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End of the world in terms of common sense
Translated from Russian by Irina Karimova
There are many prophecies about the end of the world in almost all religions. A lot of popular scientific books about the end of the world dealing with all kinds of disasters, from an asteroid to an ecological crisis, was written. I propose to talk about the end of the world from the standpoint of so-called common sense: relying on logic, well-known facts of history and other things that take place in high school.
In order to talk about such a thing as the end of the world, it is first of all necessary to agree on terms: what is world here and what is meant by the word end.
I will mean that the word world is the existing order of things on our planet, that way of life that is more or less known and familiar to mankind. In saying “humanity”, I mean all nations and countries throughout the historical period known to us, also called “historical time”. In other words, the humanity of the last several thousand years.
The end of this world I will consider as such a change of the situation, when continuing the existence of humanity in a form that we know becomes impossible. I will not talk about the end of the universe, of the planet or the biosphere; I'll talk about humanity. Of course, throughout the history there have been more or less significant cataclysms, including even those that have substantially reduced the population of the planet, but in principle there were no revolutionary changes: in the usual sense, they are not called “the end of the world”. I will talk about a qualitative change, after which mankind, if it still exists, as well as the world and the environment in which it exists, will be completely unlike that we can imagine today.
Thus, the end of the world is the end, the cessation of the existence of the known humanity in forms that we know it.
Pay attention: I did not say “total destruction”. The term “end” does not necessarily mean the physical disappearance of an object or phenomenon. The transition to a new stage, when the end of one becomes the beginning of something new, is called similarly. So, for example, childbirth is the cessation of intrauterine existence of the fetus, its small “end of the world”, but at the same time it is the beginning of the life of a new human being. If you believe in the continuation of the existence of the soul after death (as I believe and as almost all religions say), then death, being the end for alive human being, is simultaneously the beginning of the existence of a different kind, even called “life after life” by some authors.
Of course, the end of the world as “total destruction” is also possible for mankind. For example, a large asteroid or a sufficiently large-scale nuclear war can physically destroy all of humanity, leaving no one alive, as well as not a single representative of many other, equally vulnerable species. After this there will be no continuation1. However, other scenarios are possible. That's why I am writing this note.
The matter is that I state the following:
The end of the world — the end of the human civilization that we know — is absolutely inescapable.
Moreover, it should come soon enough.
This is not a prophecy! This is not even a futuristic forecast. Really this is quite an obvious thing, and I'll try to show you this evidence.
The mankind that we know is not only two arms and two legs, it is not Coca-Cola and not even the ability to express themselves in verse. It is also a system of ethical rules, generally accepted norms of life that regulate the life of society. Of course, these norms changed and improved, beginning with the oldest civilizations, and reached a very high level in the sacred writings of various religions and in great literature. These are very important changes that made possible what we call civilization. Nevertheless, at some very basic, you can even say a primitive level, in the practical life of society, some things have almost not changed.
Yes, maybe now they kill each other less, but the murders still did not go away. The wars not only did not cease, but even took more frightening and cruel forms. Everyone knows that it's not good to steal, but they steal, maybe not less than thousands of years ago. Adultery is condemned in most countries and nations, but in many of the oldest cultures it was also condemned, and in practice there are lovers and mistresses in any country. The social care of the elderly and sick is, of course, a great achievement, but even today millions of old people and sick people are left to the mercy of fate, and it cannot be said that such care was never in ancient times. And the same things on a lot of points.
But what really was changed, and was changed radically and continues to change very quickly — these are the technical capabilities of mankind. And this is incompatible with the very existence of mankind at the current ethical level and with the current speed of ethical development.
I will give two examples, negative and positive..
The negative example is the most obvious and, alas, quite scary. Obviously, the cost of a unit of energy available to an individual or group of a given size (small group, large organization, state) is steadily reducing. With respect to weapons, this is expressed in the fact that the destructive power of weapons that can be bought or created for a given amount of money — ten dollars, thousand, million, billion dollars — is steadily increasing. This will be especially obvious if we take into account inflation and talk about the power of the weapons that an individual (or, correspondingly, a group of a given number of people) can buy by using a typical monthly income. In addition, there are qualitative changes: new types of weapons appear, which have tremendous lethal force even with relatively low energy, such as chemical or bacteriological.
In fact, we have already come close to the point when a sufficiently large group of people, for example, the state, can afford to create weapons sufficient for the total destruction of mankind — I'm talking about a nuclear war. Actually, several times the world was already on the verge of disaster, and only a chain of amazing accidents — in my understanding, the intervention of the Creator — prevented such an end of the world. But it is obvious that this is a temporary respite. Sooner or later there will come a time when the weapon of such power will become “affordable” for a large terrorist organization, then for an ordinary mafia group and, finally, for any teenager. Yes, of course, today's nuclear bombs ultimately depend on the extraction of uranium and other heavy elements, the reserves of which on the planet theoretically can be accounted and controlled, but like any “problem” of this kind, it can eventually be “solved”. In this case the situation will probably change as soon as thermonuclear power engineering, i.e. reactors based on the thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen and its isotopes, will come out of the “child age” and become a common practice. When people learn to heat compressed hydrogen and other light elements so that thermonuclear fusion starts, it will not only mean inexhaustible source of peaceful energy, but also will open the “Pandora's box”. Really, the same methods can be used to blast a thermonuclear bomb, potentially — of any power, say, a million times more powerful than the one that destroyed Hiroshima2. (For those who do not know: in today's hydrogen bombs, a “fuse” is an ordinary atomic explosion based on the reaction of fission of heavy elements. Today it is the only way to heat the isotopes of the hydrogen to temperatures necessary for nuclear synthesis.) Yes, an installation the size of a small city will be required for one such explosion at the beginning, but... only at the beginning. And the main element of such an “explosive”, heavy hydrogen, is contained in ordinary water.
