Burning Man 2020: The Multiverse

 “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.”   –Walt Whitman

The 2020 Black Rock City event theme explores the quantum kaleidoscope of possibility, the infinite realities of the multiverse, and our own superpositioning as actors and observers in the cosmic Cacophony of resonant strings. It’s an invitation to ponder the real, the surreal and the pataphysical, and a chance to encounter our alternate selves who may have followed, or are following, or will follow different decision-paths to divergent Black Rock City realities. Welcome to the Multiverse!

Schrodinger’s cat walks into a bar. And it doesn’t.

In the Wonderland of quantum mechanics, the tiny particles we are all made from exhibit strange and paradoxical behaviors. Quantum entanglement, first described in the 1930s, describes the ability of two entangled particles to behave identically even at great distances, and for one to react to a stimulus applied to the other, what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” The idea of quantum superposition is even spookier: the fact that something can exist in multiple potential states until it is observed, at which point it becomes either this or that, here or there, alive or not alive. As the joke goes, “Schrodinger’s cat walks into a bar. And it doesn’t.” The phenomenon has been well-documented, but how it actually works remains the subject of wild speculation. In one interpretation, the act of observation collapses the waves of possibility into one reality and the others instantly vanish. But there’s another explanation, called the Many Worlds theory, where all the possible choices continue to exist simultaneously as separate branches of reality, each one as real as the next.

“These parallel universes are not ghost worlds with an ephemeral existence; within each universe, we have the appearance of solid objects and concrete events as real and as objective as any.” ― Michio Kaku

Only one of these paths may seem real to any particular observer, but what is “real” anyway? How can we know what is real? We’ve known since the days of Plato that our senses provide an imperfect simulation of the real. Take vision, for instance: a limited portion of the light spectrum is taken in by a pair of analog processors, producing electrical signals that are filtered, inverted, converted to 3-D, and projected inside the brain. And somehow this projection system works just fine when our eyes are shut, dreaming in REM sleep. There are some who believe that this dream-time is actually the real world, and that waking life is not. This resonates with the ancient idea of the cosmic lotus dream, in which the sleeping Brahma dreams us all. And in modern theoretical physics, the study of black holes has led some to the holographic universe theory, which posits that everything we perceive as material, including ourselves, might in fact be a 3-D projection of a 2-D reality, in which information is the  only “real” quantity and the rest is just a cosmic deep-fake.

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – Alice in Wonderland


Physics throws up its hands and passes the buck to metaphysics to explain how and why these impossible things could possibly be. And metaphysics scratches its head at the answers that are suggested. Free will or predetermination? Yes! Real or unreal? Yes! How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? All of them, on an infinite or near-infinite number of pins! Dreamer or dreamt? Simulator or simulation? Wave or particle? Even time itself is suspect at the quantum level: just like its friend the Future, the Past may also be in a superposition of possibilities that crystallize only once they are observed. In the Many Worlds, everything that can happen does happen, possibly all at once.

Dr Faustroll, Jarry’s pataphysician

When physics and metaphysics run out of answers, our best recourse may be to ignore them and ask better questions, using the tools of surrealism and pataphysics to break free from the tired bonds of logic. The surrealists famously drew on the power of dreams to do this, and developed tools like automatic drawing and Exquisite Corpse writing to access their dream-logic in waking life. A generation earlier, the French writer Alfred Jarry dreamed up pataphysics, the science of imaginary solutions, proposing that “the virtual or imaginary nature of things as glimpsed by the heightened vision of poetry or science or love can be seized and lived as real.” Viewed through the lens of quantum theory, both schools of thought seem to suggest the possibility of seeing – or perhaps even traveling – sideways across the branches of reality and experiencing other versions of one’s self and existence.

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” ― Yogi Berra

What will you be in the Multiverse of Burning Man 2020? Will your reality be augmented, bifurcated, or omnidimensional? What dream-worlds will you step sideways into, and who will you be when you get there? Only time will tell. Or has told. Or is telling.

