Who Will Have the Last Word on the Universe?

If that worries you, here is an encouraging metaphor straight from Einstein’s equations: When you are inside a black hole, light pours in from the outside universe, which seems to speed up while you appear to be frozen. In principle, you could see the whole future history of the galaxy or even the whole universe speed past you as you fall toward the center, the singularity where space and time stop, and you die.

Maybe death could be like that, a revelation of all of the past and future.

In a sense, when we die the future dies too.

Rather than whine about the end of time, most of the physicists and astronomers I talk to say the notion is a relief. The death of the future frees them to concentrate on the magic of the moment.

The late, great astrophysicist, philosopher and black hole evangelist John Archibald Wheeler, of Princeton, used to say that the past and the future are fiction, that they only exist in the artifacts and the imaginations of the present.

According to that point of view, the universe ends with me, and so in a sense I do have the final word.

“Nothing lasts forever” is a maxim that applies to the stock market and the stars as well as to our lives and Buddhist sand paintings. A whiff of eternity can illuminate an entire lifetime, perhaps even mine.

No matter what happens in the endless eons to come, at least we were here for the party, for the brief shining sliver of eternity when the universe teemed with life and light.

We’ll always have the Milky Way.

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