Happy End of the World Again

It’s that time again… as December 21, 2012 looms above us, thoughts turn to annihilation and worldwide destruction.  But not really, of course.  I read somewhere that, accounting for leap years, the world already ended several months ago if we are to believe the rolling-over of the long count calendar.  Why are we so fascinated by the imminent threat of our own demise?  As we are not entirely sure what (in anything) is the grander meaning of our existence, the reminder that it’s going to end (and perhaps an occasional abstract ominous capital-‘E’ Event every couple years) may spurn us to create a meaning we are satisfied with.

As a non-religious scientist type, I am not in search of any higher order of intelligence guiding our existences.  There is a cosmic order to science, an equilibrium and structure that I can take comfort in just fine, thank you very much.  Why are we were?  Why will we one day not be here?  YHWH?  Shiva?  Odin?  Zeus?  Etcetera?  Outer space turtle stack?

“In answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our Universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time.” – Edward P. Tryon, physicist

Ruminating on it too long, I do sometimes am gripped by existential angst and, looking around at the trappings and systems and requirements of this civilization, am struck by the urge to run wild and laugh and scream through nature, and cast off the persona of ‘man’ and see how ‘animal’ suits me (but not Manimal, he got cancelled toot sweet).

Anyway, the end of the world is such a grand recurring theme in fiction that I think we get plenty of opportunities to indulge in the fantasy.  It’s a notion as old as storytelling itself, this grand final chapter, as evidenced by the persistence of several fantastically evocative “elder words”.  Just look at them.  Say them aloud, listen to the ancient power they convey.

Apocalypse.

Ragnarok.

Annihilation.

Cataclysm.

Armageddon.

Considering that in stories, often, the end of the world is not truly the end of the world but merely the beginning of a new epoch (usually a horrible apocalyptic one, though), it could come from a deep-seated anxiety about our human progression.  Have we plateaued as a species?  Are there new peaks we can ascend?  Will we lead to something truly greater than we were?  I mentioned Neon Genesis Evangelion earlier but I always liked the central conceit of that series, which was that mankind had grown stagnant, and it would take some grand transformative event to move us to the next plane.  There is even an attempt made to show what such a reality would be like, in the film The End of Evangelion.  It is such a vivid and concrete depiction of an intensely abstract idea… people literally burst apart into a sort of primordial soup, mingling together, the boundaries of self, body and mind broken down irreversibly, the planet awash in a new interconnected hyperconsciousness.

Though in the Evangelion universe, the end times begin following a catastrophic event in 2015, I have to remind myself that our planet already has a definite expiration date.  However, it’s nearly 8 billion years into the future when the sun expands to sufficient size to swallow the planet in flames.  What life will look like then, and what humanity’s ultimate fate will be, is so far beyond comprehension that my head hurts thinking about it.  However, the fate of the biological mechanisms of life will undoubtedly be ticking away in some form or fashion.  In the words of the great comedian Louis C.K, when asked by his daughter “what happens when you die?”

“Well, other people keep living.”

There’s a grim elegance to that notion that I find both appealing and chilling.

But, so, how could the world end?  Fret not, there’s a fascinating website called Exit Mundi that has been compiling doomsday scenarios for a very long time, which you can flip through as the sun rises uneventfully tomorrow morning and I have to go into work, sigh, instead of running for my very existence as a wall of fire and destruction passes smoothly across the surface of our star-sailing spaceship (imagine that I have so many new age crystals in my hands that I can’t hold them and they’re spilling all over the place).

Maybe, though, all the tectonic plates will become unmoored as our poles shift, the magnetosphere dissipates long enough for an unavoidable torrent of radiation to cut through us all, and ancient caldera and volcanoes will spring to life, spewing forth molten chaos.

Maybe a lava bomb will come down as obsidian upon our heads (this is a geological impossibility, because obsidian only forms at the edges of slow magma floes, but I really want to make the following stupid joke):

In the words of Michael Jackson…

You’ve been hit by!

You’ve been struck by!

Some smooth minerals!

dana-nana-nana-nah-nah. nana-nah-nah, nana-nah-nah

Man, that’s a damn good song.  I listened to it, and the Alien Ant Farm cover earlier today (before the world ended).  Somehow I remembered the cover as being more impressive than it actually is.  Maybe that’s part of it.  So afraid we are of leaving a lackluster legacy, we’d rather burn our past than reflect upon it.  I dunno.  At least, come the morning, we’ll finally have a few months’ peace until the Extinctionists latch onto some other target date for our inevitable demise.  For real this time, honest!

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