In 1973 Everett left Lambda and started a data-processing company, DBS, with Lambda colleague Donald Reisler. DBS researched weapons applications but specialized in analyzing the socioeconomic effects of government affirmative action programs. When they first met, Reis-ler recalls, Everett “sheepishly” asked whether he had ever read his 1957 paper. “I thought for an instant and replied, ‘Oh, my God, you are that Everett, the crazy one who wrote that insane paper,’” Reisler says. “I had read it in graduate school and chuckled, rejected it out of hand.” The two became close friends but agreed not to talk about multiple universes again.
Despite all these successes, Everett’s life was blighted in many ways. He had a reputation for drinking, and friends say the problem seemed only to grow with time. According to Reisler, his partner usually enjoyed a three-martini lunch, sleeping it off in his office—although he still managed to be productive.
Yet his hedonism did not reflect a relaxed, playful attitude toward life. “He was not a sympathetic person,” Reisler says. “He brought a cold, brutal logic to the study of things. Civil-rights entitlements made no sense to him.”
John Y. Barry, a former colleague of Everett’s at WSEG, also questioned his ethics. In the mid-1970s Barry convinced his employers at J. P. Morgan to hire Everett to develop a Bayesian method of predicting movement in the stock market. By several accounts, Everett succeeded— and then refused to turn the product over to J. P. Morgan. “He used us,” Barry recalls. “[He was] a brilliant, innovative, slippery, untrustworthy, probably alcoholic individual.”
Everett was egocentric. “Hugh liked to espouse a form of extreme solipsism,” says Elaine Tsiang, a former employee at DBS. “Although he took pains to distance his [many-worlds] theory from any theory of mind or consciousness, obviously we all owed our existence relative to the world he had brought into being.”
And he barely knew his children, Elizabeth and Mark.
As Everett pursued his entrepreneurial career, the world of physics was starting to take a hard look at his once ignored theory. DeWitt swung around 180 degrees and became its most devoted champion. In 1967 he wrote an article presenting the Wheeler-DeWitt equation: a universal wave function that a theory of quantum gravity should satisfy. He credited Everett for having demonstrated the need for such an approach. DeWitt and his graduate student Neill Graham then edited a book of physics papers, The Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, which featured the unamputated version of Everett’s dissertation. The epigram “many worlds” stuck fast, popularized in the science-fiction magazine Analog in 1976.
Not everybody agrees, however, that the Copenhagen interpretation needs to give way. Cornell University physicist N. David Mermin maintains that the Everett interpretation treats the wave function as part of the objectively real world, whereas he sees it as merely a mathematical tool. “A wave function is a human construction,” Mer-min says. “Its purpose is to enable us to make sense of our macroscopic observations. My point of view is exactly the opposite of the many-worlds interpretation. Quantum mechanics is a device for enabling us to make our observations coherent, and to say that we are inside of quantum mechanics and that quantum mechanics must apply to our perceptions is inconsistent.”
But many working physicists say that Everett’s theory should be taken seriously.
“When I heard about Everett’s interpretation in the late 1970s,” says Stephen Shenker, a theoretical physicist at Stanford University, “I thought it was kind of crazy. Now most of the people I know that think about string theory and quantum cosmology think about something along an Everett-style interpretation. And because of recent developments in quantum computation, these questions are no longer academic.”