Sie sind auf Seite 1von 13

Eternity 1.3% A lot can happen in a hundred years.

This vast aggregate of time is barely within our human grasp. Most of us alive today will not live as long as one hundred years, most people who have ever lived didnt live long enough to witness the passing of a century with their own eyes, and those who did were never exactly happy with such an achievement. The truth is, the human body is not built to withstand the weight of a hundred years. But I suspect its not just the body that cant (or shouldnt) endure the enormous timescale presented by a century, but the mind also is just as vulnerable to such magnitudes of time. Death may be viewed as a tragedy, it can come as a surprise to most, but in the long run, its a kindness. A lot can happen in a thousand years. Not only is this number an impossible barrier to be broken by any individual, but its also inescapable even by dozens and dozens of generations of individuals. A thousand years ago the Earth was thought to be flat, the stars and planets were as mysterious to us as was the birth of a child, we were just beginning to understand that there were untold wonders across the oceanic horizon, we had pondered upon the darkness of the night sky and invented religion to help us better understand the world around us. We had begun to build a social structure that, for all its shortcomings and weaknesses, still stands today. Well, most of it anyway. We have learned a lot since then. In a thousand years time we have studied the cosmos and our place within it to an astonishing degree. We have seen the atoms that lie at the heart of all matter, living and non-living. We have learned about the stars and galaxies and even about other worlds very much like our own. We have cured and eradicated diseases that plagued the human species since the very beginning of our history. We have figured out how every living being on the planet is related to one another, we have gazed at the farthest reaches of the universe and we have even set foot on our neighboring satellite, the moon. Our modern world, our technology and our knowledge of the cosmos, took about a thousand years of careful and meticulous planning to get to where we find ourselves today. However, in a more cosmological view of things, it has taken us much longer than that. A lot can happen in a million years. A million years ago there were no human beings alive anywhere in the world. Our earliest ancestors, slowly evolving into an ever-

more distinguishable human form, were just learning to develop the tools (both mental and physical) that would one day give them the evolutionary upper hand in the race between survival and natural selection. The world was a very different place a million years ago. The continents were sightly displaced from where they are now, the distribution of living beings on the planet was just beginning to shift from the placid ocean waters to the newly colonized world of land and even the constellations in the skies were very different. A million years is a timescale so large that it becomes literally impossible for the human brain to visualize it in a realistic way. And that makes perfect sense; how can creatures who live no more than a century have a clear picture of events that take millions of years to unfold? How can our feeble minds even begin to cope with timescales that, for all intends and purposes, seem to us like an eternity? A lot can happen in a billion years. At this point the river of time becomes an interminable ocean from our human perspective. If you were to count to a billion, counting one number a second, it would take you 31 years, 251 days, 7 hours, 46 minutes and 39 seconds to get to one billion. The sheer magnitude of this number is so great that you would waste half your life trying to quantize it correctly. But the fact is the Earth itself is a lot older than this. The age of the Earth is 4.6 billion years. Trying to imagine such timescales would render you insane. A lot can happen in a trillion years. This number is so unimaginably big that not even the universe itself is that old. The universe is 13.7 billion years of age, which represents an insignificant figure of 1.3% of what a trillion years would be. So in a very real sense, everything that has ever happened since the very beginning of time itself lies within that infinitesimal decimal. The mysterious quantum fluctuations that gave birth to the Big Bang, the exponential expansion of space and time, the primordial soup of elementary particles containing the building blocks of matter (Quarks, Leptons and Force Carriers), the eventual formation of the atomic nuclei and its subsequent pairing with the electron cloud, the condensation of matter into mighty stars that fused Hydrogen into Helium for fuel, the formation of galaxies, the tremendous deaths of stars which in turn filled the cosmos with the heavier elements (Oxygen, Carbon, Nitrogen and Iron), the formation of planets, the origin of DNA and single celled organisms, the evolution of lifeforms capable of understanding the heavens and the processes by which they came into existence . . . all of these things and the immense timescales necessary for them to occur can be encapsulated into just 1.3% of a trillion years.

And yet a trillion years is just as far from infinity as is the number one. Eternity is, however inexplicably, greater than infinity itself.

