Multi-play Mario game video as Many Worlds quantum tutorial

The Mechanically Separated Meat blog has created a merged video of hundreds of games played against "Kaizo Mario World" (an insanely difficult homebrew Mario level) and used the resulting video as the jumping-off point for an extremely stimulating and enlightening discussion of the Many Worlds hypothesis in quantum physics. If I had to explain Many Worlds to an eight-year-old (something I expect to have to do in, oh, about eight years), this is where I'd start. I'm especially enamored of the choice of Mario for this, since it's just the right blend of puzzler and jumper to make you want to explore all possible choices (I've recently become brutally addicted to Paper Mario, which now occupies about 10 percent of my brain on a more-or-less permanent basis as a kind of low-grade background process).

This said, tiny quantum events can create ripples that have big effects on non-quantum systems. One good example of this is the Quantum Suicide “experiment” that some proponents of the Many-Worlds Interpretation claim (I think jokingly) could actually be used to test the MWI. The way it works is, you basically run the Schrödinger’s Cat thought experiment on yourself– you set up an apparatus whereby an atom has a 50% chance of decaying each second, and there’s a detector which waits for the atom to decay. When the detector goes off, it triggers a gun, which shoots you in the head and kills you. So all you have to do is set up this experiment, and sit in front of it for awhile. If after sixty seconds you find you are still alive, then the many-worlds interpretation is true, because there is only about a one in 1018 chance of surviving in front of the Quantum Suicide machine for a full minute, so the only plausible explanation for your survival is that the MWI is true and you just happen to be the one universe where the atom’s 50% chance of decay turned up “no” sixty times in a row. Now, given, in order to do this, you had to create about 1018 universes where the Quantum Suicide machine did kill you, or copies of you, and your one surviving consciousness doesn’t have any way of telling the people in the other 1018 universes that you survived and MWI is true. This is, of course, roughly as silly as the thing about there being a universe where all the atoms in your heart randomly decided to tunnel out of your body.

But, we can kind of think of the multi-playthrough Kaizo Mario World video as a silly, sci-fi style demonstration of the Quantum Suicide experiment. At each moment of the playthrough there’s a lot of different things Mario could have done, and almost all of them lead to horrible death. The anthropic principle, in the form of the emulator’s save/restore feature, postselects for the possibilities where Mario actually survives and ensures that although a lot of possible paths have to get discarded, the camera remains fixed on the one path where after one minute and fifty-six seconds some observer still exists.

Link (via Kottke)


  1. The Many Worlds hypothesis is interesting but it doesn’t explain, at least as far as I know, where those 1018 copies of you come from. It isn’t just people, at every moment there are countless alternative pathways the universe could take. Where does the mass and energy for all those universes come from? I don’t believe the Many Worlds hypothesis has a answer for that. Seems like an awful lot of hand waving for me.

  2. If I had to explain Many Worlds to an eight-year-old (something I expect to have to do in, oh, about eight years), this is where I’d start.

    You’ve gotta start now, before her classical intuition gets too well developed!

  3. Or you could just buy your 8-year-old a bunch of Fantastic Four, X-Men and What If… comics and make them watch Back to the Future II.

  4. I imagine that any child brought up in the Doctorow home might not find the idea of many worlds all that alien a concept. A multiverse is a nice thought, and allows almost any fantasy a home, like some sort of –Number of the Beast– reality where human thought and “belief” acts like an intelligent designer might. Is Heinlien a God if one of his univeses has become “Real?” Guess we’ll never know.

  5. Just for clarification: Are you playing the original Paper Mario, or Super Paper Mario? Both are good, but I found Super Paper Mario a tad lacking; the mixture of RPG and platformer elements resulted in a game not as challenging as the typical platformer and not as deep as its RPG predecessors. Of note is that the original Paper Mario is also available for download on the Wii. I recommend it, the battle system is very simple but effective, and even though it’s another “Save the princess!” Mario game the story and characters are actually fleshed out quite a bit more than usual.

    My favorite part of Super Paper Mario was the Pit of 100 Trials.

  6. #7
    Even that doesn’t begin to cover it.

    To illustrate the theory, and make it simpler to comprehend, these kind of thought experiments successfully hide the ridiculous numbers involved in a true multiverse.

    Beyond this vastly simplified example (it only relies on a single atom after all) everything gets a bit mental. Because it isn’t just human-centric, we have to look at everything that could possibly happen to every atomic particle, every planck-second, from the beginning of time ’til forever..

    To even write the number of planck-seconds since the big bang would be a silly number, let alone atoms * planck-seconds² (or something like that, IANAMathematician.. is it atoms * planck-seconds ^ planck-seconds maybe?)

  7. #2 beat me to it. I immediately thought of the BlackShark video as a far superior example of the article’s suggestion, but was at an impasse of where I’d gotten the video from originally!

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