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Until the End of Time

Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe

By Brian Greene
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  • Contains 10 key ideas
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Until the End of Time by Brian Greene

Until the End of Time (2020) is an accessible, informal look at the loftiest topics of all time: time, the universe, and humanity’s never ending quest for meaning. Physicist Brian Greene begins at the very beginning – the big bang that set off this whole crazy spectacle – then zooms in to examine the evolution of human culture, from religion, language, and the arts. Finally, he zooms back out to examine what might become of the universe, and whether there might ever be a reemergence of life.

Key idea 1 of 10

Everything that has ever existed, from planet earth to your favorite sweater, exists because of entropy.

You’ve heard that death and taxes are the only inevitabilities in life, right? Well, entropy is the death part of the equation. Now, death and destruction aren’t the most popular kids at school, but the fact that all things must come to an end does have a way of helping us appreciate the good things in life. The new leaves of spring are even more glorious because we know they’ll eventually turn red and fall. Your child’s birthdays are all the more precious because you know she’ll grow up before you know it.

From a physics perspective, entropy is the disorganizing principle that puts all existence and achievement into context, because it imposes a limit. We can’t just innovate forever, either individually or as a species, because eventually – hate to break it to you – we’re all going to die.

The key message here is: Everything that has ever existed, from planet earth to your favorite sweater, exists because of entropy.

The second law of thermodynamics tells us that there is an overwhelming tendency for things to degrade into disorder, or move into a state of higher entropy. Take your desk – if it is not already in a state of high entropy, it’s likely that it will evolve toward it. For an ordered system to retain its low-entropy status, it has to transfer this build-up of entropy to its environment.

Every tangible thing in the universe, from the galactic Milky Way to the candy bar melting in your handbag, is an ordered arrangement of specific particles in an extremely low-entropy configuration. Universally speaking, high-entropy configurations are a dime a dozen, because they’re a loose collection of non-specific particles in no particular order. So when we encounter a low-entropy configuration, we should sit up and take notice. Particles would never just coalesce into a bicycle or an egg. There have to be powerful organizing influences at work to put them in order, and keep them that way.

Given that high entropy is the most common state for particles in the universe, how do we explain all the low-entropy configurations you hold dear, like, say, your friends and family? Even further, what happens to all that entropy that is expelled as waste from low-entropy configurations, everything from stars in the night sky to your bedside table?

The answer is something you’ve definitely heard of: the big bang. This was a highly-ordered, very low-entropy, one-in-a-trillion-trillion-trillion situation. And get ready, because what happened next is pretty wild. 

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