A very dear, intelligent, and a most inquisitive-minded friend posed a very thought-provoking question to me some time ago. What is the relationship of energy and value in the universe? How is energy and value determined around the universe? For those of you who know me, surely you’re aware of me being a fan to the economist Steven Levitt’s work in Freakonomics. And one thought, that I gathered from that book, which would always be in my head was that surprising answers come about from the most peculiar questions. No one had ever asked me about energy and value and what they should do in the universe. Still…she asked me and I struggled to answer at first but as I gave it more thought throughout the next few days and weeks, I was amazed at the implications of the possible answers. Here’s how I answered her first part: energy distribution in the universe.
When an object of great mass accumulates a lot of energy (like hoarding energy all to itself), the object can implode. Something the size of a galaxy can shrink down to the size of a grain of sand and then explode and release that condensed energy back out in to the universe. Almost immediately, other objects of great size start collecting all the dispersed energy from the imploded (now dead) object. Think of it like a big company that’s so successful and gets all of NYC’s customers to itself. It eventually gets too big. Too big for its own good. And then it collapses and fails. So, what happens to all its customers and assets? It gets dispersed and distributed in a chaotic manner. There is no order. Other smaller companies start gobbling up customer and market share, collecting and buying the abandoned assets that had once belonged to the original big company. A chaotic frenzy occurs where all the smaller players are now positioning themselves with their newfound energy in the form of market share and assets. Energy and its distribution is never organized. It is always chaotic, both in the universe and in human society (this last notion shouldn’t surprise us since, according to the late Carl Sagan, ‘we are all star stuff’).
But now, what is the relationship of value in the universe? How is value determined? Simply put, energy does have value, but that doesn’t mean the universe sees it as such. Value is a human concept. But perhaps I can best define it like this: value is the result of a careful mix between need, desire, and supply. If something is needed by something (or someone else), then there’s value. If something is desired, it too has value. And if there’s a limited supply of what is either needed or desired, then the value of it is increased. The opposite is true as well: if something is NOT as needed or desired, its value goes down. At first, these concepts don’t appear to apply to the universe… but not so fast. Planets need sun energy, which makes sun power valuable. The sun needs stable gravitational positioning, which is caused by its place in the galaxy and its distance from the gravity of other stars, which makes gravity energy and position valuable. However, these massive bodies NEED the energy; they don’t necessarily DESIRE the energy. NEED and DESIRE are human concepts that we are conscious about because there’s always some form of energy we want or need from something to someone else. But the fact that we can desire it makes us indeed a unique species. Perhaps that is what is meant when it is said that ‘we are the masters of our own universe’, that reality is all in our head and that everything is real because we think it to be real. The very forces at work throughout interstellar space are also at work at the human level, both in mind and body and in between each other. And as we contemplate how energy and value is determined, we remember that no matter how small we are, our mind is capable of grasping and imagining such grandiose bodies in the universe, all functioning together in what appears like clockwork, but what is in fact a complete and grand chaotic interstellar and galactic mess, taking eons and eons of time to go through, as we live a whisper’s length of time, though just long enough to understand a sweet morsel’s fraction of it all.
Note: a picture of her handwritten question is linked below. It says “in the universe, the distribution of energy (any kind)… determined by… goods, money…”