A Psychological Interpretation of the Theory of Proton Death
November 19, 2019
In current mainstream cosmological physics – it is an approach broadcast on our TVs here and is said by physicists of some prowess to be the eventual fate of material existence – Proton Death represents the end of things for the universe at some ridiculously far off point in time ahead.
Firstly let's back-pedal a little – it's the end of movement, energy, time passing, and all this simply because matter has depleted so far over tracts of time that any residual energy in it that remains, if any, is in unmoving unmovable equilibrium of total entropy.
Thus matter and energy might still persist (I'm not totally sure?) but all would be locked in stasis and wholly inert: perfect equilibrium; harmony; in the physical death of the Universe
Ash on an old man's sleeve
Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.
Dust in the air suspended
Marks the place where a story ended.
Dust inbreathed was a house-
The walls, the wainscot and the mouse,
The death of hope and despair,
This is the death of air.
There are flood and drouth
Over the eyes and in the mouth,
Dead water and dead sand
Contending for the upper hand.
The parched eviscerate soil
Gapes at the vanity of toil,
Laughs without mirth.
This is the death of earth.
Water and fire succeed
The town, the pasture and the weed.
Water and fire deride
The sacrifice that we denied.
Water and fire shall rot
The marred foundations we forgot,
Of sanctuary and choir.
This is the death of water and fire.
From: Little Gidding by T S Eliot
As far as I understand the theory, just like radio-active materials decay by them giving off radiation as energy, an idea most of us are familiar with; so protons, which are a building block of matter, in some analogous way give off an emanation which eventually reduces them in such a way that is called an entropic state.
I do not know what happens to electrons and neutrons; except that as them being also building blocks for matter, they also of necessity, so goes the theory I guess, tend gradually towards an entropic state.
All those items which together manifest as material matter, energy, and any other sensorily observable 'things' in the world, will all end in perfect and utter entropic stasis, or else, I guess be disappeared altogether?
Entropy: what is it? Let's take the dissipation of heat from a household radiator or kitchen kettle boiled. Both items are sources of heat had from, and generated/ transformed from, a current of electricity. Both lose heat, often quite rapidly, so that when they are switched off but still hot, it is not long, say half an hour, before they and their water contents are at Normal Room Temperature.
One might stretch a point I guess and liken this dissipation of heat to the ever-in-progress slow creeping encroachment of entropy, in a Universe winding down literally to a standstill.
So entropy allows no-one nor nothing any escape: it has, as the sci-fi authors use the word, an 'inexorable' power. As the late George Harrison named one of his albums: All Things Must Pass. This situation is the current status quo of belief about the fate of all things, held by a wide portion of today's community of high-level physicists and astronomers.
Now I want to point out before I go on to the psychology of all this – as my title pledges to you – certain characteristics of doing science which like this theory of total entropy (if true) are equally 'inexorable'.
Scientific belief is, and has always shown itself to be, and maybe shall always do so also; a Moveable Feast. Simply put, science that was cutting-edge truth yesterday is now often no longer considered to be true – or at least less wholly true than it had been thought.
Science being done by men and women, who are generations succeeding one another passing through time, is thus on a rolling platform, as we all are, and called collectively: our lives. Just as men and women succeed their forebears continually, likewise their discoveries and inventions are the burden of this ever-rolling time flow; and like them also grow old and die and are superseded by new and maybe better things and approximations; but not necessarily so.
Just as a bad son can be born to good parents, a big new invention or discovery might in fact be found to have been 'way off course', and effectively to have 'deflected' science and scientists for decades. All this 'way off course' and 'deflection' being measured of course against that consensus for a status quo at any given time in history.
As the ads tell us in 'small print' peeled off so rapidly it is inaudible, and set 'wisely' after the persuasive hard sell pitch for attractive financial investment opportunities; “the value of your investments can go down as well as up”.
And here we come to the heart of scientific activity – it is for the most part a forecast, a wager on the behaviours of things and of clusters of things, each wager laid down having its own odds for its fulfilment. A forecast that the sun will rise tomorrow has very short odds; not worth a wager for the most part. A forecast that a time machine will be invented and enable undreamed of space travel for humankind – this has – right now at least – extremely long odds – again not worth a wage because the hope is so remote. Inbetween these short and long odds wagers, falls by far most of what we use as practical science, or as status quo theory at the present time.
Yes wagers, when a) especially on the more remote ends of the scale for fulfilment; and b) when invested with more than mere genuine ingenuous hope and optimism – they tend towards taking on ever more the qualities of prophecy.
How does a prophecy differ from a forecast? One is associated with magic and/or religion; the other with secular and more mundane, likely predictions. One is used in science; the other is pretty generally abhorred or ridiculed as being for use in science.
Yet indubitably forecast does phase into prophecy and vice versa. And some forecasts fail whereas some prophecies are fulfilled. To be fair, although I have seen no reliable statistics, forecasts probably fail at a lesser rate than do prophecies.
Nonetheless most of both tend to fail – if not now- eventually. But time being an open-ended affair facing forwards allows an escape hatch for avoiding acknowledging the failure of any forecast or prophecy which has not been nailed down by a time critical corollary.
