I felt we needed some cheering up today what with the Prophet Obama getting caught with his private parts hanging out all over Canada. It seems that our once and always beloved Agent of Change pulled a fast one on the voters in Ohio by telling them that he was going to get tough with Canada and Mexico on NAFTA (mostly Mexico) by giving them notice that he wanted to renegotiate the treaty and force Mexico to play by all the silly and stupid labor and environmental rules we are forced by our government to play here in the United States (Sigh…am I not allowed just a LITTLE hyperbole? Please?)
Anyway, while breathing fire in Ohio, Obama had an aide whispering sweet nothings into the Canadian government’s ear not to listen to that man saying those mean things about NAFTA in Ohio. It really isn’t Obama saying them, just some guy who is pandering for votes.
Hillary is too busy whining about not getting a fair shake from the press to exploit this marvelous opportunity Obama has handed her on a silver platter. She’d probably fumble it anyway so it doesn’t matter. Hillary is toast and watching the meltdown when she is forced to withdraw will be a scene for the ages.
So with that hanging over my head, I threw up my hands in despair and said, “Enough!” No more politics today. Which leads me into our topic today which is my favorite Doomsday scenarios of all time.
It may surprise (and worry) you that there are actually organizations who do nothing all day except think of crappy ways we can all check out together. Just Google “Doomsday” and become afraid. With all these negative vibes, you have to wonder if there isn’t a sizable segment of the population so bored with cable TV as I am that any change in our dull, dreary existence would be welcome – even if it meant getting out the marshmallows and making smores as the planet burns out of existence around us.
That said, my list will not include Global Warming. Way to slow. No, these scenarios are, for the most part, so quick that we’d barely have time to decide whether we want to reconvert to Catholicism (or whatever higher power/religion/ you might deem necessary to avoid eternal damnation). Nor will my list include nuclear annihilation. Been there, done that, too boring, and besides there’s no guarantee that all life would end.
These are for the most part rock ‘em, sock ‘em, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am blink and you’re gone scenarios for Armageddon. And I hope you enjoy them.
10. THE “SECOND COMING” SCENARIO
Least likely of all scenarios, I figured just to be on the safe side I better include it.
This is not the “rapture” scenario where 7,777 people suddenly disappear from around their kitchen tables and bodily ascend into heaven to be followed by the emergence of the anti-Christ and all that other stuff.
This is the Catholic version that used to worry me to no end when I was in about 2nd grade. This scenario envisions us humans just going about our daily tasks, not harming anyone (more than usual) when Jesus hisself comes down on a cloud and in a booming voice announces to the entire planet:
“OK People, this is it! Line up in single file and prepare to be judged. You dead people who’ve just risen from the graves on the left, please. Living people on the right. LET’S MOVE!”
And, of course, that’s it. No appeal to Big Daddy. No reprieve from the Holy Ghost. Jesus is back and he’s taking names and kickin’ butt. At least, that’s an approximation of how the nuns said it would go.
Actually, I believe that such an end would be much too good for humanity if I were God. And that’s why these other scenarios are much more likely.
9. THE “HOLY SH*T WHAT THE f**K IS THAT” SCENARIO
So called because that’s about the only thing you’ll have time to say before your mortal coil mixes with the flotsam and jetsam from the rest of the universe.
Suppose it’s a bright sunny day and you’re out sunning yourself when all of a sudden, you notice it gets brighter. I mean really, really bright – as if someone had thrown a switch and floodlights more powerful than sunlight was streaming down. You look up and the last thing you see before your eternal spark flees for safer climes is a great big chunk of the sun bearing down on earth like a runaway train moving 2 million miles an hour.
It seems our stable and friendly sun suffered an extremely minor solar event; in effect, it hiccuped. It expanded and contracted extremely rapidly. As it expanded again, a couple of minor pieces that it didn’t need were flung out into space. One of them, about twice the size of earth, headed straight for our planet. Ideally, we’d have about 45 minutes warning but don’t bet on it. Any solar scientist worth their salt wouldn’t be able to tear themselves away from this once in a lifetime observational opportunity. Besides, do you really think anyone would tell us?