In other words, from this point of view, the deadline that humanity can still exist is determined by the moment when the cost of a hydrogen bomb becomes available to a relatively small organization. The reason is obvious: for even in the most civilized society, civilized in accordance with current views, there are inevitably one or two groups of crazy, for example, zombie terrorists ready to destroy the whole world for the sake of an imaginary heavenly bliss. How much time does it take? Two hundred, five hundred years? Most likely, less, because it is possible to use explosions “in the old manner”, through the atomic fuse, if there will be enough heavy elements on the black market. It is obvious only that there can be no talk about millenia.
Now a positive example. Let's try to forget for a while about terrorists, crazy fanatics at the head of small states and various mafiosi (although they will hardly allow to forget about themselves). Let's suppose that everything develops quietly, the growing technical capabilities are used exclusively for peaceful purposes. And this means that people consistently overcome diseases, solve the problem of hunger, there is a compulsory social allowance, which allows you to remain unemployed if you wish (there are such experiments already in some countries). Let's even suppose that, under these excellent conditions, people will be able to come to terms with themselves and stop the global population growth of the planet, which, obviously, cannot be infinite. What's next?
A person needs to have some sense of life in order to live. In former times for the overwhelming majority of the population, survival itself was such a serious problem that it was able to take up all thoughts and time. However, what will people do — not individual geniuses or even gifted creative natures, but the most ordinary people, those whom today are scornfully called “the men in the street” — when food, a roof over the head, the danger of illness will cease to be a problem at all, due to the increased technical potential of mankind? When all the necessary things and products will be produced by robots without participation or almost without the participation of man? It is obvious that information technology will sooner or later do unnecessary not only the work of a asphalt spreader or peasants with a plow, but also representatives of relatively complex professions, like a hairdresser, cashier, driver, secretary and even a masseur. As in the case of weapons, it's just a matter of time! It requires short time, because we already observe such a replacement of people by machines in many areas today.
You do not need to be a professional psychologist to understand that this will be a very serious problem. Neither individuals, except units, nor society are simply not ready for this. And this again means the end of mankind as a phenomenon, more “quiet and peaceful”, but no less inevitable. People deprived of the meaning of existence, simply cannot live on.
However, the problem does not boil down to these two examples. There are a lot of other processes that just as inevitably should destroy humanity in the form in which it is familiar to us, because it will not cope with these situations. For example, the ice age, which will inevitably return to full force, if the cycles of glaciations, repeated for millions of years, suddenly do not stop. High-tech mankind could cope with glaciers by artificial heating of the planet, but... only on the condition that all nations and countries act reasonably and in concert. At the present level of ethics, obviously, everything will happen the other way around: people and nations will fight with each other for survival. The situation with the opposite possible problem, global warming, is quite analogous. The ecological crisis is also a solvable problem if humanity acted as a single reasonable collective, but today the behavior of people in such matters is regulated primarily by market relations. The market is a workable and important tool, but it is simply not designed to solve global environmental problems.
There is no point in increasing the list of “problem” processes, it would be quite enough to consider the only problem of reducing the cost of weapons. The presence of a number of problems, however, shows the systemic nature of the general crisis of the humanity in the beginning of the third millennium. Mankind is similar to the already mentioned child, or rather, to the fetus in the womb of a mother who has grown to be born and become a living person, but for some reason does not yet want to go outside. He has already rested against the walls of his stomach, he is physically cramped. This, of course, can continue for a while, but this must inevitably end — either by birth, or, sadly, by death.
What follows from this? It's time for humanity to think about the near future! To think seriously. We have very little time, really little. And there are only two options ahead.
The first option: humanity will change, and change quickly and radically, will change so much that the scenarios described above will become unthinkable and simply physically impossible. In particular, there will be no terrorists and insane rulers in principle, because they will disappear as a concept, like a man with a tail — a very rare amusing atavism, an occasion for surprise, but not for fear. There will be no question of what to do with the availability of free food, clothing, housing and all sorts of household services, because people will have completely new, relevant and important tasks, unimaginable at today's level of understanding — like the problem of optimizing the bus service is unimaginable for a monkey. There will be no threat of the ice age, asteroids, supervolcanoes or other natural troubles, because mankind will not only have the capabilities of the new order, but will be able to use them reasonably and consistently, no worse than a cohesive team of several IT developers can today planned their work — however, now the whole humanity will have such level of unity. And so it will be in all areas and aspects.
The second option is obvious: humanity will perish. The end will not be the beginning of a new stage, it will be the final destruction, closing the failed project called “humanity”.
If it seemed convincing and important to you, then perhaps you will understand why I and my friends decided to devote ourselves to a project called “The Eighth Day of Creation”. This is the answer to the question: how to choose the first option, not the second one.
Theoretically, here we can note that even after the total catastrophe, which will erase all our biological species from the face of the Earth, the immortal souls of people will still continue the posthumous existence. But, due to the absence of living people on the planet Earth, this situation is not called “humanity”.
Conventional atomic or fission bombs, based on the fission of uranium or plutonium, have an upper limit of power. But thermonuclear bombs, based on the fusion of hydrogen, have no such limit: the more hydrogen will blown up simultaneously, the more powerful the explosion will be.