The last three minutes

I’ve just finished reading a Paul Davies popular physics book called The Last Three Minutes. It is a mind-bending journey through that middle region between science, science fiction, and mysticism. He discusses at length the possible scenarios for the end of the physical universe, discussing esoteric topics like black holes, proton decay, the big bang, the big crunch, and neutron stars. But personally, I found the chapter 7, “Forever is a long time”, to be the most compelling part. In it, he describes what would happen if the universe continued expanding indefinitely, on and on forever. It is one part fascinating, one part tragedy. Eventually, everything decays. All physical particles turn into positrons or electrons and then just pure energy. It takes an immense amount of time, on a mind-boggling scale, simply impossible to imagine.

After reading this account, I got a huge mystic sense of the utter smallness of life on this miniscule planet of ours. For a moment, I even had a sense that humankind’s big problems, like hunger, species extinction, and global warming, all seemed trivial in comparison.

Of course, that sensation quickly passes. One is faced with the fundamental fact of one’s own humanity and finite physical existence. Regardless of the long-term future of our universe, mankind could be destined to be gone well before that happens. And each individual among us is destined to die long before that. But something still draws me to the contemplation of the fate of the universe. Perhaps the mystic in me is fighting to get out. 

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