October 5, 2009
"If you think that the civilizations of 150 billion years from now will have a better idea of how the universe came to be than we do, Lawrence Krauss has news for you. Chances are, they'll be in the dark...literally.
Delivering a spirited lecture on the makeup and origins of the universe, Krauss--a professor of physics at Arizona State University--explained to the Atheist Alliance International convention in Burbank Saturday that he originally got into cosmology because he wanted to be the first to discover how the universe would end. In the pursuit of this knowledge, science points to a fairly bleak picture, both for where the universe is headed, and how future civilizations will understand it. Krauss noted that he had considered titling his lecture "We're All Fucked."
Krauss went on to explain, with great humor, particularities about quantum weirdness, why there is something rather than nothing, and how empty space actually makes up 90 percent of the mass of just about everything--and that this empty space is actually teeming with quantum fluctuations springing in and out of existence. Said Krauss, "In quantum physics, you always get something from nothing," perhaps explaining why a Big Bang occurred in the first place without a previous catalyzing event.
Considering the vast "empty space" and "dark matter" that makes up the overwhelming majority of the universe, Krauss put notions of intelligent designers in their place. "We constitute a one percent bit of pollution--we are completely irrelevant," said Krauss. "Why such a universe . . . would be made for us is beyond me." (Krauss also lambasted religionists such as Rick Warren who claim to have special knowledge as to "why" things exist, referring to them as "pompous assholes.")
What truly sent the assembled neocortices spinning, and had the ballroom full of infidels chatting and debating well after the talk was over, was Krauss's explanation of how we know that the universe is expanding (cosmic background radiation, red shifting galaxies, images from the Hubble telescope and the like), and why that reality bodes so ill for civilizations that may arise hundreds of billions of years from now.
Because the universe will eventually expand faster than the speed of light ("Which is allowed by general relativity," Krauss was careful to note), light will be unable to reach observers 150 billion years from now. These future scientists, Krauss said, will have no way of detecting any of the evidence available to us today to know that the universe expands. To them, the "universe" will consist of a single galaxy, floating myopically in a static cosmos. Minds were quite blown throughout the room. Several attendees privately resolved to use this as a basis for a sci-fi novel.
Following his address, which was peppered with hilarious asides and witticisms, Richard Dawkins (with whom Krauss has had many disagreements in the past, but who he happily praises for forcing him to "think differently") gave Krauss the dubious-if-well-meant title, "the Woody Allen of science."