Life Could Continue Forever—Just Not as We Know It

Molecular clouds that communicate with one another may continue to have a type of intelligence in the distant future, but "these bodies that we enjoy are not going to make it."
  • Transcript


Question: Do you think that life will continue in the Universe indefinitely?

Katie Freese:  Well with the dark energy most people do think that the universe itself will exist indefinitely, but the other question is whether or not there can be life in the long term future.  In the standard explanation for the dark energy…  I shouldn’t say standard because it really is a big puzzle, but if there is a vacuum energy that is constant in time it becomes more and more the driving force of this expansion and causing evermore acceleration.  In that picture then life dies out because you’ve basically…  It’s perhaps counter-intuitive, but as everything gets farther and farther apart you do have this floor to the temperature of the universe set by the vacuum energy.  It’s a hocking temperature, so as you’re trying to operate closer and closer to this cutoff from this vacuum energy any kind of life form actually overheats, so as I said it is kind of counter-intuitive, but you just can’t…  It’s something you can’t avoid.  Now on the other hand what we wrote in our paper is we were saying well but if it is not a constant vacuum energy, if it either time changing so that it is decreasing into the future or that you have this kind of Cardassian Expansion that I was mentioning in either case then life could actually continue because you don’t have this floor in the temperature.  In fact, instead it is also going down and so you can continue in clever ways to have life continue to exist.

Will life continue to exist as it does here on Earth?

Katie Freese:  No, no, not at all.  Yeah, something really very unpleasant from our point of view, so I have no idea, but certainly not people, not…  Things will get very, very spread out and distant and cold and I’m talking about life in the sense of computation being able to continue.

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, just like the kind I was talking about for the formation of stars where the different pieces of it communicate in some way and so you have intelligence of a completely different type than what we’re… than what we enjoy.  So these bodies that we enjoy are not going to make it.

Recorded May 7, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman