I wrote a paper on this subject a few months ago, but I have had difficulty getting it published in a reputable journal. In spite of the fact that most of my anonymous peer reviewers agreed that they could find no fault with my premises or calculations and that the result constituted an interesting application of the principles of thermodynamics to deep-time cosmology, the consensus amongst them seemed to be that the implications of my work were philosophical rather than scientific, and that, as such, it was unfit for publication in a journal of physics. This, at least, is what they claimed. Quite frankly (and understand I’m saying this as a woman of science), I think that they are full of crap. Though, of course, I can’t prove it, I think that the real reason that they turned down my paper was because my results terrified them. And I can see where they would be coming from on this, because frankly, the implications of my results have been keeping me awake at night since I started writing the paper.
I’m not going to give you a detailed summary of my method, or bore you with pages and pages of calculations. If you’re interested, the full version of my paper is up on the ArXiv. It is rather my intention to give you an “executive summary” if you will, of my findings—and why they are so damned disturbing.
It begins, at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, with the oldest question that Mankind has ever asked: what happens to us after we die?
When I was a kid, I was told that the answer was quite simple: if you were good, you went to heaven; if you were bad, you went to hell. Later on, once I reached my teenage years and became an atheist, I decided that the only place that people went when they died was into the ground (or into someone’s flower pot, if you cremate them). But then I got to thinking about it, and I realized that this answer wasn’t really satisfactory either; it’s not you that they put into the grave—it’s whatever atoms your body happened to be made out of at the time of your death. These are no more you than every other atom that has ever been through your body (fun fact: you completely replace all of the matter in your body at the rate of approximately once every seven years). Modern science supports me in this contention; a team of mathematicians and neuropsychologists in Israel have recently demonstrated that human consciousness (your “soul,” at the risk of sounding too religious) naturally arises from the materialistic processes going on in your body. When you die, these processes break down, and your consciousness disappears completely.
Now, of course, it’s entirely possible for these processes to start-up again at some point (and for your soul to therefore snap back into existence). I should qualify that, though: it’s possible, but it’s almost infinitely unlikely. You see, consciousness depends upon the atoms your body is made out of being in a very particular configuration. It is entirely possible for atoms to return this configuration after it falls apart... but, on the other hand, it is also entirely possible for the atoms in the room in which you are sitting to spontaneously reform themselves into a baby elephant. The odds against it happening are astronomical...to the point where it might happen once by chance in a billion trillion times the present age of the universe.
But here’s the thing: the universe is going to last forever. Modern cosmology clearly shows that it’s never going to collapse: it’s just going to keep right on existing for eternity. And in view of those circumstances, it doesn’t matter if something will only happen once in quadrillion trillion years. Assuming an infinite amount of time, it will not only happen once. It will, in fact, happen an infinite number of times.
So in practice what this means is that one day, you will be laying on your deathbed, all of your teary-eyed grandchildren around you, and you will close your eyes for the last time. Only you will open them again, your body haven been reassembled by chance an arbitrary number of years later.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? No doubt you’re probably jumping for joy right now. “Hooray, I’m never going to die!” you might think.
Well hold on, my friend, because in a minute you will wish that you could.
Because you see, here’s the thing: a trillion years from now, every single star in the universe will have gone out. All of the galaxies will have been ripped apart by the inexorable, unstoppable expansion of the universe. The only thing that will be left will be darkness and almost absolute cold. And it is this, and only this, to which you will one day be reborn.
So you will be lying on your deathbed, your teary-eyed grandchildren surrounding you. You will close your eyes for what you think is the last time, only to open them up again in the middle of a sea of total darkness and absolute cold; not even so much as any air to breathe. You will feel all of your blood vessels exploding from the pressure—your lungs will collapse from the lack of air, and you will die in absolute agony.
Only to open your eyes again in the middle of a sea of total darkness and absolute cold, without even so much as any air to breathe.
Over and over again.
You will become the recurring dream that the universe keeps having in the sleep of its own death. If you’re good, if you’re bad, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what you do or how you live, because you will have the same fate no matter what. Not even the solemn rest of the grave, but the agony of dying alone in the darkness, over and over again.