The process of extinction is necessarily entwined fully with the idea and inevitability of death. Furthermore, extinction is an event that neurophysiology can explain in detail. However, from my perspective, the concept of “death” or the total disintegration of all systems is merely a physicochemical outcome arising as an inevitability given the thermodynamic laws nature.
We die – according to the Human Theorem thesis – due to the clash between (a) the positive “tendency” of Evolution to develop increasingly complex systems, and (b) the negative “tendency” of the 2nd law of thermodynamics to disperse the energy that keeps the system enduring, otherwise known as entropy. (This 2nd law states that the entropy of any isolated system always increases).
Both (1) evolution and (2) entropy belong to the group of natural laws which together appeared at the instant of the Universe’s birth (the Big Bang).
Incidentally, the effects in our “real world” produced by evolution and entropy do not abide by any hidden agenda or “intension.” They are, like all natural laws, objective facts without a preconceived purpose.
Let’s more closely analyze these two intangible laws that continue to have an enormous impact on the destiny of our universe.
From the set of interactive quantum fields (nuclear, electromagnetic, and gravitational), Gravity is the most powerful manifestation that can be detected in every corner of the universe. It is a powerful “force” that is constantly “feeding” the development of evolution.
This universal evolution can be divided into two well-defined stages.
- The Evolution of Inanimate Systems.
- The Evolution of Animated Systems.
(a) Evolution of Inanimate Systems
According to scientists, when our universe was only one second old, particle-antiparticle pairs were the only components. However, they were continually annihilating each other with their pairing. As a result, no real physical matter was present at that precise moment.
In the course of this constant particle-antiparticle annihilation and the fact that space persisted in its expansion while temperature continued to drop, many particles did not find pairing with their respective antiparticles. This excess of particles started forming what we now experience as our physical universe.
Around 380,000 years after the Big Bang, when the universe was finally cool enough, the first atoms of hydrogen, helium, and lithium were created. In the subsequent 800 million years that followed, gravity began to attract this matter together, leading to enormous cloud formations of these basic elements.
Later on, gravity started collapsing these massive clouds of hydrogen and helium together, which produced the first generation of stars. In those ancient and enormous furnaces, the fusion of primordial atoms generated several other natural elements, among them the pillars of life as we know it: carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen. After yet more time had passed, these numerous stars assembled into larger and larger clusters of galaxies floating in the immensity of expanding space-time.
When a first generation star consumed all the fuel needed to keep its furnace burning, it simply committed a spectacular suicide, known as a supernova, which involved a massive disintegration via an enormous explosion that scattered all the natural elements formed inside the core of the star throughout local space. During each particular cataclysm, new elements appeared such as mercury, titanium, gold, silver, and many other natural elements.
Consequently, it is very plausible that the atoms of your left arm came from a very faraway star’s explosion, and the ones of your right arm from another, even further-away, star’s explosion; all of which all took place billions of years ago! So you see…in some ways you are even older than you think!
The debris of these first-generation stars created new clouds of various elements, which in turn, and after a time, also collapsed together through the force-effect of gravity. At this moment, a second generation of stars was born, but now with compacted planets composed of a multitude of elements that orbited around them. As it turns out, there were a colossal amount of these planetary bodies. Astronomer Geoff Marcy estimates that there are currently tens-of-billions of planets only in our galaxy. NASA’s Kepler telescope has so far found 1,235 planets with 54 of them estimated to have conditions that may be friendly for life to develop and exist. Can you imagine how many other earth-like planets exist within the hundreds of billions of galaxies in the observable universe alone? No to mention how many more may exist within the non-visible portion of the universe? It truly is a wondrous thought!
Included in those second-generation stars is our own sun and solar system. It was formed circa 8.5 billion years after the Big Bang and like many other stars, began its incubation as a result of gravity pulling together debris left over by the supernovae explosions of the ancient, first-generation stars. Later, approximately 9 billion years after the Big Bang, or about 4.6 billion years ago, our planet Earth officially became an active member of the solar system. However, its surface at this time was a literal inferno: Volcanoes erupted everywhere while asteroids and comets continually bombarded the planet like drops of rain. To make matters worse, there was no water present because it was so hot that the only existing liquid on Earth was the product of melted rocks!
(b) Evolution of Animated Systems
As soon as geophysical and physicochemical conditions became appropriate on Earth, evolution expanded its complexity to produce molecules and then macromolecules. After a time, two of the most exceptional macromolecules of our planet, sugar (C6H12O6) and phosphate (H3PO4) joined together to form the Double-Helix or DNA structure, which is a blueprint capable of developing life and storing information. Indeed, it is the matrix of everything that we define as animated complex systems or organized cellular systems. In short, DNA became the bridge between the evolution of inanimate systems and the evolution of animated systems.
Well over two billion years ago, when the earth’s atmosphere contained little or no oxygen, the eukaryotic cell made its entrance onto the stage of the Earth’s history. They were extremely simple and very similar to modern bacteria. With the passing of time, these new natives continued to evolve and adapt until, about 680 million years ago, the first multi-cellular organism emerged. From then on the appearance of the human race became unavoidable. From then on, the embryonic structure that would support the future emerging of humanity, was in place.
Let’s see how these macromolecules, consisting of RNA, DNA, and proteins, rearranged and interacted amongst each other to create you.
