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Everyone – and Everything – Is Going to Die, and That’s Okay

April 25, 2022 | by Tzvi Gluckin

The fact that the Universe will inevitably come to an end seems pretty unsettling at first glance. Are there any good reasons to be optimistic despite it?

Science is depressing. Check out what noted author and physicist, Brian Greene, told podcaster Joe Rogan last spring about the inevitable end of life, matter, and everything else we love and hold dear:

It’s not just we that are going to die; it’s that every structure in the universe is going to disintegrate in time. Our best theories suggest that even protons, the very heart of matter… There are quantum processes that in the far future will ensure that every proton disintegrates, [or] falls apart into its constituent particles. At that point, there’s no complex matter at all.

Yikes.

Maybe you can comfort yourself with the notion that proton disintegration will not happen for a very long time, which is true. Except that time is relative. Professor Greene explains:

Imagine that every floor of the Empire State Building represents a duration 10 times that of the previous floor. The ground floor is one year, first floor 10 years, second floor 100, and so forth – so you are going exponentially far in time as you climb up the Empire State Building. In that scheme of things, [if you consider] everything from the Big Bang until today, you’re at about the tenth floor (10-to-the-10 years, or 10 billion years). As you go forward, you are looking at things very far into the future … We think – and I underscore think, because we are now at the speculative end of our theoretical ideas – protons will decay roughly, in say, by the 38th floor, or 10-to-the-38 years into the future…

But here’s the thing: the amazing thing, obviously, it sounds trite, but time is relative. Any duration that seems long is only long compared to another duration. And on the scale of, say, the entire Empire State Building, up to say 10-to-the-100 years into the future – which is what the peak would represent – 10-to-the-38 years is like less than a blink of an eye. It’s like nothing on those scales.”

If a number like 10-plus-38-zeros is like the blink of an eye, what does that say about your life? Even if you live to be very old, the extent of your life is like a little flicker. A flash. And you spend that life crawling around a tiny rock that orbits an unspectacular star in the midst of a galaxy, which, given the enormity of the known universe, isn’t that special.

But even that – as mind-numbing as that is – isn’t the point because it’s all going to end. Most of us don’t do much with our lives, but even if you do, and you are awesome, and people remember you after you die, and you are so important and influential that they name cities and isms after you, and your isms describe fundamental truths that shape the course of human civilization for eons and eons and eons…

Unsplash.com, Tengyart

Still, so what?

Within four to five billion years, the sun is going to run out of gas. When that happens, it will expand in size and swallow up the earth, the cities named after you, your grave, the people who believe in your ideas, and everything else. Everything will be lost, especially once our dead sun ejects a final mass of gas and dust into space. Everything you lived for or stood for disintegrates into fine celestial powder. Where’s your legacy now?

But not so fast.

Maybe, by that point – because it is the future – humanity will have advanced and colonized other planets in other galaxies. Our home planet may be long gone, but your ideas and influence live on.

Unfortunately, Professor Greene squashes that hopeful notion as well.

We believe that by the 14th floor, most stars will have used up their nuclear fuel. There’ll be dark embers just sort of smoking out there in the cosmos. But even if they’re still hovering around by the 38th floor, they will all just dissipate into their particular ingredients. It’s hard to imagine past, say, floor 38, that there will be any life or any mind or any complex astronomical structures in the universe. So the window that the universe as we know it exists is kind of puny when you think about it in terms of the entire cosmic timeline.

So the window that the universe as we know it exists is kind of puny when you think about it in terms of the entire cosmic timeline.

Did you catch that? Even mind – meaning consciousness – will only last so long before collapsing in on itself.

Not the Whole Story

But that limited, finite existence, according to Jewish belief, is exactly the point. For example, the Torah begins with the story of creation – the creation of light, space, time, and everything else – and implies that physical existence is temporary and that an end is inevitable. The Talmud explicitly describes human existence as lasting for only six thousand years – whatever that means – followed by one thousand years of desolation.

The Biblical book of Ecclesiastes – over the course of 12 long, heavy chapters – drives home the point and bemoans the futility and emptiness of humanity’s struggles and pleasures. You’re going to die. Everyone you know is going to die. Everything you build will be destroyed. The monuments and titles and honors will be lost and forgotten. Nothing lasts. The big bang will be followed by an inevitable big crunch, and everything, literally – as science seems to concur – is destined to degenerate into, at best, its constituent particles. If that.

The end – or goal, or objective, or destination – isn’t here, and it isn’t physical or limited by the laws of physics or bound by time. It’s spiritual.

The end – or goal, or objective, or destination – isn’t here, and it isn’t physical or limited by the laws of physics or bound by time. It’s spiritual.

Our physical world, obviously, cannot be the whole story. Given its limitations, from a Jewish perspective, it can’t be that God – the Jewish God: Unlimited, All-Powerful, Compassionate, and the One we believe who created this world for our benefit – would create something so hopeless and empty, unless that creation was the means to a greater end, and not the end in itself. (Assume for now that there is such a God - which is another whole matter).

And that, ultimately, is the idea.

The end – or goal, or objective, or destination – isn’t here. It isn’t physical, or tangible, or even knowable. It isn’t limited by the laws of physics or bound by time. It’s spiritual. It’s the person you become when you finish your work. And your job, while you’re here, is to actualize your potential and become the person you’re capable of becoming.

That doesn’t mean, necessarily, becoming rich, or famous, or popular, or influential, or powerful, or anything. It means elevating yourself and in the process, elevating the world around you. It means living with an awareness of a reality that transcends the limitations of our decaying, three-dimensional, time-bound world. The person you become when you leave this place is the person you became while you were here. Who that is, is up to you.

Nasa

But here? This place that’s crumbling into oblivion? This is the place to do your work. It’s a day at the office. It’s a cubicle, field, factory, or never-ending Zoom meeting – choose an analogy that works for you – and then it’s over. Lock up and go home, or burn the place down, or never return. Who cares? You won’t need it anymore.

Your mission is to become the person you’re capable of becoming. Use your time wisely. Don’t worry about Brian Greene and his prophecies of doom. Don’t stress about proton decay or the end of time. Hopefully, by then, you’ll already be somewhere else.

And who knows? Maybe you’ll at least get to watch it happen, which would be cool.

Featured image: Unsplash.com, Jeremy Thomas



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