Artists and creative teams interested in exploring the Multiverse theme are encouraged to apply for honoraria grants. The application process begins here and will be open for submissions starting at Noon PST on October 15, 2019.

As always, any work of art by anyone, regardless of our theme, is welcome at the Black Rock City event. If you are planning to bring fire art or wish to install artwork on the open playa, please see our Playa Art Guidelines for more information.


Thanks to Jamen Percy for the multiversal BRC photo.

About the author: Stuart Mangrum

Stuart Mangrum

A member of the community since 1993, Stuart was a pioneer settler of Black Rock City and Burning Man's first communications manager. He currently works on educational and storytelling projects for Burning Man Project's Philosophical Center.

131 Comments on “Burning Man 2020: The Multiverse

  • Storycatcher says:

    I thought we weren’t going to repeat ourselves

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  • Tex Allen says:

    SO, it IS currently BETTER NEXT YEAR?!?
    My multi-verse self is still waiting at Exodus…

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  • eggchairsteve says:

    New Man Burn every night of the week!

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  • Ira Shiflett says:

    How did this get picked over ‘Hindsight 2020’?

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  • I wonder what the theme for the 2020 Burn will be??

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  • Wiki Mouse says:

    I will only accept “MULTIVERSE” as a Theme
    if the BM Org TRULY commits to it in their planning.
    To wit, ALL streets, radial and curved, will be named “Esplanade”.

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  • Maël says:

    Love it ! Can’t wait !!!

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  • Argyre Patras says:

    Oh, you had fun writing this!

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  • Snake face says:

    Leeloo multipass

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  • Drew says:

    Ah…to mention the Many Worlds theory and not it’s creator, Hugh Everett, is like mentioning the Statue of David and saying it’s just a marble statue. Come on. Update this post and give him the credit he deserves. You hate when people appropriate Burning Man without proper approvals and credit.

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  • Dr. awkwarD says:

    I was hoping we live in the multiverse where the burn theme was something that could be reasonable grasped and encapsulated by art.

    Guess the cat is dead in this reality. Pity.

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  • roberto dobbisano says:

    WE ARE EVERYWHERE AND NOWHERE

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  • Timber says:

    It’s a continuing mystery to me why anyone would think Everett’s interpretation (which IMHO is a good one) applies on a macro scale, and to infinity? We’re talking about quantum scale pond ripples in zero point fields, which are certainly subject to the inverse square law of geometric dilution. And this is before any given point is collapsed into our classical world. It’s like film grain, in a movie. Looked at microscopically no two frames are the same, but we experience it as a single coherent scene.

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    • Badger says:

      Dude, you’re overthinking it.
      It’s Burning Man.
      It’s just a theme.

      99.8% of folks are not going to give your salient points any consideration when they’re designing their camp layout or liquor selection for their bar.

      Now, repeat after me. “It’s just a theme.”

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    • Wovoka, says:

      Regarding the frame-by-frame movie comparison, the seamless motion effect is called “persistence of vision.” We can take this concept much further – on film or in video – but it’s more fun playing with a roll of film by, for instance, running it backward in a projector. (my dad would show us kids strutting backward with our dog, Queenie, vaulting butt-first over snowdrifts and we never got tire of laughing at her.) Plus, endless copies (parallel universes) can be made. Then there’s the freeze-frame, which we all do online … and have you noticed that if you go, say, second-by-second, you can pick out incredibly beautiful, poignant, compelling stills equal to the best work of Adams of Avedon etc. ?
      Oh boyoboyoboyoboyoboy, to quote Lou Costello … I’m gonna go to bed right now and dream up B.M. 2020, I know I can, I know I can…

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    • stedn says:

      Hey Timber, I was thinking about your point about a month ago and totally agree with you. I love your film grain analogy. But then I thought about it some more and I realized… what if you just directly coupled macroscopic decisions based on the outcome of a random quantum measurement. :)

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  • Brian Miller says:

    At least with this years theme if you don’t manage to score tickets, rest assured, in some parallel universe, you did!!!!!!

