Spoiler: Everyone Dies
January 22, 2013 10:42 AM   Subscribe

The Timeline of the Far Future is a Wikipedia article which serves as a gateway to a ton of fascinating scientific topics on the far edge of human understanding: ~50,000 years from now the Earth will enter a new Glacial period; ~100,000 years from now the Earth will likely have experienced a supervolcanic eruption; ~10,000,000 years from now the East African Rift divides the continent of Africa in to two land masses; ~20,000,000,000 years from now the Universe effectively dies due to The Big Rip.
posted by codacorolla (93 comments total) 68 users marked this as a favorite

 
Can someone explain Poincaré recurrence time, the final few entries on the timeline? My feeble brain can't quite grasp it.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:46 AM on January 22, 2013


1015 (1 quadrillion) years — Estimated time until stellar close encounters detach all planets in the Solar System from their orbits. By this point, the Sun will have cooled to five degrees above absolute zero.

This made me sad. :(
posted by mazola at 10:48 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


So we're looking at approximately 35,000,000,000 years as the usable life of a universe? I think they should send it back for more testing, I expected we'd get at least double that before having to replace it. Try tweaking the speed of light, that worked last time.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:55 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


the Universe effectively dies due to The Big Rip

I prefer the Heat Death of the Universe. It's funny to see this posted here - I've spent a TON of time on that wiki page because I've been making a super 8 movie for the past several years about this very topic that I should really go ahead and finish already.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:55 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


We really should get to work on figuring out if we can reverse entropy.
posted by borkencode at 10:55 AM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


By this point, the Sun will have cooled to five degrees above absolute zero.

And I will still be on hold with Time Warner Cable.
posted by elizardbits at 10:59 AM on January 22, 2013 [21 favorites]


100,000 – 1 million According to Michio Kaku, time by which humanity will be a Type III civilization, capable of harnessing all the energy of the galaxy.[91]

Well that's good news.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:04 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


This made me sad. :(

I think it'll make my 5 year old happy. He's mentioned more than once to me in the last few weeks that he wouldn't want to live forever. Not in a suicidal way, just, y'know, because it would be boring. Now I can tell him he'll live for a maximum of 1 quadrillion years.
posted by DU at 11:04 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I sense a series of PBS documentaries waiting to be made here.
posted by slogger at 11:04 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


...which I'd watch the living shit out of.
posted by slogger at 11:05 AM on January 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


~50,000 years from now the Earth will enter a new Glacial period
<republican>One more reason not to worry about global warming!</republican>
posted by Flunkie at 11:06 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


A much simplified way of thinking about this time is that in a model in which history repeats itself arbitrarily many times due to properties of statistical mechanics, this is the time scale when it will first be somewhat similar (for a reasonable choice of "similar") to its current state again.

Presumably this would be an average expected time. But it only has to happen once. Once history repeats, it'll be stuck in a loop of exactly that length.
posted by DU at 11:06 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


This made me sad. :(

Well, humans would have died out long before the 1 quadrillion years. Instead, the planets will slowly have slowly left their orbits, the last guests straggling out of a cosmic party before the sun puts out the lights for good.
posted by mazola at 11:08 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a short story about The Big Rip by Stephen Baxter. Good if you like stone cold bummers.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:11 AM on January 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


~20,000,000,000 years from now the Universe effectively dies due to The Big Rip.

Except that, as the linked article says:
In their paper, the authors consider an example with w = −1.5, H0 = 70 km/s/Mpc and Ωm = 0.3, in which case the end of the universe is approximately 22 billion years from the present. This is not considered a prediction, but a hypothetical example.
posted by stebulus at 11:12 AM on January 22, 2013


Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking.
posted by tigrefacile at 11:13 AM on January 22, 2013 [16 favorites]


Presumably this would be an average expected time. But it only has to happen once. Once history repeats, it'll be stuck in a loop of exactly that length.
Doesn't that assume determinism? And isn't our current understanding that the universe is, or at least is plausibly, fundamentally nondeterministic? For example, it's not merely that we don't know how to predict when an atom will undergo spontaneous fission; it's that we believe it's actually not even possible to predict when an atom will undergo spontaneous fission.