8. THE “MING THE MERCILESS” SCENARIO
Yes, we laugh at the thought of space aliens coming to destroy us. But some smart folks think it a possibility:
As any alien race able to reach us is likely to be considerably more advanced than us, we would do well to develop a communications and diplomatic protocol to minimize any frictions caused by a first contact situation, be it friendly, unfriendly or neutral. In particular, we would discourage actions which could all too easily be misinterpreted as overtly hostile such as preemptively scrambling â€” let alone launching â€” nuclear weapons during a possible first contact. The rule when engaging in contact with an alien race is to do anything possible to avoid war since we are quite likely to lose.
This program will be devoted to developing the first contact protocol.
In addition to this protocol, we should be careful about any devices that we are told to construct via alien messages, as such devices could be unfriendly AI or other harmful devices. If such a danger is suspected, this warning must be immediately made public knowledge to discourage others from activating possible alien weapons.
Finally, we are against any efforts to on purposely provide our technological level and location to potentially hostile aliens.
So just how could an alien species extinguish life on earth? It depends what they want earth for. If they’re simply hell bent on destruction (maybe an episode of Two and a Half Men offended them) something as simple as destroying the magnetosphere that protects us from solar wind and radiation would do the trick. All these evil aliens would have to do is stop the internal heat processes of the earth that keep our core molten. That molten core spinning with the earth’s rotation creates a dynamo effect which throws a protective cordon of electromagnetic energy around the earth. Stop the dynamo, you kill the electromagnetism. Kill that and we roast pretty quickly.
I firmly believe that the “How to Serve Man” scenario is much less likely. This nightmare is courtesy of an old Twilight Zone episode where aliens come to earth to help us using the book “How to serve man” as a guide. But since we couldn’t translate what the book said we had no idea until the end that the book was actually a cookbook.
7. THE “ASTRONOMER’S DREAM” SCENARIO
This is a one in a million scenario but we’re talking about my favorite end of the world possibilities not the most likely.
Gamma Ray Bursts (GRB’s) are caused by massive stars plunging willy nilly into a black hole. The violent death of the star is spectacular. It emits as much light and gamma rays in a few seconds than the sun does in 100,000 years.
So far, the only ones we’ve seen have been far, far away – billions of light years. But suppose – just suppose – one were to occur in our galactic neighborhood?
Research has been conducted to investigate the consequences of Earth being hit by a beam of gamma rays from a nearby (about 500 light years) gamma ray burst. This is motivated by the efforts to explain mass extinctions on Earth and estimate the probability of extraterrestrial life. A gamma ray burst at 6000 light years would result in mass extinction; a 1000 light year distant burst would be equivalent to a 100,000 megaton nuclear explosion—like standing a couple miles from Hiroshima everywhere on earth. A burst 100 light years away would blow away the atmosphere, create tidal waves, and start to melt the surface of the earth. There is a one in a million chance that there could be a gamma ray burst as near as the earth’s closest star, Alpha Centauri, in the lifetime of the earth. Such a burst, at 4.3 lightyears distant, would effectively incinerate the earth[
I knew I could make your day.
6. THE PERSEPHONE SCENARIO
Persephone is the name given to a theoretical (fictional) dark companion to our sun orbiting our solar system very irregularly. Every 60 million years or so Persy pays a visit to the Oort cloud where a couple of tens of billions of comets are just sitting – cold and dead, orbiting the sun beyond Pluto.
Well Persephone hits the Oort Cloud like a cosmic bowling ball and scatters tens of thousands of comets causing them to start dropping toward the sun – toward the inner solar system and us unsuspecting earthlings.
Many are captured by giant Jupiter and its huge gravitational field. But there are just too many of them and earth is in the cross hairs.
This may not be as quick as some scenarios but the reason it’s one of my favorites is just think of the night sky just prior to us getting blasted. What a sight it would be.
