Every beginning has an end, and every end has a beginning. For some of the more mundane everyday things around us, their existence from conception to completion is not too much of a mystery. However, things are not so straightforward when it comes to the cosmos. The universe may be one of the biggest and most complicated thing that we can conceptualise. So is it really that surprising that trying to understand both its beginning and it’s end is also big and complicated?
I loved studying this subject back at the very, very start of university. The ‘big’ questions of physics are fascinating, mind-bending and perhaps a little too much for our simple organic brains to handle. While I got a lot of enjoyment out of shit-talking and spit-balling about these kinds of questions at the pub after class, I was never going to be someone who dug into the sheer nitty-gritty of it myself—I could not do the math.*
However, Katie Mack is here to save the day. Dr Mack is very knowledgeable about the subject, as well as being very skilled writer who can reduce the big ideas down to the basics, all without getting us immersed in the pesky math of it all. Mack sets out in The End of Everything to cover many of the big ideas surrounding the end of all things (or what might be the end of all things) in what could be considered a rather cheerful and amicable manner, subject manner considering. Its a scientist’s enthusiasm: there are only so many people who could in all earnest tell you that primordial back holes are “awfully cute in a terrifying theoretical kind of way”
Also, there are footnotes. Plenty of footnotes.
In the book, Mack goes over some of the big ideas and beginnings and endings: Will the universe expand forever? Or will it start to fall back onto itself, causing a Big Crunch? Maybe we’ll do ourselves a Big Bounce instead? Then there are things that I have never really read much into previously, such as Boltzmann Brains and Phantom Dark Energy—which is quite terrifying. And even with Mack’s guidance, I’m still not 100% certain what to make of large and small extra dimensions. But that’s ok – Brian Greene couldn’t explain extra dimensions to me either, so I might just be a difficult pupil.
This book has also given me a greater appreciation of the Higgs Boson and just what a huge deal it was when it was discovered by the Large Hadron Collider back in 2012. That and the Higgs Field have huge implications for exactly how physics works, and if something were to change here, then physics might become something else at any given time
…And oh look, there goes another Doomsday!
But not all the ideas presented here are horrifying. I was sort of taken with a concept touched on very late in the book, Roger Penrose’s Conformal Cyclic Cosmology, which suggests that the universe will go infinite cycles. I am doubtful that it is true — but it’s such a lovely idea to contemplate.
This was a captivating, enjoyable book. I am thankful for Dr Mack for managing to make what could be the more harrowing of subject matter—the end of everything—into something interesting and almost inviting. And even if you don’t quite understand everything I think you’ll appreciate both the wit and the various literary references sprinkled thought.
It’s a worrisome future, but it’s not one we’ll be around for. So after all, we could take a cue from Mr Pink?
At one point I did know all the words to Monty Python’s Galaxy Song. Which, according to one of my lecturers, was actually accurate for the time.