So even if all conditions are the same as they were at some prior point, that doesn't imply an exact duplication of everything from then on out.

I could easily be wrong. Am I wrong?
posted by Flunkie at 11:14 AM on January 22, 2013


~100,000 years from now the Earth will likely have experienced a supervolcanic eruption

It might be much sooner, although it's probably fine.
posted by TedW at 11:20 AM on January 22, 2013


Can someone explain Poincaré recurrence time, the final few entries on the timeline? My feeble brain can't quite grasp it.

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:20 AM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sangermaine, basically, in any given system, there are a finite number of microstates (arrangement of particles: their location, energy and momenta). If you wait long enough, the system will cycle through all possible arrangements, as long as energy is conserved, just by random fluctuations. However, most of these arrangements are extremely unlikely, so you'll have to wait a truly stupendous period of time before you ever see it occur. For example, if you have a box full of air, and wait a very VERY long time, you'll see the air molecules all in one corner of the box. Then, if you wait a very long time, eventually they'll end up there again. If you wait long enough, you'll see all the air molecules spell out your name, or your SSN, or anything else you can imagine. And many things you can't. And this would repeat, over and over. You just have to have a LOT of free time. (Though DU, I don't think it's necessarily deterministic, so these times are expected times for reoccurrence, not fixed loops. So I agree with Flunkie.)

So, if you're very patient, you'll see all the particles and energy in the entire Universe randomly find itself in a state very similar to that of the Big Bang, and the entire process recreate itself over and over again. Not only that, in one of these iterations, the Universe will recreate YOU, exactly you, with all your memories. In fact, sometimes, it will recreate you without going through the whole "have a Big Bang" step. Of course, between now and then, the Universe will spend most of it's time extremely cold, and you'll see exponentially more local decreases in entropy that don't look like you. For example, note that in this list, the time to wait for a new Big Bang is WAY lower than the recurrance time, since in one case you just want a fantastically unlikely thing (all the particles in the Universe get together and restart in a low entropy state), and in the other you want a REALLY amazingly tremendously unlikely thing, which is that all the particles in the Universe get together to look exactly like a previous moment in time down to the smallest detail (the more details you are willing to forgo, the less time you need to wait). Also, note that the time to create a Boltzmann Brain (which is a sentient observer that wasn't born, but just poof'ed into existence due to a random thermal fluctuation) is shorter than both of these other times. This means, according to some arguments, that you are much more likely to be an uncreated brain floating in a nearly empty cold void, just dreaming you're you with all your memories, and imagining reading this right now.

Or this could all be crap, and we only get one shot at this. I hate the Boltzmann brain argument and think it's obviously stupid, but the math does hold up, and it's annoying hard to poke holes in it. Basically, due to the research I do, I chose to ignore this and take the more practical stance that the Universe sure looks like it evolved from a Big Bang, so don't lose any sleep on whether it's all just an amazingly unlikely coincidence. If we took that attitude, we'd still be in caves going "I wonder if this fire thing is real or just a figment of my imagination?" However, this just goes to show how hard it is to get your mind around infinity. If the Universe is infinite, anything and everything will happen, and not just once.
posted by physicsmatt at 11:21 AM on January 22, 2013 [70 favorites]


My money's on false vacuum collapse.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:21 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


In their paper, the authors consider an example with w = −1.5...

Well, the Hubble constant is very close, but the density of all mater is high (it's closer to .28 than .3) and the equation of state for dark energy is *well* off our current best guess of -.98 +-0.05.

So, I'd consider those predictions to be very off, in particular, the big rip will only happen if w < -1.
posted by eriko at 11:21 AM on January 22, 2013


F*#@ the lawn pop!
posted by hot_monster at 11:23 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


mazola: "This made me sad. :("

I'm not sure if "sad" is exactly the right word for me, but yeah. Me too.

mazola: "Well, humans would have died out long before the 1 quadrillion years. Instead, the planets will slowly have slowly left their orbits, the last guests straggling out of a cosmic party before the sun puts out the lights for good."

It's not the fate of humans that saddens me in this scenario. It's more a sense of melancholy that the whole shebang is over and done with.

