My Grandmother faced the same fate as a biodegradable shopping bag. Both made of molecules, of atoms, controlled by thermodynamic systems intrinsically complex. With entropy, no worldly item is more special than any other.
The formal definition of the Second Law of Thermodynamics states:
The total entropy of any isolated thermodynamic system tends to increase over time, approaching a maximum value.
Entropy is represented as an abstraction — something intangible — but its effect is very real.
I have often thought that thermodynamics might be the Universe’s real God. We all bow down to the same master in the end, whether a star, a galaxy or a slug. Coaxed through life by the forever deceitful and cunning time, we tumble through the world blindly, as if the laws of thermodynamics had enlisted time as a servant guiding us to the bittersweet.
Contemplation of life has led many of us to study: Theology and philosophy, metaphysics, future technologies and even their role in a supposedly promised Singularity. Time is dripping. Time destroys all things. And to think about it — to blank out all worldly thoughts and think about man’s demise, to concentrate and connect with our fortune of a vast nothingness, of the absurdity of it all, of your own existence, of your own thoughts — creates an intense emotional paralysis. A feeling that runs through your entire body, swelling up veins and choking all senses, an internal tornado that blitzes out every other thought as if you’ve been paralyzed by a stroke. That’s the awareness of your own mortality. Some feel they could die in end that very moment, completely humbled by their own inferiority. Perhaps that is the last experience we feel when we do actually die. Completely overpowered. Gone.
But there is value in invoking that emotional uneasiness. To feel it deeply but then use it as a motivator, a call to action. For regardless where science takes us, regardless what the future holds for the lifespan of ourselves and our descendants, there will always be something aesthetically romantic in thinking about death. For a lover to overpower you is a minor prelude for what one day we imagine death might do. The French got it right with le petit mort. We each only have one real relationship, and it’s between us as individuals and time. In the end death consummates that relationship into an eternity. One day, time will ravage your body, she will destroy you, physically and mentally. Evolution may be the greatest artist but she paints a cruel beauty of destruction. All us creatures, harmonizing or contrasting with each other. None of us holding the value of the eternal whole, none more important than the other — although perhaps naively thinking we are.
To think about these things — love, consciousness, life and death — leaves us humbled by the histories of all those who have lived before us, and of all those who will live after us. To realize the unimportance of ourselves in the sequence of the eternal everything. Forever impressed by the genuine role of human anonymity, the universe doesn’t and won’t ever really know who we are, other than just one of many dots in the vast space-time spectrum. Each of us as individuals, roaring in our attempts to disturb the universe. We roar! We roar! It’s imperative for the human condition. For change, for progress, for the advancement of our species.
Contrast that with the lives of less conscious animals and how they carry their humbler paths in the evolutionary sequence: At the end, they seek to find a secluded spot to hide and die quietly. They rot to the ground and into the circle of life. There is no fanfare. No quest for immortality. No funeral procession. And there’s a strange sort of sublimity in the minimalism. It came. It went.
Imagine if we had the capabilities to experience both our own birth and death. Man would be a different creature. By the time his consciousness has fully developed, he has often already taken much of the world around him for granted. With death there is no chance for post-experience reflection. From a positive, a something, we become a negative, a nothing. I feel my own fragility in moments of sickness, the starkness of my own decay, and I think to myself “How lucky you are to normally keep this complex atomic mix so together.”
Even though I have no desire to die, even though it’s imperative to extend and expand human lifespan, I feel lucky for what I already have. Grateful and humbled that out of all the randomness, out of all the complexity, out of all the cells and out of all the stars and out of all the processes, out of this mad unique palette that makes up this universe that I have a chance to experience. It’s a feeling that makes the mundane beautiful, because in reality there is no mundane. The simplest thing in our regard is laden with sublime complexity. It’s near impossible to not become awestruck, once you start paying attention to the details. And at the end of a long day, tired from work with restless worries, to again have the chance to be in bed remembering that it’s another night under the Milky Way. Another day that has bred a lovestruck fascination. Another day of life.