Just in case the whole mystery of life question has become too easy for you, consider The Boltzmann brain problem. These theories state the possibility of you as a disembodied brain floating in space, “a momentary fluctuation in a field of matter and energy out in space where your memories and the world you think you see around you are illusions.” And you thought The Matrix was scary!
An article in the New York Times today explores the cosmologists and the theories this has spawned; because nothing is as easy as 2 + 2, you know – not in a universe of negative numbers and parallel universes, dark matter, and the possibility of the death of space time. Questions such as why can’t you unscramble an egg? Why does time only run forward? Why can’t you remember if the Yankees will be in the World Series this year?
It’s one more reason to doubt our smug little theories that we are the center of the universe. Remember Copernicus? And thinking that our existence is endless – through some god form or reincarnation. The possibility of an asteroid slamming into the earth and wiping us out is very real science, look here. The possibility of that happening in 2036 is documented; and for you Stargate fans the rock is named Apophis! The cosmologists in an attempt to spoil everyone’s fun have also named the date for the end of the universe. Good to have something to look forward to eh? May as well let those flood insurance policies go and use the money for a holographic projector.
Of course with the data staring us in the face (metaphorically, as we may have no face..) that we have a limited existence there is also the very real possibility that we simply need better instruments.
“…the cosmologists say the brain problem serves as a valuable reality check as they contemplate the far, far future and zillions of bubble universes popping off from one another in an ever-increasing rush through eternity. What, for example is a “typical” observer in such a setup? If some atoms in another universe stick together briefly to look, talk and think exactly like you, is it really you?
“It is part of a much bigger set of questions about how to think about probabilities in an infinite universe in which everything that can occur, does occur, infinitely many times,” said Leonard Susskind of Stanford, a co-author of a paper in 2002 that helped set off the debate. Or as Andrei Linde, another Stanford theorist given to colorful language, loosely characterized the possibility of a replica of your own brain forming out in space sometime, “How do you compute the probability to be reincarnated to the probability of being born?”
The gist is that it is much more likely, scientifically speaking, for something strange to happen than something ordered and logical. Interesting eh? This due to the law of entropy and the fact that energy, like water, takes the easiest course.
“In an interview Dr. Linde described these brains as a form of reincarnation. Over the course of eternity, he said, anything is possible. After some Big Bang in the far future, he said, “it’s possible that you yourself will re-emerge. Eventually you will appear with your table and your computer.”
Another possibility is that dark matter will decay in time for the universe to stop its expansion and “fade to black”. What Dr Page calls “the most humanely possible execution”, as everything would cease to exist as the laws of physics are universally changed. This would eliminate the Boltzmann brain problem, as there would be no fluctuating matter to form the floating brains… Cheery eh? Rather like picking your poison.
Of course there is always (always!) another view – that the number of new bubble universes being hatched at any moment is always growing and we can’t see, measure, or even intuit what is going on in those universes as we can’t see or even know for certain they exist. so we could still, or in the future, or the past - exist there.
“If you are reincarnated, why do you care about where you are reincarnated?” he asked. “It sounds crazy because here we are touching issues we are not supposed to be touching in ordinary science. Can we be reincarnated?”
“People are not prepared for this discussion,” Dr. Linde said.”
And there I leave it to ponder… Now am I pondering in Morocco or somewhere out beyond the Milky Way? Are you reading this or I have sent it to a parallel universe where some bi-brained being that resides in a mud of silicon and nitrous is shaking his/her/its head at my naiveté?