Sunday, July 31, 2011

Re: Entropy

So I got the following anonymous email today as a complement to a comment somewhere regarding the inevitability of the heat death of the universe:

Even if truth hurts, it is better to accept it and face the
consequences. I. e. that life is ultimately pointless and heads
nowhere. We lost. I laughed. Then cried. Soon I'm dead. Thanks. Not.

First, I want to point out that the reason for why I am writing my reply here rather than via email is because this message was sent by an Austrian remailer. I've had stranger things happen, but regardless, I'm not a fan of one-sided conversations where one of the parties isn't allowed to participate or defend his stance. The reply, unaltered, to... someone:

1. Why are you using a remailer? What are the consequences of revealing your email address to me? Is it so frightening to you to have me know who your ISP is -- or even just your mail provider? What could I possibly do with this information? Google you? Yikes!

Guess not everyone is into the idea of transparent communications.

2. When the ostensibly true "hurts," I embrace the pain for the greater good. What hurts more than the truth, though, is the human species' insistence on promoting absolute certainty with regard to epistemological claims. I find it fascinating that you are able to predict, with such alleged precision, events trillions upon trillions of years into the future. The time scales involved in your claims are absurd to imagine; as a result, your conclusions are even more so.

3. Current predictions regarding the heat death of the universe do not utilize the life variable, because doing so would make any subsequent claims baseless and erratic in conclusion. Life -- and, consequently, intelligent information agents, both artificial and organic -- resist entropic decay by actively seeking to keep themselves indefinitely open as systems. Given that I have no idea what the universe will look like in a trillion trillion years, I have no idea what the implications are for both the success and the failure of these processes. I also have no idea whether one outcome or the other will result; the future of information is more uncertain now than it has ever been in human history.

4. We are presently unable to detect approximately 95% of the universe, and only speculate that it exists because we can measure its effects on the 5% that we can observe. In what ways intelligent information agents will be able to utilize dark energy a billion years from now is unknown.

Something to keep in mind, here, is that, if protons decay into nothing at some point, the universe will not be empty afterward; on the contrary, it will be filled with energy -- so much energy that the energy content at this instant will be laughable by comparison. If current models of the universe are accurate, then dark energy will continue to expand the fabric of spacetime for, potentially, eternity. Does this mean anything for intelligence one way or another? No, because we don't know what dark energy is.

5. During Einstein's time, we only had evidence for the existence of a single galaxy; today, we are aware of hundreds of billions. Furthermore, recent evidence in the field of astronomy has pointed toward the possibility that the universe is at least 250 times larger than we've been thinking it is, and that, as a result of inflation, the light cone spanning the diameter of the visible universe is minuscule in contrast to the vast distance separating our central point of observation from all of material reality outside of the cone.

The moral of the story is thus: Never forget that your time period containing all of the answers to the universe's mysteries is an immense coincidence for you, and that everyone to have ever thought this has been wrong to date. Sometimes it is better to accept that we do not know much about our bizarre situation than to feign authority out of some psychological need to feel secure in our certainty that, yes, the universe is a fatalistic place, and there's nothing that we can do about it.

It may feel good to believe that everything is okay, but feeling secure in our certainty has the same effect regardless of whether we're sure that it's all okay or that it's all terrible. I can tell from your reply that you are consoled by your indisputable grasp on truth; it is, after all, easier to accept that everything sucks -- or that everything is wonderful -- than it is to accept that our context is a gigantic unknown. It's human nurture to tend toward confidence and security, after all. Not having an answer causes discomfort. We can't have that!

Having said all of the above, I have no hope for the future, and think that the most likely outcome for life on Earth is that it will all get eradicated when the sun becomes a red giant. If this does happen, it will be a horrific event, but it is possible that afterward, there will never be any horrific events anywhere ever again. 

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