Bob reports that, while sorting through some old documents, he discovered a scrap of paper that reads as follows:
“Everything explodes eventually.”
— P. Berry
At first glance, this would seem to be an insupportable assertion. After all, it’s not difficult to find examples of objects that have existed for centuries or millennia without exploding: the Great Wall of China, the Rock of Gibraltar, Strom Thurmond, and so forth. But before we dismiss the notion out of hand, we should examine our definitions of “explodes” and “eventually.”
“Eventually” means that there is no time limit whatsoever. We have to consider the explosive tendencies of any object not just over a period of centuries or millennia, but over the entire remaining lifetime of the universe. On that time scale, no object can endure forever, no matter how durable it is.
With “explodes,” there is also a question of scale. When an object like a bagel or Adam Sandler’s head explodes, we know this has happened because it’s an event on a scale that we’re able to perceive. But if the explosion takes place on a microscopic scale, we may not notice it. Individual atoms explode all the time; it’s called nuclear fission, and every atom of an unstable isotope does it sooner or later. If theories about proton decay are correct, even stable isotopes eventually break down at the subatomic level (although this will take place over a period of time far greater than the current age of the universe). So it is possible to maintain that everything explodes eventually — with the qualification that most objects will do so very slowly, one particle at a time.
I can’t say whether this is what I had in mind when I made the statement; I don’t remember saying it, so I have no idea what the context was. At one time, I had a journal in which I recorded everything I said to anyone about anything (along with the date, time, place, and circumstances), which would have been enormously helpful in investigating this matter. Unfortunately, the journal spontaneously detonated in 1997. I’m afraid the origin of the quotation will have to remain a mystery.