Also, the far future of our own back yard is way more frightening and "other" to me than any far off alien world could be. (As far as I know. Which isn't far.)
posted by brundlefly at 11:24 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you wait long enough, you'll see all the air molecules spell out your name, or your SSN

And that's how most people become the victim of identity thieves.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:24 AM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


The crust beneath the Basin and Range is still stretching today. Faults are active, mountains are pushing upwards, and basins are widening and filling with debris washed down from the high country. This landscape, which appears so everlasting, is actually in the midst of a geologic revolution, played out over millions of years. As the crust continues to stretch, the North American Plate will eventually be divided into two pieces, and a new ocean will form in between them. In other words, the state of California moves away from Colorado, (roughly "stable" North America) at approximately 1 centimeter per year.

I am sorta sorry that I will not be around to see this. . .
posted by Danf at 11:26 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can someone explain Poincaré recurrence time, the final few entries on the timeline? My feeble brain can't quite grasp it.

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.


Ok, now with three-part vocal harmony, at least two percussionists, electric bass backed by cello quartet, Moog modular synthesizer, Hammond organ, and Robert Fripp.

We can try mellotron flutes on the next take.
posted by Luminiferous Ether at 11:29 AM on January 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


20,000,000,000 years from now the Universe effectively dies due to The Big Rip.

"Theoretically, the scale factor of the universe becomes infinite at a finite time in the future."
posted by KokuRyu at 11:29 AM on January 22, 2013


So we're looking at approximately 35,000,000,000 years as the usable life of a universe?

So, the universe is a mere teenager.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:30 AM on January 22, 2013


And that's how most people become the victim of identity thieves.

There's a short story in there, you know.
posted by aramaic at 11:36 AM on January 22, 2013


mazola: "This made me sad. :(

Well, humans would have died out long before the 1 quadrillion years. Instead, the planets will slowly have slowly left their orbits, the last guests straggling out of a cosmic party before the sun puts out the lights for good.
"

Zaphod? That you?
posted by symbioid at 11:39 AM on January 22, 2013


One of the motifs in Iain M Banks' Culture novels is that the humanoids in the Culture tend to live about 300 years before deciding to die, become virtualized, or what-have-you. Individuals who far exceed that are looked at somewhat strangely. Which is good, because otherwise you fill up all available space with people.

Personally, though, I'd want to live forever.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 11:47 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


RobotVoodooPower: "Stephen Baxter. Good if you like stone cold bummers."

Talk about redundant.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:50 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


elizardbits: And I will still be on hold with Time Warner Cable.

I realize you are just making a joke, but just in case you don't know about it: @TWCableHelp. They are crazy responsive.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:53 AM on January 22, 2013


As the crust continues to stretch, the North American Plate will eventually be divided into two pieces, and a new ocean will form in between them. In other words, the state of California moves away from Colorado, (roughly "stable" North America) at approximately 1 centimeter per year.

I am sorta sorry that I will not be around to see this. . .
Have I got JUST the George Strait song for this!
posted by resurrexit at 11:57 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


due to the research I do, I chose to ignore this and take the more practical stance that the Universe sure looks like it evolved from a Big Bang, so don't lose any sleep on whether it's all just an amazingly unlikely coincidence.

Sure, that's exactly what a Boltzmann brain would say.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 12:03 PM on January 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


I apologize in advance for the big rip...
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:22 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Big Rip? More like the big Bong Rip!
posted by Dr. Send at 12:28 PM on January 22, 2013


The good news: God, or at least a deity that is omniscient and is outside of space and time, exists!

The bad news: This deity entity performs but one role/function. When the universe ends the deity removes it, blows into it a couple of times, and then puts it back in.
posted by sendai sleep master at 12:33 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


So we're looking at approximately 35,000,000,000 years as the usable life of a universe? I think they should send it back for more testing, I expected we'd get at least double that before having to replace it.

Ferris: Look, it's real simple. Whatever mileage we put on, we'll take off.
Cameron: How?
Ferris: We'll drive home backwards.
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:46 PM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


10^10^26 is 1 followed by 10^26 (100 septillion) zeroes. Although listed in years for convenience, the numbers beyond this point are so vast that their digits would remain unchanged regardless of which conventional units they were listed in, be they nanoseconds or star lifespans.

