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Karl W. Giberson

The Goldilocks Universe

Is our cosmos the whole kaboodle, or is it merely one among an infinite number of universes?

Frederick Forsyth's 1971 thriller The Day of the Jackal tells the story of a fiendishly clever assassin who almost brings down Charles DeGaulle. Through a combination of elaborate planning, ingenious subterfuge, and great skill, the Jackal manages to get himself and a high-powered rifle into position to take a single shot at his target. At the last minute the target moves and the bullet buries itself in the ground, unnoticed by the cheering crowd. The 1973 Hollywood version of the novel, starring Edward Fox as the clever, elusive Jackal, was faithful to Forsyth's original scenario of ingenuity and cunning.

The 1997 remake, starring Bruce Willis, was another story. Gone was the elegant, understated assassin. The new Jackal goes after his target—this time the First Lady—with so much firepower that the assembled crowd flees in terror as shattered brick and glass from the front of the building rain down on them. In fact, so great is the carnage that a casual observer would have had some difficulty in determining the Jackal's exact target.

As the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat. If you want to assassinate a highly protected figure you need copious quantities of either finesse or firepower—finesse to do it once and get it right, or firepower to blast away recklessly and eventually hit the target. Finesse and firepower often define the choice between means to a given end. You can write Hamlet with the finesse of a Shakespeare or the firepower of an infinite stadium of monkeys typing randomly; you can solve political problems with the finesse of diplomacy or the firepower of cruise missiles; and you can explain the marvelous design of our universe by the finesse of a wise creator or the firepower of some mindless cosmic machine extravagantly belching out alternative realities, some of which have the ingenious design of this one, but most of which do not—collateral damage on a cosmic scale.

Such alternative realities have long been the stuff of science fiction; ...

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