The First Question

The First Question.

A companion piece to “The Last Question”, by Isaac Asimov.

The first question was asked for the first time before there was language to articulate it. It was asked when there was barely thought. On a million worlds in a million galaxies over billions of years the question was asked over and over.

In a world’s developing stage, a predator, having gorged and sated itself, sat secure in it’s perch, preening. And as the first dim flicker of sentience wandered into its mind, the question was asked for the first time on that world in the language of thought:

“Where did all this come from?”

And over millions of years and countless triumphs and setbacks, life evolved. And finally, intelligence, and then language.

And the question was asked a million times just on that world, in a million different fashions. And as a species grew into a culture, the phrasing became more complex. At a certain point the counter-question was appended:

“Where did all this come from, and where is it going?”

And for every phrasing of the question, there was a different answer. Nobody knew for sure, though some – charlatans or delusional – claimed they did.

And then came math and science. And physics.

And the physicists said: We have an answer!

And they were correct, mostly, eventually: The theories were refined and tested, and sometimes thrown out, over centuries. Eventually, their theories accurately described the universe. So much so that they became an advanced technological civilisation. And they spread out into the stars, and life colonised the universe.

And now that they had answered the first question, it came time to ask the last:

“Can entropy be reversed?”

And nobody knew the answer. The greatest minds of a universe worked on the problem. But the problem proved difficult, maybe even intractable.

And they lived for a trillion years. And as the degenerate era approached, the stars began to die, and the last question became more urgent.

And they built The Minds. Hyper-efficient Matrioshka brains the size of brown dwarfs. And the Minds worked on the problem.

And they searched for a solution for ten trillion years. And they got nowhere. And the stelliferous era went into twilight, and the stars continued to die.

And there was insufficient data to answer the last question meaningfully, so an answer was not found. But a compromise was, and a project began.

And they converted all the remaining matter into Minds, and they cannibalised the stars to build them, and the universe went dark prematurely, comprised only of black holes and matrioshka brains.

And they booted up a googolplex of simulated universes. And they ran for a hundred trillion years.

And in the final second of that parent universe, an uncountable number of simulations within simulations ran for uncountable aeons, and the multiverse was born. And the first question was asked anew, into infinity.

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