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Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return. - Comments

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 1 by Stevehill

I think Prof Cox may need to move a decimal point somewhere... is he talking about the life of the universe to date (say 13.5 billion years) or is he estimating its' total lifespan?

In the former case, give or take, there's been some sort of life on earth for about 5% or 6% of that period.

In the latter case, why would Cox assume that some sort of life would not survive at least as long as our own sun survives?

Or does he mean a life, rather than life in general, referenced to the lifespan of the longest living creature? Or does he mean by "life as we know it" specifically human life? I do think as a science professor he should state his assumptions up front!

But that's very pedantic! I like the wintry sparrow story a lot. Except I see the before and after as calm, rather than a storm.

Mon, 07 Mar 2011 17:23:52 UTC | #599730

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 2 by Richard Dawkins

I do think as a science professor he should state his assumptions up front!

I believe he did state them, but not in the brief quotation given above. The total lifespan of the sun is minuscule compared to the time that will elapse before the final heat death of the universe when everything is flat and cold and no matter remains. I also think that by 'life' he means the total possibility of life anywhere in the universe, because as entropy in the total universe increases life will become impossible not just in our solar system, not just in our galaxy, but everywhere. We're talking trillions of years, here, not just billions. That, at least, was what I took away from Brian Cox's documentary, and I was primed for it by Lawrence Krauss's lecture at AAI 2009, sponsored by RDFRS (please forgive the plug: it was a brilliant lecture and he has expanded it into a brilliant book, soon to be published).

Mon, 07 Mar 2011 17:37:41 UTC | #599733

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 3 by Jos Gibbons

The "ten thousand (eight trillions)" figure was the age the universe will be, in Earth years, when the last black hole evaporates. A few minutes later Cox described the proportion of this for which stars will exist as "a thousand-(nine billions)th of a percent". In other words, 1 part in 10 to the 86 of a 10 to the 100 year period. Indeed, Wikipedia agrees with him; the 10 to the 14 years of the stars compare with the 10 to the 100 years of the black holes. I wished he hadn't used such hope-people-can-count-how-often-I-say-trillion methods. I'd have just said the numbers of years were 1 followed by a 100 and 14 noughts, and so the ratio was 1 followed by 86. OK, I'd go a bit slower than that, but I think saying a number with many words is counterproductive. It's a shame more people don't know 10 to the 100 is called a googol, otherwise he could just have said that. Incidentally, the sequence million, billion, trillion, ... continues further and, while 10 to the 14 is 100 trillion, a googol is 10 duotrigintillion.

Mon, 07 Mar 2011 18:32:48 UTC | #599750

Hendrix is my gOD's Avatar Comment 4 by Hendrix is my gOD

I followed the link to Brian Cox' video and get the message "not available in your area" (that would be the U.S.) I really admire Professor Cox and wish to see this documentary. Does anyone know of an alternate site for the video that would be available in the U.S.?

Mon, 07 Mar 2011 18:46:58 UTC | #599754

SomersetJohn's Avatar Comment 5 by SomersetJohn

Rather proves the point we are just not evolved to deal with these numbers. I know what they mean, and can, with a bit of effort, sometimes relate them to something which almost makes sense. A quintillion is still just a word for a big number to me, I can't "see" a number that big in my mind. I suspect that is true for almost all the human race.

Mon, 07 Mar 2011 19:03:54 UTC | #599760

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 6 by Steve Zara

I am cautious. We have only had robust science for a few centuries and yet we are making confident statements about what the universe will be like in trillions of trillions of trillions of years. It was only just over a decade ago that our view of the universe was revolutionised when it was discovered that the expansion is accelerating, something that will have major consequences for the possibility of survival of life in the far, far future. Who knows what our view of the future of the universe will be in another ten years, or hundred years, or thousand years?

And as for the survival of life, and it being brief, who knows? I suspect we might be like fish insisting that no creature could ever survive in the air.

Just imagine.... in a trillion trillion years...

