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I have been trying to grasp my brain over the last couple years with this topic and it appears that while I now have a quite decent grasp on it from a physics perspective, meaning on how it works and why it is happening, I have been met with a startling poverty of thought with regards to philosophical works (they would obviously have to be late 19th century onward) that address this ultimate fate of the Universe that is 99% going to occur. Has anyone heard of or know any works which directly address the heat death of the Universe from a philosophical perspective?

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    It's interesting from the perspective of panpsychism. If the universe as a whole has a mind, what is it experiencing during heat death? Peace and resolution to all conflicts.
    – causative
    Commented Jul 10 at 10:05
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    Why would it have any philosophical implications? How would it affect the meaning or conduct of our lives whether there was a heat death, or a big rip or big crunch or rebound billions of years after we are long dead and forgotten? Commented Jul 10 at 10:48
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    @dikran ten million billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion years after we are long dead.
    – g s
    Commented Jul 10 at 16:30
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    @gs I suddenly hear Carl Sagan's voice in my head for some reason ;o) Commented Jul 10 at 16:50
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    Probably not serious enough to be considered a "philosophical work," but no discussion of the heat death of the universe would be complete without mentioning Isaac Asimov's "The Last Question" (1956) available at docs.google.com/file/d/0ByoueGSWXluVVUtHYnRJVEg4YnM/… Commented Jul 10 at 22:24

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I would suggest taking a look at absurdism and the works of Albert Camus. While, as far as I remember, Camus does not address directly the heat death of the universe, his whole theory of Absurdism embraces the idea that the universe as we know it is all there is, and it won't end in a big apocalyptic event where each person's works will be rewarded or punished in some superior, eternal plane of existence.

As such, he held that our existence is absurd: lacking any prolongation into eternity, whatever we do in life, our bloodlines, cultures and civilizations are bound to disapear, making our effort meaningless in the grand scheme of things. We might take actions to make our lifes or our descendants' lifes better, but in the end since we won't witness anything after our death and even those who outlive us and their legacy are bound to disapear, whether we do it or not won't matter on an absolute level.

In The Myth of Sisyphus he explores what it means for our own lives and what kind of happiness we can hope for inside this framework. Roughly speaking, since the result of our endeavours won't matter in the end, it is the endeavour itself and the joy it brings to us that matters (but of course, only to us and as long as we are alive). For example, wether we have kids or not won't matter at the end of times, but the very act of raising kids and loving them, and the joy it brings us is the point. If someone feels that raising kids brings them nothing, they are better off just not doing it.

Now, IMHO The Myth of Sisyphus is a very hard read so I'd suggest you start with comments or conferences about Camus and his works, then if you really want to make your own opinion tackle the book in itself.

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  • What reason is there to think consciousness continues even beyond a single moment? There are thought experiments (e.g. teleporter thought experiments) that show the concept of identity is very unclear. So, if we cannot coherently trace continuity of consciousness, there is also no reason to think identity must be linked to a single biological life. There are only snapshots of consciousness which we may group together into identities in any manner we wish, perhaps crossing the boundaries of individual bodies.
    – causative
    Commented Jul 10 at 10:15
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    @causative I'd argue that theres an abundance of good reasons to assume that our conciousness is linked to our biological life. We have a lot of information that ties our conciousness to our brains. Another obvious and huge example is that we already lack concious experience from before our biological body exists, and along with other physical evidence, it is much less coherent to assume conciousness exists after death than to assume it also ceases.
    – JMac
    Commented Jul 11 at 16:38
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    See existentialcomics.com/comic/1 for a nice presentation of the idea.
    – causative
    Commented Jul 11 at 17:15
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    @ScottRowe the point is, the prospect of future being better after you are dead might be cheering to you, at the present moment, when you perform some action to make it better. Most parents do have this feeling, it's very real and a powerful motivation. But once all the heat of the universe will have been dissipated evenly (according to OP's premise), it won't make a difference. The universe will look just the same whether someone worked to create a vaccine against polyo and saved millions of children or not. This motivation and sense of meaning to our action is to be found in each of us only.
    – armand
    Commented Jul 12 at 0:43
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    @ScottRowe it has nothing to do with despair, quite the opposite. It's about finding meaning in life while avoiding wishful thinking about a higher order of existence. May I suggest you get a modicum of interest in the subject before making irrelevant objections.
    – armand
    Commented 2 days ago
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99% is a huge over-estimate. 1% would be a huge over-estimate. Heat death involves guessing about the state of the universe in 10^106 years. This requires assuming that the guesses we have about the way everything works are not only true but unchanging and adequately complete across a span of space and time a million billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion times greater than the entire size and age of the entire universe. More histories of everything -vastly, incomprehensibly more - than there are atoms in the universe. Our totality of actual data is the tiniest partial glimpse of the tiniest fragment of the the totality of available data. And the totality of available data - the entire history of the universe in its most minute detail - is one part in a million billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion of the relevant process. Maybe all our constants and mathematical relations are crude approximations of not just curves but squiggles when you zoom out far enough. Maybe dark matter is volatile and aggressively interacts otherwise than gravitation over time scales of just a few million entire histories of everything. We don't know. We can't possibly know. The sample set is too small.

