Hey, man, got any change?

When and how, exactly, did coins begin to be called, “change?” I’m guessing it had something to do with the only thing you could change a paper bill into.

But that’s not what I’m here to type about. I haven’t done a philosophical/existential post in a long time, mostly because I wasn’t coming across any subject that struck my thinking processes in that way, but that’s changed now. Whether this one was actually worth the effort remains to be seen – because you haven’t read that far yet. Hah! And you thought I might be doubting my own judgment in topic values; that comes later on, trust me.

To properly set the stage, we’re going to have to go back to the beginning. No, wait – there were actually events that set other things in motion before then, so we’ll have to go even further back. But then, if you really wanted to know why this all happened, we’re probably going to have to know how those came about…

Everything has to start somewhere. I mean, right? There’s always a beginning? If you’re religious, you’ll usually maintain that everything started when a god poofed it into existence, and conveniently ignore the question of where this god arose from, or claim that it was exempt from the very rule that you just said has to exist (which was used to prove the existence of that god in the first place.) Yet there are lots of other aspects too, such as when life begins (either on the individual scale, such as a fetus, or when Life itself fired up on the planet,) or maybe at what point humans first appeared, or perhaps when the troubles all started that fomented a war or revolution, and so on. Chicken or egg and all that jazz. And it doesn’t take much time to realize that we would actually need to create some arbitrary distinction, some randomly defined ‘moment’ with a special title, because the process of cause-and-effect just keeps going back.

Which is where science has it all over religion, because we can see that change in state requires energy exchange, and not only can we see this, we use it all the time, dependably and predictably and with enormous, exacting precision. We can have reasonably stable states that are more-or-less inert, like gunpowder, but introduce change rapidly and drastically with the kinetic energy of the firing pin that ignites the gunpowder through a sudden increase in local energy by friction/compression. We heat food through the application of high electrical potential meeting resistance from the medium of the coil, which produces heat (high molecular activity,) which quickly distributes among neighboring molecules (metal, air) to warm up our Spaghetti-Os. Did it start when we turned on the stove? No, because we input our own muscle energy to do that. So it started with our own decision to have neon pasta for lunch, then?

That, of course, is the old free will argument, which quickly falls apart when you realize that our brains work in the same damn universe as everything else, made up of the same basic matter and thus beholden to the same rules of physics – somewhere down the line comes the exchange of energy, and in fact, it’s constant, because without it we’d be dead; that’s pretty much the definition of death, and even then, we have arbitrary distinctions which are often argued. Where I used to live, there was a lawyer serving a life sentence (no, it was not a utopia, he was sentenced for something other than being a lawyer,) and in New York the definition of death was the cessation of heart activity for a specified period of time. This attorney had undergone open-heart surgery during his sentence, which required stopping his heart for longer than this necessary period, so he was arguing, in court mind you, that he had ‘died’ and thus had fulfilled his sentence. Technicalities, you know? If I remember right, the judge pointed out that wards of the state were all cremated, so he could either drop the case or report immediately to the crematorium. And there’s also the occasionally-referenced bit about lime Jell-O being ‘alive,’ because in the right circumstances it can demonstrate the same wave response from an electro-encephalogram that we often consider ‘brain wave activity,’ for another competing definition of life. This was not a demonstration that Jell-O thinks in any way, merely that it shows enough electrical response, stimulated by both its surroundings and the nature of its own molecules, to register a wave pattern on the equipment, something that we were taking to indicate a still-functioning brain in a human being. Sooner or later, we find exceptions to every demarcation that we try to instill or introduce.

Ah, but the Big Bang! That’s where it all started – even astrophysicists have said so! But if you notice, they generally say that the universe that we inhabit started then, or more specifically traces back to something in that general region of time. In the same way that we might see a water balloon impact and trace back the apparent path to discover who threw it, we can use those super-dependable rules of physics to trace back current trends and realize that there was once a state of very dense matter/energy that has since been expanding. And there’s more than a little bit of evidence that some of these rules of physics were introduced by this state. It’s very easy to believe that we’re going outside of empirical science and into the realm of mere speculation, and this accusation is leveled constantly, yet physicists have delved into this more than superficially and have demonstrated the reasoning and evidence a lot more than merely speculatively. But don’t take my word for it, and check it out yourself – this isn’t a bad start, and there’s plenty more out there.

