We're all dead in the end

Written on 15 Apr, 2022

We’re all dead in the end. That’s true of humans and universes alike. For us people, most don’t know when or how the end will come but universes are (possibly) more predictable.

Astrophysicist Dr Katie Mack explains some of the most likely ways the universe will meet its metaphorical maker in The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking). This is the kind of book that leaves me in awe of how our species can use a brain designed to work out whether a fruit is ripe enough to eat, or avoid that big scary animal trying to hunt us, and apply it to answering the big, fundamental questions of existence. ‘How did we get here?’ and ‘How will it all end?’.

Dr Mack’s writing makes it easy, and entertaining, to learn about the potential ends of the cosmos, whether it is far in the future, only five minutes away, or has already happened but hasn’t reached our part of creation yet.

Me v the universe

Contemplating how everything ends is sobering. The observable universe is 93 billion light-years across, the full size is undoubtably much bigger, and yet one day all of it may be gone. The scale of it all pushes against the limits of my monkey brain and brings on existential crisis.

My own lifespan will be shorter than the universe’s (I strongly suspect) but doesn’t bring me the same crisis. I’m nearly 50, almost certainly over the half-way mark of my time on this, or any other, world, so why the difference?

Youth brings with it a sense of invulnerability, and an assumption you’ll live forever. I no longer think my life is infinite, but my mortality doesn’t weight on me. Will it one day? I remember my elderly parents often making future plans then caveating them with “If I’m still here”. A no-more than casual reference to their time being short.

Do we fool ourselves into ignoring the vulnerability of the flesh? Alongside recognising fruit and choosing between fight and flight, do our monkey brains also hide from us concerns over mortality? Would thinking about us dying stop us from living? Or is it just me?