This stuck out to me the last time I read this article, and like most things involving infinity or large numbers I can't get my head around it. I can somewhat grasp that the difference between, say, 10^10^26 seconds and 10^10^26 years is negligible (that's a difference of what, 6 orders of magnitude? 6 compared to 10^26 is obviously nothing), but nanoseconds to star lifespans...

Actually I kind of just reasoned it out myself. Assuming a star lifespan is ~10,000,000,000 years, nanoseconds to star lifespans is 25 (?) orders of magnitude, still nothing compared to 10^26. This all hinges on my understanding of numbers being correct. Numbers are weird as hell.
posted by edeezy at 12:55 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's more a sense of melancholy that the whole shebang is over and done with.

A couple of scientific revolutions from now - when we finally quit talking about theories in a way that gives the impression that we already know everything (ha!) - most of these predictions will likely be null and void. The situation today is way-too-iffy for deterministic-sounding cosmology.

We don't even know how gravity works yet. Suppose there might be a couple of surprises before that happens? It's only been 80 years since we realized that there are other galaxies. So enjoy the rollercoaster ride and don't take any of it too seriously.
posted by Twang at 12:56 PM on January 22, 2013 [10 favorites]



We really should get to work on figuring out if we can reverse entropy.


We can, but first I must ask...do you want to become a magical girl?
posted by hellojed at 12:57 PM on January 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


It's only been 80 years since we realized that there are other galaxies.

This blows my mind every time I think about it. We're kind of in the same boat with exoplanets now, actually, in that we're rapidly going from 'Do they even exist?' to 'Yes, and there are probably billions of them'.
posted by anaximander at 1:02 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


~20,000,000,000 years from now the Universe effectively dies due to The Big Rip.

Unless Reed Richards saves us all with cosmic beano.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:06 PM on January 22, 2013


Well, humans would have died out long before the 1 quadrillion years.

Slackers, I say. I'll have long since become a living god and built myself a properly run universe.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:08 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think it'll make my 5 year old happy. He's mentioned more than once to me in the last few weeks that he wouldn't want to live forever. Not in a suicidal way, just, y'know, because it would be boring.

It would only be boring if we had far better memories (both in terms of fidelity and of capacity) than what we actually have, as humans.

If you don't remember having done it before, it's new to you!
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:10 PM on January 22, 2013


I imagine writing a sci-fi story about a futuristic civilization so advanced that they are able to defeat entropy, yet infinity bores them (somehow) to the point they wish for some finality to their existence. Maybe they use up their own universe to create new universes, but in a way that they are sealed off from their own creations.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:14 PM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Not exactly what you're looking for, but your post reminded me of Asimov's "The Last Question".
posted by edeezy at 1:27 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Although it's not intended to be analogous to contemporary cosmology, traditional Buddhist cosmology is kind of neat in that it has some convergence with how we view the universe.

For example, there is the idea of a kalpa. There are kalpas of different length, notably:

Maha-Kalpa - largest time unit in Buddhism. Ending of a Maha-Kalpa (apocalypse) can happen in three ways: fire, water and wind. It is divided into four quarters each equivalent to one Asankya-Kalpa.

First quarter - time taken for this world to form.
Second quarter - stable duration of this world where all living beings can thrive.
Third quarter - time taken for this world to be destroyed.
Fourth quarter - empty time period.

posted by KokuRyu at 1:34 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Buddhist cosmology: philosophy and origins is cool book that provides a lot of useful information for deciphering mandalas, statues, and other Buddhist-related art. Well-worth the pricetag, if you can find it.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:36 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


This deity entity performs but one role/function. When the universe ends the deity removes it, blows into it a couple of times, and then puts it back in.
" ... Sometimes the arm of Skarl grows weary; but still he beateth his drum, that the gods may do the work of the gods, and the worlds go on, for if he cease for an instant then Mana-Yood-Sushai will start awake, and there will be worlds nor gods no more.

But, when at the last the arm of Skarl shall cease to beat his drum, silence shall startle Pegāna like thunder in a cave, and Mana-Yood-Sushai shall cease to rest.

