Astrophysicist Katie Freese: Life in the Universe Could Continue Forever

In the history of the Universe, life—and human life in particular—has not been around for very long. But University of Michigan theoretical astrophysicist Katie Freese believes it's possible that life could continue to exist forever—just as "something really very unpleasant from our point of view."  Freese says that as the Universe spreads out, things will get increasingly distant and cold, so that the continuation of "life" is really a continue of "computation." "If you think about our memories or our thoughts as a type of computation then is there some way you could have a molecular cloud ... where the different pieces of it communicate in some way and so you have intelligence of a completely different type than what we enjoy. These bodies that we enjoy are not going to make it."

In her Big Think interview, Freese says that the talks about her research into what came before the "Big Bang," saying that people actually have a misconception that event that began the Universe is "a starting point." "Probably you know that the universe is expanding, so if we go backwards in time then you can watch the Universe contract as you go backwards in time," explains Freese. "So for example, if you took a tabletop then any two points would get closer together, but the points that are way far apart if you had...  Let’s say it’s an infinite tabletop, so as these points get closer and closer together you still have a tabletop that is infinite in extent.  It’s not like everything comes into one point, but eventually you reach such a high density.  Things are so compact and right on top of each other that we lose our description.  Physics fails.  That is what the big bang is."

Following the "Big Bang," Freese says, the Universe didn't evolve in a perfectly logical way.  In fact, Freese says that if one tried to describe the most simple and elegant way that the Universe could have evolved, it would likely not resemble what we know today. Even the number of biological details that come together to allow people to exist would seem to complex and disorganized, indicating that the system as it is now "is not something that you would just invent again."

Freese also explains the nature of black holes, which she says are all over the Universe, in the center of galaxies like our own Milky Way, each weighing a billion times as much as the Sun. Said Freese: "Before my work people thought you made relatively small stars and how you’re going to grow those up to making million and billion solar mass black holes is a puzzle and so one of the contributions we made was to say hey, but we think that the first stars can be quite a bit larger and then it would make sense for the large black holes to be able to form." Freese says that you can tell the size of a black hole by measuring the amount of radiation of the things that fall into them.

And when we think about the Universe we also should think about other dimensions, says Freese. She describes a range of ways the other dimensions might exist, saying there might be an infinite number of infinitely tiny, curled-up dimensions all around us that may even be too small for us to imagine.

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