Across the width of the galaxy a billion beacons glow. Each beacon marking the site of a vast lasers, beaming messages far across space. For fleeting billion-years this was the Milky Way, a sparkling spiral of fusing stars, as gases from the Big Bang resisted collapse. That was long, long ago, a brief flicker lost in the glow of the origin, a time when even space itself was still warm. Sometime within that flicker, the fires of fusion fuelled the start of life on watery planets. That was a hard time for life, fighting for survival over billions of years as disasters threatened the fragile rocks on which it evolved. Eventually, mind appeared and carried life into the safety of space. The first colonisers still clung desperately to planets, like the first land-life crawling from pond to pond. But soon the burden of gravity was shed and space became the natural habitat of intelligent life. Slowly life and mind spread across the stars. Not for long did it stay constrained in the original carbon-based forms, systems of metal and crystal were faster and safer.

Long before the final fusing suns had died out the first of the great cities of gravity were built: a vast disc around the black hole at the galactic centre. Now was the time when the greatest energy source could be mined – the power of black holes. The twisting of space around spinning holes could provide far more energy than could ever be captured from the light of a sun. One by one each black hole was caged, and the corpses of dead stars fed to them to power machines that held the minds of countless trillions.

This was the peak of life in the galaxy, not the sparse rock-bound chemistry that crawled under fusion-light at the origin. The long future was unknowable. Already there were plans for vast matter-makers, using the energy of black holes to generate fresh protons and neutrons to replace those born in the Big Bang that would eventually decay. There were even designs for galactic-scale devices to harvest the tiny energy produced by the accelerating expansion of space: a resource with no known end. The first results from experiments with gravity wave colliders showed promise: the possibility of new Big Bangs, artificially triggered to provide new homes for when the time of black holes was eventually over.

To some in the past, the death of planets seemed like the end of time, to others, the death of stars, but life and mind found ways to make new homes and take new forms. When the black holes die may seem like the final ending, but who knows?

Mon, 07 Mar 2011 19:28:26 UTC | #599768

holysmokes's Avatar Comment 7 by holysmokes

Insufficient data. Need additional input.

Mon, 07 Mar 2011 19:51:33 UTC | #599773

Canasian's Avatar Comment 8 by Canasian

Comment 4 by Hendrix is my gOD :

I followed the link to Brian Cox' video and get the message "not available in your area" (that would be the U.S.) I really admire Professor Cox and wish to see this documentary. Does anyone know of an alternate site for the video that would be available in the U.S.?

Since the Wonders of the Solar System series I've been anticipating this one with much enthusiasm. As I'm in the same situation as yourself Hendrix, I ended up watching the Solar System series via you tube. Below is a link I found to the first episode, works as of today.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbRSd2THTUQ

I wish the CBC in Canada would produce gems like this.

Mon, 07 Mar 2011 19:59:19 UTC | #599777

JS1685's Avatar Comment 9 by JS1685

"How fleeting, how humble is human life!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3w0lqrGDvEk

An odd context in which to find such a frank admission of the Mediocrity Principle. Usually, religion is in the business of asserting just the opposite.

We don't have long as citizens of the universe. Might as well make the most and the best of it! The humility and respect this realization engenders is indeed poetic and inspiring. Obviously, Bach thought so, too!

Mon, 07 Mar 2011 20:01:53 UTC | #599778

JS1685's Avatar Comment 10 by JS1685

Mon, 07 Mar 2011 20:03:15 UTC | #599780

Hendrix is my gOD's Avatar Comment 11 by Hendrix is my gOD

Comment 8 by Canasian

Below is a link I found to the first episode, works as of today.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbRSd2THTUQ

Cool, it works. now i can comment on this thread, as soon as i watch the video.

Mon, 07 Mar 2011 20:11:39 UTC | #599783

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 12 by Stevehill

SomersetJohn

Rather proves the point we are just not evolved to deal with these numbers.

Ain't that a fact? I've read a lot of comments about bankers' bonuses.

But forgive me if I stick with my pedantry: sure, nothing will survive ultimate heat death, but since in the lifespan of a universe lasting a googol years, give or take, life has actually flourished at a very early stage, and there's no immediate reason to assume it won't continue to exist till relatively near the point where the last fire goes out, is it not more likely than not that life (? "as we know it" ?) will exist for most of the duration of the universe, and not just the absurdly tiny fraction that Cox posits?