Then shall Skarl put his drum upon his back and walk forth into the void beyond the worlds, because it is THE END, and the work of Skarl is over.

There there may arise some other god whom Skarl may serve, or it may be that he shall perish; but to Skarl it shall matter not, for he shall have done the work of Skarl."

—Lord Dunsany, The Gods of Pegāna
For me, the melancholy here comes not from the sense of an ending, but from the realization of just how evanescent everything we know is. A million years, a billion years, a quadrillion years and we get 80 or 90 if we're very lucky? Talk about stone cold bummer.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:45 PM on January 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


250 million years from now: All the continents on Earth may fuse into a supercontinent. Three potential arrangements of this configuration have been dubbed Amasia, Novopangaea, and Pangaea Ultima.

Some other names also under consideration include:
- Wowitania
- Nouvelle terre tres sexy!
- Ameristralia Fuckyeahia
- Supermegazordaea
- Jut-jut-jut-land
- Barfhole
posted by invitapriore at 1:48 PM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Can someone help me with this:

100 billion - The Universe's expansion causes all galaxies beyond the Milky Way's Local Group to disappear beyond the cosmic light horizon, removing them from the observable universe.

Wouldn't that require that all galaxy's beyond our LG are moving away from us at faster than the speed of light? I must be completely misunderstanding what this means.
posted by jermsplan at 1:56 PM on January 22, 2013


I sense a series of PBS documentaries waiting to be made here.

FRONTLINE already experienced the Big Rip last week when I forgot that I was sitting in a room full of people. I blame my noise-cancelling headphones.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:58 PM on January 22, 2013


The farts really harsh the melancholy, man.
posted by mazola at 2:10 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


So enjoy the rollercoaster ride and don't take any of it too seriously.

I thought you seemed familiar.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 2:11 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't that require that all galaxy's beyond our LG are moving away from us at faster than the speed of light? I must be completely misunderstanding what this means.

That's essentially what it would mean. More precisely, they are not moving per se but are getting farther away from us due to the expansion of space itself (metric expansion of space) and are doing so at a faster and faster rate (accelerating universe).
posted by nave at 2:25 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Metric expansion of space? I knew those french people were up to no good with their metres and litres.
posted by jepler at 2:31 PM on January 22, 2013


Yet more bad news!
posted by marienbad at 2:36 PM on January 22, 2013


Here's a little video of the end of the earth. Don't worry, it only take a minute or so.
posted by hot_monster at 2:48 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


@physicsmatt: as long as energy is conserved

I see what you did there.
posted by kjs3 at 2:56 PM on January 22, 2013


~20,000,000,000 years from now the Universe effectively dies due to The Big Rip.
Uh, no. Just to be clear, since other people pointed it out - that number is just a hypothetical example you would get with certain parameters in the equation, which are way off from what scientists think the actual numbers are. There could be a big rip way way way out in the future. But not likely before heat death anyway
posted by delmoi at 2:59 PM on January 22, 2013


Thanks nave. That's sort of depressing actually. As if developing FTL travel wasn't hard enough already, now space itself is working against us by putting space between distant bodies at a faster than light rate? Great, time to sell shares in Warp 9.9 Technologies.
posted by jermsplan at 3:03 PM on January 22, 2013


jermsplan, nave has it. It's a little weird, because everyone is measuring themselves at rest with respect to their local coordinate systems (which is a physically meaningful statement: you know how you can feel a car accelerate or get dizzy when you spin too fast? That's because you're not at rest with respect to the local coordinates, and that corresponds to an acceleration. If you were sitting alone in inter-cluster space, you'd see the Universe recede, nut feel no acceleration, and this is true no matter where in the Universe you were sitting, as long as you weren't near a big object that could pull you in with its local gravity). So, it's not that the other galaxies are rushing away from us, it is that the space between the galaxies is stretching. As we are gravitationally bound within the local group of galaxies, we won't see those galaxies run away (the gravitational binding overcomes the stretching), but those objects too far away to be bound to the Local Cluster will eventually be seen to move away past the point where we can see them. This comes about because we live in a Universe with a very small cosmological constant, which causes expansion to accelerate, causing matter to dilute, causing the cosmological constant to be ever-more important, causing the acceleration to continue, and so on and so forth.

