The end of all things

Image: Vikash Singh
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By LEONARDO BOFF*

The ability to transform disorder into a new order, where everything continues its trajectory of future and expansion

When the end of the year arrives, it is customary to take stock of the year, in its lights and shadows. This time we renounced this task and asked ourselves something truly radical: what will the end of all things be like?

We know, more or less, when the universe began, 13,7 billion years ago. Can we know when it will end, if it ends at all? The answer depends on the background option we assume. Two trends are predominant today in the sciences of the universe and Earth: the quantitative and linear view and the qualitative and complex view.

The first gives centrality to visible (5%) and dark (95%) matter, to atoms, genes, times, spaces and the rate of energy wear. Understands the universe as the global sum of actually existing beings.

The second, qualitative, considers the relationships between elements, the way in which atoms, genes and energies are structured. It is not enough to say: this television set is made up of such and such elements. What makes a television is their organization, connected to a source of energy and image capture. In this understanding, the universe is formed by the set of all relationships.

Each of these options is based on something real and not imaginary and projects its vision of the future of the universe.

The quantitative view says: we are in a universe as a closed system, although in continuous expansion and balanced by the four fundamental forces: gravity, electromagnetic, weak and strong nuclear. We do not know if the universe expands more and more until it is completely diluted, or if it reaches a critical point and then begins to retract in on itself until the initial point, extremely dense with energy and concentrated particles. To the big bang initial (big explosion) would oppose the big crush terminal (the great crush).

Nothing prevents, however, that our current universe is the expansion of another previous universe that retracted. It would be like a pendulum, indefinitely oscillating between expansion and retraction.

Others put forward the hypothesis that the universe knows neither total expansion nor complete retraction. It would beat like an immeasurable heart. It would go through cycles: when matter reached a certain degree of density, it would expand, when, on the contrary, it reached a certain degree of refinement, it would contract in a perpetual movement of back and forth without end.

In any case, says this understanding, based on quantity, the universe has an inevitable end due to the universal law of entropy. According to this law, things wear out unstoppably: our houses deteriorate, our clothes fray, we spend our energy capital until we have used it all up and then we would die. Galaxies fall apart into immense nebulae, our sun, in five billion years will have burned all the hydrogen, then, for another four billion years, all the helium. In this sinister event, it will have burned all the planets around it, including Earth. And its end will be a white dwarf.

In other words, everyone, the universe, the Earth and each one of us, are heading towards thermal death, a scenario of darkness, in a practically empty space, permeated by a few lost photons and neutrinos. A total collapse of all matter and all energy. An unfortunate end of all things.

But is this the last word, terrifying and without any hope? Is there no other possible reading of the evolution of the universe that meets our desire to live and for everything to remain in being?

Yes, there is this reading, based not on quantities, but on the qualities of the universe, which have been brought to light by advances in the various contemporary sciences. It led to three mutations that changed our vision of reality and its future.

The first was Einstein's theory of relativity, combined with Heisenberg and Bohr's quantum mechanics. They make us understand that matter and energy are equivalent. Basically, everything would be energy always structured in fields, with matter itself being a condensed form of energy. The universe is an incessant game of energies, erupting from the Background Energy (quantum vacuum or the Abyss that originates everything that exists), and in permanent interaction between them, giving rise to all beings.

The second, derived from the first, was the discovery of the probabilistic character of all phenomena. Each being represents the realization of a probability. But even though this is so, it continues to contain within itself countless other probabilities that could come to light. And when they come to the surface, they do so within the following dynamic: order-disorder-new order. Thus, life would have emerged at a time of high complexity of matter, far from balance (in a situation of chaos) and which self-ordered itself, inaugurating a new order that gained sustainability and the capacity for self-reproduction.

The third, integral ecology, grasps and articulates the most distinct levels of reality, seeing them as emergences of the single and immense cosmogenic process, underlying all beings in the universe. It has a systemic, pan-relational character and is open to increasingly complex, ordered forms capable of carrying out increasingly higher and more conscious meanings. This would be the arrow of time and the purpose of the universe: not simply giving victory to the strongest (Darwin's adaptable), but also realizing virtualities of the weakest (Swimme).

These three aspects offer us another vision of the future of life and the universe. Ilya Prigone showed the existence of dissipative structures, which dissipate entropy, in simpler words, which transform waste into a new source of energy and of a different order. In this understanding, the universe is still in genesis, as it has not just been born. It is open, self-organizing, creative, expands creating space and time. The arrow of time is irreversible and comes loaded with purpose. Where will we go? We do not know. It is suggested that there is a Great Attractor that is drawing us towards it.

If in the system that privileges quantity and the closed system entropy predominated, here in the open system that emphasizes quality, syntropy works, that is, the ability to transform disorder into a new order, waste into a new source of energy and life. Thus, for example, almost everything that exists on Earth comes to us from the waste of the sun (the rays it emits).

This view is more coherent with the internal dynamics of the universe itself. He moves forward creating the future. Life seeks to perpetuate itself in every way. Our most permanent desires are to live longer and better. Death itself would be an intelligent invention of life itself to free itself from spatio-temporal limits and be able to continue in the game of relationships between everything and everything, opening up to an absolute future.

That is why life crosses time into eternity to continue its trajectory of future and expansion. In a theological vision, à la Teilhard de Chardin, this is when we will implode and explode into the Supreme Reality that created everything. All beings will know their end, not as an end, but as a goal achieved. What is the end of all beings? Reach its end, its full realization and thus fall into the arms of God-Father-and-Mother and live a life that no longer knows entropy, only the future always open and without end.

And then it will be pure being in the laughing splendor of its glory.

*Leonardo Boff He is a theologian, philosopher and writer. Author, among other books, of Where did it come from? The universe, life, spirit and God (Animus/Anima).


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