Bioshock Inifinite has already been discussed in detail by my peers, with better flare and style than I can muster. So for my small, humble part of this discussion, I will be focusing on the extreme turnaround a character like Booker DeWitt would have to experience to become, well… what he becomes.
I originally posted this on The Inquisitive Loon, but I decided to take another look at my rundown of how the Quantum Suicide thought experiment could apply to a video game– a game which tries to explain multiverse theory with light-houses. Needless to say, I may never fully hammer out my breakdown of quantum theory, but I believe it deserves another go-around.
Pictured: Schrodinger’s version of a cat meme.
Also, Bioshock Infinite has been out for two years already, making it old enough to escape its play-pen to swill colorful chemicals under the sink. If anyone had revealed the ending before I played it (like I’m about to do here) they would have woken up in a bathtub full of ice without those pesky internal organs. So go back and play the game. And be warned…
Part 1: Quantum Suicide and Dewitt’s Baptism
The best description I’ve found for Quantum Suicide can be read at How Stuff Works.
In a nutshell it states that if the infinite worlds theory is correct (Elizabeth’s lighthouses) then any time a decision is made; anytime a coin is flipped or a car turns right instead of left, a new universe is created. The instant there can be more than one possible outcome for a single action, a new universe springs into existence out of that decision. Because, theoretically, both outcomes happened.
And if this decision is a life-or-death situation, you, as a the survivor, can only ever know the survival-outcome.
Imagine this: A gun is hooked up to a random heads-or-tails generator, like the Lutece’s iconic coin-flip. And when the coin is flipped, a machine reads the result. If it lands on tails, the gun discharges, softening your skull with .45 caliber aspirin. On heads, the revolver clicks, and nothing happens.
Every time this flip occurs, two universes are created. One universe exists in which the coin landed on tails *BANG!* And another universe exists in which you survived *click*.
So, in a multiverse setting, what would you hear?
*Click* *Click* *Click* *Click**Click*
Why? Because any universe in which death occurred (tails) sprang into existence instantaneously, just as the heads universe exists with you alive in the aftermath. Hence you can only know the results of a survived coin-flip in the multiverse setting. Because dead-you wouldn’t be aware of the aftermath.
Elizabeth has knowledge of other universes. She has the power to see where earlier attempts of stopping Comstock have failed. She can see every heads flipped, and every tails. This is why she makes the choice of “smothering” DeWitt/Comstock in the river.
Except this logic doesn’t hold up. Like the ‘you’ who experienced heads on the coin flip and is alive to recognize it, the aftermath of Infinite could only be experienced, and repeated, by an aware Elizabeth that existed after her kidnapping, and had this multiverse awareness.
*Click* — DeWitt/Comstock is drowned “in the cradle” 20 years before Elizabeth is born. All multiverse branches terminate here. Whether or not she’s DeWitt’s real daughter is moot. She was born after the baptism. So there would either be no Elizabeth at all (DeWitt’s daughter) in this Quantum Suicide scenario. Any iteration of Elizabeth would experience a universe where she was never ripped from her Home Universe, thus never developed powers, and thus never knew DeWitt or Comstock at all.
Part 2: Quantum Immortality and Comstock
I argue that a far more reasonable solution for preventing Comstock’s rise would have been to “smother him in the crib”. And NO, Infinite, that doesn’t mean killing him before he was born-again. Killing DeWitt before he diverged during the baptism is more like killing Sarah Connor to prevent her son.
The “crib” would be right after he emerged from the water as Zachary Comstock. Later that night, for example, while he slept.
Killing young Comstock right after the baptism would not have made such a memorable ending. But five identical women chanting “drop an anvil on his head” or “inject him with polio” would have been just as effective, and would have left all the remorseful DeWitt iterations alive.
You see, another part of the Quantum Suicide thought experiment is Quantum Immortality. The notion is that you may die by a gunshot in one universe (or quintuplets hold you underwater while nobody at the baptism steps up to help) means that in another universe, there’s a you who survived the coin-flip. If infinite worlds exist, you can take comfort knowing there’s a bizarro you somewhere who survived every bad decision you made–one who will decide that truck-stop sushi is an awful idea.
But Quantum Immortality can’t save you from old age, because on an infinite timeline everyone dies (sorry if this is also a spoiler). For Comstock, having an irate woman capable of communicating with her infinite other selves, bend time and space, and teleport into your universe, may be more of a guaranteed death than, say, cancer. Especially if she decides she doesn’t approve of that racist “phase” your other-self went through.
After that, it’s all in a day’s work to eliminate the 50% of DeWitt/Comstock who underwent the baptism. It would be a genocide of Comstocks as an uncountable Elizabeths sprang into existence, long enough to materialize an anvil over a sleepy old man, and then it’s back to dancing in Paris.
Part 3: Sociopathy, Psychopathy, and Butt-Naked Cannibals
Finally, how the hell could being dunked in a river turn a man like Booker DeWitt into a racist, loathsome child-snatcher like Zachary Hale Comstock? Is it weak storytelling that a character can undergo so much change because of a little religious fervor?
We should start with the assumption that Booker DeWitt is not a psychopath. A good indicator for the behavioral disorder known as sociopathy is that the subject has a greatly reduced capacity for empathy or remorse. Booker may seem callous at times, but he also shows a depth of emotion throughout the game, as well as remorse over his actions leading up to Wounded Knee.
But without psychopathy to blame, how radically could one’s life be turned around after baptism?
Meet Preacher Joshua Milton Blahyi. AKA General Butt Naked, a Liberian warlord. Before devoting himself to Jesus, General Butt Naked was known for doing mounds of drugs, getting drunk, and sacrificing and eating small children with his soldiers as a pre-battle warmup. After which he would charge his enemies wearing nothing more than combat boots and a machine gun. Up until the age of 25 he also communed with Satan, and would make monthly human sacrifices to the dark lord. (I wish I was making any of this up.)
After the Liberian civil war ended in 1996, Mr. Butt Naked found new purpose in evangelical work. He has since reformed himself, confessed his crimes, both to god and to the families of his victims, and has offered to be tried for war crimes. The Hague has yet to take him up on this.
So if any part of DeWitt’s radical transformation strikes you as extreme or surreal, just think about General Butt Naked.
Sure, he looks mean, but I bet he never ate a child.