First there was the Big Bang. Then, a few years later, there is the Big Mac. The future of our Universe is much like that of a Big Mac; to eventually decompose to nothingness. But you, at least for a while, can prevent that using the very energy a Big Mac delivers. How? Well within physics, the study of how matter works, you are actually opposing the Universe every time you take a bite.
Entropy and the End of the Universe
Imagine dropping a cup of tea (or coffee, whiskey, whatever you want.) First that cup will shatter, and its contents spread out to fill as much space as it can. This may just seem natural to you, but its actually a process. One of the laws of nature is that nature is lazy, and will often follow the path of least resistance. This is why water flows from high to low, and wind travels from high pressure to low pressure.
What happens is very simple. If a substance can drop to a lower energy state, it will. So to rebuild your tea cup you must use energy, kinetic energy from your hands, electrical energy in your brain and chemical energy in the glue. To refill it you must use electricity to boil water and kinetic energy to stir the tea and add sugar and milk. By re-dropping the broken cup you will never rebuild it.
The universe has a tendency to disorder called Entropy. And that means over time all substances (be they huge planets or tiny atoms,) will eventually decompose into their constituent parts. This, theoretically, is one of the possible ends of the Universe. It is called ‘Heat Death‘, and will leave all we know as a dark, cold place. And it will happen to all of us (if we survive that long!)
How we Fight Entropy
Accepting that all structures will break down, how do we, a complex biological structure, prevent our own demise? Well, first we must understand something, pretty much everything in us is dead. We are formed of countless atoms, arranged in complex ways to perform different functions. Our looks, behaviours, lifespans and quirks are all based on evolution, which as acted on molecules for time immemorial.
The life bit is something quite special, and we still don’t know quite what it means. But all those dead bits need energy to become alive.
Biological structures need energy to work. Even as you read this you are using energy. Your heart is beating, your brain ‘thinking’ and your cells performing trillions of tiny operations to keep you alive. Its all wonderful, but needs energy to work. Without it, everything would fail, and break apart. When we die we follow the ultimate path of the Universe, to decompose and become molecules and eventually atoms ourselves.
Remember the Lion King, its a little like that, but without the Gazelles (for most of us!) By consuming energy we prevent our death, and in the terms of physics, entropy. We hold ourselves together at a molecular and biological level. By simply eating we defy the universe, and with it, keep ourselves alive.
So next time you have a cup of tea, remember that!
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The opinions above represent those of Dr Janaway alone and not necessarily those of his affiliates. I have relied heavily on the great work of Kurzgesagt, so give them a visit! If you have any ideas for articles, or would like to write with me, let me know on Twitter or drop me an email.