Theory: at some point very far into the future, the universe will have expanded so much and entropy will have increased so greatly that there will be no energy differential between objects, so no energy will be able to flow. Everything in the universe will be cold and dead and silent.
This is Option Number One for the end of the universe.
Option Number Two suggests that the universe will expand up to a certain point, after which it will rapidly collapse back inwards on itself, forming a massive black hole. Where the universe was will instead be absolutely nothing.
When I was a little kid I didn’t really understand how black holes worked. I thought that I could just be strolling down the sidewalk and a black hole might open up and suck me into oblivion; understandably, this more or less scared the crap out of me.
Part of the problem was that I hate not knowing things. The little notification button at the top of my WordPress has been gold for the past week, which means that there’s a notification in there; the only thing is, it never loads. Last night I literally dreamed that the notification opened properly. That is how much not knowing things bugs me. And so the fact that two (and probably more) options exist for the end of the universe is kind of disconcerting.
Back to the little kid anecdote: I was terrified of black holes because I didn’t understand them, but they also scared me because I feared oblivion. I don’t think I actually knew the word “oblivion” at the time, but the concept was something with which I was familiar. Oblivion was the way that I could hold my breath and screw my eyes shut and pretend I didn’t exist until suddenly I could hear my own heartbeat thudding in my ears; and then I’d have to stop, because I could feel panic coldly flooding me as I wondered what I would do if it actually worked. Oblivion was the kind of thing with which I would flirt, but from which I would run away screaming if it came too near. It was something I couldn’t understand, but from what little I’d felt I knew that it was more permanent than anything I’d ever experienced.
Eternity is really, really, really( x100000000) long. And that’s how long and how deep and how wide oblivion is. With such high stakes, it’s not really a surprise that I was (and honestly still am) terrified of oblivion, or that it is such a point of fixation for a lot of people.
Take Augustus Waters from The Fault in Our Stars as an example: “I fear [oblivion] like the proverbial blind man who’s afraid of the dark.” Oblivion is something that we’re surrounded by, regardless of our fear of it. It’s big and strong and scary–but it’s something over which we have no control. The universe will someday end. whether it expands until it can expand no more and everything lies silent and still for the breadth of eternity, or it collapses back into oblivion. Maybe that’s depressing–that someday we and everyone who knew us and everyone who knew of us will no longer exist. And I know that Anne Frank escaped her oblivion by writing, and that Hazel escaped hers by loving and being loved, and that perhaps one day or even now I might do the same; and yet, like Augustus, I want more. My college essays were about how I want to change the world, because that is the path out of oblivion towards which I have been nudged for most of my life.
And while I would love to pretend that I’m totally over that now, because duh, a person isn’t resigned to oblivion if even one other person remembers them (and sometimes that is all that we get), the truth is that I still want more. It’s far cooler to be okay with the eventuality of oblivion, I know, but the heart of the matter is that I am irrational and uncool and I recognize that one day I and the memory of me will cease to exist, but I am not yet okay with it. Maybe someday I will be, but for now I am left holding the technicolor dream that someday, somehow, I will leave a mark–not a scar–on this world, before it and I cease to be.