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  • Kathleen

Demise of The Universe

"And so some day

The mighty ramparts of the mighty universe

Ringed round with hostile force,

Will yield and face decay and come crumbling to ruin.”


How will our universe end? This conundrum has always confused humans, with numerous possible answers being proposed and some considered more probable than others. Part of the difficulty deciding which theory has more value is that the answer relies not only on empirical sciences, but also beliefs, the human biological condition, existential contemplation, and philosophy. Ultimately, all theories circle back to a questioning of the universe’s framework and understanding not only how the cosmos will put its long-lasting reign to an end, but also its origin and currently obscured truths—these are integral components vital to solving the universe’s very downfall.

Cosmological models can be sorted into four different hypothetical categories: First, a more orthodox idea of the universe as a closed system (finite) that is brought to existence at a certain time and eventually degenerates in the direction of unavoidable cosmic doom. Second, a universe that possesses a definite genesis but advances and circumvents the second law of thermodynamics—the understanding that every closed system’s amount of entropy will always increase and is destined for an inexorable state of complete disorder or chaos. Another conception is a cyclic universe without a definite beginning or end and continuously repeats itself or abides the theory of recurrences, which will be introduced later on. Finally, a fixed and immobilised universe—it can be degenerative or progressive, but its state and general composition is unchanging.

The concept that will be explained shortly contradicts the Newtonian clockwork universe (an idea that material bodies depend on predictable forces which advance them through space consistent with precise mathematical conditions, making the universe a mechanism flawless in every measurable aspect). For instance, ‘entropy’ is essentially a parameter which evaluates the extent of disorder in a system; in the current context, a suitable example would be the sun unleashing light and heat into space during the process of our planet’s heat source gradually burning up its nuclear fuel, thus heightening the universe’s entropy (increased randomness). It is commonly believed that eventually, in accordance with the second law of thermodynamics, the universe will meet total degeneration through cosmic heat death as a result of all stars’s demise—these astronomical bodies are the main sources of celestial energy. No reactions in the cosmos will be able to occur because the universe would have reached its maximum entropy, hence reaching the condition of thermodynamic equilibrium when energy declines and evens out. In this scenario, the universe will ultimately be dissipated within a distant, unretrievable memory and serve as a futile graveyard.

Cosmic heat death differs from other notions regarding the end of the universe, such as ‘cold death’ and the ‘big crunch’. Although the theory of cold death appears to share similarities with that of cosmic heat death in terms of effect, the former states that the end of the universe will result from its radical cooling procedure due to continuous expansion—suggesting it is an open system—which eliminates all prospects of maintaining life. On the other hand, the ‘big crunch’ hypothesises that the cosmos will eventually cease to expand and begin to reduce in size, exponentially increasing the temperature of the dying system as a consequence.

The different postulations mentioned above are all examples of pessimistic views on time—atheistic philosophers have been wallowing in the melancholic inevitability of the universe’s termination, awaiting our cosmos’s impending doom. However, a differing perspective is rather optimistic as opposed to the previous standpoint, and is in relation to Charles Darwin’s theory on evolution and natural selection. Darwin asserted that biological evolution enables progression amongst organisms, and in contrast to the second law of thermodynamics, progressive evolution and biological processes indicate an advantageous developmental procedure for the myriad of life forms as a whole. A ‘ladder of progress’ began to be referenced in biology, conveying the progressive evolution from microorganisms to man. Hence, this implies that the human race can continually improve (at least in a biological sense) regardless of time’s grasp on the cosmos’s fate. Furthermore, some scientists and philosophers insist that the second law of thermodynamics can possibly be bypassed under certain circumstances; consequently, the law would not be applicable to the universe overall.

Intending to explain thermodynamic entropy, Ludwig Boltzmann, an Austrian physicist, utilised a model involving a representation of molecular collision within a gas while applying Newton’s laws of motion to the process (laws of inertia, force and action/reaction). However, this theory was refuted by French mathematician Henri Poincaré who proved that if the entropy of a gas increases, it will ultimately decrease again after a period of time in order to return to its original state. Fundamentally, the gas’s behaviour is cyclic and can be applied to the universe; the proposition came to be known as ‘recurrences’. This concept was later taken in by the tides of nihilistic philosophy—German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche insisted that the idea of cosmic recurrences inherently eradicated any human purpose in life, since progress would be nonexistent if we are all locked within a repeated set of circumstances. In any case, if Poincaré’s framework is true, the resurrection of the universe subsequent to cosmic heat death could be plausible.

The demonstrations of renewal, cyclical re-creation, and deflection of time’s rigid grasp are manifested in spiritual and compositional contexts, which are often deemed as absurd fantasies within the human psyche. A notion partially correlating with recurrences is cosmic cyclicity; this cosmological model deviates from the ‘concrete’ belief of linear time, theorising that the universe undergoes cosmic regeneration and essentially repeats itself in an infinite loop. The conception of cosmic cyclicity has undergone a relatively long chapter of history in terms of philosophical views; Plato’s advocacy for the theory not only greatly influenced Greek and Roman thought, but also led to other philosophies approaching the idea from seemingly counterintuitive standpoints. For instance, the Stoics believed in ‘palingenesia’—a scenario where the exact replicas of individuals and events reappear cycle after cycle in precise detail. This plunged the already considered slightly ‘far-fetched’ idea of an infinitely regenerating cosmos into the extremities of human understanding. The concept of infinite cyclicity presents itself as rather paradoxical—when taken into consideration, shouldn’t even a cyclical universe have initially originated from something? Yet, that very question triggered in the subconscious may hint at the limits of human comprehension, or is just an implication of the universe’s identity simply being beyond that of our imagination.

In conclusion, the multitude of theories regarding the universe’s eventual dissipation from existence convey a kaleidoscope of ranging viewpoints, and can all be placed in varying contexts. Personally, I am leaning more towards the concept of cosmic heat death in relation to the second law of thermodynamics, and that the universe is a finite system which will naturally come to a close just like any mechanism on Earth. I believe there may also be a possibility that the universe could potentially restore itself after heat death occurs; however, it will most likely possess a different framework or system in comparison to its previous form. Nonetheless, I remain open to alternate perspectives considering that as of the current moment, no definitive proof has been put forward determining the universe’s fate—perhaps the question will remain a perpetually unresolved mystery. Will the human species eventually attain insurmountable cerebral proficiency or expertise before the cosmos meets its doom? From my perspective, certainly not. But it is conceivable that development and innovative approaches will gradually be incorporated into the future of research-based discovery. Moreover, we as humans are still in the process of assimilating adequate scientific understanding, as well as uncovering the complexities of the cosmos—if we are ever able to, for that matter.

“It is through science that we prove, but through intuition that we discover.”

—Henri Poincaré

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