The book that answers the ultimate question

Long game: The Universe’s total lifespan could be 100 trillion trillion trillion years.

Does life have any meaning? A hugely important new book called Until the End of Time has just been published by leading physicist Brian Greene. Here are the key points he makes.

The Universe will end. The two great principles of the universe are evolution (things are constantly coming together in new combinations) and entropy, which means that everything falls apart after time. The Universe will become ever bigger and colder, the sun will go out, and even atoms will dissolve.

Everything is connected. It is wrong to see ourselves as separate from the rest of the Universe. We are literally made of stardust (matter from stars that exploded) and everything about us – including our ability to think – has evolved according to the same laws.

Humans are significant. In cosmic terms, human existence is the blink of an eye. Yet in science and the arts, we have achieved extraordinary things that may not be matched in a billion years.

Science should respect religion. Science does not have all the answers. It is useful in exploring external reality, but there are other ways of trying to understand life.

Schools test too much. Science is not about passing exams. There is no single way to solve a problem. Education should aim to free young minds to think creatively.

Time travel is possible. If you travelled in a rocket at close to the speed of light for six months, and then returned to Earth, you would find that thousands of years had passed. We just need to develop the right rocket.

What does this all add up to? Does life have any meaning?

Mind over matter

Some say that because we are such tiny specks in a vast universe, it is ridiculous to think that our lives have any purpose or significance.

Others argue that it is perverse to pretend that a work of art like the Mona Lisa,or a discovery like superstring theory, is of no importance. If we have the ability to achieve such things, pursuing them must be our reason for being here.

You Decide

  1. Would you like to travel in a rocket that took you thousands of years into the future?

Activities

  1. Imagine that you have an opportunity to interview Brian Greene. Make a list of eight questions about the Universe that you would like to ask him.

Some People Say...

“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

The Dalai Lama, Tibetan religious leader

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Seeking the meaning of life has challenged the greatest minds in human history. There has long been a divide between religious thinkers, who believe that we have been created with a particular purpose, and scientists, who see humans as lucky products of the laws of nature. Brian Greene was drawn to physics because there was no generally agreed answer: “Instead, I got interested in the context: not why am I here, but how did I come to be here?”
What do we not know?
Whether scientists will ever produce a theory which explains all the workings of the Universe. Brian Green does not believe that they will. The best they can do is come up with a provisional one, based on observation, experiments, and analysis, and then test it to see whether it collapses under scrutiny. “When it does, we come up with even more powerful ideas to take us the next step forward.”

Word Watch

Evolution
The process by which things develop from their basic forms into more sophisticated ones. The most important explanation of it was Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, published in 1859.
Entropy
The laws of physics state that energy of all kinds disperses if there is nothing to stop it from doing so. Entropy is the measure of the disorder that results.
Atoms
An atom is a fundamental piece of matter. (Matter is anything that can be touched physically.) Everything in the Universe – except energy – is made of matter, and, so, everything in the Universe is made of atoms.
Cosmic terms
Relating to the Universe and the natural processes that happen in it.
External reality
The objects of our physical environment.
Speed of light
Nothing moves faster than (or even close to) the speed of light. In a vacuum, where there is nothing to slow it down, light travels 186,282 miles per second.
Perverse
Showing a deliberate and stubborn desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable or unacceptable.
Mona Lisa
A portrait by the Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), considered to be one of the world’s greatest paintings.
Superstring theory
The scientific idea that all the particles and fundamental forces in the world interconnect, as if they were the vibrations of tiny strings.

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