Almost 290 million years ago, the only inhabitants of the planet were plants and some unremarkable reptilians. Next, it was the now-famous dinosaurs that took their turn as the dominant species of the Earth. Conjointly with these giants, some small (and very clever) mammals also appeared who hunted primarily at night to avoid becoming a dinosaur snack.
Circa 65 million years ago, various plant species dressed the Earth’s country-sides with beautiful flowers and mammals began filling the empty niches produced by a mass extinction event that led to the disappearance of the dinosaurs. These Mammals began to populate every corner of the Earth following the ruthless natural law of “survival of the fittest.”
Circa 4 million years ago, some mammals began to walk upright, although slightly bowed. They lived in small social groups, ate fruits, seeds, and some meat scavenged from other predators, used simple tools, and slept in trees for their protection.
Then, approximately 2 million years ago, Homo habilis entered the scene. They were very humanlike, weighed an average of 120 pounds, and were especially curious. This distant ancestor of ours left the safety of his trees and ventured into that “mysterious and unlimited” savanna which offered new opportunities and, simultaneously, new dangers.
Around one million years ago, Homo erectus emerged. He was very aware of his environment and was the first of our ancestors to stand fully up-right. Approximately 190 thousand years ago, the modern man came forth replacing all other and earlier sentient humans.
Nearly 40 thousand years ago, – between France and Spain – some of our predecessors began decorating the walls of their cave-homes with symbolic paintings, invented music, and developed ceremonies related to culture. Similar forms of art have also been found on the island of Sulawesi in modern day Indonesia, and Germany (Lion Man of the Hohlenstein Stadel, and Venus of Hohle Fels, respectively). All of this was the product of a new emergent skill of consciousness: Self-awareness. In other words, masses of molecules began to be aware of their own existence!
Then, 27 thousand years ago – a relatively tiny blip compared to the billions of years of cosmic evolution – this self-awareness capability expanded throughout humanity, speeding up the human mind’s evolution. The consequence of this phenomenon was the domestication of plants and animals, and around 12 thousand years ago small, agrarian-based human societies began to flourish all over the world.
After taking a long-form view of evolution’s track record, it appears as if it is continually rearranging available elements to create new and more complex systems. It is, therefore, my hope that our sophisticated, intelligent, and conscious biological-machine, which has been in development for billions of years, does not end up being just another footnote in the long evolutionary process of the molecule. Perhaps thousands of years in the future, highly sophisticated, highly intelligent, and utterly self-conscious digital-machines will be the new rulers of our planet. Recall that computers, robots, as well as humans, are just composites of natural elements — the byproduct of enormous star explosions which took place billions of years ago.
The future disintegration of all matter is an irrefutable and ineludible fact. The 2nd law of thermodynamics demonstrates that conclusively. It is useful to think of the thermodynamic laws as the “golden rules” of physics: If you remove them, then all of Physics and Chemistry will collapse.
The durability of inanimate systems can amount to billions of years. For animated systems, longevity can be expected to last between days to thousands of years. For example, some trees, such as Prometheus and Methuselah, have a life expectancy of about 5,000 years. However, perhaps the most fascinating life-form in this regard is the Norwegian spruce, Picea abies, whose roots have been active since the glacial era — that is, nearly 10,000 years ago! Indeed, the only thing which consistently delays the disintegration of a given animated system is the dynamic balance between energy consumption and the need to absorb energy in order to restore it. That is, the equation energy consumption = energy restitution is vital for the animated system to continue.
But where does the energy of restitution come from? From two sources: (a) solar energy, especially in the case of plants utilizing photosynthesis, and (b) directly from the energy of other animated systems (both plant and animal). In the latter case (b), the consumer uses a set of processes that manipulate a complex set of chemical reactions to acquire energy. Notably, these processes are strongly reliant on the involvement of the ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM) molecule.
There are other animated systems that are incredibly astute and efficient in their capture of restitution energy. For instance, the Shewanella and the Geobacter bacteria take most of their restitution energy directly from the “free” electrons of electricity. That is to say, they are bacteria that are “eating” electricity!
The curious thing about these bacteria is that they seem to be a recent product of human evolution, since the first electric power plants were created in the 19th century.
Perhaps as a result of this discovery, the restaurants of the future may one day offer consumable batteries, where the customer may need only insert his fingers into a connector and begin his “lunch of electric energy”.
We all live in a permanent battle against disintegration: entropy versus evolution. Ultimately, according to the long historical record and by most scientists’ estimation, entropy will emerge the winner. Astrophysicists maintain that all organized systems of the Universe: galaxies, stars, planets, organisms, molecules, and atoms will all eventually disintegrate little by little, until the end of the universe itself when only black holes will remain… Eventually, even the black holes will evaporate! At this stage, when there is no more matter, Classic Reality will also fade away within an unimaginably enormous and perfectly symmetric Universe of zero entropy, filled only with radiation.
So why do we die?
The direct answer is: when the energy of restitution is less than the energy of consumption, the animated system is not able to counteract the effects of entropy, resulting in the death of the animated system.
Therefore what does it mean to be born if, anyway, we are all going to eventually die? Worse still, after a couple of generations, no one will possibly remember what we did, how we felt, or what happened to us. So does life really have any purpose? Why, then, does the universe exist if entropy will always reign supreme?
Karl de Azagra