A rock star tries to understand his world-famous physicist Dad

Mark Everett is the lead singer of rock band, EELS. He has only just come to terms with the true reality of his father, Hugh Everett and his theory of parallel universes.

I'm not in the habit of watching PBS or science programs. I am not smart enough and I'm always afraid PBS will ask me for money.

However, last night, as part of its Nova series, PBS showed an extraordinary documentary entitled Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives. It featured, Mark Everett, better known as E, the lead singer of the indie/alternative/just plain very, very good band EELS.

As a child, his father didn't talk to him very much. He didn't hug him at all. In fact, pretty much the first time Mark had any physical contact with Hugh Everett was when he found him dead on the sofa. "It was weird touching him," he said.

Hugh Everett was generally considered to be a bit weird. Perhaps every physicist is. But Hugh was one of those physicists who felt he was a genius and didn't know how to persuade others of that difficult fact.

He died of a heart attack when Mark was 18. Not long afterwards, Mark lost his mother to cancer and his sister committed suicide. In her suicide note, Liz said she wanted to join her father in a parallel universe, a reference to Hugh Everett's theory, one he spent much of his life trying to get others to respect.

Mark Everett in 2006. He wears the same cap in the documentary CC Ella Mullins

As I understand it (please be gentle with me here, as I only watched this documentary once) until Hugh Everett posited that matter might exist in parallel universes, the rock star of physics was a man in a woolen suit called Niels Bohr.

Hugh Everett sent Bohr his theory and, while Bohr tried to be polite about it personally, he had many of his scientific groupies trash it as if it were written by Milli Vanilli. The word 'stupid' was used. For those who may not know this extraordinary story, I will not spoil it, except to say that Hugh Everett spent many years of his life in weapons development.

Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives was an attempt by Mark Everett to understand what it was that occupied so much of his father's mind. Mark's hope was that, in the process, he might understand his father better too.

Please watch this brilliant documentary online or in one of its hopefully countless PBS reruns. If you're not moved by watching a highly intelligent, eccentric rock star try and create some intimacy with his father from beyond the grave, then you died several years ago.

EELS' music is at times melancholy, but always highly intelligent. As Mark puts it: "I get it now. We're both 'idea men' and anything outside of these ideas is a distraction."

Hugh Everett always seemed to get on better with animals than people. So does Mark. Hugh often wore the same clothes all the time. So does Mark.

Discovering just how revolutionary his father's thinking was allowed Mark to begin to forgive his father's shortcomings: "I had been angry at him all these years but, now that I saw so much of him in myself, it became easy to identify with him. I let him off the hook. And life immediately got better."

This program came from a parallel universe to my own, but completely floored me. It wasn't just the human story, but the way it is intermingled with an extraordinary theory of physics. A theory that attempts to open our eyes to a new understanding of our reality.

Today, I have not stopped thinking about whether there is another Mark Everett in another universe with another mindset and another life story.

And I have not stopped thinking about another Hugh Everett in another universe. I wonder what he might be thinking today.

 

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