The Ultimate Metaphysical Debate: Should We Try To Save The Universe?

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?

Fate of the Universe in our hands
Fate of the Universe in our hands
Laurent Alexandre

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?

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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.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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