The Big Rip idea is the logical conclusion of this; if the cause of the expansion is dominant enough, eventually it will overcome any local attractive force and remove first the Milky Way from the Local Cluster, then the Sun from the Galaxy, then the Earth from around the Sun, then the objects on the Earth from the surface, then the chemical bonds would break apart, then the electrons disassociate from the nuclei, then the nuclei break apart, and at some point the disassociation hits an infinite asymptote and the nuclei dissolve and shortly thereafter any object no matter how tightly bound is pulled apart and the Universe as we know it completely ends. However, that requires dark energy to have properties that it does not, at this time, appear to have. So, you know, cross that off your list to worry about.
posted by physicsmatt at 3:04 PM on January 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


Relax, Hari Seldon has it covered.
posted by Damienmce at 3:15 PM on January 22, 2013


physicsmatt, thanks for the answer.
posted by Sangermaine at 3:19 PM on January 22, 2013


As long as I don't get tortured by an overwrought Dane and then stuck in a stick hut with a histrionic Charlotte Gainsbourg, the endings are all about the same.
posted by sonascope at 3:26 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


There ain't no difference between a flying saucer and a time machine. People get so hung up on specifics they miss out on seeing the whole thing. Take South America for example. [In] South America, thousands of people go missing every year. Nobody knows where they go, they just, like, disappear. But if you think about it for a minute, you realize something. There had to be a time when there was no people, right? Well where did all these people come from, huh? I'll tell you where. The future. And where did all these people disappear to? [Otto: The past?] That's right! And how did they get there? Flying saucers. Which are really..? Yeah, you got it, time machines. I think a lot about this kind of stuff.
posted by djseafood at 4:46 PM on January 22, 2013


Yes-yes, that's all very well and good, but when does humanity unlock the meaning of nature and conquer our baser selves, abolish sickness and insanity, crime and all injustice? When will the level of our knowledge and understanding rise to that of the mighty and noble Krell, and then, having reached such heights, disappear in a single night?
posted by Relay at 6:01 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


@TWCableHelp. They are crazy responsive.

I don't twit, though. And I really don't ever want to start.

posted by elizardbits at 6:06 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


If Hollywood has taught me anything (and it has), we can prevent the Big Rip and save the world with a well-placed nuclear bomb, heroically set with blood, muscle, and guns.
posted by anonymisc at 6:14 PM on January 22, 2013


120 years ago people thought denser-than-air aircraft are impossible.
100 years ago people thought travelling faster than 40 mph will kill you.
50 years ago people thought the internet is impossible.
Now scientists think reversing entropy and FTL is impossible.

Prediction: 100 years from now scientists will think changing fundamental laws of the universe is "unpossible". The only thing we can learn from scientific history is that people don't learn from scientific history.
posted by rainy at 6:29 PM on January 22, 2013


Rainy, you switched from "people" to "scientists" in there.

Not that scientists have always always been right, but "people" believe all kinds of stupid stuff. Whereas the very first known scientific paper on heavier-than-air manned aircraft, written in 1716, was pretty confident that the problem would eventually be cracked. Science tends to be pretty reluctant to say "X may vey well be impossible", and the things you have listed are not scientific history but the vagaries of popular belief.

I'm certainly not saying reversing entropy and FTL will never be solved, but the apparent barriers to the possibility are actually pretty big. Like, "we have to give up the idea of causality as a basic property of the universe" big.
posted by kyrademon at 6:43 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, something that I didn't realize until my second semester of college physics is that relativity and entropy together explain practically everything from the atom to the cosmos. The same theory that predicts the existence of supermassive black holes and microwave background radiation also plays a role in dictating how chemical reactions work. The theory is so frighteningly consistent across phenomena across the range of observable sizes and energy, that it's hard to figure out a loophole that wouldn't also screw up things like our DNA, or the operation of GPS systems.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:07 PM on January 22, 2013


kyrademon: the apparent barriers may or may not be big, one avenue would be achieving access to a parallel universe with a different set of laws, which is something that may turn out to be trivial at some point in technological development. It may end up being as ubiquitous as portable computing devices are now - something even scientists did not foresee only half a century ago.
posted by rainy at 7:13 PM on January 22, 2013


There ain't no difference between a flying saucer and a time machine.