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  • coco says:

    sunny side up multiverse

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  • Brandy B says:

    I got yer ‘spooky action from a distance.’

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  • Miracle says:

    Next year was SO MUCH BETTER anyway!

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  • Miracle says:

    Next year was SO MUCH BETTER!

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  • FoxyD says:

    Great theme! Can’t wait to see what people come up with.

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  • 9volt says:

    So…. the theme is Rick and Morty.

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  • Dominic Richards says:

    What’s left of my brain after BM 2019 is officially blown

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  • Penguin says:

    I was going to comment but realized I probably already had somewhere…

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  • Peter Loughran says:

    Homeland! Hah!

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  • Dustin Fasman says:

    A song with more than one line

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  • Emil Churchin says:

    I need a miracle *
    Burning Man ticket ~

    Never been, it’s time —>

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  • Brooke Wallace says:

    I think the concept of “hindsight “ can be easily worked into this years theme of Multiverse since it reflects both the future,
    past, and everything in between. It gives each of us an opportunity to interpret what resonates with us and how true and genuinely we are all connected. I embrace it or better yet I hug it.

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  • Kim Stuart says:

    There’s no place like this place, so this must be the place. I love it, but I am easily and happily amused by most things.

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  • Blue Coyote says:

    If the man burns on the playa and everyone sees it, did it burn? Welcome to Mr. Toad’s wild ride down the rabbit hole and into a worm hole. Gonna be an hallucinogenic mind-twister of a year folks. Physics nerds, astrologers, and fractals artists unite! Pretty much sounds like anything goes. Something unusual for Burning Man!

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  • John says:

    Schrodinger’s cat meets Ceiling Cat.

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  • Joseph Culpepper says:

    Enjoyed reading this, Stuart. Thanks for writing it!

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  • Sandragora says:

    LOVE IT!

    From my perspective in this timeline… I think its an amazing moment to address the MULTIVERSE reality
    Actually I think many of the people complaining right now about “hindsight 2020” being the proper theme for the year might not be trully connecting to the multiverse reality yet, because there, your dream theme does exist!!! There is a parallel reality were burning man’s theme is Hindsight BUT we all have chosen to be not only in that one but in all the possible themes for 2020 AT THE SAME TIME IN THE MULTIVERSE!!!!
    What can be better than that!!!!?????

    But you know what…. I think you might understand this after burning man 2020 has happened …. if you know what I mean :D
    and if you dont, look at hindsight meaning…

    Lets choose to celebrate!

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  • Evelyn says:

    The other night while asleep I heard what I thought was a shotgun fired outside my home. I realized as I awoke I was trying to take cover. Then silence. I waited for the sounds of others outside asking what happened, or perhaps a siren. Nothing. Was it reality? Or perhaps it was the exploding head syndrome in which some have audio hallucinations as they’re drifting in or out of sleep. After I calmed down I fell back to sleep and dreamed. In the dream I was lost and asking people to help me find my way. And I even asked others if they had heard the explosion. No one in my dream had heard it. I grew tired of being lost and realized it was a dream and as so I could change it to my liking. But I lost that thread of lucidity and was lost again til I awoke.
    Do our dreams overlap other lives? In another verse was I under fire, or even firing myself? I’m I a wave or a particle someone else is observing? Lucid dreaming is trippy to be sure. And the possibility of other dimensions and multiverses is thrilling to consider. Looking forward to whatever I dream up for 2020 BRC!