The Persistence of Eternity We humans are destined to die. There is no way of putting it lightly. While it is true that matter cannot be destroyed, a living organism is a highly ordered state of matter. The law of Entropy tells us that the universe is in a constant shift from order to disorder. The arrow of time is continuous and unstoppable. One day, it will take us from order to disorder . . . like a sandcastle left in the cold wind on a winters night will eventually drift away to form just another mound of sand far away, so too must we face the eventual demise of our vulnerable bodies. Nothing escapes the inevitable final stage of life. Even the stars are born into a universe of wonder and awe, live out their lives as yellow or blue furnaces of light in the sky, mature as Red Giants and collapse as supernovae or black holes or white dwarfs and neutron stars. But eventually though, even the white dwarfs and neutrons stars die out completely. And thus ends the life of a lonely star. Of course we see the stars as ever present and unchanging because the time it takes a single star to go through its entire lifecycle can be longer than just a few billion years. But we humans do not live quite as long. In fact, the Sun has been around since before life even began on our planet and it will probably still be here long after we have gone extinct as a species. But stars are not self-conscious, they cannot think about, much less fear, their inevitable deaths. They need not concern themselves with such problems. But what about us? We are self-conscious beings, we can think about our own mortality and we obviously do. As humans, we fear death. I suppose its quite natural. For all of human history weve been haunted by the very thought of dying. Why does it happen? Where do we go? Is someone else in charge of this process? Will we ever be able to prevent it from happening? These questions are at the heart of every religion and every philosophy you will ever come across. In fact, these questions are the foundations on which we human beings created religion and philosophy and myth and legend and superstition. What is death? What happens to us when we die? We know our bodies decay and rot and eventually become literally nothing more than dust, but what happens to the conscious part of who we are? The customary answer given by religions of all denominations throughout almost our entire history as a species is that we survive

death in a non-physical form. That the afterlife is an eternal life. Unbounded by the laws of physics, this eternal afterlife is a belief supposed to make us feel better about our mortality; to provide a sense of comfort. An eternity of life awaits us after we die? We say. Boy, we must be very special, we conclude. While the afterlife hypothesis is highly improbable, and while I wish with a great passion to debunk the whole thing right here and now, that is not the problem I will address. Instead, I shall proceed as if the eternal afterlife proposed by most religions and philosophies is indeed correct. Let us venture into the world of eternity and find out if its really a cause for us to feel better and sleep warm at night or if its a cause for greater distress than death itself can ever be. ***

The average life expectancy of a person varies not only in terms of race and gender but across different countries around the world as well. It would be impossible to come up with a universal life expectancy average, but just for the sake of argument lets suppose that the average life expectancy of a person living a relatively normal life (by this I mean a person with no history of substance abuse and fairly healthy), is about 75 years, give or take. I know of a vast number of people whove lived a lot longer than that and people whove lived a lot less too, but lets keep the average at 75. Now comes the fun part. Lets allow our imaginations to run wild! Well create a fictional man, lets call him Carl, and follow him throughout his entire life. That seems to be an impossible undertaking, but with the power of writing and a touch of the imagination we can surely manage such an experiment. Carl was born today. No matter what day it is by the time you read this, or what day it is at the time Im actually writing this, we can all assume Carl was born today and follow his journey as he rides the arrow of time into the future. For the first five years of his life Carl is way too busy learning the complicated mechanics of being alive. He learns (quite immediately) how to eat, how to recognize an immense array of shapes and colors and how to clearly distinguish the faces and voices of his parents and other family members. He learns to crawl and find his way around this unbelievably big structure his parents simply call Home. He learns to walk upright and learns to speak. He

discovers how to communicate with other people by arranging certain sounds together in the right way and soon he knows just how to ask for precisely what he wants, whenever he wants. These first five years are all about learning and sharpening the tools hell need for the rest of his life. Carl continues to grow. He is now 12 years old. By now hes discovered a great passion in his life; he falls in love with a little sport called football (soccer, if you happen to live in the United States of America). He finds this sport to be his favorite thing to do in the whole world. By the time hes 16 years old, not only has he mastered the art of the sport but, to his surprise, hes offered to be part of one of the most successful football clubs in the world. Feel free to imagine whatever team you may choose . . . these details are not crucial to the story. Carl continues to grow. He is now 20 years old. He starts every match of the season and his team takes him around the world to play against his rivals. He travels to Europe, North and South America and the United Kingdom. Hes even been to Canada a few times and Africa twice. He also makes quite a lot of money for such a young player. When his 28th birthday comes along hes made enough money to be considered rich. Hes married and has two kids. He continues to travel the world doing what he loves to do. He finally retires at age 32 as one of the best players of the game. He has more money than he knows how to spend, a loving family and an innate hunger to travel around the globe and experience new things. Fast forward thirty years into the future and Carl is ready to settle down. Hes 63 now, and he doesnt have the same energy he used to. Hes seen most of the world, hes lived the life hed always wanted and now he likes to stay home with his wife and read. He doesnt know he only has 12 years left to live, but he doesnt think about that sort of thing either. Carl just likes to read his books, drink good wine and of course, catch the weekend football match every Saturday. He feels fulfilled. Three years later his wife passes away. Cancer. The doctors said there was nothing they could have done. Carls kids have families of their own now and their visits have grown very scarce; some years they cant even make it home for Christmas. Carl begins to feel very lonely. Hes sad most of the time. He stands by the window every day and remembers his wife under the faint light of the moon. He can almost see her smile. He remembers the times they spent out in the backyard looking up at the stars and talking

