By Chet Yarbrough
Until the End of Time
By: Brian Greene
Narrated by Brian Greene
Author, (American Theoretical Physicist)
There is a great deal to unpack in Brian Greene’s “Until the End of Time”. As is true of many of Greene’s scientific observations, much of his self-effacing intelligence and science-based opinion is lost in the ignorance of his listeners (more specifically, this listener). However, where Greene’s beliefs intersect with one’s limited knowledge, his theory of the ending of time and life is immensely rewarding and enlightening.
Greene does not argue there is no God. However, he suggests modern science shows there is no reason for God to exist to create life.
To Greene, there is more verifiable proof of life in science than verifiable proof of God in either science or religion.
In Greene’s thought, God and religion may have a great deal to do with sustaining human life, but in ways more sociological than religious. Weather one is a believer, atheist, or agnostic makes no difference to Greene. He carefully constructs an explanation of how science shows life may have come into existence, why stories of life may explain belief in God, and why humans are fundamentally different from other forms of life. The fundamental point of “…the End of Time” has to do with human mortality. Human mortality lies at the core of Greene’s view of time and life.
Greene suggests the laws of physics founded by luminaries like Newton, Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and Erwin Schrodinger offer evidence for the basis for life on earth, with or without God. Greene explains the principle of thermodynamics, the fundamental science of energy that creates and sustains life.
Greene explains–the physics of energy (thermodynamics) ensures eventual death. All life is pre-determined by the fundamental law of entropy. The fate of time and life began with a bang. This singular event disbursed tightly organized atomistic particles into a continually less organized space.
Greene notes that all forms of life are subject to entropy, a gradual decline from order to disorder. Greene argues that entropy acts at an atomistic level to determine the fate of all living things. Greene suggest laws of quantum mechanics determine the course of life for all “living” things.
To Greene, humankind is free to make choices. However, he argues humankind does not have free will. The physics of science show that all living things cannot choose to live forever. Humans can choose how to live, what to think, who to love, who to hate but they cannot choose one Nano second longer than what is dictated by the fundamental law of entropy.
Greene notes the science of Darwinian evolution and genetic inheritance is a relevant reinforcement of his argument for the inevitable extinction of life. The entropy accompanying human habitation is evident in pollution of the air we breath and the water we drink. (Though Greene does not address advances in genetic inheritance through gene manipulation, genetic manipulation does not negate Greene’s overriding concept of entropy.)
Just as earth’s environment slowly degrades, genetic inheritance as a process will eventually lead to extinction. Humans, just as dinosaur’s, sabre tooth tigers, and Dodo birds will disappear. All life adapts to change until the speed of environmental change becomes greater than the speed of evolutionary adaptation.
Greene agues humankind’s recognition of mortality shapes lives as consequentially as evolution. The significance of Greene’s argument is that religion is founded on acknowledgement of eventual death. Knowing that one cannot live forever, creates the desire for something beyond death. Greene elaborates by arguing that human lack of control over natural events compels creation of stories about a Supreme Being. *
The big picture in “Until the End of Time” is that the world and life is heading for an end. Based on the science of physics, there is an “…End of Time” for humankind, based on the immutable and experimentally proven laws of thermodynamics. Entropy is evident in the science of quantum mechanics (the physical properties of nature at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles), and the science of a continually expanding universe.
What does this mean to us? Humans still make their own choices on how to live, love, and hate in their lifetimes. The singer, Bobby McFerrin, suggests “Don’t Worry Be Happy”. Others suggest the meaning of life is to live in the moment. Brian Greene suggests it is up to you. Our lives and death may be pre-determined, but we have freedom to choose how we live, love, and work.
In re-thinking Greene’s belief in the physics of entropy, one wonders about the concept of energy never being destroyed. Einstein’s formula of E=MC2 implies our corporal bodies may die but atoms transmogrify. What does that suggest about the entropy of human life?
* Greene acknowledges the slim possibility of Devine existence but considers it much less probable based on the discipline of science and the existence of entropy. Greene does not discount the comfort religion offers humankind, including the rituals that help one cope with life and the passing of loved ones.