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    • NumiSystem says:

      I have almost all my life had very vivid dreams, and could lucid dream as a child.
      At one point in early adulthood, I had one week of not seeing or remembering any dreams. It was almost scary to me at that point, to not see anything while sleeping.
      And during that same week multiple people I knew from different settings, came to tell me I had visited them in their dreams. Some of these people didn’t usually remember their dreams, and some said that the dream I was in was more much vivid than what they usually have.
      It was very curious.
      A thought crossed my mind, that maybe I could walk in dreams, be a sort of traveler in them?
      Now over ten years later, I still remember this sometimes – perhaps inspired by texts like yours ;) – and hope it would happen again.

      Thank you for writing. It was very inspiring to read, and felt like a gift <3

      Also, isn't it interesting how sometimes dreams linger on for a long time? Like they've taken over parts of the waking life, almost.. And it can be very hard to shake of the things that were reality, inside the dream world. Like a gunshot, or fire, or being underwater. Hmm.

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  • Wendy says:

    So now we’re talking ideas from Marvel and Spiderman? Not impressed at all by this theme

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  • Ty says:

    Congratulations on a right proper launch of next years theme Stuart! What a delightful mess is now stewing on the stove of our imaginations. ………. and it’s not even Halloween yet! With a head start like this, I suspect we will reap a Very Large crop of Magic this coming year. How delicious!

    Good job Stuart!

    Ty

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    • leif aamot says:

      However , who exactly thinks that dream state is the real world and this one is fake? Maybe someone in some universe some where believes that? i refuse to admit i read all of that.

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  • Jason1969 says:

    Cultiverse™️?

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  • Timeless says:

    Hindsight is so dated … On with tomorrow! I love this theme.

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  • Sister Wanda Dreams says:

    I just woke from a dream of Burning Man to read this!!!

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  • Storycatcher says:

    Think about it; anything you can imagine about it is already happening/happened will happen millions of times in ways that you cant even dream of. All we are is…Admit One Imagineer

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    • Gram Bunny says:

      >in ways that you cant even dream of.
      Remember that every preposition must have an object. The object of the preposition can be a noun, noun phrase or noun clause. This is why we should never end a sentence with a preposition. FYI. I’m here to help.

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  • compass says:

    “the act of observation collapses the waves of possibility into one reality” Could this be a message to social media influencers?

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  • Butterfly Bunny says:

    This is an amazing theme. I’m going to dress up like a butterfly!

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  • Wovoka says:

    Hmmm … at least straight-line, back & forth temporally (as many commenters allude to), it appears much of B.M. 2020 may turn out a bit palindrome-ish as in, for instance “blessed are they that believe that they are blessed” (a sentence that can be read word-for-word backwards) or “go hang a salami I’m a salami hog”. Instead, let’s get cracking and put some beef & chicken in that salami, folks, and make it totally indigestible…

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    • Mario Luigi says:

      >go hang a salami

      I’m Italian and we are the masters of this amazing food. We hang it at weddings to keep the flies off the bride. It works really well, but in the summer we need to shit in a pile to really keep them off. I wish we could invent the shower for our people.

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  • I love that the drone picture of the 2019 burn is the logo for your article. Absolutely appropriate.

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  • John Law says:

    This quote was from around 96 or so:
    “Anything worth doing in the first place is worth running into the ground.”
    – Stuart Mangrum
    Glad to see you found a good job with the old company, my friend. Six figures, full health insurance and a pension, ya?

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  • Stitch says:

    I’m curious to see how this will be reflected in the Man (I keep picturing a 3-D version of Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase”).

    Burning Man 2020: Into the Playaverse.

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  • Trace L. Ament says:

    Stuart, is there a reason ibn your very first paragraph why “cacophony” is capitalized??? Some not so subliminal cross breeding perhaps???

    Theme for 2021 perhaps would be more appropriately 2020 Hindsight… Definitely out of place in 2020…

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  • Audrs says:

    I love the Multiverse Theme. It is 2020 vision on an infinite scale. A yes to all of the above.

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  • The mirror funhouse effect of many different representations of the same thing fits so well into this theme.

