How Cosmo Overcame Trans-Universal Envy
A Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie story by Greg Swann
"Oops!," said Cosmo, stumbling over my foot, splashing his vodka
martini on my jacket. "Terribly sorry. My mind was elsewhere."
Out of courtesy to my host, I resisted the urge to say something rude. Also the urge to leave at once: the party life is not for me. And though instantly a waiter was there, swabbing at my side, I'd had as much tiresome chatter and glittering zircon affection as I can take. The vodka shower was a bonus. I really should have taken my cue.
Instead, I looked at the slightly dark spot where the spilled vodka was rapidly evaporating and said, "Think nothing of it. It's just as if it didn't happen."
"Yes, of course," said Cosmo. "In fact, there's an alternate universe where it did not happen."
"...?," I replied. "How's that?"
"At the time that I spilled the drink on you, an alternate universe was created. In that universe, I did not spill the drink on you."
"On whom did you spill it...?" I don't know why these people are attracted to me... Cosmo is not Cosmo's real name, of course; I assume that even people who don't do American Express commercials have libel lawyers.
"Gosh," he said. "I'm not sure. I was thinking that I didn't spill it on anyone. But there's always the possibility that still other universes were created where I spilled the drink on other people..."
"Oh, well," he sighed. "That's the way the wave front collapses..."
"Not surprising. You see, this is the very latest scientific knowledge."
"If you do bet, even if you lose, you win!"
"And if I drive to New Mexico, will I wind up on the moon?"
I said: "...?"
"For every potential alternative, in your experience, only one of the two possible outcomes actually results, correct?"
"So if I flip a coin, it can come up either heads or tails, but not both, right?"
"...?," I repeated.
"If I flip a coin, and I see that it has come up heads, another universe has been created where another me sees that it has come up tails."
"If I flip the coin a thousand times, then a thousand new universes are created!"
"...Given your argument," I said, "then another thousand universes were created where you flipped the coin fewer than a thousand times. Right?"
"...Yes. I guess so."
"Plus an infinite number of universes where you flipped it more than a thousand times."
"Plus another infinite number of universes where you did something else entirely."
"Yes, yes," said Cosmo. "Of course."
"Each of which has its own infinite number of permutations."
"...I hadn't thought of it that way... I guess you're right."
"All of this while every other alternative in the universe and universes is going through the same process, each creating new universes at the rate of infinity raised to the infinite power per alternative. Am I getting this right?"
"...It sounds right to me..."
"It does?!? Where are you putting these universes?"
Deep breath. "Ever heard of Occam's Razor?"
Cosmo caressed his chin. "I use a Remington."
"No," I said. "Occam's Razor is a logical proposition. It says that entities must not needlessly be multiplied. Another way of saying the same thing is that the simplest explanation to fit all of the facts is the one that is true."
"Yeah, so... What are you getting at?"
"That when you flip the coin, or do anything else, only one thing happens, not both."
He stomped his foot. "The best minds of science postulate that both things do happen in alternate universes. Who are you to argue with them?!?"
"Who am I to challenge the gods...? Is that it?"
"Well, I wouldn't put it that way. Besides, in another universe you agree with me!"
"Therefore, in another universe you disagree with yourself...?"
"Yes...," said Cosmo, his face a mesh of reluctance and confusion. "I guess that must be true."
"Except that he's not you."
"He isn't you. None of the alternate Cosmo's in all the alternate universes is the Cosmo with whom I am speaking."
"Oh yes they are!"
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. "Scratch your head, Cosmo." He did so. "Now cause one of those other Cosmo's to scratch his head."
"So you are not him, right?"
"But I was him, before our universes split!"
"But you aren't any more. And you have no control over any universe except the one in which you continue to have the power to scratch you head, right?"
"...I suppose so."
"So even if there are alternate universes, this is useless and irrelevant to you. No?"
"But he didn't spill the drink!"
"He doesn't do any of the stupid, clumsy things I do!"
"...Now I get it... Listen, when you do something right, would you say that an alternate Cosmo has therefore done it wrong?"
"So instead of concentrating on what you do wrong, why not think of all the things you do right. You might find that he's not so special after all."
"Hey," Cosmo said. "That's a pretty neat idea..."
"Sure. If the alternate Cosmo does everything right, and the Cosmo that has the power to scratch your head does everything wrong, then all you have to do is do everything right, and he'll be stuck making the errors, right?"
Cosmo smiled for the first time. "You're right!"
If it doesn't make any sense at all, somebody will buy it. "Sure I am. You just be him, and then he'll have to be you."
"Hey!," he said. "You know, it's working already!"
"How do you figure?"
"He didn't have this conversation."