Everything Seems to Eventually Break Down and Decay
But Is This Just a Short Sighted Illusion?
Science tells us that the universe at large is in a gradual state of “winding down” so to speak. That is, order tends to break down into disorder, everything decays, and in a cosmic sense this means that eventually the stars, planets and galaxies themselves will collapse into a form of matter and energy universally spread throughout space, where no useful work can any longer be done because there is no “gradient” to the levels of existence any longer. This is known as “heat death” though no heat will actually be lost when the universe dies, it will just be uniformly spread out, and completely useless for any form of work.
While in principle this is true, we really don’t see much evidence of entropy on Earth. This is because entropy only applies to a closed system, and the Earth is an open one. By taking large amounts of energy from the Sun and raw matter available here, and using them more efficiently, you can increase levels of order. Human beings do this all the time. When we take fossil fuels and refine them into gasoline to move cars, or refine metals, purify them and make them into toasters or tennis rackets, we are decreasing entropy or the level of disorder for the objects we create. (Of course, the net level of disorder over all increases, because we create far more waste and burn far more energy in the process of making something than the object itself contains).
Nevertheless, human beings are in effect entropy-defying, intelligent processes. Our very existences are driven by a desire to build order from disorder, to create and enrich our lives from the basic resources we find around us. It could be argued that this effect is entirely negligible. The Earth is one tiny little blue ball in a vast, empty cosmos. We may in fact be the only intelligent creatures in the entire Milky Way galaxy. If true, our entropy-defying efforts here on Earth are pretty meaningless. Even if we don’t manage to blow ourselves up eventually, no matter what we accomplish here on Earth, it will make no difference at all for the rest of space and time beyond the confines of our world.
Or will it? If we continue to advance, and one day develop the technology to travel to and settle on other worlds, we will begin to practice our entropy defying efforts there as well. First we may only be able to settle on worlds in our own Solar System, like Mars. But what if we develop the means to reach other star systems in a practical period of time? Are human beings capable of reversing the entropy of the entire universe?
The universe is very large, and settling in every corner of it seems completely impossible, no matter how much time is available to do so. Yet we know that human population, even today, is rising at an astronomical level, on a parabolic scale that accelerates more and more as time progresses. It took the human race up until about 1972 to produce 3.5 billion people. But only 40 years later, we have doubled that number to 7 billion. If we weren’t confined to Earth, and were able to inhabit other worlds, how much faster would the population grow? This increase in numbers could go off the scale if terraforming of worlds and travel to distant regions of space became practical, even if such technologies took thousands of years to develop.
It’s therefore possible that in what is a relatively short time on a cosmic scale, humanity could settle space in such vast numbers that it would make the current population on Earth look extremely small and scarce by comparison. When there are trillions of humans in every star system throughout the galaxy, when everywhere starts to look and feel like China, or India, then vast levels of order will begin to arise from such combined intelligence as well.
Then, the net effect of our lives, one of reverse-entropy on the universe itself will begin to have a measurable effect. One day, we may remake the universe in our own making, and it may come far sooner than we expect. That is, if we can survive the turmoil and intolerance for each other that we currently live with in our infancy today.