There's a lot of mystery to this time of year that we accept as given because comfort of belief and tradition would have it that way.

Still, there's one question even Santa felt obliged to raise during his Christmas Eve appearance on CBC's Radio Noon show. Somewhere between his countless ho-ho-hos and super-jolly enquiries about what children who called in wanted to see under the tree, he addressed the issue of his ubiquity.

After all, how can anybody except God (by dint of ultimate reality) be in the same place at the same time all over the world?

Good question, because the last thing we want is to continue the quarrel between science and religion, especially in the young minds of our future leaders. Santa may wear conspicuously traditional clothes and travel by conspicuously traditional means, but he also knows that yesterday's answers won't do for today's and tomorrow's questions.

Here's how he tackled the topic of his ubiquity.

It's a quantum thing, kids

He asked the kids whether they'd ever heard of the theory of relativity, implying that if they had, everything would become perfectly clear, and if they hadn't, the theory provided a solid scientific explanation anyway.


How does Santa manage to do so much in such a small space of time? (CBC)

Santa was right about one point. Clearly our conventional concepts of time and space are no good for explaining how a corpulent elf manages all those simultaneous slides down chimneys around the world, even if we make allowances for different time zones. Some grander vision of how space and time mesh is called for, and Santa offered the theory of relativity. Maybe he had a moment of genuine confusion, but he was wrong.

For people who think in metaphors, it's no great feat of the imagination to speak of an inch of life lived or a second of road travelled. But that won't do for traditional science where inches are for space and seconds for time.

The Theory of General Relativity does open up a world in which space and time are intimately linked shapers of the same supercosmic landscape, but it does not allow the same object to appear in two different places at the same time. That's the territory of relativity's dark twin, Quantum Theory.

Relativity theory explains the universe at the largest possible scale, quantum theory at the smallest. And there, at the farthest end of tiny, things are so miniscule, so fleeting and ephemeral, that they break all the rules of certainty.

Everything goes, including the fact that some things don't.

Best benefits, ever

So, if you want Santa to appear in many places at the same time, you have to construct him and his world based on the principles of quantum mechanics, not of general relativity.

And that comes with great benefits.

By my very limited understanding of anything to do with math, quantum physics still does not allow somebody to appear simultaneously in the same world, so clearly Santa has another few tricks up his sleeves we might shelve for the time being as simple magic.

But quantum physics does allow for any number of Santas, and you and me for that matter, to exist in parallel universes. We may not be able to co-exist with our parallel others in any one universe, but we can co-exist with them in the larger setting of a multiverse.

A much happier outcome, maybe

If you accept that, think of what peace of mind it offers you. This Christmas didn't quite meet your expectations? What odds! Somewhere out there in a parallel universe it did.

If you accept that, think of what peace of mind it offers you. This Christmas didn't quite meet your expectations? What odds! Somewhere out there in a parallel universe it did.

You said something unkind to somebody on your last day of Christmas shopping? Well, somewhere out there you didn't. Somewhere out there you even said the right thing and created a moment of happiness. In fact, you did so many things out there, both good and bad, that what you did here is of only the smallest and briefest consequence in a multiverse a-whirl with the dizzying dance of uncertainty.

Now, put that in your pocket and walk the short distance of what's left of the Twelve Days of Christmas to the annual task of making New Year's resolutions.

First, whichever of last year's resolutions you didn't keep, many of the other yous out there will have succeeded where you failed, and you might find that reassuring, even comforting.

If not, at least you know whom to envy now — not your friends and neighbours who stick to their resolutions but your other successful selves out there.

And if you have this gut feeling that you're not going to keep this year's resolutions either, you know that some of the other yous will take care of that as well.

What's more, should you have prevailed with last year's resolutions, and should you be confident that you will prevail again with this year's, you have every reason to be proud of yourself, because you can bet your quantum dollar that a lot of the other yous out there didn't. 

Good on you!

Sorry, Oprah

One more thing. It's not just Santa who was wrong.

Oprah Winfrey has it backward as well. She likes to proclaim that life is about becoming the person you were meant to be, as if that were written in stone somewhere.

In the world of quantum physics, nothing's written in stone. If there's any writing going on, it's on leaves blowing in the wind. As George Bailey found out in the season classic It's a Wonderful Life, the job of life is not to look for that perfect self of yours that may be out there like some fiction waiting to be made real by you.

The job is to walk away from it and cozy up to your own self in its own little world for as much as possible of the better and as little as possible of the worse.