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Is There a 'Counterpart' Parallel Universe of Chicago?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)

You can't use the internet without being mugged by bizarre and questionable scientific theories like the ones I spotted the other day, "Early Humans Mated with Inbred Neanderthals," and "Your Bed Has More Poop Than a Chimp's."


These are quite charming, but there is one bizarre scientific theory that beats all the others time and again.

The multiverse.

This theory holds that there are universes fanning out to infinity, each like our own but each one different, with a different you, a good you, a bad you, a cunning you, a foolish you, a hapless you, a predatory you and so on.

One reason the parallel universe business is so popular is because it dangles the possibility that somewhere, in some universe, human beings haven't completely screwed things up and ruined everything.

Just imagine a parallel universe Chicago, one that isn't on the brink of fiscal chaos after decades of corruption, venality and abject stupidity, a great city where liberty is more important than using the government hammer to beat people into submission.

Yeah, it's a fantasy. But that's the multiverse for you. It's not like Illinois. Anything can happen in all those parallel worlds.

I did find out about the father of the multiverse. The theory was developed some 60 years ago by a young, brilliant yet aloof Princeton physicist named Hugh Everett III.

Some thought him to be crazy. His kids considered him as completely emotionally unavailable, describing him in some accounts as "a lump of furniture sitting at the dining room table."

He was an alcoholic. And a chain-smoker. But can you blame the poor guy? You might say he had pressures, like fellow scientists mocking him and thinking he was crazy with the multiverse thing.

He died prematurely at 51, so he didn't get the chance to bask in glory after his parallel universe theory became popular. Who remembers Everett? Sadly, not many.


In a 2008 article in Scientific American, "The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett," writer Peter Byrne explained the origin of Everett's theory:

"Everett's scientific journey began one night in 1954, he recounted two decades later, 'after a slosh or two of sherry.' He and his Princeton classmate Charles Misner and a visitor named Aage Petersen (then an assistant to Niels Bohr) were thinking up 'ridiculous things about the implications of quantum mechanics.' During this session Everett had the basic idea behind the many-worlds theory, and in the weeks that followed he began developing it into a dissertation."

Does Everett's many-worlds theory work? Don't ask me. I'm no scientist. It really doesn't matter. If you're living in a parallel universe, do you really think your friends will tell you?

But without Everett, we wouldn't have the smartest spy-fi show in the history of cable, "Counterpart" on Starz.

"Counterpart" stars actor J.K. Simmons as an East German intelligence officer named Howard Silk.

There is a good Howard. And a bad Howard. They meet. And they hate each other.

Though it is spy-fi, there's no sense of "Minority Report" or action heroics from Tom Cruise.

Instead, Simmons' Howard Silk has the seen-it-all burnt weariness of the Alec Leamas character in John le Carre's "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold."

Simmons is a fine actor. There are many other actors doing great work in "Counterpart." Most of them have English or other European accents. But the Howards, good and bad, have the accent of a Midwestern insurance agent.


I won't spoil it, but you should know that decades ago, East German scientists conducted experiments that split the world, creating parallel universes that met in a spot under the city. Each world was threatened by the other. They turned their spies loose. The result is a good TV show.

There was a flu epidemic and millions died. There is a sleeper cell group from one side that has become active. The odd thing is that a person from one side can end up meeting his or her "other," and it can prompt murder and, in some cases, a bizarre, disturbing narcissism.

"Counterpart" is probably too intelligent a program to survive. And I've noticed on the internet, where you find clickbait about humans breeding with Neanderthals, that some people think "Counterpart" won't be renewed.

That's unfortunate, if true. "Counterpart" requires intelligence from its viewers. Yet TV and politics require placid subjects, easily herded, quickly prompted and turned like livestock, and intelligence in the herd tends to ruin things.

No matter what universe you're from.

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