Imagine this: With predatory hunger, you’re eyeing a five-layer cake with alternating flavor profiles which you painstakingly labored over for 12 consecutive hours. To eat, or not to eat? You wonder as you grip your trusty spork tighter over this devastating dilemma, you wish out loud for a way to conserve the cake’s divine beauty while also relishing its flavor. What if I told you that you could have your cake and eat it too? “Bullshit”, you say. Yet quantum physicists, as well as the creators of the Universe Splitter app,  would politely disagree. 

According to the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics, the world in which you indulge in your baked creation exists in a time and space parallel to multiple other universes or worlds. Physicists assert that in a quantum experiment dealing with spontaneously decaying, subatomic particles, every possible outcome plays out in a world of its own.

The Universe Splitter app allows us to visualize the true randomness  created by this theory by allowing us access to a certified quantum device in Switzerland. The user inputs two outcomes (say, devouring the cake or letting its beauty rot over time), signaling to a Swiss lab to fire a photon at a silvered mirror. The photon can either pass through or bounce off the glass (and technically, it does both). The detected path of the photon is then communicated back to the user as one of the previously input decisions, while in a separately occurring, parallel universe, another version of the user is being told differently.

Sound bogus? Read Sean Carroll’s Something Deeply Hidden and prepare to be wowed by the quantum realm of the physics that govern our universe. 

It was time to let the universe(s) take its course.

Naturally, as an avid Murakami reader often entranced by his depictions of parallel realities, I had to shell out the required $1.99 and conduct a little quantum experiment of my own. For two days I would be wholly dependent on the Universe Splitter app to guide my casual decision-making. 

Day 1

And thus, the universe splitting began. Most of the initial universes I created revolved around inane decisions, like whether to listen to SZA or read a book, or deciding between coffee and water. I watched in fascination as the app’s futuristic visuals mapped the progress of my request from input to photon emitted, trembling along with the universe bifurcation lightning effect. 

Screenshot of input screen with two text boxes
[Image Description: Screenshot of input screen with two text boxes.] Via Universe Splitter.

Day 2

However, as I generated more and more universes on some sort of self-contained quantum power trip, I realized that I needed to go all-in for a truly The Tempest-worthy app review. With that, I input a conundrum that had been subject to hours of nagging rumination – whether to respond to an unnamed individual’s text message or to walk away from it. The internal back-and-forth I had sustained over this conundrum had spilled over to nagging my friends for advice – yet feeling unfulfilled via emotional uncertainty of my own. 

This app is one of those rare gems that somehow rolls physics, entertainment, and a lifestyle app into one.

It was time to let the universe(s) take its course. With caffeinated hands, I shakily tapped in my two decisions – only to watch in horror as the app cheerily suggested: “Your Universe has just split. You are in the universe in which you should respond to ____.” Needless to say, I had no waking desire to respond to the unnamed individual. I still had full autonomy over whether to follow the advice delivered by my current universe. To diverge, or to mimic?

Final Thoughts

Though some disgruntled users in the app store reviews (who likely expected a cosmic lottery) would beg to differ, I consider the Universe Splitter a $1.99 well spent. This app is one of those rare gems that somehow rolls physics, entertainment, and a lifestyle app into one. My original intent with this experiment was to see whether adding structure to my decision-making would help lighten the load on my post-dilemma thoughts. However, rather than relieving some percentage of my decision-making burdens, the app forced me to reexamine my own decision-making habits. The next time I hem and haw to a friend over whether to take a leap of faith, I will ask myself whether I approach with an answer already in mind. 

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  • Shannon Zheng

    Shannon Zheng is a multidisciplinary artist and designer studying Art & Design and Philosophy at the University of Michigan. She is interested in channeling art as a form of intervention, whether it be through constructing visual narratives to promote social change or designing confrontationally through an activist lens.