The Universe as a Fluke
The laws of physics have always existed. They manifest as potential energy and interact randomly. They have no consciousness or purpose. They exist outside of space and time in a cosmic dance and whenever a random event creates a spark – not unlike the spontaneous combustion of the oily rag in the closet – the spark is quickly extinguished by its counterpart and the binary universe of on-off zero-one yin-yang remains. Somehow, after a rather more forceful brane instigation, or the inevitable anomaly of mathematical randomness, the usual short song and dance was disrupted by a lone spark, a rebel without a cause, a spontaneous leap in which the haves outpaced the have nots, the mods overcame the rockers; the symmetry of the mirror image was broken and the universe and time were born.
Some instant after the infusion or the quantum tunneling or the spark or the twinge or the spasm, the equanimity of low entropy was expunged and the upstart rogue called matter escaped the binary cancellation effect of its counterpart anti-matter and Pandora’s box was opened. This had happened a zillion times before and the overload was quickly quelled. In fact, contrary to the fatuous statement one often hears, especially from athletes, that “everything happens for a reason”, the fact of the matter is “nothing happens for a reason”. This fluke, this crack in the cosmic mirror, this anomaly of anomalies, is the reason a grandmother knits a sweater on her front porch in the gloaming of a Wichita evening. Not only is the universe as it came to be, a fluke, but life itself is a rare emergence, especially conscious or technological life which, in my view, has happened only once in the history of the vast universe. A random mathematical condition was ultimately met (perhaps inevitably) in the bubbling cauldron of potential energy to jump-start the universe and the ignition switch was turned as matter formed and jumped out to an early advantage. If this never happened none would be the wiser.
The laws of physics inherently seek to return to the state of equilibrium – their nature commands it – but it’s got a battle on its hands. It seeks the 50-50 low entropy default position but since matter has run amok it will take time, a great deal of time, to counteract. On a universal scale it’s the yin and the yang, dark matter versus dark energy, a balanced equation, this is what the laws seek – in our world it projects for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and even good vs evil for lack of better words. The laws of physics govern our lives and in our small closed pocket of increasing complexity – our nondescript star and vibrant solar system bound by gravity – in the massive stew of increasing entropy our tiny window of life and the life of our species has not, so far, been able to have true and sustained progress because of the laws of physics. We are currently in a standoff between run away entropy and the temporary defense posture of our closed off solar system. We’re in a temporary state of balance of which the defendant, the counterpuncher – is trying to overcome. The universe doesn’t care about a few million years but that’s enough to be the end of our species. Our fight for the good, the yin, dark matter, anti-matter has so far always ended in a tie and when we return to primitive conditions we start all over. Progress has so far always been temporary or confined to specific areas, technology or medicine for example. But one turn in fortunes, one natural disaster, one global war – all can be wiped out in an instant. If we have had the delusion of progress, a correction quickly sets that to rights.
During the universes quest to return to its womb, its equilibrium, its statis, its benign non-existence – it is also going through a process of self-discovery although this isn’t inherent or intentional. In this picaresque journey, a macroscopic version of our human lives, it learns along the way before it returns to its blissful non-state, which like ours will be death. So in certain parts of a closed system, where entropy hasn’t full ascended, there will be a battle but it will be a standoff for perhaps quite a long time, so how this manifests in human life is in the one step forward, one step back reality that we often face or better yet – the law of unintended consequences. An example in our modern world: a driven maniac builds the first smart phone and it brings GPS and information and entertainment and knowledge to our fingertips instantaneously yet its counterpart, the force fighting against – whatever it may be called – creates delusional children without human contact, instantaneous obscenity, cyberbullying and social media that creates easy rioting and divisiveness and contempt at the click of a button. Neither side wins, the yin-yang is maintained and might be for millions of years.
Something is more natural than nothing. Something is also unstable. Tiny quarks and virtual particles flitted in and out of existence in a condition not unlike boiling water. Little explosions occurred and minor upstart energy bursts were quickly put to rest and annihilated by their anti-counterpart. This bubbling cauldron existed like an Edgar Allan Poe lyric “out of space, out of time”. Each Yin was met by its Yang, each quark by its anti-quark, each pre-matter particle by its pre anti-matter, each insurrection by a counter insurgency, the battle waged in a state of stasis, equilibrium – volatile but without expression, energetic but without form, unconscious but inherently mathematical, a frolic of the eternal state of something that was quantum-ly close to nothing – as there were no observers. All this, and here we’re not allowed to use time references, did it’s non-thing over and over until a magic blip went uncancelled, an eruption went unanswered, a volley went unreturned, a fluke categorically just a bit above impossible ignited like a twig in the desert. In this unyielding cauldron, this benign stew of potential, somehow someway, in the coincidence of all coincidences, energy ignited and the universal laws began engineering a coalescence we call matter that for the first time – outnumbered its anti-matter twin – and our universe was born.