about how beautiful the skies look when youre in love. A tear rolls down his face and he steps back from the window. He still has nine years to live . . . he wishes he didnt. Carl turns 75. Now, based on the limit we set earlier for the average life expectancy in the broadest context possible, Carl is expected to die now thats hes turned 75. And if this were a real story he probably would. But thats not the plan. Instead Carl gets a special gift. Let us suspend the framework of reality for the sake of experiment. Let us take the tour of eternity. Carl wakes up on his 75th birthday. There is a note next to his glasses on the nightstand. The note reads:
For Carl: My son, you have been blessed. You have been an honest and righteous man all your life and youve been a source of inspiration for a multitude of people. You deserve to be rewarded. I shall grant you eternal life. From this moment on you will not age one more day. You need not thank me, my son. You have earned this.

And just like that, Carl is a new man. Carl is undoubtedly overjoyed by this at first, although after a few moments pass he wonders exactly how he will spend all this time; 75 years is a long time to be alive and he sure lived it to the fullest. He traveled the globe, he visited virtually every site he had ever wanted to visit, he met so many people, heard lots of stories about people and places he never knew existed and told his own with undiminished glory and satisfaction. He had done so much that he could not think of anything else he truly wanted to do. But hey, he had just been blessed with eternal life, he had to do something with that time. Carl decides that maybe he will do all the things he never dreamed of doing in his entire lifetime. He thinks about skydiving. Yes, skydiving, that would be good. Thats something hes never done before and now he wants to try it. And what about scaling Mount Everest? Yes, he will do that too! The list grows longer and longer. Carl sets out to do these things and more. He is happy with life once again.

For the next 15 years Carl tries everything he had even the slightest interest in trying. By now hes eaten exotic cuisines from all over the world, learned four other languages and made more than just a handful of new friends. He can name every country on the map and have a personal story to tell about each one of them. His friends start calling him the man whos seen everything, but even they know only a fraction of everything Carl has experienced in his lifetime. The truth is Carl is getting bored. He is 90 years old now, of course he doesnt feel like it, that was one of the perks of eternity, but hes bored nonetheless. Carl turns 100. This man, once a lively explorer, now simply stays home. The years go by and he decides to go on a submarine trip down into the depths of the ocean with a friend of his. He doesnt do this because he wants to be amazed at the astonishing beauty of the deep, he doesnt even do it because it might be exciting, he does it simply because its the only thing he can think of that he hasnt done before. The trip is very good, he sees creatures he never imagined even in his wildest dreams . . . but hes tired of it now. Tired of the novelty of exploration. He just wants to go home. Five years pass, then ten. Carl has no more books to read. He could go out and buy another 500 hundred books which would hold him for the next ten or fifteen years, but hes tired of that too. Another twenty years go by. He takes up painting. It soothes him greatly. Fifty more years fly by. He doesnt want to touch another paint brush ever again. Ten years later and the first public space station opens up near the orbit of Saturn. Hundreds of people line up to be the first ones to stay at the very first interplanetary hotel. Carl hears about this and thinks about going. He also thinks about the fact that he cant remember how old he is anymore. Is it 300? It feels like more to him. 500 years? Probably, he thinks. But it feels like longer to him. The truth is hes only 190 as of today. Hes loosing his mind. Another century comes and goes before his eyes. Hes completely lost count of just how long its been. By now he has not only slept at the first interplanetary hotel close to Saturn, but he has been among the first people in the Solar System to buy a

