Clément Vidal‘s essay, “Cosmological Immortality: How to Eliminate Aging on a Universal Scale” discusses various scenarios of cosmic immortality.1 Vidal says that we might worry about the far future because, for example, we may come to live extremely long lifespans or we simply care about future beings who will live there. With such concerns in mind, he considers two religiously inspired and two scientifically inspired narratives of cosmic immortality.2
The Cosmological Soul – If the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics is correct, then “our universe keeps branching into parallel universes.” Of course, we know nothing of such universes. Still, believing in”parallel universes could be interpreted in a similar way as the belief that the soul can separate from the body and survive after physical death.” The problem is that this interpretation of quantum mechanics is controversial and also it also doesn’t tell us if those parallel universes would be desirable.
Cosmological Resurrection – Cosmological models that imply a kind of resurrection including cyclical models, the phoenix universe, cosmological natural selection, the chaotic inflation scenario, the ekpyrotic model, or conformal cyclical cosmology. In these models, the cycle goes on, even if each particular universe doesn’t. None of these scenarios necessitate intelligence “but each particular universe could continue to form energy gradients and be able to sustain life.”
Cosmological Survival – Vidal claims that “as long as we can find free energy in the universe, we can hope to live forever.” Turning first to the sun, there have been “proposals to rejuvenate the Sun” in order to radically extend its lifespan. The idea of galactic rejuvenation is even more speculative. However, “the death of stars via supernovae replenish the interstellar medium and in turn allow the formation of new stars.” Perhaps we could someday manage the galaxy like an ecosystem.
It is hard to conceive of universal rejuvenation if for no other reason that even at the speed of light we can’t travel fast enough to reach many of the innumerable receding galaxies. Nonetheless, even as the universe continues to evolve towards its demise there might still be ways to live forever.
The answer is hibernation, and the scenario was articulated in a landmark article about the future of civilization by Dyson.3 Dyson shows that even assuming
a finite supply of energy, it would be possible for a civilization to live forever. An advanced civilization would hibernate longer and longer and thus use less and less energy. Despite a finite energy source, by hibernating longer and longer, and thus using less and less energy, a civilization would be able, in the limit, to live for as long as it wants in its subjective time. Of course, ‘‘life’’ is defined here not in terms of DNA and biochemistry, but as a more general information processing capability. However, this scenario does not work if the universe continues its accelerated expansion.”
Another idea that might lead to intelligence enduring forever is reversible computation.
Landauer4 proved the theoretical possibility of logic gates that consume no energy. Given a computer built out of such gates, a possible solution to the problem of an ever-expanding and slowly dying universe would be to simulate a new universe on a collection of matter that would forever float into emptier and emptier space.
However, most physicists have rejected this idea arguing that ‘‘no finite system can perform an infinite number of computations with finite energy if it is to host evolved information processing.”
Cosmological Legacy – The disposable soma theory says that “it is more efficient to invest energy in reproduction than in indefinite upkeep of the organism. Once the best chances for reproduction are used, thus ensuring the survival of the almost immortal genes (germline), the mortal body (soma) can be disposed of.” Some futurists speculate
that this theory may also apply to the universe. The soma is analogous to the constituents of the universe, with its mortal galaxies, stars, and planets, while the germline is analogous to free parameters that determine immortal physical laws. If we take seriously this fundamental trade-off in energy expenditure between soma and germline, the death of the ‘‘universe’s soma’’ may indeed be inevitable. But its germline, its most delicate physical structure, may be saved if universes are replicable.
Another idea is that future super-intelligent civilizations will engage in cosmological artificial selection.
The artificial selection of universes would be made by computer
simulations, selecting only complex universes able to harbor life and
reproduce. Cosmological immortality via cosmological artificial selection is
analogous to biological immortality through a chain of reproducing universes
instead of a chain of living entities.
Another argument “concerns the energetics of our universe.” Perhaps
the cosmological energy density trend through time would be a U-shaped curve, with extremely high energy densities at the Big Bang era that decrease as the universe cools down. Locally, the energy rate density then starts to grow exponentially with the appearance of life … The energy rate density is decreasing globally, both as the universe expands, and as organisms senesces inevitably towards death. But, according to the disposable soma theory, organisms invest energy not only for maintenance but also for reproduction. In this context, the origin of life triggering the growth of energy rate density could be interpreted as a maturation phase, towards universe reproduction …
I’m unqualified to assess these highly speculative science fiction scenarios but I think that the future of the universe is largely unknown. When considering a literally unimaginable distant future we can legitimately doubt even the proclamations of our best scientific knowledge. Perhaps Kurzweil was right when he argued “the laws of physics are not repealed by intelligence, but they effectively evaporate in its presence … The fate of the Universe is a decision yet to be made, one which we will intelligently consider when the time is right.”
Finally, Vidal says, the idea of leaving a legacy—whether biological or creative—is a common way to overcome the fear of death. Perhaps then making a universe would be our ultimate legacy. As the philosopher, Steven Cave said: “Perhaps one day we—or some far more evolved successor—will be able to seed new universes that are fit for life. Indeed, perhaps we are already in one, seeded by some earlier civilization.”5
- A recent post discussed Brian Greene’s latest book, Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe. Greene argues that we can find meaning even though the universe destined for extinction. In response, I pointed to scenarios where mind and the universe might be immortal.
- I have previously written about this topic in “The Origin, Evolution, and Fate of the Cosmos.”
- Dyson, F. J. 1979. “Time Without End: Physics and Biology in an Open Universe.” Review of Modern Physics 51: 447–60. http://siba.unipv.it/fisica/articoli/R/Review%20of%20Modern %20Physics_vol.51_no.3_1979_pp.447-460.pdf.
- Landauer, R. 1961. “Irreversibility and Heat Generation in the Computing Process.” IBM Journal of Research and Development 5 (3): 183–91. doi:10.1147/rd.53.0183.
- Cave, Stephen. 2012. Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives
Civilization. New York: Crown Publishers