Andy Murray’s unexpectedly strong start against Roger Federer in the Wimbledon 2012 final put the Daily Telegraph columnist Matthew Norman in a science-fiction mood. ‘It seemed we’d been transported to one of those parallel universes into which Doctor Who likes to slip with insouciant ease,’ he commented. A year later, that alternative world became reality, as Murray took the title, leaving journalists to apply the same familiar image to others. Contrasting Murray with the doubles champion Jonny Marray — who still rents a flat and drives a Ford Fiesta, despite holding a Grand Slam title — the Daily Mail opined: ‘The stark reality is that the two champions, who share a passion for tennis, live and work in a parallel universe.’
Where did this idea of parallel universes come from? Science fiction is an obvious source: in the 1960s, Captain Kirk met his ‘other self’ in a Star Trek episode called ‘Mirror, Mirror’, while Philip K Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle (1963) imagined an alternate world in which the US was a Nazi puppet state. Since then, the idea has become mainstream, providing the image of forking paths in the romantic comedy Sliding Doors (1998), and the spine-chilling ‘What if?’ in Philip Roth’s novel The Plot Against America (2004), which envisaged the anti-Semitic aviator Charles Lindbergh defeating Roosevelt in 1940. But there’s also science fact. In 1935, Erwin Schrödinger proposed his famous thought experiment involving a cat in a box whose life or death is connected to a quantum event, and in 1957 the American physicist Hugh Everett developed his ‘many worlds’ theory, which proposed that the act of opening Schrödinger’s box entailed a splitting of universes: one where the cat is alive, and another where it is dead.