Brian Greene: Thought Itself Will Come to an End in the Universe


4 years ago



Brian Greene

2 appearances

Brian Greene is a theoretical physicist, mathematician, and string theorist. He has been a professor at Columbia University since 1996 and chairman of the World Science Festival since co-founding it in 2008. His new book "Until the End of Time" is now available:


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For a long time my operating theory on aliens was when I see something that's interesting that I'm going to pay attention to it. Right. Because it's too attractive and it's part of the thing of whether it's ramptha or any of these wonky things, there's something about woo woo stuff, whether it's psychics or channelers, that's really attractive to people in some sort of a weird way. And so are aliens. The idea that if we were visited by something from another world, some far advanced space daddy or whatever it is, that comes down here and is going to show us the way. That's so attractive that I think it messes with your ordinary ability to observe and to objectively analyze what's real and what's not. Yeah, I totally agree with that. And I think it's an unfortunate feature of the human mind that we tend to look outward for weirdness that will inject into the world more than the everyday that we experience through common everyday encounters. We want there to be more. We don't want it to be. That we're just on this rock around this planet and we live for a while and then we're gone. We want it to be more than that. And so we imagine that there's some answer floating out there in the cosmos that maybe that will be brought down to earth through our space daddy, as you referred to it. And my view of that is it's much more noble to recognize that there is no answer floating out there in space. There's no space that it's going to come here and say, this is what it's all about. The answer is you and I and everybody else, we manufacture our own meaning. We manufacture our own purpose. And how much better is it that we come up with our own meaning than having it bestowed or forced upon us by some external entity? I don't think that diminishes things. I think it aggrandizes them because it's coming ultimately from ourselves. That makes a lot of sense. I think the hope is that space daddy is going to prevent nuclear war and figure out how to fix the ocean. Yeah, sure. No, I mean, and that I could certainly imagine happening. There's knowledge out there in the world that you can imagine that we haven't yet encountered that we could make use of. So fantastic. But the other thing that's worth keeping in mind, and this I think is surprising to some people, you can do a calculation as to whether consciousness can itself persist indefinitely in the universe. You can ask yourself, sure, earth may go away, you and I, we're going to go away, we recognize all this. Is it possible that some kind of conscious being can continue to cogitate indefinitely far into the future or its progeny continue to cogitate? And you can pretty much establish that thought itself will come to an end in this universe. Thought itself is a limited lifetime phenomenon in the cosmos. So when, at least our universe, right? Yes. So I'm going to focus just on our universe. And the breakdown of protons, when we get to that point, there's no room for thought to exist. No, that's part of it. But I'm willing to go further. I'm willing to imagine that even with the breakdown of protons, that there's some way that the particles that it spawns, electrons, neutrinos, photons, whatever, somehow through some configuration of widely separated particles is able to have signals going back and forth that allows this group of particles to think. I'm willing to posit that in order to be as general as possible. And with that assumption, you can still prove that the relentless rise in entropy that we were talking about before ensures that any cogitating being that happens to still be able to persist in this unusual realm of particles will ultimately burn up in the entropic waste generated by its own process of thinking. So the process of thought itself in the far future will generate too much heat for that being to be able to release that heat to the environment and to avoid burning up in its own waste when you think you will fry. Dude. It's always been interesting to me when I've really stepped back and looked at it that our ideas of the importance of thought are so egocentric. When we take into consideration the vast scope of the universe and how majestic, so much we see in the cosmos that there's no thought, at least as far as we know, whatsoever, like hypernovas, like star nurseries, all these different things that we see in the cosmos that are infinitely larger than us and responsible for life itself, that these processes create the very elements that are needed to create life, but we're so concerned with this one animal's ability to think and ponder and create and emotions and write stories. To us, it's so egocentric because it is everything. How ridiculously self-centered. It's ludicrous. When you think about the infinite universe, I mean we are two finite beings sitting in the valley in front of a wooden desk. It's really weird that we think about it as so important. It's everything to us. It is. It is. It's to not think in those terms, but I encourage people, and part of the point of this book is to encourage people to think in a cosmic way and recognize the point that you're making, which are with these little tiny finite beings crawling around on this planet. We're here for a brief moment of cosmic time, and that's all there is to it. Some will feel like, oh my God, that's disturbing. That's distressing. My point is, hey, extol, celebrate the fact that you are here for this brief. Think about the collection of quantum events stretching back from the Big Bang until today that had to turn out exactly as they did for you and for me to actually exist. Each one of these quantum events, and there are nearly infinitely many of them, could have turned out that way instead of this, yielding a universe in which neither you nor I nor anybody else would be here, and yet against those astounding odds, astounding odds, we're here. That is cause for celebration. And you can go further. Not only are we here, we can figure out how we got here. We can create art. We can write the stories that you are referring to. We can create comedy. We can build monuments. We can create films. We can do things that inanimate objects can't. So this to me is where the value and purpose and meaning comes from, as opposed to trying to look out and hope Space Daddy comes with the answer of flashing a neon sign saying, that's what it's all about. That's never going to happen. It isn't. Well, it might. You might have to eat your words. But I admit that it's possible. So every time I say it's not going to happen, I mean unlikely that it's going to happen. Very unlikely. Yeah, I agree with that.