house on the planet Mars. NASA scientist say that by the end of the millennium they will be venturing far beyond the Solar System and settling planets orbiting other stars. Carl wonders what it will be like when he gets to see those new planets 500 years from now. He knows he will. He doesnt want to, but he knows he will. Two thousand years roll by and there are more people living on other planets beyond the Earth than people living on the Earth itself; Carl is one of the billions of people beyond the Solar System living on distant worlds from which he can no longer even see the Earth. Hes come to realize he cant make new friends or meet new people, they always die eventually and that hurts him deeply. By now he wishes he was one of them. By the time he turns 5,000 he simply wants to die. No more, he pleads. Please, no more. But the arrow of time carries on. Carl turns 10,000. He tries to kill himself. No luck. Carl turns 25,000. Hes living in the Andromeda galaxy by now. Human beings have made first contact with extraterrestrial intelligence. Carl even gets to meet a few of the Andromedians. He is impressed with them . . . but only for the first few thousand years. After that he grows tired of them too. Carl turns 100,000. Humans mastered the art of instant teleportation. In theory, he can go anywhere in the universe he wishes to. This is good news. The universe is vast and he thinks it will surely take him an eternity to explore the whole thing! But hes wrong. Carl turns one billion. The human species has evolved into something far different. They are wiser creatures now, aided by their knowledge of bio-robotic technology the humans of today can live longer than they ever thought possible. Provided they dont kill each other and regularly adjust and replace the nano machines living inside their bodies, they can live for hundreds and hundreds of years. Carl pities them. They have no idea what theyre getting themselves into. He wishes for death yet again. Carl turns 5 billion years old. He witnesses the Sun exploding from far, far away. He knows the Earth is no more, he knows his home planet has been destroyed for good, but he does not feel grief or pain. Honestly, he cant even remember what the Earth

looked like or what the people that inhabited such a world were like. Instead, he turns his gaze to other galaxies that may still need exploring. Carl turns 10 billion. He has explored a thousand galaxies from top to bottom. He has lost contact with most of the human species by now. Nowadays, hes pretty much on his own. Carl turns 50 billion. He tries to kill himself too many times to count. He does not want to be alive anymore. He wants to die. Carl turns 100 billion. He has explored every galaxy in sight. He has documented the births and deaths of stars and planets alike. He has seen the rising and falling of entire civilizations. He has witnessed intergalactic warfare. He has discovered about two billion different species living on planets that seem inhospitable to most. He asks whoever or whatever gave him the gift of eternity to take it back. He doesnt want it anymore. Carl turns 1 trillion. He has seen every square centimeter of the universe by now . . . four times. There is nothing in the whole cosmos for him to do, see, experience or create. He spends his days and nights medicated into mostly dreamless naps. Its the only thing that makes him feel better. He wonders what hell do when that becomes useless as well. Carl turns 100 trillion years old. Hes insane by now. ERASE ME! he screams. PLEASE ERASE ME FROM EXISTENCE. PUT ME TO SLEEP! ERASE THIS MIND AND LET ME SLEEP! But of course, that doesnt work. 100 trillions years is just as far from infinity as is the number one. And eternity is, however inexplicably, greater than infinity itself. For all intends and purposes Carls tour of eternity has not even begun.

The Paradox of Eternities

I would be surprised if anybody would think Carls story was anything but purely tragic. I asked you as a reader to throw reality out the window for Carls story to work and be more believable, but oddly enough more than 80% of all the people in the world not only believe in the concept of eternity but believe it is the biggest blessing one could be awarded. Why is that? The three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) all believe in some form of eternal afterlife; the only question they debate is whether eternity will be spent in the fiery abyss of Hell or on some perfect plane of existence called Heaven, and the whole thing depends on how good you were while you were alive. Sounds like a lose-lose situation either way. Other religions like Hinduism and Buddhism believe in reincarnation, a process that requires a never ending cycle of death and rebirth. This view of the world is evidently just as grounded on eternity as any other. The real conundrum here is that all of these beliefs seem to bring people hope for the future and give meaning to their everyday lives. I suspect that the reason people are so comfortable and attached to the very notion of eternity is because very few of them make the time to think about its implications. If they did, they would find that eternity provides no real cause for comfort at all and it is actually rather scary when you get to the bottom of it. Carl had to find out about this the hard way; even he wished to be freed from such torment. I would think the bigger question would be: why would I worship a god who promises me eternity? Wouldnt that be the last thing a sane person would even want? But like I said before, this is not about debunking Gods promise of eternity or even argue about the existence of such a being in the first place! This is all about eternity itself. But there is another form of eternity we have yet to discuss; one that seems to make more sense from a logical perspective, yet its the hardest one to comprehend. ***

