Author: Calum Strachan

It was an overwhelmingly unlikely occurrence. Somewhere at the end of time, as the universe approached uniformity, a localised phenomenon sprung out of the thin and fragile space. Purely by chance, the particles that had drifted alone for so long coalesced all at once with pugilistic violence and grace.

Colliding atoms inadvertently arranged themselves in the form of a functioning thalamus. White matter erupted from nothing, followed by all manner of grey. The inexplicable tissues enveloped and enfolded around an increasingly unlikely mass.

A cerebellum slotted in precisely, as if by design. The deity-less miracle persisted as a spinal cord sprouted and trailed off to nothing.

A stray packet of electromagnetic energy, travelling unimpeded on its random path since the beginning of physical space, happened upon the accident of thermodynamics. It struck like lightening, without the mess. The brain lit up; it was alive.

The improbability of this outcome could not be overstated.

The brain remembered. Somewhere, at this moment and aeons ago, a child stepped one unsure foot in front of the other. The brain felt the grass between its toes and recoiled instinctively from the unexpected dampness. The boy stumbled and the brain jolted with a hypnic jerk. The boy worried at the edges of an apfelstrudel with new, budding teeth, and a surge of dopamine ricocheted around the brain.

The boy, now a young man, attended endless lectures. Memories piled up in waves as the weight of countless hours of study and debate bore down on the brain. In answer to the burden, an imperceptible schism emerged, not from the matter but from the mind. Days and weeks and years spent theorising and calculating, defending and withdrawing; the schism was nurtured, and it grew into a chasm. Prominence and prestige, fame and infamy; the brain lived the life all in an instant. The brain became very heavy, although its mass remained constant.

The rift grew unbearably large, impossibly deep, an invisible spiderweb of cracks through crystal. The brain closed down hard like a fist on its lifetime of memories. For a moment, the mind inside was still. In the near empty dark, ever so gently, the brain performed a pirouette around its axis.

A mercurial mind, first thrust into the universe between Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, now floated in the void between nothing and nowhere.

The brain, newly alive, got to work making new memories. The first was a sensation of being outside ones self, but still very much restricted. Reflexively, the brain looked down… and was struck by the full force of comprehension. There was no ‘look’. There was no ‘down’. The brain laughed, or tried to, or tried to try, but something so visceral was far out of reach. Choosing intention over defeat, it resolved to quantify its lonely place in the last of the universe. How long had it taken for a drop of chaos to fall into the sea of order? The brain diligently did the maths. A lifetime obsessed with statistical mechanics had served it well; it did not need pen or paper.

Before long, and before the brain could reach an answer (although it was very close), it did what brains do in the inhospitable void at the end of time. The energy that had grasped the brain for the yoctoseconds of its re-existence now loosened its grip. Thermodynamic equilibrium was reached, and the brain receded back into the universe with an inaudible sigh.

It was likely to be the last such occurrence.

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