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  • A Multiverse filled with slightly different Black Rock Cities.. Flaming Bloke, Burning Geezer, Burning Woman, all coming together in a Multiversal Quantum Alignment, allowing us to experience infinite versions of BRC for one beautiful Cosmicly Entangled week. I can’t wait.

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  • Conni Ramsey says:

    Interested in coming 2020. Dream of a life time. I will be 59 daughter will be 21!!! Birthday surprise. Please help me make this a dream birthday.

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  • Smoke says:

    I thought for sure it would be Vision 20/20

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  • multitask says:

    If I’m currently reading about next years 2020 Multiverse and thinking about when I was eating a dumpling after the man burned in 2018, while all along knowing change is the only constant – I can see how that can be considered multiple dimensions at work – better start crack-a-lackin’ it!

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  • megadede says:

    This will be the crazy year

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  • JustJim, damit JIM says:

    Multiverse needs a Multi Man,
    build a man,
    inside a man,
    inside a man,
    inside a man,
    inside a man.

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  • Heath says:

    For many human minds the idea of multiverse and quantum anything isn’t quite received fully, incomprehensible. Motivated with paper currency and a beautiful camp, which is shareable to no one, limited participation and amazing IG selfies … ha ha ha

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  • joeeirwin says:

    i heard the multiverses will be dustier next year…

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  • SinglePly says:

    Thanks for the word salad theme description, Stuart. Will the Man this year emerge from a salad bowl?

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  • Awkward says:

    I’m still just trying to get out of the headmaze!!! Or maybe I’m out and ur all still in it!

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  • Robert X. Planet says:

    I recommend all Burners should immediately read “Eureka” by Edgar Allan Poe. With this little-known, mind-blowing work, written in 1848 shortly before his death, Poe expounded about quantum mechanics and (what we now call) the Big Bang/Big Crunch model of cyclic multiverse theory—in logical terms, and with startling clarity—more than a century before modern scientists even began to theorize about any of these things! (BTW, in other works, Poe also predicted bionic limbs, the transatlantic cable, magnetic propulsion, 300-MPH bullet trains, space travel and extraterrestrial life, but I digress….) Working with known scientific information available at that time, logic and his own intuition, Poe may very well have inspired Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble and Stephen Hawking to trust their own instincts as they analyzed the Cosmos, deconstructed the Universe and gazed into the Mind of God! Let’s all do the same as we plan our 2020 camps, shall we?

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  • Mark Thompson says:

    I have never been to Bruning Man and will be going in 2020.. Just so happens that transcendentalism specifically through Leave of Grass (1855) is my thing. Imagine my joy when i saw “Do I contradict myself? …” I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. I loafe and invite my soul, I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

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  • maladroit says:

    Actually commit to the theme by changing to a completely different city layout in 2020 (a square, triangle, several small round cities, anything) and perhaps some other differences. It’ll be a disappointment if BMORG itself ignores the theme and just clings to the same old shit done for 25 years.

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    • James says:

      The layout has been a disappointment since 1999 when they decided wash/rinse/repeat was better than creative ideas. BMorg is not comprised of creative people, that are smart and capable authoritarians who give the ticket holders what they expect, the same old thing year after year.

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  • Amy says:

    is there anyone know how to get. the tickets ?

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  • Sophia Drewelow says:

    Has the BLM given you another special permit for the event, or extended your current one for the 2020 happening?

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  • Hyperverse says:

    A Megaverse tends to contain Multiverses, some Membraneverses, Kiloverses, Megaverses, and some Hyperverses, with a Inforium in the center. It is different from a Metaverse, because a Megaverse is physical. Despite the variance of interuniversal laws and properties inside a Megaverse, they all… A Megaverse tends to contain Multiverses, some Membraneverses, Kiloverses, Megaverses, and some Hyperverses, with a Inforium in the center – Well…I hear that! – Earth!…Wind!…Water!…Fire!…Consciousness! –
    time to build! PLAGHS

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    • peter ortiz says:

      this cosmic consciousness & awareness is finding its audience and the impact will spread, there are trillions of sub-verses within the omnipresence of the invisible matter of the all enveloping, densely populated mother verse of which all verses co-exist within… the – ‘spirit-verse’. the womb where infinity and eternity parent all tangible & intangible existence. Each sub-verse’s proprietary inclusion is established as a cosmic weigh station to provide & sustain exposure and experience accordingly to its universal composition of elements, i.e. Earths solar-system within the fringes of a galaxy… impact of CNS/emotional tangibility.

