Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.
I was always 50/50 on the whole afterlife thing--not exactly a skeptic, but not really big on faith, either--so I was naturally pretty nervous about dying. Rolling the dice is always scary when the stakes are so high. But then, I didn't have a choice in the matter, did I?
So I died, and then I realized that I had died and that I was still kicking, so to speak. Woohoo! Soon as I saw those Pearly Gates, well, I started dancing like I'd won the mother of all crapshoots.
Then they told me to get a job.
"Think of it this way," the angel said. We were doing my intake paperwork in a cozy little office, and I was trying not to laugh every time her wings bumped into the walls. "You're going to be here for a long time. You need something to do to give meaning and purpose to your afterlife."
"But I worked my whole life!" I said. That wasn't strictly true, but it sure felt like it.
"Uh-huh." She gave me a look I remembered from every teacher I ever had. "And now you'll work in the afterlife--the same as everybody else."
I sighed: some things never change. I felt like I was thirty again.
To buy time, I flipped through a pamphlet with smiling cherubs in hardhats on the cover. Praise department: boring. Guardian angel corps: meh. There had to be some way out of this.
"Listen," I said. "I'm not really a hard work kind of guy."
"Oh, I've seen your file." "Right," I laughed, and I took my shot: "So ... maybe you could set me up with something easy, OK?" I flashed her my charming, roguish smile. "As a little favor."
I did not get the reaction I expected. For a fraction of a second, I swear she flickered, like that weird 3-D cube thing that people draw that flips back and forth when you stare at it too long and hurts your eyes: angel and devil in superposition, and both glaring at me--
And then everything blinked back to normal. The angel smiled at me like nothing had happened and said, "I think I can do that. How about a nice, easy desk job?"
OK, I was pretty freaked out, but the die was cast. I nodded, slowly.
"All right then." She grinned a little too wide and fluttered her wings. "Quantum Sector it is."
Poof! I popped into another office, with a desk and some plants and a squishy cloud floor that sprung like a mattress. The air had that great fresh smell you get after a light rain, and the ceiling was just clear blue sky. I relaxed right away: maybe working here wouldn't be so bad.
The guy at the desk sighed and stood up to greet me. Well, my eyes practically popped right out of my head. "Hey, you're the guy!" I said, "With the hair!" and I stuck my tongue out at him.
All right, I guess I deserved the look he gave me; I backed off. "So, what do we do here, Mister, uh ..."
"Einstein," he grumbled, in that cool German accent.
"Yeah! That's it."
Einstein shook his head and led me down a hallway that hadn't been there before.
"You are joining an important team," he told me as we walked. "Quantum sector runs the universe. You might even say that we make the universe tick."
He glanced into a little side room filled with silent, unmoving clockwork and smiled wistfully.
"Ah ... things used to be so simple. Do you know the quantum theory?"
"Uh, kind of," I said. Well, I had heard of it.
"It doesn't matter. It describes the smallest of things--atoms and photons and such. The world is very strange at that scale: certain things are unpredictable, even in theory."
We walked out into--I can't even describe how big it was. Desks, as far as the eye could see, nestled among the clouds and filled with blank-faced people working. Angels zipping up and down the aisles, and this constant low rumble like someone shaking an enormous bag of marbles. I started feeling very uncomfortable again: there was some spooky action in the distance.
Einstein shook his head. "I never liked it," he said. "The randomness in the theory felt wrong. I was always certain that there was an order underneath it, something deeper that we just hadn't figured out yet."
He led me to an empty desk in the infinite field of desks. "And I was correct," he said, "in a way. God does not play dice with the universe."
"Oh?" I tried not to look confused.
"He delegates." That was the rumbling: all around us the people were rolling dice, writing number after number down on slips of paper and then handing them to angels as they sped by.
"Every particle," Einstein said. "Every interaction. Everything that happens in the entire universe. We take care of it all right here." His voice was so low and tired it sounded like it was coming from a black hole.
He handed me my dice. "Easiest job in the world," he said, with a dead smile. Then he popped onto a bicycle and rode off into infinity.
Poof! A quantum angel popped up beside me. He grunted impatiently and stuck out his hand.
What could I do? I wanted to run, but there was nowhere to go; the only things around were grim faces and harried angels. Maybe if I hid under my desk ... but when the angel started flickering, I sat down instead.
Well, I guess someone's gotta do it, right? Maybe I'd affect some famous scientist's favorite atoms, or something. There was always a chance. I clenched the dice in my hand, and I rolled.
I rolled sixes.