Friday, September 12, 2008

The end of the world

Wednesday, 10 September 2008 was said to be the day the world would end. The reason was the powering up of LHC the Large Hadron Collider at the French/Swiss border. It would collide protons with so much force that a black hole would be created. If this black hole persisted, it would grow and suck in all mass of planet Earth. Wednesday passed uneventful. It is likely that the world will not end in the next few months even with increased collisions at LHC.

lhc

Such end of the world thinking appeared throughout history, and predictions of such an event in the future are numerous. I read an interesting article in BBC describing the fascination of mankind on this very unfortunate event. You may wish to read the article at this link.

There is nothing new with the idea that the world could end. In fact, by all historical thinking and modern scientific thinking, it is a fact that the world as we know it will come to an end one day. The most well-known scenario is the Last Judgment written in the Bible. No one is sure when it will come and it remains a delusion to scare the faithful.

The end of the world has a deep root which can be found all the way back to ancient times. There are many ancient myths on the ultimate chaos and the destruction of the human world. They are also found in all religions which use the end of world punishment for religious purposes. But the scary stories are not limited to superstition. As science advances, many scenarios are identified as possibilities of the total destruction of earth, or just the human race.

Branches of knowledge have also been developed on such doomsday scenarios. In religion, they are studied under eschatology, which are theories of the end of the world. In Christianity, millenarianism is the belief in the coming of the Judgment Day upon the millennium at the end of one thousand years. There is also the apocalypticism which is a belief based the Apocalypse regarding the end of present world order. In general, the term End Time refers to the end of the world or the end of the current age.

The end of the world could mean the destruction of the planet, extinction of the human race, or just a significant change in the situation of the human race. Science and religion have different concepts on how would the world end. Scientific theories point to catastrophic climate change, asteroid or comet strike, massive nuclear war, eruption of super-volcanoes, uncontrollable epidemics or the destabilisation of earth or moon orbit. All of them have a high probability of happening, but with an uncertain timescale. It could happen in the near future or a million year after. Religious descriptions are more abstract. They include the Last Judgment, the disappearance of Buddha's teachings, the second coming of Jesus, the cycle of ages, and some codified theory by the Zoroastrians. However, it is to be celebrated that all previous predictions of the end of the world have failed, and the human race has safely passed all such critical dates.

The question that one would ask is: why are we so fond of acknowledging the ultimate end of mankind? A psychologist explains that such thinking is deeply appealing at a psychological level because the idea of meaninglessness is deeply threatening. Human societies have always tried to create some kind of framework of meaning to give history and our own personal lives some kind of significance. To acknowledge or predict the end of the world gives impetus to a lot of human activities ranging from worshiping, accumulating resources, knowledge seeking, all are meaningful things that human energy can be focused on. Thinking about the ways the world might end, or its timing, may be fulfilling a basic human need. It comes down to an issue of power. Apocalyptic preaching and ideas often arise during times of particular discontent, war, famine or during general bad times. Prediction of the end of the world is an attempt to control the way the world works.

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