A couple of days ago I was watching a science program about the end of the universe. It was kind of depressing.
1,0000000000,0000000000,0000000000,0000000000,0000000000,0000000000, 0000000000,0000000000, 0000000000,0000000000,0000000000,0000000000 0000000000,0000000000,0000000000,0000000000,0000000000,0000000000, 0000000000, 0000000000 years from now the last black hole will evaporate and the universe will die. So, at a mere 13.8 billion years, the universe we’re living in now is still an embryo. For the majority of its adult life the universe is going to be a cold and inhospitable place. Bummer.
But one statistic resonated with me. A physicist named Brian Cox said that, “As a fraction of the lifespan of the universe as measured from the beginning to the evaporation of the last black hole, 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. (10^-87)” That’s an awfully short amount of time comparatively speaking.
To put that in terms we can understand, a mere billionth of the average 75 year human lifespan is a scant 2.36676945 seconds. 10^-87 of that number is so small as to be non-existent. If you could compress the universe’s projected 10100 year lifespan into a seventy-five year movie, even if you never went to the bathroom, grabbed a sandwich or blinked, the era of life would come and go so fast you’d never see it. It would be like it never happened.
And we’re not just talking about just the age of life on earth, which has only been around a measly four billion years, we’re talking about all life that has and ever will exist. Think ET, Chewbacca, and super advanced civilizations living in rings spun around their stars. All life. From the universe’s perspective It will flicker for the most infinitesimal of moments and then be gone. Your life is absolutely nothing compared to these gargantuan time scales. If you didn’t feel insignificant before you read this well, I’m glad I could help you out.
Yet that 10^-87 percentage really tickled my brain. You see, I have seen several people die. Whether their end came from accidents, disease or old age it always was shock to realize that one second they were here and the next they were gone. Snap. Much has been written about what happens to your body when you die – tunnels of light, seeing grandma, your long lost puppy -whatever. This is probably your oxygen starved brain hallucinating as you hurtle into the great beyond. What happens when you reach the end of that tunnel? I have no idea.
But what will happen in that last 10^-87 percent of your life?
In terms of the universe, all that will ever be known and loved, celebrated and mourned, will occur within that tiny, fleeting 10^-87 percent, But, unlike our imaginary movie, we did see life happen. Cradled in that extraordinary moment, that ghost of a percentage, we move and live and have our being. In that last scintilla of time before we die what will we see? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.
Shakespeare once wrote, “O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space…” In that “nutshell” of a percentage maybe we’ll experience all there is to experience and understand all there is to know. If the universe could cram all of life into such a brief glimmer, why not us? Maybe our last moment will be our longest.
Personally, I think God, death and what comes next is all bound up in the concept of time. It’s entirely possible that time does not exist. Hell, even Einstein thought it was all an illusion. Perhaps, like Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, we’ll end up “unstuck’ from time and slalom though all the different parts of our lives. Or maybe we’ll find ourselves skipping though a multiverse, living every probabilistic permutation that our lives, or the lives of others, could have taken. That’s a Judgement Day of sorts when you think about it. A revelation. It might also mean you’ll have a physical body to experience all of these things. Resurrection might all be a question of time.
But I can’t blame people for thinking the game’s over when you die. We really don’t know what’ll happen after you draw your last breath. If you’re a thinking person you have to consider that, just like a black hole at the end of time, you’ll just evaporate into nothingness. Yet, if we see all we need to see in that last 10^-87 percent of our life, we might be content to pull the covers of time snug around us and go to sleep – happy to fade into the cosmos. That wouldn’t be bad either.
Eternity might only take a 100100th of a second.