My conveyor belt analogy of life best illustrates human existence. The conveyor belt symbolizes the constant forced forward motion of life.
If you’ve stood at an airport baggage claim, you know about luggage endlessly circling on conveyor belts. In my analogy of life though, the conveyor belt is straight. So, if you place a box on one end, it’ll eventually fall to the ground on the other end.
This analogy struck me as I stood inside a factory, with my eyes glued to an operating conveyor belt. I watched new products fall onto the conveyor belt and travel for a bit, before landing in a shipping box. A machine then sealed the shipping box before it was forever removed from the factory.
The conveyor belt analogy of life at a human scale
This analogy focuses on the life and death moments of a person and not anything between them. For example, it does not include relationships, experiences, and what you accumulate. Rather, it’s a simple overview of human life.
Inside the conveyor belt factory
To set the stage, our factory has a straight-running conveyor belt, which moves finished products from one end to another.
When a new product falls onto the front of the conveyor belt, it’s representative of human birth.
When a product falls into a packaging box on the backend of the conveyor belt, it’s representative of human death.
The factory, which houses the conveyor, represents the habitable part of Earth. When a box leaves the factory after packaging, it symbolizes the burial of the deceased. Then eventually, the deceased return in the form of recycled material. A new person is then soon born.
The 1977 hit song “Dust in the wind” by Kansas, best captures the ephemeral nature of life:
Now, don’t hang on
Nothin’ lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away
And all your money won’t another minute buy
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
Edge case scenarios over the conveyor life analogy
Imagine the conveyor belt is 100 feet long, and each foot represents one year of human life.
In our analogy, some products will fall off before the 100-foot distance ends. Each of these dropped products represents early human death from any one of the following causes:
- Poor health
- Vehicular accident
- Freak accident
- Natural disaster
Ultimately, all products share the same fate inside a shipping box, regardless of the product type. Each product, in a way, symbolizes a variation of the following aspects:
- Number of zeros in a bank account
- Number of owned homes and vehicles
- Physical looks
- Number of followers
The conveyor belt analogy of life at a planetary scale
Let’s step back and redefine the analogy parameters.
Consider the entire universe is now the factory, and a gigantic conveyer belt sits inside. Instead of humans, the conveyor belt moves astronomical objects.
We’ll assume the starting point of the conveyor belt is the Big Bang, which occurred 13.8 billion years ago.
So, the Earth formed roughly 4.5 billion years ago on the conveyor belt. It’ll remain on it for another 4 billion years until the Sun becomes a red giant, at which point it’ll drop off the conveyor belt into a shipping box.
Interestingly, the Earth Killer, the Sun, will share the same fate. It’ll fall into its own shipping box in the next 5 billion years when it becomes a white dwarf.
Edge case scenarios over the timeline of Earth
What did we learn from the human analogy for life?
There are countless scenarios where products can fall off the conveyor belt earlier than expected. This applies to Earth as well.
To illustrate, we’ll modify our planetary-scale analogy. The extinction of life on Earth equates to the end of Earth’s journey on the conveyor belt. Some of the following natural disasters can cause Earth to fall off:
- Asteroid impact
- Supervolcano eruption
- Catastrophic climate change
- Powerful coronal mass ejection
- Local gamma-ray burst
The conveyor belt analogy of life at a universal scale
If we continue to scale up our analogy, eventually every astronomical object will fall off the conveyor belt.
Every planet will die as their stars fade away, falling into shipping boxes. Stars would have the following fates:
- What dwarf
- Black dwarf
- Neutron star
After enough time passes, the universe factory would become empty. The conveyor belt wouldn’t move a single product, as the heat-death of the universe will have occured.
Important Note: Entropy in the universe is only increasing. Stars continue to burn through fusion and distribute heat.
Entropy represents the unavailability of thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work in a closed system, such as the universe.
Imagine how the sun radiates heat into the universe every day. At some point, this will come to end when all its hydrogen fuel runs out.
As the Sun burns through its fuel, its heat will spread into deep space, resulting in a near-equilibrium temperature with no warmer or cooler objects nearby.
We can scale this Sun example to the entire universe, where the temperature will become uniform when when every star dies. The heat-death of the universe marks the end of its ability to do work. Nothingness will then remain.
Important Note: Let’s answer why the universe can’t do work.
The reason is because the entire universe reaches a uniform temperature, where everything, which can burn has already burned.
Think of a heat engine, a system, which converts heat energy to mechanical energy. Such as the gasoline engine in a car.
For a heat engine to do work, it requires a temperature variation. A working substance is brought from a high state temperature to a low state temperature to power the engine.
However, in the heat death of the universe, the temperature will be uniform everywhere, making it impossible for a heat engine to function.
Poincare recurrence theorem
It’s important to note, the heat death of the universe is only a theory.
We’ve suggested increased entropy can lead to the heat death of the universe. However, entropy also represents randomness. So maybe, over long long long periods of time, the universe may resurrect.
New stars, plants, and life may form, or something entirely different may occur. Who knows…
In our analogy though, we assumed everything will one day end.
I know this analogy of life may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It can be a bit of a downer and even lead to an exestential crisis for some.
However, it’s important to acknowledg this idea. It helps us understand the unpredictability and randomness of life
Personally, I find it to be strangely comforting. It’s why I often gaze into the night sky, as a reminder of how everything comes to an end.
So, make the most of your time on this conveyor belt. Focus on what truly matters to you. Because once you fall off from the conveyer belt, you’ll be out of the factory forever.
What are your thoughts on the conveyor belt analogy of life? Do you have any other analogies, which help you understand life?
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.