Could Humans Survive The End Of The Universe?
Everything in the universe eventually dies. Even black holes, which were once thought to last forever, are now known to very gradually fritter away. They last awhile - a good few trillion years, or so - but they do fade. So, what happens next?
This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; could humans survive the end of the universe?
Life (even just on Earth) has proven again and again that it’s extremely resilient. It has so far survived five mass extinctions, at least... while humanity, specifically, has shown that it can not only survive on Earth, but can come to dominate the planet. We know, though, that Earth really won’t last forever. That the one-day red giant explosion of the sun through our solar system is an immovable fact. So, if we want to keep on living, the first thing we’ll need to do is move to other planets… and learn to live on them, too.
It’s only the first step, but it is a vital one. Move to other planets, spread throughout space, and we no longer face the extinction of our entire species via just one world-ending event. Instead, we’d be a strong, Kardashev type 4, essentially endless, immortal civilization. Living on multi-worlds, there’s nothing that could stop us. That is, except for the end of the universe itself. That’s the one event that we still wouldn’t be able to outrun. No matter how many planets we’ve spread to, no matter how large and sprawling our population, for as long as we’re all housed within just the one universe… we’re toast whenever that universe goes kaput.
It could do so with a Big Crunch, where all matter collapses in on itself, or it could tear itself apart if it expands too far, in what’s known as the Big Rip. Another leading theory is the Big Freeze scenario, where expansion leads to temperatures nearing absolute zero - and then nothingness. There’s also another proposal - put forward by theoretical physicist Matt Caplan, in 2020 - where the universe could last some 10 to the power of 32,000 years (a number far larger than anyone can comprehend) until all the stars fade away and the remaining black dwarfs finally explode in the darkness. Needless to say, it’s all pretty bleak.
And yet, there’s hope. Although, in the traditional sense, none of the above is all that survivable… there are perhaps some ways in which it might still be done. It feels like the end of the universe should be checkmate for life, but that’s before we consider all the variously impossible scenarios that might become possible in the future. The big one, of course, is the multiverse. Increasing numbers of scientists are now moving over to multiversal thinking, and if any theory of parallel universes were to prove right… then we’d suddenly have the ultimate “get out of jail free” card. Should this universe end, then we could just scarper to the next, and the next, and the next. It’s a purely hypothetical solution at this point - and we’re extremely far away from understanding if it’s real or how it works - but consider that by the time the universe is ending, life (humans, if we’re still around) will likely be billions of years more advanced than we are now.
No one knows what’s possible, but some have made predictions. The futurist Michio Kaku has routinely suggested that technology could one day allow us to become capable of multiversal travel… while Neil deGrasse Tyson has argued that, in the future, it might be possible to simply step into new universes. One way that humanity might survive the end of the universe, then, is to actually outrun it. In this sense, it could be that (if we want to live) we’re destined to become space and reality nomads… traveling from planet to planet, and then universe to universe, to escape our fate for as long as possible. Barring an end to the multiverse, we’d be truly eternal.
Just gallivanting through endless parallel worlds does feel like a bit of a cheat, though, no matter how effective it would be. So, is there also a chance we could batten down the hatches in just this universe, to save it (and ourselves) in the here and now? Broadly, we know that everything in the cosmos works according to the universal laws of nature and physics… and we humans are getting better and better at manipulating those. So, what might we be able to do in the future? Take the sun going red giant, for example, initiating the scheduled “end for the world” for the world we live on now. Although it feels inevitable, really it will only occur when our star runs out of hydrogen in its core to burn. So, could it ever be possible to postpone the red giant by somehow dumping “top up” hydrogen into the sun? Clearly, it’s not possible for us right now… but with another billion years or so of planning behind them, might it be possible for humans of the future? Or, by then, might they simply be able to move Earth out of the sun’s firing line? Let our star do its thing, relocate Earth into the calculated next habitable zone, and live on beyond the inferno?
Zooming further out, then, could there also (one day in the very distant future) be a known way for us to fix the universe’s death, too? By slowing down, speeding up, or reshaping universal expansion, for instance? Today, expansion is a fundamental fact so, so far beyond human control… but will it always be that way? It wasn’t so long ago that fire was beyond us, or the weather, light, or evolution… so could expansion be at the center of great scientific breakthroughs in the future? Were we to gain even a little bit of control over it, then we’d suddenly have at least a little influence on how many of the most popular “end of the universe” scenarios could unfold.
Meanwhile, if we more closely follow the theory of Heat Death (or the Big Freeze) there may be another solution. The theoretical physicist and envisioner of the Dyson Sphere, Freeman Dyson, has proposed one method for immortality through our consciousness. Known as the Dyson Scenario, it states that even if the universe were to lose all its energy amidst an irreversible cool down… human consciousness could survive if we harness enough energy before then. According to Dyson’s model, if we were to effectively store and release the bursts of energy that power our thoughts, then we’d be able to experience subjective time along a truly infinite scale. Tap into the Dyson Scenario, and even when everything turns to nothing… our conscious thoughts will remain. So the theory goes.
But, finally, if disembodied thought projection isn’t for you… and if skipping death via the multiverse just doesn’t sit right… you could always just build your own universe from scratch. And move to that instead, while this one grinds to a halt in whichever way it chooses. From some perspectives, it actually shouldn’t be impossible. Among others, the writings of astrophysicist Paul Davies have contributed to this idea. If the big bang was a natural event, and not supernatural in any way… then we should, technically, be able to force another big bang, as well. In fact, this should hold true for most things. Although astronomical objects like black holes and stars seem too massive for us to construct ourselves, that might not be the case. And, indeed, there are already some prototype stars being built on Earth, in nuclear fusion reactors. Creating a universe would take a tremendous amount of energy, of course… but could the required energy be gathered with enough time? Enough knowledge? Enough experience? Again, it’s wholly hypothetical… but for future humans, might it be entirely achievable?
If the universe were to end right now, then unfortunately no, there’s no way that we present day humans could survive it. Balance that with the modern realization that the universe probably won’t last forever, and it can feel like a hopeless situation. But the future is unknown… and the deepest parts of the future are entirely alien to us. So, perhaps one day there will be a workaround for even the end of all things.