Billions of years ago, when the heavy elements were just beginning to form inside the hearts of massive stars and being blown out into space when these giant suns finally died, the cosmos itself had no intention of gathering these vast clouds of interstellar gas filled with organic compounds and arrange them to form planets and complex life, it simply happened because the laws of physics and chemistry allow it to be so. During the billions of years it took for complex life to arise, natural selection was hard at work

making sure that organisms with better adaptability could survive and reproduce, while the rest would simply go extinct. We humans come from an evolutionary branch that enabled us to evolve self-awareness and consciousness. The ballooning of the brain, as its often called, enabled the cerebral cortex to evolve out of the reptilian and mammalian brains (which are still present in our brains today). It was first theorized that the cerebral cortex was responsible for our sense of consciousness and self-awareness, but we have since found that chimpanzees are self-conscious as well. We share 98% of our active genes with chimps so it shouldnt come as a surprise to learn that they are also self-aware and conscious. But elephants are self-conscious too, as well as dolphins and whales. In fact, theres a whole list of other species that have shown to be self-aware, which obviously implies that consciousness has evolved independently along separate evolutionary branches. How could this be? We ask ourselves. Arent humans supposed to be special, at least when it comes to consciousness? The answer is a resonant No! Human uniqueness has been exaggerated beyond recognition in order to hold the belief that we are somehow special. But how can something as complex as consciousness evolve all on its own? Our minds cannot be the products of slow evolution, they mustve come about by careful design! This statement is simply wrong. The mind (and consciousness) arises out of the intricate interconnections of the fabric of our brain. There are more than 100 trillion neural connections in our brains. Individually, a neuron may not be much more than just another cell; but collectively they give rise to the mind, along with all its intricacies and complexities. Consider, for example, the internet. What is it? Where is it? How does it arise? I suspect we are all familiar with the internet by now, how it works and what it does. The internet seems to be a technological entity all on its own. We can find it on even on the most unlikely places on Earth; all we have to do is find a way to direct a strong signal to a certain point and, lo and behold, we have internet! How is that possible? The internet, much like the mind, is the result of an immense number of interconnections of things that, individually, accomplish next to nothing. The internet is the end result of a network of servers (which are basically data processing machines or comput-

ers) connected (wirelessly, in most cases) to one another all over the globe. In other words, the internet is a phenomenon that can only exist as the result of another pre-existing set of conditions. Therefore, the internet is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. We can receive it almost everywhere we go, but we cant pinpoint its exact location because it doesnt have one. The mind works in pretty much the same way. It is the end result of trillions of neurons connected to one another through electric impulses alone. Consciousness and self-awareness are nothing special . . . they are an accident of the interconnections of our brains; and such an accident occurs in a number of different species. There is no reason to think that when we die our consciousness will somehow survive and experience any form of afterlife. We know that our bodies decay and rot . . . our neurons, along with our brains, are gone forever. We also know that our consciousness arises from such neurons, and without them there would be no such thing as selfawareness. If we were to turn off every server in the world, the internet would cease to exist. Its that simple. You are, as an individual, unique. You can wait a trillion years and you would never find another person exactly like you. This doesnt mean you were specially created or designed, it just means that the genetic code is so rich that it will never duplicate the same result; not even identical twins are exactly alike. This also means that once your body decays away, there cannot ever be another organism with the exact same properties as the ones that make up who you are. But this leads us to a bigger realization. If the mind ceases to exist when the brain decays, and there is no possibility of ever recreating the person you once were, then death is really . . . eternal. Once we die we stay dead for all eternity. Our consciousness shuts down forever. But how can that be? How is it that we can lose everything forever? How can the universe be so unkind? I dont want to disappear forever! One might say. Yet, after reading about Carls alternative, one might also say, I dont want to live forever! And here lies the paradox of eternities. On one hand we have the afterlife hypothesis: an eternity of life that seems like endless torture. And on the other hand we have the more logical, yet equally scary hypothesis: death is the end . . . forever.

The paradox of eternities suggests that if you experience one, you will crave the other, and vice versa. And the simple fact is that one of these eternities is actually real. We can each have our own personal belief as to which one is right and which one is merely invented, but the fact of the matter is, afterlife or no afterlife, we must all face eternity.

Making Peace with Eternity

Whatever our ultimate circumstances may be, there is one thing we can all agree on: life is a lot shorter than eternity. What makes this life so special is the fact that it will end. Unlike poor Carl, we will not live long enough to wish for oblivion. Eternity may pose as the ultimate blessing to be awarded, but by now we know enough to see that a finite life is the real gift. What we do with our lives, here and now, is all that matters. And we must make the right choices. We must do, here and now, what we truly know will make us happy, for we only have two options: We either waste our time now and spend eternity thinking about what might have been, or we waste our time now and then for all eternity we will not get a second chance. In either case, we cannot afford to waste our time.