That said, apologies to Marcus Small, who I think would prefer a bit more discussion of his sparrow.

Mon, 07 Mar 2011 20:51:52 UTC | #599797

Marcus Small's Avatar Comment 13 by Marcus Small

Steve Zara is right, that this is only true until someone finds that this is not. Nevertheless the fact of our insignificant yet significant lives remains. I am just struck how some of the imaginative intuitions of our ancestors still hold true.

Richard I could not quote him in full, I could not remember it all and had to find the quite in the independent.

Stevehill, he was talking from big bang to heat death.

It all sounds very depressing, but I don't find it so.

For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?

Mon, 07 Mar 2011 21:44:15 UTC | #599821

DavidXanaos's Avatar Comment 14 by DavidXanaos

Comment 6 by Steve Zara :

Just imagine.... in a trillion trillion years...

Across the width of the galaxy a billion beacons glow. Each beacon marking the site of a vast lasers, beaming messages far across space. For fleeting billion-years this was the Milky Way, a sparkling spiral of fusing stars, as gases from the Big Bang resisted collapse. That was long, long ago, a brief flicker lost in the glow of the origin, a time when even space itself was still warm. Sometime within that flicker, the fires of fusion fuelled the start of life on watery planets. That was a hard time for life, fighting for survival over billions of years as disasters threatened the fragile rocks on which it evolved. Eventually, mind appeared and carried life into the safety of space. The first colonisers still clung desperately to planets, like the first land-life crawling from pond to pond. But soon the burden of gravity was shed and space became the natural habitat of intelligent life. Slowly life and mind spread across the stars. Not for long did it stay constrained in the original carbon-based forms, systems of metal and crystal were faster and safer.

Long before the final fusing suns had died out the first of the great cities of gravity were built: a vast disc around the black hole at the galactic centre. Now was the time when the greatest energy source could be mined – the power of black holes. The twisting of space around spinning holes could provide far more energy than could ever be captured from the light of a sun. One by one each black hole was caged, and the corpses of dead stars fed to them to power machines that held the minds of countless trillions.

This was the peak of life in the galaxy, not the sparse rock-bound chemistry that crawled under fusion-light at the origin. The long future was unknowable. Already there were plans for vast matter-makers, using the energy of black holes to generate fresh protons and neutrons to replace those born in the Big Bang that would eventually decay. There were even designs for galactic-scale devices to harvest the tiny energy produced by the accelerating expansion of space: a resource with no known end. The first results from experiments with gravity wave colliders showed promise: the possibility of new Big Bangs, artificially triggered to provide new homes for when the time of black holes was eventually over.

To some in the past, the death of planets seemed like the end of time, to others, the death of stars, but life and mind found ways to make new homes and take new forms. When the black holes die may seem like the final ending, but who knows?

Great coment!

Have you invented teh text or is it a quotation from someware? In the later case from whare?

Mon, 07 Mar 2011 22:21:22 UTC | #599829

Marcus Small's Avatar Comment 15 by Marcus Small

Comment 6 by Steve Zara

And as for the survival of life, and it being brief, who knows? I suspect we might be like fish insisting that no creature could ever survive in the air.

From the Buddhist Scriptures I think if memory serves.

Mon, 07 Mar 2011 22:40:43 UTC | #599840

seals's Avatar Comment 16 by seals

It could be devastating, but it was also so staggering that the effect was neutralised. And nothing has really changed except our way of looking at things, which could change again. I'm never too sure of the timescales in which things are predicted to happen; I had the same question on Wonders of the Solar System. However I guess when the sun eventually starts expanding and turns the earth into a cinder, it will happen so gradually, that life will have time to adapt to the higher temperatures, up to a point at least beyond which it becomes impossible. I'm also guessing that no one (supposing that there is any sentient life around at that time) will notice any change over a single lifetime? (Maybe he does say and I just keep missing it) And when the sun explodes, is that like a literal explosion or a slow motion explosion taking decades, centuries, millenia or whatever? Ok its a billion years yet, and perhaps a minor detail right now, but it would be interesting to know.

