Everything is pointless, but is there a chance that any species could exist for infinity? From an essay by Alan Lightman (Beginnings and Endings from 'The World Treasury of Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics'):
The following scenario is possible if astronomers fail to find enough cosmic matter to close the universe and make its temporal future finite. Today, just ten billion years after the "big bang," we sit on a hospitable planet in stable orbit around a middle-aged and reliable star. But after another ten billion years elapse, the sun's fuel will be close to exhaustion, and it will expand to encompass the orbit of the earth. Even if we were ingeniously to evade that catastrophe, we would find ourselves evicted from the solar system after about 1015 years by the close passage of a neighbouring star. Likewise, the sun and its associates will probably be dispatched from our Milky Way galaxy after 1019 years. Any stars remaining in galaxies will have completed their steady slide into an all-consuming black hole at the galactic nucleus after about 1024 years. Any beings with the resilience and ingenuity to survive all this will still have to cross their greatest hurdle - the decay of all matter. After about 1032 years, we expect all protons and neutrons and nuclei to have decayed away. All that will survive are leptons and light, and slowly evaporating black holes. Only after a fantastic 10100 years will the black holes that were once galaxies evaporate away, leaving behind unpredictable naked singularities and a sea of inert particles and light. Throughout these aeons of lingering decay, the shape of the cosmos may change as radically as its contents. The last vestiges of geometrical symmetry will be lost.
If life, in any shape or form, is to survive this ultimate environmental crisis, then the universe must satisfy certain basic requirements. The basic prerequisite for intelligence to survive is a source of energy. Such a source could be present even in the indefinite future, if there were a deviation from a complete uniformity in temperature and some degree of disorder. The potential for this does seem to exist. The anisotropies in the cosmic expansion, the evaporating black holes, the remnant naked singularities are all life preservers of a sort. Even when the black holes have all dissolved and the naked singularities are few and far between, irregularities may still grow on a cosmic scale and provide a source of heat as they eventually are smoothed out. An infinite amount of information is potentially available in an open universe, and its assimilation would be the principal goal of any surviving noncorporeal intelligence. As the temperature approaches absolute zero, never quite arriving there, the reaming aeons seem doomed to eternal tedium. But where there is quantum theory there is hope. We can never be completely sure this cosmic heat death will occur because we can never predict the future of a quantum universe with complete certainty; for in an infinite quantum future anything that can happen, will eventually...
And from Pinker's 'How The Mind Works':
The mind is a neural computer, fitted by natural selection with combinatorial algorithms for causal and probabilistic reasoning about plants, animals, objects, and people. It is driven by goal states that served biological fitness in ancestral environments, such as food, sex, safety, parenthood, friendship, status and knowledge. That toolbox, however can be used to assemble Sunday afternoon projects of dubious adaptive value.
Some parts of the mind register the attainment of increments of fitness by giving us a sensation of pleasure. Other parts use a knowledge of cause and effect to bring about goals. Put them together and you get a mind that rises to a biologically pointless challenge: figuring out how to get at the pleasure circuits of the brain and deliver little jolts of enjoyment without the inconvenience of wringing bona fide fitness increments from the harsh world. When a rat has access to a lever that sends electrical impulses to an electrode implanted in its medial forebrain bundle, it presses the lever furiously until it drops of exhaustion, foregoing opportunities to eat, drink and have sex. People don't yet undergo elective neurosurgery to have electrodes implanted in their pleasure centers, but they have found ways to stimulate them by other means. An obvious example is recreational drugs, which seep into the chemical junctions of the pleasure circuits.
Why don't people have the surgery? If people want to be happy and we already have a viable shortcut, isn't it reasonable to make use of it? Relating this to the first extract, isn't the prospect of an infinite future almost as distressing as a future of complete annihilation? As Lightman points out, eventually a species that solves all of its problems will succumb to an eternal tedium: if death, illness, poverty, need and pain are eventually abolished, won't existence merely progress until everyone just sits around pressing the button to stimulate the electrodes in their brains (because they've heard all the stories, and it's still more fun than anything else)? And so you work and strive for a future of nothingness or the slim chance that your descendants might live forever in eternal tedium.
Why did reality have to turn out to be so absurd? All I know is I don't want to die, but given more time, perhaps that'll change.Go Top