The year when it disintegrates

27. 9. 2011 // // Kategorie Randnotizen 2011

In his essay about Speculative Realism, a new branch of contemporary philosophy, Marc Fischer quotes the philosopher Ray Brassier from his book Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction:

Sooner or later both life and mind will have to reckon with the disintegration of the ultimate horizon when, roughly one trillion, trillion, trillion (101728) years from now, the accelerating expansion of the universe will have disintegrated the fabric of matter itself, terminating the possibility of embodiment. Every star in the universe will have burnt out, plunging the cosmos into a state of absolute darkness and leaving behind nothing but spent husks of collapsed matter. All free mater, whether on planetary surfaces or in interstellar space, will have decayed, eradicating any remnants of life based in protons and chemistry, and erasing every vestige of sentience irrespective of its physical basis. Finally, in a state cosmologists call asymptopia, the stellar corpses littering the empty universe will evaporate into a brief hailstorm of elementary gravitational particles. Atoms themselves will cease to exist. Only the implacable gravitational expansion will continue, driven by the currently inexplicable force called dark energy, which will keep pushing the extinguished universe deeper and deeper into an eternal and unfathomable blackness.

Fischer goes on to write:

Think of your own response to Brassiers description of cosmic asymptopia. You know that it is overwhelmingly likely that science is correct, and that the universe is tending towards a state of non-being, yet at the same time, you continue to act as if this doesnt matter.

However, this is definitely not my response to Brassiers description. I know a megalomaniac power fantasy when I read one. Nothing is more mythologically attractive or potent than a vision of apocalypse.

More to the point, the history of science is littered with examples where science thought things were one way before realizing they were completely wrong, that it was actually something very different. If the past five hundred years of science is full of examples of scientific blunder and misreading, how can we possibly pretend to know what might happen in a trillion much less a trillion, trillion, trillion years.

Predicting the future is a suckers game. Of course, scientists will say their predictions are based on hard scientific facts and calculations, which I am sure they are. But when the paradigm shifts, the facts are re-sorted, and a great number of paradigm shifts could very well occur in a trillion, trillion, trillion years. Humanity could disappear, and reappear, many times over such a period. As could much else.

In a more general sense, one might say this all has to end some time. If the lifespan of a living creature is the metaphor we are choosing as our baseline then of course everything comes to a close. But for me this is simply another example of wishful thinking. Perhaps the greatest example yet. A more powerful speculation might be to imagine the universe, in some form or other, continuing indefinitely. This would require a different sort of mythology. One that might, potentially, be more useful.