One difference: Fewer anal probes.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:24 PM on January 22, 2013


That's only if you remember to put the seat on the bicycle.
posted by stebulus at 7:37 PM on January 22, 2013


The big rip happens if you pull God's finger.
posted by humanfont at 8:29 PM on January 22, 2013


> It may end up being as ubiquitous as portable computing devices are now - something even scientists did not foresee only half a century ago.

Except they did: "The memex (a portmanteau of "memory" and "index")[1] is the name of the hypothetical proto-hypertext system that Vannevar Bush described in his 1945 The Atlantic Monthly article "As We May Think". Bush envisioned the memex as a device in which individuals would compress and store all of their books, records, and communications..."

To reiterate kyrademon, there's a distinction to be drawn in the speculation of plausibility of invention; there was nothing in what was known in physical sciences in the 18th century that would contradict the plausibility of heavier-than-air flight (after all, birds are heavier than air -- if they can do it, humans can find a way, right?); it was up to figuring out how. Similarly, there was nothing in the state of the art of computer science in the 1940s to contradict the plausibility of Vannevar Bush's memex.

Currently, though, traveling faster than light or reversing entropy requires actively violating known scientific principles. I don't think many people are ruling out the possibility that we don't properly understand entropy -- but there's consensus around the plausibility of what we know that keeps entropy-reversal machines effectively impossible.
posted by ardgedee at 6:27 AM on January 23, 2013


To add on to ardgedee's comment above - there's a tiny sliver of a gap between our understanding of macroscopic phenomena (electromagnetism, gravity, special and general relativity) and microscopic (quantum mechanics), as shown by Bell's theorem, for example.

In relativity, information propagates at the speed of light, c - full stop. But QM seems to require "spooky action-at-a-distance" (yes, this is the technical term) for instantaneous propagation of state changes. In that gap, there's room for new stuff. Possibly a LOT of new stuff, world changing stuff.

But the rules that we have work awfully well right now - we correct the clocks on GPS satellites for relativistic effects due to their orbits in Earth's gravitational well, and look at the bitching and moaning when GPS is off by a few meters and some driver misses his exit. This stuff ... works.

So yes, there's a gap, and yes, new stuff is possible, but it's a pretty narrow gap we're talking about. (OTOH, anything that bridges the gap will be transformative, so maybe it isn't a small gap after all.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:03 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Supporting an argument about physical possibilities with induction on human attitudes seems insane to me, and then just casually hypothesizing that "parallel universes" are a plausible means for FTL is...what? Do you know something we don't?
posted by invitapriore at 9:19 AM on January 23, 2013


I apologize in advance for the big rip...

Blame it on the Dog Star.
posted by e1c at 9:20 AM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


invitapriore: the problem seems to be that people are hoodwinked by the laws that seem to be consistent in our local patch of the universe, and are *observable* with our current methods. Once you step out of the local patch, OR use new observational methods, it's unknown what we may find, but it's likely that our picture of the world will change dramatically over the next 200 years.

Parallel universes is just one example of stepping out of our self-imposed limits of understanding of what is possible. Is it "plausible" that FTL limit can be side-stepped, as you've craftily implied I've said? FTL is the limit we've observed in our local patch of the universe, so you can "plausibly" state that it is *unknown* if it holds outside of it -- which is quite different than stating it is plausible that it does not hold.
posted by rainy at 11:21 AM on January 23, 2013


The argument about birds is just silly. Many small birds are great fliers, and so are moths and dragonfiles, and bacteria are airborne without any propulsion, but once a bird gets to around 40lbs, they become terrible fliers. It was fairly reasonable for people in 19th century to assume flight is not practical for heavy aircraft. Even now it's hard to imagine a 747 get off the ground by flapping its wings like a seagull.
posted by rainy at 11:44 AM on January 23, 2013


rainy: 120 years ago people thought denser-than-air aircraft are impossible.
ardgedee: there was nothing in what was known in physical sciences in the 18th century that would contradict the plausibility of heavier-than-air flight (after all, birds are heavier than air -- if they can do it, humans can find a way, right?)
rainy: ... but once a bird gets to around 40lbs, they become terrible fliers. It was fairly reasonable for people in 19th century to assume flight is not practical for heavy aircraft.

