Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On Energy and Entropy and the Human Species

The universe is headed into a state of decay.  That is, the physical universe is constantly heading toward entropy.  Science suggests that this is a one way path and that the universe will eventually "cool" and decay into nothingness more than 100 trillion years from now.  Of course, there are a variety of other theories, but this one is most largely accepted currently and it creates an interesting backdrop to what I wish to say about humanity.  Ultimately, in this theory we must focus on the fact that there is an end, beyond which there is nothing.  Following this theory, time is finite not infinite.  Everything will come to an end eventually.

So as we know, the universe as we understand it is tending toward entropy and there is nothing we can do to stop that process any more than we can put light back in a star, energy back in a battery, or steaks back in a cow.  Matter is constantly degrading toward energy and dispersing across the fast emptiness of the universe.

There exists an energy hierarchy in the universe, much like a food chain on Earth.  You have the Big Bang that creates energy.  Energy expands rapidly and cools.  It coalesces into the first stars.  They explode and create heavier elements, which other elements are created during.  Oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, and so on.  To this point a great amount of energy has been dispersed forming these heavier elements.  I won't suggest that there was intent in this occurrence, but regardless it has happened however it had come about.  

New stars and galaxies are given life and planets and other rocky bodies are formed.  Continuing on, a third generation star, Sol, forms and around it a series of planets come together.   Again an immense amount of energy has been used to get to this point.  The universe has cooled drastically from its earliest moments.  Stars and galaxies have been born, lived, and died providing nutrients for new materials and new stars.

Earth, of course, is one of the planets orbiting Sol.  It is warmed by its light.  In time, its surface is capable of liquid water.  Amino acids evolve and simple proteins are nurtured.  In time, multi-celled organisms come about and become complex and plentiful.  Generations of plants decay and are buried beneath the surface, creating vast fields of usable energy in the form of natural gas and crude oil.  And of course, mammals overtake reptiles about 65 million years ago.  And primates ascend to the top of the food chain.

The sun burns throughout this period and long into the future.  Its energy directly or indirectly feeds everything living on the planet.  Plants derive energy directly from the sun, animals eat plants to gain the energy they stored away.  And predatory animals eat those animals (and frequently plants as well).  We are part of this food chain.  Each level you ascend the chain, you multiply the amount of energy required to subsist.  True you may only eat the steak from the cow, but the cow ate the grass, which obtained its energy from the sun... which obtained its energy from a second generation star... who received theirs from the explosion of the first generation star... all the way back to the Big Bang.

The only reason that your steak is there is because of all the energy put into all the systems that supported the existence of all the previous levels on the food chain.  So much energy is lost to entropy all leading up to you.  Humans.  And we've had our part in it too.  We've used energy, much like plants do from the sun, from a variety of sources to create machines that derive conclusions, that do work for us, that drive and fly us places; we've used that energy to create art and music, novels and philosophies; we've, in short, done so very much to elevate ourselves further and further up that food chain.  

There is nothing that I can think of in the universe that has been made that has used more energy than humanity to do so.  Trillions of years of entropy and we have found nothing greater than ourselves on that food chain.  We are the process running toward and end; we are at the forefront of entropy.  What we do every day has the weight of the net entropy of all the energy ever dispersed pushing it forward.  So, I ask you this:  Where are we going?  If there is a finite amount of time and a finite amount of energy, we will get to the end sooner or later.  The more we try, the more we do, the more entropy we cause.  So what is the point?  Is it to reach our end faster?  To use everything up?  Or is it possible to reverse entropy?  Is there an currently inconceivable way that we can turn entropy around?

To my thinking, we have two choices.  Either we can seek such a solution, infinitely prolonging our time in the universe as a species.  Or we can wander aimlessly, squabbling amongst ourselves, and not really getting anything done.  We either have a chance to find a way to continue on past an unknown point in the future or we have no way or desire to find such a way to prolong the life of the universe.

Additionally, it could very well be that we use up all of the energy available at any point prior to discovering a new source of energy (as I mentioned previously, anti-entropy being the greatest possible discovery of this type).  Could we die as a species when the sun burns out?  Will we at that point still be unable to transverse the stars and seek out another form of life-sustaining energy?  Time will tell.  We might not even make it to the end of the universe if we don't have our wits about us.

That said, off to play videogames and order the new iPhone 7G S-2.5 to upgrade from my 7G S2.4b. 

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