The released energy is not conscious but seeks its former equilibrium through interactions governed by mathematical laws. There is no plan, no predetermination, no deity controlling things. There is only nature and its laws in a self-generated experiment. No consciousness would create a universe as ridiculously massive and inert as the one we find ourselves in. It may be 99.9% lifeless. If something created it with a purpose surely a few stars and solar systems would do the trick and at the outset a galaxy. What would possibly require more than a galaxy to enact some sort of test or trial. It’s absurdly large expanse is proof of its lack of a conscious creator. Nothing in supreme control would be so wasteful and inefficient. Nature’s eternal mathematical Platonic constructs happened upon a fluke vibration and the dance began. It didn’t know if life would arise or self-consciousness might develop or that a species would create advanced technologies, it knew only laws, entropy, mathematical frameworks and potential. Its nature seeks return, return to that beautiful equation of the static universe.
Godless and Pointless
Why would anything in control make it so creatures eat each other to survive? (Source: Oriana Fallaci). Who would allow mass genocide, murder, rape, disease, deformities, still births, tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes etc. not to mention rats, roaches, snakes, stench and filth and the unimaginable suffering caused therein. Who would allow hard working species to go extinct like many of our very own ancestors who no longer grace the earth. Do they have a soul? Did the Neanderthal have a soul? At what point in the evolution from amoeba to man do we get to have a soul? Are we the only ones allowed in heaven but Neanderthal doesn’t make the cut? What about our current cousins the great apes, do they get a free pass? On what date is the soul implanted? Can you now see the arbitrariness and absurdity of our belief in our own specialness in a universe that doesn’t care. If an asteroid hits the earth tomorrow and wipes us all out, is there a god somewhere that’s going to care? Let’s accept the truth as stated by Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg. To paraphrase “the universe is pointless”. Nuff said.
It seems insane but I wouldn’t be surprised if earth had the only life in the universe. It almost sounds like a religious declaration except its not. My best guess is that there is life in the universe but not in the teeming millions that even seemingly intelligent scientists speculate. The life that exist might be largely bacterial or amoeba-l or in other primitive forms. If you succeed in an environment that is relatively static there’s little pressure to change. It also wouldn’t surprise me if more advanced or even intelligent life forms evolved elsewhere but as far as technological life, and this is a big distinction here, the kind of technological life that can harness electromagnetism (like us) I think it quite likely we are the only ones. I don’t think people appreciate the kind of luck and close calls we’ve had that have allowed us to get to this point. I’ve read (Source: Paul Davies) that we were likely down to a few dozen individuals at one point and could have and still might – be wiped out by asteroids or disease or war or famine or other unforeseen-s. Not only that but to be a planet luckily not bombarded by life killing radiation and having the luck of a magnetic field that scatters said radiation – that is an enormous piece of luck that helps explain why we’re here today. For all these fortuitous circumstances to happen on another world is highly unlikely. Even though there is a ridiculous number of planets in the universe, again to what point?, we’ve already discovered hundreds, probably thousands and even though we call a few in the goldilocks zone, we still have no evidence of life. Zero. How common is water?, ideal temperatures, lack of powerful radiation, freedom from asteroids?, competition and the pressure of natural selection? Again we don’t know but I think it naive to guess on the side of fecundity when all current evidence points to the opposite. Even if all these wonderful things come together as they have in one known spot in the universe, a creature with limbs and on land is still required. How likely is this? Dolphins or squid may be as intelligent as us but dolphins have no limbs to create a tool outside of themselves and even if squids wanted to, building a stable technology in water is nearly impossible. Advanced technology needs a land creature and how common are these in the universe? Again, who knows, but my guess is if life exists most of it is underwater and essentially on lockdown in its fluid environment. So you need land creatures with limbs and the forces to evolve intelligence which is no guarantor of success. A lot of what ifs here, flukes, fortuities, happenstances and incredible luck. Multiple planet yielding life forms may be too much to ask (multiple technological intelligences) even in an infinite universe since it appears 99.9% of all matter is lifeless and therefore useless.
So the beginning of the universe was due to a break in equilibrium or yin yang or binary stasis and since its genesis, the laws of nature seek to return to that preferred low entropy virtual energy state. The universe will either neuter matter’s one upsmanship vis a vis anti-matter by achieving maximum entropy and hence declawing matter so to speak or will return to something approaching its initial state through a big crunch by the overpowering of dark matter. Regardless, along this very long drawn out ride, there will be locales where for extremely long periods of time – a solar system or group of stars or even a galaxy or galaxies – will remain in a dead even battle between the forces of equilibrium, the yin-yang or zero-one such that for every action there is an equal an opposite reaction. Physics. Two to Tango. In other words, for periods of time that might as well be infinite for a short lived species like ourselves, the unyielding laws of physics may prevent, at least for any significant length of time, real sustained human progress. This is an idea that demands exposition. No one in their right mind would deny the technological progress of the last century or two, it goes without mentioning, but what has been its costs? We know there’s been great advances in medicine, and big strides in space exploration and giant leaps in gadgetry and startling advances in communication but on the downside let’s consider the following – at currently 7.6 billion personnes we are stressing the world’s resources, the biggest problem may not be global warming or plastics pollution but a shrinking of the water tables for example. I needn’t extrapolate on what a scarce quantity of potable water would mean for our avaricious species. Wars rage, diseases spread, terrorism escalates, mass murder trends – contempt is at an all-time high. Which side is winning? There has been progress in the past – all of which at some point reverted, de-evolved, digressed, returned to primitivism. One must take a Macro perspective, peaks and valleys aren’t steady progressions. That old saying “bomb you back to the Stone Age” comes to mind.
Greg Seitz is a part time writer, artist and overall generalist.