That's an extraordinarily pure example of moving the goalposts.
posted by stebulus at 1:23 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


stebulus: why don't you read some history? Even after the flight of Wright brothers there were widely published claims, by respected authors, that Wright's plane is on the very margins of what is practically possible and it will never fly more than a few hundred feet.

Hint: when I said "denser-than-air" aircraft I was talking about aircraft that can carry useful weight across a usefully longish distance.

Is this what passes for pedantry on the blue nowadays?
posted by rainy at 1:52 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


usefully longish
posted by flyblackbox at 8:52 PM on January 23, 2013


@rainy:120 years ago people thought denser-than-air aircraft are impossible.
100 years ago people thought travelling faster than 40 mph will kill you.
50 years ago people thought the internet is impossible.
Now scientists think reversing entropy and FTL is impossible.


None of these statements are true. In fact, they are so bewilderingly, obviously full of shit it boggles the mind that one would trot them out with any expectation of being taken seriously.

Hint: Don't tell someone else to "read some history" when you can't be bothered to check your out trivial to discount statements.

120 years ago the basics of heavier than air aerodynamics were understood well enough that it was clear that it was a thrust to weight issue. Cayley had it all pretty much all figured out in 1810 and they were just waiting for materials science to catch up.

100 years ago people *routinely* traveled faster than 40 mph. You may have heard of this thing called a "train"? For christ sake, Barney Oldfield went 130mph in 1910 in a *car*.

Noone ever said the Internet is impossible. Ever. Not even once. Because we knew we could build interconnected data networks of various sorts since the telegraph days of the mid-1800s. The original capital I Internet was an evolution, not a revolution.

And today? There are any number of scientists postulating how one might achieve FTL travel, with folks like Alcubierre getting some actual traction. You even bring up multiverse theories, which could the thought of as a sort of FTL. I'll give you that there aren't too many people taking a direct run at entropy, but that's because our understanding of it has held up without fail, both theoretically and experimentally, for nearly a century.

So, at best, you get a 1/2 out of 4.

The only thing we can learn from scientific history is that people don't learn from scientific history.

This is, literally, laughably untrue. The tedious refuge of fact-light handwavers who think saying things like this with the tone of a sage makes it anything but bunk.

Then you start with a (completely incorrect) assertion that 120 years ago heavier than air aircraft was thought impossible. When shown you're wrong, you posit evidence-free that birds past 40 lbs are poor flyers, ignoring that there have been fliers much heavier than that in the past. And then somehow we jump to 745-lb Wright Flyers which..I don't know...resolve the dicotomy for you. Too much cognitive dissonance required to plow through how you'll pretend to be right at this point.

Looks like goal moving to me.

Hint: It's easy to avoid pedantry by being clear, concise and factual. Give it a try some time.
posted by kjs3 at 10:49 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I remember being told, as a kid, that the earth would cease to exist in five million years (the sun explodes or something). It gave me nightmares for years.
posted by deborah at 2:43 PM on January 24, 2013


120 years ago people thought denser-than-air aircraft are impossible

Nah, just Lord Kelvin.
posted by Twang at 5:00 PM on January 24, 2013


I remember being told, as a kid, that the earth would cease to exist in five million years (the sun explodes or something). It gave me nightmares for years.

Did it involve hills of bones in a blazing inferno and the last survivors of humanity travelling over the wreckage in a surprisingly normal-looking motorhome?

I remember watching a TLC (might've been Discovery Channel, don't remember) documentary about the sun going super-giant and getting a nightmare out of that. After I woke up, though... I do suspect my fascination with space was helped along by realising that stars weren't a static phenomenon.
posted by aroweofshale at 1:18 AM on January 28, 2013


...red giant, not supergiant. Sorry pardon. Got the two terms mixed up.
posted by aroweofshale at 1:27 AM on January 28, 2013


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