The question arises then: what is science in its relation to magic and/or religion? (I bracket magic with religion here not because the two are or I see them as being synonymous; but because religion in its early states and in its subsequent debased states is often commingled with tenets, ideas, of magic etc. Some hard-liners call the Roman Mass, with its consecration of the wafer entailing transubstantiation, a rite of magic. But nonetheless I do see a clear distinction between religion and magic)
Science as we know of it and use it today was born out of and owes its whole early development to the fields of alchemy and numerology and the study of magic. These themselves originally were at least coeval with and in development ran in parallel with religious awareness; if not them being simple declined debasements derived originally from a religious awareness. I have little doubt that at bottom of all subsists religious awareness in men and women.
Now dare I say that in perhaps half a millennium from now, if humans are around and if humans have made by then advances equivalent in radicality to those of the past half millennium, will our present day status quo science be looked on perhaps in large part as being more or less 'alchemy' or else as being 'pseudo-magical'? It's a thought; a prognostication worth at least a little consideration?
Science as we said is a Moveable Feast.
But here at last comes the psychology. The outcome of scientific thinking for many, to many people, in our recent ages, and right now, has been a large doubt, or worse, an outright atheism, in regard to belief in God. The test as I see it is that if one is ashamed, embarrassed, to admit to a God before another person , one is not a believer. There are plenty of us been conditioned by science to feel too embarrassed to admit Christ into our lives.
So what have such persons gotten by this denial? They have gotten what they name as 'freedom' from the tyranny – as they see it – of the commandments, conscience, morality, old forms and ways of life felt to have been over-restrictive. Some of them have adopted – perhaps as a reactional reflex - a belief that people can be anything, anyone, they want to be, interchangeably, as they will. Some are at work attempting to impose new visions of freedom and of alter-ego variation onto our societies at large.
The same persons have lost, sacrificed for their 'new and true' beliefs all that was available heretofore as metaphysical directional purpose and meaning for life. They are no longer answerable to anyone, including not to God, but they have thus none of God's Providence or Promises to hold onto. Life then has to be 'eat, drink, and be merry; for tomorrow we die” for there is nothing else.
The trajectory for life for we who subscribe to this prognosis is for each of us to age, to grow gradually decrepit, and at the last to die into an annihilation.
What sort of a cosmology might a tribe in the Amazon rainforest and unknown to the contemporary global cosmopolis we have made in the world, a tribe which has a parallel outlook on life and death to the that of the post-modernist trajectory I've sketch just now; what kind of prognosis might such a tribe make for the Universe - or for whatever it might consider to be being, existence, everything?
I'd say that tribe would make a projection for the end of life and everything, of the Universe, pretty much analogous to that one which characterises a cosmology of proton death; as this bears out for many who espouse the faith centred in such a cosmology today.
In short the fate of the Universe is likened to the fate of a single man's or woman's life, laid out in a progress; but writ large. Slow long lingering passage to oblivious annihilation. With concomitant winding down of powers. Doom, gloom and all; but importantly doom, gloom and all tomorrow; but not today.
It's a young person's credo, or as we are seeing, an elderly persons credo who thinks and is trying desperately to consider themselves to be young still, and still a player. A desperate denial of death until Death appears on your doorstep and knocks the knocker for you. Out of sight! Out of mind.
That looming mushroom cloud of future proton death is just such a prognostication; a vast distant backdrop that says: death to everything, is coming to everyone ('in a cinema near you!') , coming inexorably..... but let's push it to the back of our minds as far as reticent awareness permits. There's even that element of Satanic impotent anger in the construction which says “when I go - I am the human race - and I am to be inevitably forced to go - let heaven and earth and all things come crashing down along with me!”
And why should this interpretation of proton death be considered to be a runner worthy of some wager placed on it?
Because, I'd suggest, the idea of investment of more than ingenuous hope in prognostications and theories etc of science, which I have spoken about about earlier; investment which I have said 'deflects' science and scientific thinking from its mainstream ideal ethos; this investment, particularly when emotional investment – 'my baby syndrome' - tallies so well with our commanding irrepressible human need to provide ourselves with teleological, and hermeneutic answers to life's conundrum.
Although we are too embarrassed to admit to Jesus; although we are proud to be atheistic, free, able to change ourselves according to our own word and will; nonetheless there is an invisible worm that flies in the night within us and which never dies, but remains; working inside ourselves and niggling us for an answer, any sort of answer, that justifies a) our beliefs and b) some kind of teleological trajectory with explanatory power that salves the hapless soul(?) - even if only so that one might feel one is able to say – But I am right! – and - I did it my way – and - ah, there's no use kicking against the pricks – as well as other ego-led consolatory constructions.
This then is the psychology of proton death – inevitable, inexorable, relentless, unavoidable, the end-time of all things gone into an utter oblivion of stasis; lock, stock and barrel. Conceptually it represents the pessimism and the baseless bottoming out of our post-modern life and thought.
"Yours for instance: you know physics, something of geology,
"Mathematics are your pastime; souls shall rise in their degree;
"Butterflies may dread extinction,—you'll not die, it cannot be!
"As for Venice and her people, merely born to bloom and drop,
"Here on earth they bore their fruitage, mirth and folly were the crop:
"What of soul was left, I wonder, when the kissing had to stop?
"Dust and ashes!" So you creak it, and I want the heart to scold.
Dear dead women, with such hair, too—what's become of all the gold
Used to hang and brush their bosoms? I feel chilly and grown old.
From: A Toccata of Galuppi's by Robert Browning