5. THE “PLEASE DON’T TURN OVER THAT ROCK” SCENARIO
Forget the hazards of bio terrorism. There are large swaths of the Amazon rain forest that have yet to be explored. The same could be said for a very few other remote places on earth.
Supposin’ you had a hankerin’ to do some explorin’. You bravely push your way farther and deeper into the rain forest than any man has ever gone. You come to a little clearing filled with flora that no man has ever seen. As you go to examine the strange and beautiful flowers your toe accidentally hits a small rock, turning it over for the first time in eons and exposing the underside to the air.
You think nothing of it at the time. But the underside of that rock contains fungi and the spores of that fungi are disturbed and waft up and are inhaled by our intrepid explorer. Lying in those spores is a virus with no name. And the countdown has begun.
Two weeks later you are back in civilization having exposed thousands of people in airports, airplanes, busses and trains to this new virus. It’s Captain Trips on steroids as the disease has a 100% death rate and doesn’t stop until the human race is a memory – if anyone were left alive to remember.
There are a lot of problems with this scenario not the least of which is the improbability that the epidemiology of such a disease would be so consistent as to wipe out all humans. It would have to be one smart bug to find a way to kill its host quickly while finding fresh hosts to settle in and replicate. Conversely, as the population shrank, the bug would literally have no place to go and there would be less and less of it.
But why spoil all the fun with that scientific stuff?
4. THE “INCOMPREHENSIBLE YET VERY KEWL” SCENARIO
Wow. I mean, like wow.
Imagine we’re living in a false vacuum – the whole dang universe is just a bubble in another universe, get it?
OK. Here’s the incomprehensible explanation:
A false vacuum is a metastable sector of a quantum field theory which appears to be a perturbative vacuum but is unstable to instanton effects which tunnel to a lower energy state. This tunneling can be caused by quantum fluctuations or the creation of high energy particles. Simply put, the false vacuum is a state of a physical theory which is not the lowest energy state, but is nonetheless stable for some time. This is analogous to metastability for first order phase transitions.
“Instanton effects.” Is that like when Glenn Reynolds gives you a link?
No matter. This is way kewl. Imagine this:
The possibility that we are living in a false vacuum has never been a cheering one to contemplate. Vacuum decay is the ultimate ecological catastrophe; in the new vacuum there are new constants of nature; after vacuum decay, not only is life as we know it impossible, so is chemistry as we know it. However, one could always draw stoic comfort from the possibility that perhaps in the course of time the new vacuum would sustain, if not life as we know it, at least some structures capable of knowing joy. This possibility has now been eliminated.
I think that last bit was just a touch of geeky humor there.
The possibility that we are living in a false vacuum has been considered. If a bubble of lower energy vacuum were nucleated, it would approach at nearly the speed of light and destroy the Earth instantaneously, without any forewarning. Thus, this vacuum metastability event is a theoretical doomsday event.
I give this one an “A” for absolute geeky originality.
3. THE “GLENN REYNOLDS MEMORIAL” SCENARIO
Beware the Robots! Or, artificial intelligence (AI) is coming and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
Glenn Reynolds has written extensively of the coming “singularity.” Man and machine are about to merge and we are all about to enter a brave new world that could eventually make us nearly immortal beings or cause us to become extinct in a wave of robot revenge killings on a massive scale.
Computers will not only become faster and easier to use in the future, the chances are very good that by 2025 and maybe sooner, AI will be an issue we will have to deal with.
And just what are some of the issues?
Risks from AI may arise from the HCI (human-computer interaction) paradigm that takes place. Such paradigms include the following, and more than one of them might occur simultaneously.
A. The tool paradigm. In this paradigm, AI will serve humanity as a new kind of tool, unique in part due to its post-singularity power.
B. The prosthesis paradigm. Here, AI will gradually integrate with the human body, producing cyborgian “people” with qualitatively greater capabilities than regular people.
C. The competition paradigm. According to this view, robots will ultimately have their own agendas which would most likely conflict with ours.
