I am not too much of a scientist. Although I like science and the scientific method and the natural skepticism that goes along with thinking and figuring and disproving, it’s not too hard to see why I did not pursue science more. When I was growing up in my own little rural ‘60s Petri dish, Science was still overwhelmingly a discipline reserved for men. Women in science were portrayed as deadly serious bespectacled spinsters in white lab coats, or just plain dead, as in the case of scientific misadventurer Marie Curie. Only men went up in the rockets to the moon, gave us the new stern warnings that cigarettes were bad for you, or were magicians, which was kind of a joke science. Science, although cool, ultimately to me seemed to be too dry, too laborious, too rigid. I felt like a bloom of color and sound and laughter and gorgeous endless words and ambiguities, unsuited to a profession where your answers were either set in stone, or much worse, that you might never be able to find.

Mark Oliver Everett is also not too much of a scientist. He is a musician and a writer, primarily known in the indie music world for his albums put out under the EELS moniker. I will likely be writing more about him at the end of the year, because so far he has my nod for best release of 2009 with the beautiful, simple, and heartbreaking album Hombre Lobo, a thematic piece best described as songs about love from a distance and the process of accepting less than what your heart hopes for. Unscientific Mark, who like me didn’t get much past algebra in school, did however have this: his father, Hugh Everett III, was one of the 20th Century’s major theorists in quantum mechanics. Well, that doesn’t happen every day now does it? What was it like having your dad be one of the tiny handful of geniuses advancing the most mind-blowing, conceptually-difficult, life-changing area of science?

As it turned out, it was like…not very much at all. Although they spent 19 years together in the same house, Mark and his father knew essentially nothing of each other; they were virtual strangers. Hugh Everett died in 1982 at age 51, having only seen his “parallel worlds” theory just beginning to gain notice in the last few years of his life after it was slammed as preposterous when he first offered it to the academic community in 1957. After Mark’s sister and mother both died in the 1990s, he was left with very little to help him understand his father’s work and life, and how it was that father and son were never able to connect with each other at all.

In 2007, the BBC produced a documentary film, Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives, about Mark’s quest to dig into his father’s past, to posthumously try to find some answers and closure as well as to celebrate Hugh Everett III’s tremendous achievements. The film was aired on BBC 4 and PBS’ “Nova” program in 2008, and Mark Oliver Everett also showed the film in its entirely before his Eels shows that year. It is sixty minutes of very thought-provoking, funny, bittersweet, fascinating stuff. I felt for Mark as the loner/rock n’ roller trying to comprehend his father’s idea that, broken down to its simplest idea here, there is not one state of being but that with every choice and chance a new and parallel world is simultaneously created, as valid as the existence we are aware of. I know – you are all “HAH?” That is a completely normal reaction. Where “HAH?” starts to turn to “HMMMM” is when via some very clever and replicable experiments and heavy-duty math, you can actually see a piece of matter split and reconvene. For the tiniest piece of a second, one thing was two, then reformed, whole and stable. I would continue the explanation but it is pretty likely that I would at some point veer off and post a video of a goat, so I will leave it to you to ponder.

Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives is now only available as an educator-only DVD, but through the magic of the internet and YouTube, here is the film in its entirety. I highly recommend that you view it at your computer leisure – it is something worth seeing and a very interesting cultural document that also gives some insight into the fragility and strangeness of family and the boundless possibilities that exist in the human mind.

Scientists must be able to find satisfaction in the knowledge that they may not have solved the puzzle, but possibly helped to place a couple of pieces. That takes a certain kind of maturity and strength, to accept that your life’s work has to be carried on by others. A musician’s legacy is similarly passed on. You hope that what you have done will continue to be enjoyed by others far past your death, and that maybe you inspired someone else to play, dream, cry, sing words that explained for them the things felt inside.

Two kinds of ways to affect the world, two ways to offer the gifts you were born with, to people and a world – or worlds -- you will never know.