As of this post, two black holes smashing into each other made breaking news some months ago. It was kind of a big deal, and when astrophysicists get excited about something I try to make it a point to pay attention.
Yet these events sparked something that’s been on my mind. So, let’s get to Heat Death!
To those unfamiliar, “Heat Death” is actually a rather simple scientific concept, and is summed up most *scientifically* in the following Google-found statement:
The heat death of the universe is a historically suggested theory of the ultimate fate of the universe in which the universe has diminished to a state of no thermodynamic free energy and therefore can no longer sustain processes that consume energy (including computation and life).
What this means is that all energy will, eventually, be expended. There’ll be no more energy from the innumerable burning stars out there; they’ll all burn out at some point or another. This is the nature of entropy, and was explored to tremendous effect in Isaac Asimov’s short story, The Last Question.
According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, heat will equalize in a given system (our 3rd Dimensional Universe). And, since our universe seems to be ever-expanding, the larger it gets, the more literal space energy will be evenly distributed. That means that whatever heat you feel would be spread out across uncountable light-years, which will make the passage of energy impossible. Without movement of energy, we don’t have time, life, thought.
Here’s a great metaphor from Reddit:
They also call Heat Death the “Big Chill” or the “Big Freeze.” They explore this and explain it in pretty easy-to-grasp terms on the YouTube channel Kurzgesagt.
Yet I derive a strange sort of comfort from the inevitable HDotU. There’s something liberating in an understanding that the choices made by you, everyone you know, and all your descendants until the extinction of our race will likely have no impact on the ultimate fate of the universe, so there can’t be any “wrong choices” (or “right choices,” for that matter). Assuming morality can even be factored into this equation, it sorta suggests that no matter what you do, in the end it really doesn’t matter.
It’s dangerously close to nihilism. But rather, I find that this line of thought is very therapeutic. It really puts our daily stresses into perspective.
I’ve come across this concept, heard it mentioned once or twice in an occasional game of Cards Against Humanity, though at the time I knew nothing about HDotU. Recently, the timing of multiple events seems to have really brought this stuff to the forefront of my consciousness. Here’re the two major reasons why:
As of the time of this writing:
1) I happened to go visit my ‘hometown’ (Woodstock, NY) at the start of February, 2016. It’s typically cold there that time of year. Yet after staying in tropical Viet Nam for nearly two years, the change in climate was disastrous for me; every time I set foot outside I found myself thinking — exaggerated, of course — about walking on the godsdamn moon.
Friends and family assured me that the region had been undergoing a warm winter, but on some days (and often at night) the temperature plummeted to below zero, plus windchill. Farenheit. Oh, that’s all, some of you might say? Well I already had a -25% Cold Resist debuff when I lived in New York as it was. Now I seem to have a -50% debuff going on.
2) I’ve reached a point in my life where having children has been brought up in casual conversation. This is something I’ve been mulling over for some time. And I, with my Big Picture attitude (HDotU, Nihilism/Existentialism…) — coupled with the effective birth control that my screaming nephew and niece have given me — have spent considerable time thinking about the long-term effects of making biological half-copies of myself. I’ll get back to this in a moment.
I imagine the first scenario — cold rural New York in February — is an easily relateable concept, but how does the second one connect to this?
Rarely do we ponder our own personal strain on the economy and the environment, for our selfish genes and our egos demand that our survival come first. It is the natural way of things.
Put another way, it is a privilege of the people of developed nations to reach the point of awareness where they wonder “How can we do this more efficiently (and with less of an impact on the environment)?” whereas many humans across the globe are foremost concerned with “How can I not die, and ensure that my family won’t die too?”
This can be illustrated well through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
I don’t mean to put myself on a higher pedestal — I suffer the same selfish desires and impulses as any other living mortal — but when it comes to spawning a brood of my own, my thoughts turn toward the economic, moral, ethical, biological, and philosophical.
- Economic: Will my child(ren) be “worth” the economic strain it literally costs to raise them? Will their output be greater than what they drain from the economy (or more selfishly, me for that matter)?
- *Living in an Asian community, I often hear the opinion that a major drive for having children is for the very purpose of taking care of the parents later in life.
- Moral: Do I deserve to have children of my own when there are innumerable orphans out there in desperate need of families?
- Ethical: What right do I have to presume my genes are superior to any other and worth spreading? After all, there is something of a history of mental illness in my family (spoilers), so oughtn’t I consider benefiting ‘the herd’ and avoid adding my genes to the pool?
- Biological: Am I just feeling and/or resisting the urges as per the edict of my genes, as the Dawkins suggests? My genes don’t care about my creative output, or my happiness, or the wellbeing of myself (let alone others). They only care about making more genes.
- Philosophical: What’s the point of having kids if I’m just producing another vermin to be eradicated when our Robot Overlords rise? Or another fraction of a blink of an existence in terms of geologic time …or cosmic time, for that matter? We crawl inexorably closer to the HDotU, don’t forget.
In other words, what good is there having a child if I know that that child’s life is generally meaningless in the big picture?
As I delved deeper into these questions, I found my conclusions growing increasingly nihilistic, so I brought in the big guns. Taking refuge within the rough-sawn domicile of a fellow philosopher, fantasist and creative, I brought my concerns before a friend.
After a conversation that stretched long into the the freezing wintery evening, I believe I have come across a satisfactory answer to my ponderings.