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  • Joe 01 says:

    multiverse (n.)

    1895, William James’s coinage, an alternative to universe meant to convey absence of order and unity. See multi- + universe.

    But those times are past; and we of the nineteenth century, with our evolutionary theories and our mechanical philosophies, already know nature too impartially and too well to worship unreservedly any god of whose character she can be an adequate expression. Truly all we know of good and beauty proceeds from nature, but none the less so all we know of evil. Visible nature is all plasticity and indifference, a moral multiverse, as one might call it, and not a moral universe. [William James, “Is Life Worth Living?” address to the Young Men’s Christian Association of Harvard University, May 1895]

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  • B-Rad says:

    I Think Hindsight 2020 would not mesh with a Immediacy, a core value.

    New experiences , not reliving joys and mistakes.

    I like moving forward. It’s what’s get me through, and excited to see the next day, IMHO.

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  • Sunset says:

    When I saw the theme, I thought of Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s all about the Multiverse there.

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  • Ipstrix says:

    It is a nice theme. If I am lucky enough to get he tickets, I will come over with my twin brother. We have been entangled long time!!!! He is a theoretical physicist I am a neuroscientist and a psychonaut. We both agree in opposite ways in the most recent theories. It would be fun to let it go and experience this ideas and perceptions in the desert.

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    • NumiSystem says:

      You two sound like the types of people me and my companion would have fun with <3
      Wanted to tell you I just get this feel.
      Let's hope we all get tickets so we can possibly bump into each other and discuss about brains and galaxies and dreams.

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  • mick n rorty says:

    infinity X infinity = multiverses – if you could dream multiple dreams at once wouldn’t you…? Infinite intelligence of pure consciousness aware presence does – still…within each multiverse all we apparently know is the aware knowledge of experience – let’s continue to be what we want and let multiverses cascade – obviously experiences experience of experience is unlimited and boundless – multiverses unite! Need a couple more death crystals before August.

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  • Moon Lede says:

    Can’t wait.

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  • Richard Clabaugh says:

    I love these themes whose subtext has an obvious expansionist objective. Well done, Elon!
    “Shut their eyes to their gross over-consumption by focusing them on parallel universes and the profit the sheeple will create might get me there!” Muhahaha
    Epic! Amazing! Awesome!

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  • Universe says:

    Oh Yes! It’s me! I Am God! I Am The Universe!

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  • Universe says:

    Everything lives in my head!

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  • NumiSystem says:

    Well written. Thank you <3

    Just read this for the first time today.
    "I contain multitudes", and then it goes to physics.

    Story time!
    I've been wanting to come to Burning Man for several years now. And have been thinking lately that 2020 might be the year I finally take part in it.
    While reading this it reads, feels, like a sign that yes, this will be the year.

    I literally have "multitudes" in me, since I have multiple identities living inside my head.
    And the companion I would be attending BM with.. happens to be a theoretical physicist. We joke & discuss about Schrödinger's cat, and about multiverse theories, and about the reality of dreams.
    And at some points I have wondered, if maybe these different identities of mine could be me in different realities.
    Or the True World inside my head, or my dream world, trying to manifest itself into this world that we call real.

    Hmm.
    Inspired now, and very curious to see how this theme will fruit into all the art, experiences, and love in BM 2020. :)

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  • Miura-7 says:

    If I didn’t take that 2nd tab, on my first trip. I probably wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails, out of all these theories.

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