Mon, 07 Mar 2011 22:53:46 UTC | #599844

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 17 by Steve Zara

Have you invented teh text or is it a quotation from someware?

My book collection is too disorganised right now for me to look up quotations. As I posted last week (or was it before), I'm attempting to write something more than a series of blog posts and articles, and so I saw a use here for something I had written as part of my project.

I really, really like Cox and his style, but I think he is fortunately mistaken about the likely persistence of life in the universe. The energy that can be got from black holes is vastly greater than any we could obtain from capturing sunlight, or generating fusion ourselves.

I also like to remember the words of Sir Martin Rees who considers statements about humans surviving the death of the sun absurd, because any descendants of ours that are around are unlikely to resemble anything that is human.

Cox's comments about the future of life and the future of the universe seem to me to be based on the assumption that we are close to an end to physics and that life will continue forever as short-lived carbon-based forms. So, I am hugely more optimistic about the far distant future than he is :) I don't believe in the heath death. I see no reason why civilizations trillions of years old would not be "God-like" in their abilities, which would include manipulating what we call the laws of physics. A heat death need only strictly apply in a closed system, and the universe probably isn't a closed system.

Mon, 07 Mar 2011 22:57:37 UTC | #599847

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 18 by aquilacane

I wonder how long it will take to collide with a neighbouring universe? If there is such a thing.

Tue, 08 Mar 2011 02:55:44 UTC | #599902

k_docks's Avatar Comment 19 by k_docks

What do other people think, how does the idea inspire you?

And people wonder why suicide rates are on the rise!

This is certainly not what I would be inspired to use at a Beyond Blue (depression) rehab meeting!

Without God we are worthless and some revel in it!

Tue, 08 Mar 2011 07:05:17 UTC | #599944

Tanweer's Avatar Comment 20 by Tanweer

What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset. [Blackfoot Proverb]

I thought the first programme in the series (Destiny) was spellbinding, really beautiful. I also (from an educator's point of view) thought the example of the sandcastle (when illustrating entropy) was inspired.

I look forward the the rest of the series. Great job Brian Cox and BBC!

Tue, 08 Mar 2011 07:54:20 UTC | #599954

Rich Wiltshir's Avatar Comment 21 by Rich Wiltshir

I think Cox uses words "..... billion billion......" because numbers "10 to the 86th power" etc, don't grasp most of us mortals particularly well. He's a professor and is more than adept with the language of maths.

Focusing on numbers and our desire for longevity of life (if not human) along the endless stepping stones of zeros may be a trap that we've fallen into. The professor does explain the key events quite well: please forgive my amateur's rendition. Big bang's heat birth cools to the point that the energy of electrons et al is LOW enough for matter to form. Stars and galaxies take shape and burn: he shows us a picture of a dying star (appx 40 solar masses) that's about 13 billion years old. Almost as an aside he explains entropy as a measure of possible combinations for a subsystem to exist: a sand castle has ordered shape, whereas a pile of sand being less ordered is MORE likely. Disorder, over time, always wins! Stars, galaxies, black holes and life are ordered subsystems. Each inevitably decays. Our sun casts off it's shell and survives as a White dwarf: White dwarfs, become brown dwarfs, cool and die, evaporating over eons. Black holes cool and die, evaporating (though he doesn't mention their explosive finale - next episod, perhaps?). Everything evaporate the expanding universe approaches homogenous inert, unenergetic, high entropy death! The universe reaches ultimate entropy: every possible combination of available matter and energy delivers the present condition: it can cool no further: heat death: everywhere: no escape: caput. And Cox was in the band that sang "things can only get better" DReam on! I struggle to imagine there's no hope of gravity making more stars. I grasp the idea that empty space is just probably empty: that such enormous volume of emptiness increases the likelihood of .... what?.... another big bang? Cox is consistent in his presentation. Perhaps it's a tribute to our thirst for life that we won't give up arguments for it's survival?

