It may be billions and billions of years away, but right now the annihilation of the Universe is a foregone conclusion. Should scientists try to do something to change that?
PARIS — Philosophers have always been fascinated by the origin of the Universe. For example, the question posed by German theoretician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: “Why should there be something rather than nothing?” was formulated way back, in 1740.
Very few thinkers, on the other hand, have taken an interest in the Universe’s future. And yet, its fate is necessarily apocalyptic.
The six possible scenarios foreseen by astrophysicists, from the “Big Crunch” (the opposite of the Big Bang) to the “Big Chill” (the dissipation of all energy) all lead to our Universe’s death, and therefore to the disappearance of all traces that we humans ever existed.
And so, just as we are realizing that we need sustainable development for our planet Earth to survive, we discover that the Universe itself is in grave danger.
A young French philosopher, Clément Vidal, managed to summarize in his beautiful book The Beginning and the End what is at stake in this planned demise. Reflecting on the very long-term future can seem a vain undertaking indeed, given the great uncertainty and significant issues of our time: Is it reasonable to contemplate such remote events, while 2 billion of our fellow earthlings have no access to running water? Should we not instead focus our energy on solving problems here and now?
Looking that far into the future is nonetheless useful, as it raises questions about our values. Are Good and Evil relevant notions on the cosmological scale? What is the meaning of our lives if all trace of our civilization is destined to disappear with the Universe? What is science’s ultimate goal?
For Clément Vidal, the answer to this last question is crystal clear: Science’s ultimate goal is to fight against the death of the Universe, by artificially creating new ones. After defeating human death, science should focus on keeping the Universe alive. Artificial cosmogony would be the focal point of all human energy for the next few billion years. After achieving regeneration of our ageing bodies thanks to stem cells, cosmological regeneration would make the Universe either immortal or replaceable.
Cosmological urgency, however, is relative. Although we'll need to change solar systems in about four billion years, before our sun becomes a red giant, there still are googol (10 to the 100th power, or 1 followed by 100 zeros) years left before our entire Universe dies.
This reflection on our remote future and the meaning of the human adventure follows the transhumanist vision: Wanting to change the Universe’s fate indeed requires the ability to travel great distances and thus, to be virtually immortal and in possession of extraordinary intellectual capacities. This means developing a dematerialized collective intelligence, detached from our biological bodies, similar to Teilhard de Chardin and Vladimir Vernadsky’s noosphere.
To alter the Universe’s destiny would imply a future human consensus on the absence of God. It is indeed unlikely that believers could agree with such a demiurgic project. Will the human race avoid the ultimate vanity that consists in making the Universe immortal to ensure its own immortality?
This unmistakably leads to a more dizzying hypothesis: If in the future we are able to create universes, then our own might well have been created by a another civilization.