John Updike, an American novelist discusses the eventual heat death of the universe in his poem known as ‘The Ode to entropy’. In order to understand the reliability of this piece of text, it needs to be made clear that John is simply a novelist and poet and has no experience or knowledge in the field of science.
The ‘Ode to Entropy’ defines entropy as ‘nowhere in nature’ but rather in human consciousness and equations, and thus not fearful.
In lines 1-11 he agrees with one of the predictions mainstream scientists have of the universes fate. He begins by incorrectly stating that in the year 1070, heat death will prevail. However, this is a gradual process that occurs over a period of time and not suddenly in one year.
The four most common predictions of the universe are The Big Crunch, The Big Freeze (Heat Death), The Big Rip and The Big Bounce.
The Big Crunch theory predicts that, after having expanded to its maximum size, the Universe will finally collapse into itself.
As it continues to shrink, the universe will heat to huge temperatures, and everything will be compacted into a black hole. Finally, at the end, the universe will be as it began - an infinitely small, infinitely dense, and infinitely hot point.
The Big Freeze foretells of a universe that will continue to stretch forever, distributing heat evenly in the process until none is left to be usable enough. Hence, it is also known as the Heat Death.
A more dramatic version of the Big Freeze is the Big Rip. In this scenario, the Universe’s rate of expansion will increase substantially so that everything in it, down to the smallest atom, will be ripped apart.
In an oscillatory model, the Big Bang and Big Crunch form a pair known as the Big Bounce. Essentially, such a universe would simply expand and contract (or bounce) forever.
In these 11 lines, John agrees with the second most common theory, claiming that ‘heat death will prevail’. The authors description of this time includes the destruction of the universe as we know it will be over and there will be absolutely no form of life across our entire milky way, even black holes will face extinction.
As we begin to read on throughout John’s poem, lines 14-22 relate to the first law of thermodynamics. This law states that energy can be neither created nor destroyed (conservation of energy).
The statement he uses, ‘all change distributes energy’ is a simple description of this law. He describes it as that everything that simply exerts any form of energy is an act under this law. Each line describes a different event turning useful energy into useless heat energy. Hence, following the principle of entropy, in that energy is going from order to disorder.
Lines 23 and 24 can be related to the arrow of time, namely, the universe is at a constant increase of entropy, there is no travelling backwards only forwards and the current state of the universe cannot be undone.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that "in all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves the system, the potential energy of the state will always be less than that of the initial state." More simply, ‘systems when left to their own devices tend to a state of disorder’, this is what is commonly referred to as entropy. This law explains that, once useful energy is used, it becomes useless energy and work cannot be done until a new source of useful energy is input. This is the event that lines 23 and 24 explain that is occurring within our universe.
In lines 25 to 27, the author discuses that in our own small span we spend on the universe, ‘the highways shudders with stolen hydrocarbons’, that is, we burn up our Earth’s natural energy (fossil fuels, petrol etc.) everyday along our highways from our frequent use of cars and other transportation. This signifies that our time spent on earth is just a minor percentage of the extent of the earth’s life. In that short percentage, as