Over such unimaginable vastnesses of time, we can hazard wild guesses that begin: "in the vanishingly unlikely circumstance that all the things we have ignored can safely be ignored and all the things we've assumed can safely be assumed..."

These guesses are valuable. Firstly because we might as well guess, however insufficient our data: agnosticism with a best guess is better than total agnosticism, no matter how weak the best guess is. Second, because out of such guesses may occasionally come testable hypotheses, whose content would be a complete surprise to the original guessers.

But the only really true thing we can say about the eventual fate of the universe is to acknowledge the titanic scale of our ignorance.

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    +1 for your final sentence.
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Jul 10 at 18:25
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    you're not answering OP's question, nor even giving any references although that's specifically what OP asked for.
    – armand
    Commented Jul 10 at 23:23
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    @armand "the question has a false premise" is an answer to the question. How would you answer a question asking for scholarly references to the philosophical importance of a giant mountain of solid gold which was 99% likely to be located just south of Dublin?
    – g s
    Commented Jul 11 at 0:07
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    The OP is explicitly asking for references to other works. The only bad premise possible would be that actually no one ever worked on the topic and there is no reference to be given. It just happen that there are. As is, you are just using the question as an opportunity to plug in your opinion.
    – armand
    Commented Jul 11 at 0:28
  • I suppose that somebody will switch off our simulation when it becomes so boring. Commented Jul 11 at 8:54
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Freeman Dyson explored the heat death of the universe in "infinite in all Directions": https://www.amazon.com/Infinite-All-Directions-Lectures-April-November/dp/0060728892 In chapter 6, he used an operational definition of life, which is organized systems using entropy to do work, and evaluated whether life could continue to exist in the universe at various stages in the heat death process.
His conclusion: life could exist at every stage of the universe he ran calculations on. However, not HUMAN life. He postulated that life could transform its fundamental substrate and matrix to other forms to continue to survive the universe's drop toward absolute zero. IE states like solid state supercooled zero loss systems on cold dark free planets using superconductivity to do their activities, or organized dust clouds in space changing their electric potential vs themselves thru rearrangement. These organized structural forms could survive billions and trillions of years after cellular organic life would not be viable.

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There is the Boltzmann brain thought experiment which suggests that if eternal inflation (and some other physical theories) are correct then we are almost certainly brains that spontaneously formed in space with false memories and experiences. It's similar in kind to Bostrom's simulation hypothesis.

See for example Sean Carroll's Why Boltzmann Brains Are Bad for an attempted refutation of the idea.

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    "we are almost certainly brains that spontaneously formed in space" we? If you are a Boltzmann brain there is no "we". Heck, why am I even writing this, since you have already disapeared in the vaccum of space. I am nothing but a false memory after all...
    – armand
    Commented Jul 10 at 23:32
  • I'm a false memory too but that doesn't prevent me from doing what a boltzmann brain does :p . Commented Jul 12 at 0:31
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I would suggest you read the Quran - Imam Ibn Kathir Explanation (Qur'anic exegesis)

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    Maybe describe a bit about what the referenced passage is about? Also, do you have a link to a preferred translation in English? Thank you.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jul 11 at 23:18

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