Number 3 obviously holds the most danger to our survival (although wouldn’t you love to be an EEO lawyer in the future litigating discrimination cases against “regular people):
Risks from the competition paradigm. These risks are a perennial favorite of apocalypse-minded sci-fi authors. The robots make their move. Humans run for cover. The war is on, and it’s them or us, winner take all. Alternatively, the takeover is so successful that humans can do nothing but hang out waiting until the AIbots eventually roboform the earth to make it suitable for them but, as a side effect irrelevant to the AIbots, unable to support higher biological life (oxygen is bad for robots, so they’ll get rid of it). A third possibility is that nano-ai-robots (nanaibots?) take over, creating the nano-nightmare “gray goo” scenario in which the gooey little bots destroy not only the ecosystem but even invade human bodies for their own purposes (germbots?), besting our immune systems and possibly sending us all to another plane of existence.
This is “The Borg Run Wild” scenario with no Seven-of-Nine to save us. We could always blame Glenn Reyolds – if there was anyone left to accuse him.
2. “THE BLACK HOLE ATE MY PLANET” SCENARIO
Suppose one of the couple of thousand or so migrating black holes in our galaxy decided to mosey along our way? It would enter the solar system like a cat burglar and we’d never know anything about it until all matter began slowly moving in its direction. Chances are we’d be long dead before we got close to the beast because we’d be ripped out of orbit and freeze to death as the sun, also moving toward the monster but much more slowly because of its huge mass, got farther and farther away from us.
This one is really a stretch and besides, we’d miss all the fun because we’d be dead long before we hit the event horizon. But ever since I read The Whole Shebang by Timothy Ferris, I’ve always wanted to take a peek into the maw of one of these ravenous beasts.
What is really kewl is that going over the event horizon takes an infinite amount of time – to an outside observer looking at earth. We just kind of hang there for all eternity. Meanwhile, we lucky ones on earth are hurtling toward the singularity at the center of the black hole. The closer we get the more it appears that everyone on the planet has gone on a massive diet. Our atoms, subatomic particles, molecules – everything – become unglued and we start to stretch out like a string of spaghetti.
Eventually we hit the singularity – something with zero height, width, and length. It has infinite density and gravity.
Nice ride, huh. Maybe Disney will put in their French Euro-Disneyworld next year.
1. THE “WHY DIDN’T I TAKE THE BLUE PILL” SCENARIO
Are we living in a computer simulation?
Here we go supposin’ again. Just supposin’ that you live 5000 years from now in what will be known as the “post human” age. You are probably half machine and much better than us.
But let’s be supposin’ you have a hankerin’ to see how your ancient ancestors lived all the way back in the 20th and 21st centuries. You would create an enormously complicated computer program and populate it with billions of people, all having consciousness and free will.
Now let’s say that you and I are living in the simulation. How could we tell the difference?
If each advanced civilization created many Matrices of their own history, then most people like us, who live in a technologically more primitive age, would live inside Matrices rather than outside them. If this were the case, where would you most likely be?
The so-called Simulation argument, which I introduced a few years ago, makes this line of reasoning more precise and takes it to its logical conclusion. The conclusion is that there are three basic possibilities at least one of which is true. The first possibility is that the human species will almost certainly go extinct before becoming technologically mature. The second possibility is that almost no technologically mature civilization is interested in building Matrices. The third possibility is that we are almost certainly living in a Matrix. Why? Because if the first two possibilities are not the case, then there are more â€œpeopleâ€ living in Matrices than in â€œreal worlds.â€ As a â€œpersonâ€ then the chances are that you are living in a Matrix rather than in a â€œreal world.â€
The Simulation argument does not tell us which of these three possibilities obtain, only that at least one of them does. The argument employs some math and probability theory, but the basic idea can be understood without recourse to technical apparatus.
Way. Too. Kewl.
Of course, Doomsday comes when our future overlords tire of the simulation and flick the off switch on the computer or perhaps the earth is struck by a planet killing asteroid 5000 from now. Either way, we’re toast.
Well, I hope I brightened your day a little bit. Nothing like contemplating one’s total and utter destruction to get the juices flowing in the morning, right?