The End of the World is Nigh…

…only I wouldn’t like to predict exactly how nigh.

A huge particle accelerator experiment is about to start and a tiny group of people believe it could spell the end of the world. But why are we so obsessed with the possibility of apocalypse?BBC News Magazine

In summary, the basic theory is this. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is to be fired up this week, as physicists attempt to find out a bit more about the universe. Some people however believe that it is technically possible that mini black holes could be created, which, were they to be stable, could quickly destroy the planet. Alternatively, ’strange matter’ could be created which — if I’m understanding the doom-mongers correctly — could corrupt matter around it and again the entire planet would be quickly converted into ‘junk matter’.

Scientists don’t believe that either of these scenarios are likely (I don’t know anything about ’strangelets’, but from what I know about micro-black holes, they would tend to be unstable and vanish in a puff of Hawking radiation). Having said that, I can still understand some people being concerned about them “thinking it unlikely”. But science sometimes needs to progress by pressing that big red button, just to find out what happens…

For example, during the development of the atomic bomb:

Teller also raised the speculative possibility that an atomic bomb might “ignite” the atmosphere, because of a hypothetical fusion reaction of nitrogen nuclei.Wikipedia: Manhattan Project

One the one hand, we might have developed an atomic weapon. On the other hand, lads, if we press this button, we might wipe out all life forms on the surface of the earth. What d’you reckon lads? Let’s press it and find out, eh?

Now, I don’t think it’s likely that CERN’s LHC will blow us all to kingdom come either. But I agree with the BBC that it is interesting that so many people seem willing to predict the end of the world…

The BBC article mentions various theories for the end of the world. Obviously, the Earth as we know it will end when our sun turns into a red giant: but the Earth will have become uninhabitable long before that — in about 1 billion years the sun will be too hot for water, so we’re already more than 80% of the way through the Earth’s habitable life. However, that’s not really apocalyptic enough for most of these theories, who seem to favour The End sometime in the next generation or so.

For many Christians — seemingly a higher proportion in the US — there is the belief that we’ll have The Second Coming and/or The Rapture … end times stuff. For others, there’s the whole apocalyptic stuff found in The Revelation of Saint John the Devine…

And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

The Revelation of Saint John the Devine: Ch 13 v 16-18

…and of course, once you combine this with the theory that when you buy everything these days, it’s bleeped in via a bar code, and that barcodes contain 666, we’re obviously into the end times.

Or there’s the Mayan calendar — in particular the Long Count calendar, which will reset itself at the end of 2012. This has therefore been used to suggest that this will be the time of some great cataclysm, or some other something or other which will end the planet.

I don’t know exactly what all these doom-sayers have been meaning by “the end of the world”, but I’m guessing that they are talking about at least the complete collapse of civilisation, rather than say, a world recession, with house prices dropping by 25%.

Of course, if I’m going to listen to a lot of end of the world doom-mongering, I’d rather they were backed by a decent soundtrack, which is why I’d recommend The Shamen’s Re:evolution (yes, the same people who did Ebeneezer Goode)…

Persistently western religions have integrated into their theologies the notion of a kind of end of the world. And I think that a lot of psychedelic experimentation sort of confirms this intuition.

I mean it isn’t going to happen according to any of the scenarios of orthodox religion, but the basic intuition that the universe seeks closure in a kind of Omega point of transcendence is confirmed.

The Shamen ~ Re:Evolution

Obviously, you don’t need to be mystical, religious, or shamanistic to believe the end of the world as we know it is coming soon. We’ve got the whole global warming thing; the fact that there is only a finite amout of oil left (2007 estimates would suggest something short of 100 years); there’s Ebola, AIDS, bird flu, meteor impacts and so on to worry about. Oh, and natural disasters, nuclear wars, bioterrorism, and so on.

Us humans as a species are only around 200,000 years old (or around 6,000 years, if you’re a follower of Ussher — but then, if you are, you have to put up with the idea that God put dinosaur bones there just to mess with our heads, which I think is even more disturbing). There’s no guarantee we’ll last another 200,000 years. There’s no guarantee we’ll last another 20 years. There’s no guarantees as to how long we’ll survive.

Even if by some chance we have moved from the earth before the sun expands, there’s the ultimate cosmological endings: the Big Rip, which seems to be the latest hot theory where all the atoms in the universe are torn apart as the rate of expansion increases; the ‘universe continues to gradually expand’ traditional entropy/heat-death one; and of course the Big Bang in reverse — the Big Crunch (not the Gib Gnab, regardless of what Douglas Adams thought).

So why are we so interested in apocalyptic scenarios? I dunno. Maybe it’s because we’d like the universe and ourselves to have some purpose, and for our lives to be important — so we want to be living in important times. Maybe it’s because the planet/world is likely to go out spectacularly at some point, so we want it to mean something. Or maybe we’re just a bunch of pessimists…

Me, I’ll stick with The Shamen. It’s the same New Age apocalyptic mystic mumbo-jumbo, but it’s got a good tune…

History is ending, I mean we are to be the generation that witnesses the Revelation of the purpose of the Cosmos.
History is the shock wave of the Eschaton.The Shamen ~ Re:Evolution

2 Responses to “The End of the World is Nigh…”

  1. JTankers responds:

    You might find this article interesting. Some of CERN’s chosen symbolism is rather… interesting.

    Prominent symbols include the Indian deity Shiva, god of destruction, etc. I’m not sure I quite understand the Culture at CERN, it is odd.

  2. Seb Crump responds:

    I met a follower of Ussher when I was a kid (or at least someone who thought fossils were a puzzle provided by god to entertain us). I’m slightly ashamed that I spontaneously burst into laughter on hearing that - my (possibly dodgy) memory is that they looked rather put-out/upset. Of course, I now know it’s not polite, but perleease…

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