trip back to when one of he guys making hits on the radio was named…Luigi!
Please Press The Button. Your weekend will never be the same!
Cadet Kai reporting in from Splicer Facility on Atlantia in the Vision Quest World. My main trait is camouflage and have an aura for passion.
That sounds a wee bit like a personal ad, but it’s my character on Deborah Pratt’s (of Quantum Leap fame) newest endeavor TheVisionQuest.com. The Emmy-nominated writer and voice of Ziggy for the hit sci-fi series Quantum Leap, Pratt has created a major new multi-platform science fiction series. An actress with starring roles in popular TV series such as Airwolf and Magnum PI, Pratt brought a new creation to life: The Vision Quest – Book One: The Age of Light. The book will be released on August 1st.
The first book in a trilogy, The Vision Quest tells of an Earth set 130 years into the future as experienced through the adventures of hero Cole "Lazer" Lazerman and his friends. I could tell you more about this fantastic journey, but you would be missing out the experiencing it yourself, so log onto TheVisionQuest.com, read the book and look for other formats of Deborah’s new world that will covered in multiple platforms including games for Nintendo’s Wii and Microsoft’s Xbox, on-line webisodes, short animated features and a the complete trilogy in feature films.
You can see a picture of Deborah and hear the first of Mike Raub’s three-part interview withher on the Big ComicMix Broadcast. In addition to discussing Vision Quest, Pratt "reveals" what’s next for Quantum Leap.
It’s the start of a new week and The Big ComicMix Broadcast is more than loaded up with Pop Culture goodness! We start our week-long visit with Quantum Leap actress & head writer, Deborah Pratt, on the verge of a major new sci-fi venture, and we cover buckets o’ news, this week’s latest comics & DVDs, chat with Omega Flight’s Mike Oeming & Wayne Faucher from Detective Comics, and then take a minute for a song that EPSN just loves!!!