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Katie Freese is a professor of physics at the University of Michigan, and the associate director of the Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics. Her work deals with a wide variety[…]

Molecular clouds that communicate with one another may continue to have a type of intelligence in the distant future, but “these bodies that we enjoy are not going to make it.”

Question: Do you think that life will continue in the Universern indefinitely?

Katie Freese:  Well with the dark energy most people do rnthink that the universe itself will exist indefinitely, but the other rnquestion is whether or not there can be life in the long term future.  rnIn the standard explanation for the dark energy…  I shouldn’t say rnstandard because it really is a big puzzle, but if there is a vacuum rnenergy that is constant in time it becomes more and more the driving rnforce of this expansion and causing evermore acceleration.  In that rnpicture then life dies out because you’ve basically…  It’s perhaps rncounter-intuitive, but as everything gets farther and farther apart you rndo have this floor to the temperature of the universe set by the vacuum rnenergy.  It’s a hocking temperature, so as you’re trying to operate rncloser and closer to this cutoff from this vacuum energy any kind of rnlife form actually overheats, so as I said it is kind of rncounter-intuitive, but you just can’t…  It’s something you can’t avoid. rn Now on the other hand what we wrote in our paper is we were saying wellrn but if it is not a constant vacuum energy, if it either time changing rnso that it is decreasing into the future or that you have this kind of rnCardassian Expansion that I was mentioning in either case then life rncould actually continue because you don’t have this floor in the rntemperature.  In fact, instead it is also going down and so you can rncontinue in clever ways to have life continue to exist.

Will life continue to exist as it does here on Earth?

Katie Freese:  No, no, not at all.  Yeah, something rnreally very unpleasant from our point of view, so I have no idea, but rncertainly not people, not…  Things will get very, very spread out and rndistant and cold and I’m talking about life in the sense of computation rnbeing able to continue.

If you think about our memories or our rnthoughts as a type of computation then is there some way you could have arn molecular cloud, just like the kind I was talking about for the rnformation of stars where the different pieces of it communicate in some rnway and so you have intelligence of a completely different type than rnwhat we’re… than what we enjoy.  So these bodies that we enjoy are not rngoing to make it.

Recorded May 7, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman