What playing the hardest Super Mario level can teach us about quantum mechanics
Superimposed attempts to defeat level 1 of Kaizo Mario World simulate the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.
Thu, Feb 20, 2014 at 05:32 PM
Quantum mechanics is a field infamous for its highly abstract, anti-intuitive and downright bizarre conclusions. Some of its conclusions are so peculiar, in fact, that many scientists admit that our understanding of the field is mostly a matter of interpretation.
Of course, this makes teaching quantum theory to the layperson a rather onerous task. But now there's something that might help, and it comes in the unlikely form of one of the most popular video game franchises of all-time: Super Mario Brothers.
What can Mario and Luigi teach us about quantum mechanics, you ask? Well, as explained in Discover Magazine, back in 2007 a Japanese youth hacked a version of Nintendo's Super Mario World, creating one of the world's first ultra-hard (i.e., near impossible) Super Mario hacks to go viral. Called "Kaizo Mario World," the hacked version of the classic game is filled with seemingly impracticable obstacles. Invisible blocks appear in inconvenient spots to impede jumps, time limits are shortened, and enemies are numerous and intractably placed.
Naturally, gamers everywhere took up the challenge. Against the odds, they figured out how to beat the levels — eventually. But it took a great deal of trial and error, and a lot of Mario lives.
This process gave one quantum-minded gamer an idea: maybe playing out the countless lives it took to beat Kaizo Mario World could be a way of actualizing the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. This idea gave birth to the following video. It features 134 superimposed playthroughs of Kaizo Mario World, Level 1 (only two attempts actually make it to the end of the level):
The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics asserts the objective reality of the universal wavefunction, denying the actuality of wavefunction collapse. In layman's terms, that basically means it implies the actual existence of all possible worlds. Basically, if the many-worlds interpretation is correct, then it means that everything that could have happened really did happen — albeit in some parallel, but very real universe. It's an attempt to explain how the probabilistic weirdness of quantum mechanics manages to resolve itself into the one-historied world of our actual experience — a world with, seemingly, only one possible outcome.
In terms of the superimposed video game, Mario's path through the level has many (mostly perilous) routes. Watching the video is like watching the many-worlds of Kaizo Mario World play out. Sure, only two of them make it to the end of the level, but that's similar to real life. Perhaps your experiences, too, are simply one possible way your life has played out. Perhaps somewhere, in some other parallel reality, all of your other possible lives have also played out.
You just have to hope, for the sake of your many-worlds self, that the real world has better odds of survival than Kaizo Mario World does.
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