Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Total Annihilation

Looking ahead even more than here, Scientific American gives us this intro to an article entitled The End of Cosmology?

A decade ago astronomers made the revolutionary discovery that the expansion of the universe is speeding up. They are still working out is implications.

The quickening expansion will eventually pull galaxies apart faster than light, causing them to drop out of view. This process eliminates reference points for measuring expansion and dilutes the distinctive products of the big bang to nothingness. In short, it erases all the signs that a big bang ever occurred.

To our distant descendants, the universe will look like a small puddle of stars in an endless, changeless void.

What knowledge has the universe already erased?

Stuff like this is the butter and meat and garnish in the sandwich of Absurdism. It also has a tendency to make me look at the world with a melancholy air. And last, but not least, it adds a ineffable pathos to what would otherwise be the merely-funny antics of an idiot trying to break into a liquor store.

What the instruments of astronomy and astrophysics have revealed to us is a picture of the universe that's very much at variance with the comparatively simple concepts extant only a few decades ago. The current thinking about the real-long-term future of LUE—based on observations made at the 'now' of our existence in the cosmic life cycle—isn't cheery by any means; and neither is the time leading up to it. All that, presuming of course, that there's someone around to watch it all develop.

What the article points out, maybe most poignantly, is that as time goes on, the universe progressively wipes out more and more evidence about its own past—and especially creation—and it is quite possible that it has already done enough of this dirty work to lead even us, who are at a comparatively early position in its (projected) history, to quite erroneous conclusions about what it is, where it came from and where it is going.

I'm not sure if I find that exhilarating or depressing. I mean, if I were one of those people who have a hankering for their 'roots' in order to be happy with who and what they are, because I need the context...if I were one of those people, then I guess glumness is a more likely response. On the other hand, as an Absurdist, I should maybe find it encouraging. For, does it really matter 'whence?' Is it not much more important 'where?' and 'where to?' Of course, the prospects of the ultimate 'where to?' aren't too cheery either. If cosmologists are right about an ever-increasing cosmic repulsive force, that would mean that in the end said force might well overwhelm all those forces that holds things together right now, and ultimately tear apart even atoms and maybe elementary particles—to leave a vast, disjoint void of...well, basically nothing...a cosmos maybe just as inherently incomprehensible as that which existed 'before' time began—which is just about the most incomprehensible thing going, at least for me.

Well, after all of that it was then much more cheery to read this here from the frontiers of biomedical research, which is about things much more immediate and what you might call 'humanly relevant'. And it occurs to me that here also we have a case of science revealing just how damn complicated and even-more-damn-complicated things are. But in this case the complexity of it all, though daunting and defying simple solutions, also offers hope that, on the scale not of hundreds of billions of years but of the next ten or so, things may actually look quite good.

So, let's take it one step at a time and see what we can do about that cosmic expansion and stuff when we get around to being able to deal with it.

Sounds like a good plan to me.

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