PURE SPECULATION AND BACKGROUND
A Contemporary Essay
By Rick Doble
The following ideas are totally whimsical, but why not? Even scientists will not discount the possibilities of worm holes, for example. At this early stage of our new sophisticated understanding of the universe, perhaps a lot of speculation is a good idea. If we don't ask questions such as these, we will never get answers to some of the most difficult problems. Incorrect ideas often lead to correct ones because they start the intellectual ball rolling.
THE REPORTS OF THE DEATH OF THE UNIVERSE
HAVE BEEN GREATLY EXAGGERATED
While I am not a scientist, I have to question all these dire predictions about the inevitable end of the universe. There is so much that we do not know, I think it is premature to put the nail in the coffin of the Universe and say that we are doomed. (See my list of what we do not know at the bottom of this page.)
If you have read my basic ideas in other parts of this series of essays you know that I think that intelligent living beings are an inevitable part of the evolution of the Universe. More than that intelligent beings such as humans will shape the Universe, or at least their corner of the Universe.
Stephen Hawking estimates that in 10 billion years most of the current stars will have burned out. However, 10 billion years is a very long time during which intelligent life could become quite powerful and be able to put pieces of the burned out universe back together in a new type of engineering. We could develop our own energy system which would not rely on a star for its energy, for example. We already know of one such source of energy, He3. Fusion reactors using He3 would produce almost no pollution and the fuel itself is quite abundant in our solar system. Robert Zubrin, the renowned space engineer has even suggested that we might know how to relight stars by then.
And then there is the other doomsday scenario of the expansion of the sun which will occur in about 5 billion years and which will swallow up the Earth. Fred Adams a physicist of the University of Michigan has stated, that in principle, at least, humans could engineer the orbit of the Earth very gradually so that it would move away from the sun to compensate for the Sun's warming and expansion.
Further, I keep hearing about the dead cold universe that is inevitable after a google years or so. Even if this is likely, the Einstein equation of E=mc2 will still hold true. That is any matter that is left can be turned into energy which the right technology. With the entire universe to work with, it would seem that the energy supply would be inexhaustible.
THE DECLINE AND FALL OF CIVILIZATIONS IS GREATLY EXAGGERATED
In the West it is assumed that all great nations rise and fall, just like the Roman Empire. Continuing with that assumption many think that even a spacefaring civilization will eventually fall as well. Robert Zubrin, author of Entering Space, makes this assumption. But there is a lot wrong with this idea.
Okay, in the West Rome declined. Many people question whether it actually fell or was just abandoned by the powers of the emperor who moved to Constantinople. In any case it was probably absorbed. It certainly wasn't leveled and destroyed since Rome and Roman roads and Roman viaducts still exist. Since that time in the West the Arabic empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Spanish empire, the English empire, the French empire and the German empire have risen and fallen.
However, during all this time, the Chinese society has remained relatively stable as has the island of Japanese and the sub-continent of India. Together these account for a significant portion of the world's population. In addition many cities have remained stable and have existed for thousands of years. Cities such as Damascus, Cairo, London and dozens more.
To top it off civilization has only be around for 7,500 years at most which is 5% of the time that homo sapiens have been on Earth according to the latest findings. If we have a little more experience running a civilization, lets say more than 5% of our existence, we might just get the hang of it.
COULD INTELLIGENT LIFE CONTROL AND SHAPE THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE?
While (at the moment) it seems impossible that intelligent beings could travel from galaxy to galaxy because the time involved is so huge - two million years at the speed of light from our galaxy to our nearest neighbor, Andromeda, for example - it is possible that they could learn to communicate in a somewhat rapid fashion.
Here is an example from our current technology. In the near future a supersonic plane may be able to cut the flight time from New York to Tokyo to 2 hours, but information can travel much faster. It can move at the speed of light and go from New York to Tokyo in seconds via the Internet or email.
I think that intelligent beings could shape and mold the entire Universe, but it would be through coordinated rapid communication rather than physical travel. In short galactic civilizations might not ever need to deal with each other or confront one other, but instead could exchange information.
Einstein's theories do allow for a "worm hole" in which space might be folded or bent. In this way a short cut could be found to travel large distances. With an understanding of how these work, information highways could be built that would allow relatively rapid communication from galaxy to galaxy or within our own galaxy.
In this manner an inter-galactic network might be constructed in which intelligent beings would cooperate in the management of the entire universe.
WHAT DO WE KNOW TODAY?
One of my person definitions of wisdom involves knowing what I do not know. While I am not a scientist and have only a layman's understanding of current cosmology, I still think that it is hard to make predictions when so much is unknown.
While cosmology has made incredible strides in the last 400, 100, and 10 years, we still do not know a lot. So to make predictions about the end of the Universe with specific time tables and so on seems a bit premature.
We do not know:
==Dark matter is not understood and it is much greater than the visible matter which we do know.
==Dark energy seems to have taken a foothold as a theory, but is far from proven. If it is disproven, we are back to square one (almost) in understanding the makeup of the Universe.
==Radio astronomy is in its infancy. Started roughly fifty years ago, it is the most significant advance since Galileo first used the telescope. Up to the start of radio astronomy, we were only looking at a tiny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum, that of visible light. Give radio astronomy a couple of hundred years and I bet many of our ideas about the universe will be quite different.
==Why are there Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRBs)? These massive bursts of energy emit as much energy in a few seconds as our sun has done in its entire life time. These are big explosions that are much more common than expected and not understood at all.
==Where do cosmic rays come from? These particles should not in theory be doing what they are doing. So clearly the theory is wrong.
==There is much we do not know about our own solar system such as the makeup of the Kuiper Belt where many comets reside and also the Oort cloud where a lot more of our solar systems real estate lives and which stretches out about a third of the way to the nearest star.
==The VTL (Very Large Telescope) in Chile will bring a new level of observations which will change our views, just as the Hubble telescope has done.
==The NGST (Next Generation Space Telescope) to be launched around 2010 will probably bring us very surprising findings since it is designed to look at the oldest part of the Universe.
==There are two competing theories about the destiny of the universe: the big crunch in which all matter is swallowed back into another Big Bang and the "not with a bang but a whimper" theory in which the Universe keeps expanding, burns out and becomes dead. Neither theory has enough evidence as yet so there may be other possibilities.