Of course, humanity will be long extinct, our most enduring contribution to the geological record a precipitous rise in carbon dioxide and perhaps a narrow band of plastic threaded through the strata. Bertrand Russell, the great philosophical freethinker who forthrightly admitted to trembling at the thought of the heat death of the cosmos, wrote in a 1903 issue of The Independent Review that:
“all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness … are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the débris of a universe in ruins.”
Any genuine accounting that plays the tape forward must admit that, at least on material and empirical grounds, Russell’s literal conclusion is broadly correct, but the pessimism is an issue of interpretation. I rather side with Walt Whitman, who a half-century before wrote in his poetry collection Leaves of Grass (1855) that:
“The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.
All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”
Their understanding of the literal particulars of the situation regarding our eventual destiny is broadly the same, but how they choose to draw meaning from that reality is different. Russell quivers at our demise, while Whitman merely shrugs and smiles, continuing on for another day.