If we continue to follow that path backwards, however, we come to a dilemma if we’re still wrapped up in thinking about beginnings. If we assume that the Singularity is a stable state, then, what made it change from that, what input of energy provoked the sudden expansion? Again, more than a few people say, “god,” at this point, ignoring the idea of where god got the energy, or how it produces it from nothing, or in what way the idea of an intelligence or even a deliberate “will” is supposed to have existed for all time – and why, at this point, it decided to change all of that. Meanwhile, physicists and the like don’t actually say that the Singularity was the beginning of it all, simply the point that we can trace back with the evidence available to us, and certainly something was going on before that, but now we really are into the realm of mere speculation – there’s nothing more (yet, anyway) that we can work with. And even those speculations abound, such as whether a collapsing super black hole, the ones that outright rend the fabric of space/time and all that, can introduce a new explosion of matter/energy into a whole other realm of existence – and whether this is what happened here.

But when it comes right down to it, there’s no such thing as a stable state – there’s always energy, always activity, always electrons circling and all that. And if there were a stable state, then it would have to remain that way forever – unless there was an energy exchange from something else. And where did that come from? We pretty much come to the idea that change is constant, and would have to be. There is no beginning of anything, much less everything, there are only states that may be relatively slow in changing until something else happens, and we can say that only if we limit ourselves to setting specific demarcations again. Our universe, to all evidence so far, traces back to a singularity or something very close to it – but there’s very likely something much more than that ‘outside’ of it or preceding it or whatever. In fact, the very word “change” seems to imply that there is something that is stable, that is not changing – yet we have no evidence of that whatsoever, and logically this can’t even exist.

I’ve said this before, but it appears that the idea of the start of anything arises (hah!) solely from our own very narrow perspective, from the idea that not only do we identify a ‘personhood’ from ourselves, a temporary (eighty years, give or take) collection of interacting atoms, we have a point where we can no longer trace back our own experience, our memories and all that – and we think this has to apply to everything. Pretty egotistical, when you think about it. But when we die, all that matter goes someplace else – except, no, it’s been exchanging constantly the entire time, producing babies and shit and skin flakes and, geez, well, it’s just going all over the place perpetually. “We,” the self, the soul, the free will, is just a matrix of experience that helps the genes along – which in itself is just a pattern of energy exchange that arises due to the rules immediately present. It’s freaky.

No, I’m not stoned right now.

*     *     *     *     *

Something else, vaguely related. It almost stands to reason that, in the same manner that we say, “There is no beginning,” we could also say there is no end as well – things have to keep happening. Except, given the current evidence, this does not appear to be the case. The expansion of the universe is not only ongoing, it’s accelerating, and there appears to be some energy that is promoting this (“dark energy,” if you want to look it up.) Given this, at some point in the future matter will be so scattered that there can be no energy exchange – entropy, or the laws of thermodynamics if you prefer, pretty much point to a “heat death” of the universe, a point where the matter/energy have dissipated so much that all activity ceases. So, there can be no beginning, but there can be an end, or at least a point where all change and exchange halts, except perhaps for continued expansion? This seems to defy both logic and comprehension – but at present, that’s what we have evidence of. Which makes me a little conflicted, because I’m in favor of the idea of a cyclic universe/multiverse scenario, where something happens to reverse this trend and prevent perpetual expansion – but there’s no evidence for this, and I have to face the idea that this is dictated by what I consider logical and nothing else. It remains possible that something really does reverse the expansion – but that’s only speculation. It’s also possible that physics is a one-way trip, once the process gets ‘started’ – and now you see the dilemma. How could there be no beginning but an end, how could there be constant change… until there isn’t? That’s freaky. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t resort to our own concepts of how things must work, our own ideas of logic (which, as I’ve said before, is merely the extrapolation of cause-and-effect in the first place,) but only what the evidence shows.