Tue, 08 Mar 2011 08:43:52 UTC | #599964

Rich Wiltshir's Avatar Comment 22 by Rich Wiltshir

"Wishing for a thing does not make it so"

Star Trek: Jean Luc Picard. Sorry: seemed like a relevant quote.

Tue, 08 Mar 2011 08:48:21 UTC | #599965

irate_atheist's Avatar Comment 23 by irate_atheist

Comment 6 by Steve Zara -

Splitter!

Tue, 08 Mar 2011 10:08:20 UTC | #599979

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 24 by Jos Gibbons

Rich Wiltshir, I'm not advocating "10 the the n" (which most people don't understand), but "1 followed by n 0s". Cox just wants his numbers to sound awesome by taking ages to say. Why else would he say "thousand (9 billions)" instead of 7 trillions?

Tue, 08 Mar 2011 10:12:04 UTC | #599981

Marcus Small's Avatar Comment 25 by Marcus Small

So let me understand this correctly.

A trillion is million million. A billion is 1000,000,000 That's 1000,000,000,000. Therefore the universe will 'die' in 10,000 trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion years time. 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years time.

At present it is 13,000,000,000 years old.

Quite early on then.

Tue, 08 Mar 2011 13:51:28 UTC | #600042

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 26 by aquilacane

I think I posted in the wrong thread, how does that keep happening?

Tue, 08 Mar 2011 13:52:00 UTC | #600043

Galactor's Avatar Comment 27 by Galactor

What do other people think, how does the idea inspire you?

I'm not so moved by the proportion of "available solar time" to "universal time". The relevance escapes me. They seem to be two distinct scalar properties that have little relationship.

It doesn't compare to the analogy Richard uses for evolutionary time and the development of life with keys on a the piano or the length of an arm against the dust of the brushing of an emery board in one stroke.

The passage from Bede is wonderful. Something to say before a good meal, or a glass of wine with some chums, or in remembrance of someone dear or to theologians who think they know more than cosmologists.

Tue, 08 Mar 2011 18:39:15 UTC | #600190

SheilaC's Avatar Comment 28 by SheilaC

@

Comment 12 by Stevehill :

life has actually flourished at a very early stage,

Life started on this planet almost as soon as the late heavy bombardment finished, but it couldn't have started in the early universe - well, not life as we know it. To begin with there was only hydrogen. There were no heavier elements and no planets until the first generation of stars squished that hydrogen into heavier elements and then exploded, sending it back out across the galaxy to form into second generation stars. I'm not sure if life was even possible around second generation stars. Our own sun is third generation. So no life for the first 5,000,000,000 years or so after the big bang.

Caveat: I am not an astronomer. I just write SF and work as a tour guide at an observatory.

Tue, 08 Mar 2011 19:52:18 UTC | #600220

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 29 by Schrodinger's Cat

Life as we know it, is only possible for one thousandth of a billion billion billionth, billion billion billionth, billion billion billionth of a percent of the lifespan of the universe.

I hate these sort of comparisons and the way they are presented. You might as well argue that the hominid 'Lucy' only lived for 1/100,000 of the lifetime of her skeleton. Beyond a certain period, possibly 'only' a trillion years.,....the universe will be DEAD. It won't become more dead as time passes by !

Tue, 08 Mar 2011 20:34:57 UTC | #600238

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 30 by Steve Zara

Beyond a certain period, possibly 'only' a trillion years.,....the universe will be DEAD. It won't become more dead as time passes by !

To paraphrase from "The Princess Bride" - nearly dead is still alive. Compared to the way it was at the Planck Time, the universe was nearly dead a microsecond after. Compared to the situation at a microsecond the universe was nearly dead a millisecond after. Compared to the situation after a few minutes, the universe is nearly dead now. Compared to the situation at the origin, we are structures of sparse atoms moving unimaginably slowly through the ashes of past supernovae. We are biased towards a situation a couple of hundred degrees above zero, with almost all matter held apart by the pressures of electron spins. There will be times ahead when the situation now will look as fierce and strange as the Big Bang does to us. The universe is both nearly dead and definitely alive, and will remain so, perhaps forever.

Tue, 08 Mar 2011 21:32:03 UTC | #600257