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Last time, on What is Universe,
we gave you the Apocalypse.
We established that the Earth
COULD be ‘wiped out’ in a
number of ways. In each case,
there was a body of scientific
fact, coupled with visual
and other representations in
science fiction.
Apocalypse
in 20 ways
In today’s second part, we take
much the same approach:
science fact + science
fiction; ‘edu-tainment’. The
difference is that where part
one focused more on single
events, we now select options
in which the event is arguably
less dangerous than its
consequences and ‘fall-out’.
IE Man’s apocalypse could
be an ongoing state. In fact,
it might even have started
already, as you read this piece.
Enjoy it while you can.
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You can deny this, of course.
We at ‘What is Universe’ remain
sceptical about whether
Global Climate Change is an
actual ongoing movement or
simply a cyclical expression
of an innate feature in our
geography. Climate changes
happen: with extreme drops or
accelerations in temperature a
product of that.
Go back as far as Roman
civilisation and you might find
traces of what are undeniably
Global climate change
extreme climate changes.
Yet the world survived and
there were no fossil fuels
being burned and blamed!
Indeed, it is an entire article in
itself. Scepticism is important
as being scientists; though
we stop short of cynicism or
politicising the issue. In any
event, we MUST be prepared
for the symptoms: polar
ice caps melting; Thames
barriers raising; the Sun’s rays
penetrating our daily lives: not
an apocalypse in themselves
but the beginning of a chain
reaction in global events that
could wipe us out.
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Earthquakes are a natural
successor to the volcano
problem. They both have their
roots in the ground beneath
us: those raw materials that
constantly move and change
and sometimes, explosively
so. Earthquakes have defined
our geography to some extent;
arguably a physical expression
of the plate tectonics that quite
literally shaped our geography.
The Earth’s crust is a ticking
time bomb of energy. And
(once again, much like
volcanoes), sometimes that
energy must release and burst.
In the case of an earthquake,
we get a sequence of ‘tremors’,
the size of which defines the
resulting impact of the quake
or the ‘seismic waves’.
There is a scale or ‘magnitude’
for earthquakes. Magnitude 3
Earthquake to end
all earthquakes
is barely registered. But go to
Magnitude 7 –9 and you WILL
notice. The tragic earthquake
in Japan of 2011 was a
magnitude of 9+. The impact
of that is still felt today.
So, it is the scale of the
earthquake that dictates the
impact. Believe it or not, one
of the ‘What is Universe’ team
is based in Birmingham, UK.
One night, his burglar alarm
went off. It was an earthquake.
In Birmingham! But it was
just a brief shake, a minor
momentary tremor.
Multiply that infinitely and
place the epicentre far
enough offshore and you
can get a tsunami, triggered
by the quake. Once again, a
painful reminder of that can
be found in 2005’s events.
So, IF an earthquake were to
cause multiple tsunamis and
potentially, volcanic eruptions,
in concert with the main
impact of the quake itself on
land, then you could be facing
a doomsday scenario with the
quake as catalyst and central
cause.
Our Geological sciences ARE
improving, both in prediction
of patterns and resulting
forecasts of impending events.
But it’s not a magic wand,
either. Earthquakes are PART
of our innate geography. So
our best defence is to keep
researching the routes to
survival, protection and rapid
socio-economic rebuilding
programmes in the fall-out.
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At their most powerful and
dramatic, the commonly
known ‘volcanic eruption’
is simply a product of
decompressions of gasses
within magma. The magma
reaches a certain point and
just can’t take it anymore: it
explodes! The magma has
been propelled forwards
and it is that which we most
commonly refer to when we
talk of ‘volcanic eruption’.
But what if there were a
‘supervolcano’ eruption? It can
happen. When magma rises
up as far as the crust yet cannot
quite break free, you can
imagine how much greater the
Supervolcano eruption
pressure, heat and resulting
explosive force would be.
Once erupted, there
could be world-devouring
consequences. A sea of
lava and an air of ash could
envelop the planet. A new ice
age might follow and mankind
as we know it could be wiped
out.
Is this the stuff of science
fiction? Certainly, movies LOVE
a good volcano eruption.
Volcano and Dante’s Peak
(both 1997) are worth a watch
if you fancy a safe simulation
via popcorn fun and crash
course in the volcanologist’s
arts. But the threat IS real
and Yellowstone has a
supervolcano ready to erupt.
It’s just a question of WHEN.
Can we survive it? Well, that
depends on how well we
learn from the individual dress
rehearsals we sometimes
have with ongoing volcanic
incidents. Anyone remember
that ash cloud incident of
2010? Exactly. We had to
remind you. Panic is not a good
thing; but vigilance, awareness
and research in learning from
mistakes VITAL. One ash
cloud PARALYSED worldwide
travel. Just IMAGINE what a
SUPERVOLCANO could do?
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A Dark Nebula is a type of
interstellar cloud that is so
dense it obscures the light
from objects behind it. The
Earth traversed through it
would have catastrophic
impact on our climate. This is
Traversing through
a Dark Nebula
not something that science
can prevent, directly. Our
best option is to study the
phenomena, with a hub
at NASA. Once again, the
recurring theme: the event
itself is not the apocalypse
so much as its impact on our
lives and inability to respond
effectively.
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Genomic design and repair
could cause unforeseen side
effects that finish our civilisation
in a few generations.
We know and accept in
common parlance that
evolution is a part of our
existence. It is what brought us,
over millions of years, from the
primordial slime at the dawn
of time, to the advanced state
of intelligence we currently
enjoy.
But if that power goes
unchecked, we might just
find it was something best left
untouched.
Genetic enhancements
already enable us to
understand and plan a
curtailing of the otherwise
natural aging processes. MGF
(Machano-Growth – Factor)
Misdirected evolution
is already a tool wielded in
advanced science.
IGF-1 (a muscle building
hormone) has achieved
incredible results in tissue
regeneration in subjects such
as the ever-reliable laboratory
mice. And genetically modified
(GM) crops and associated
foodstuffs could help us
address problems including
famine and economic
inequality.
The problem is not the starting
point. We should be proud of
our advances and potential.
No, the nightmares come in
the end point, if there is one.
At what point do we stop? Can
we put a limit on the march of
advanced science’s impact on
our own social, economic and
ultimately physical evolution?
We cannot undo discovery
and cannot realistically define
the ‘acceptable’ limits of
scientific endeavour, without
admitting defeat to those
forces determined to limit our
scientific power altogether
(hello, creationists!). But
neither can we ignore the
logical fact that all progress
comes at a price and the
possibility that today’s tool of
creation is tomorrow’s agent of
destruction.
Meanwhile, why not to think
about evolution and science
as the platform to adventure
and danger, via pulp plots,
brief forays into ethical debate,
great special effects and the
lovely Jennifer Lawrence.
X Men Days of Future Past:
available for download, now.
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It could happen. One could
argue it’s happening now.
That’s right: an outbreak
of a virus or other disease
that impacts a sequence of
territories, worldwide (hence
pan..it pans across frontiers).
Is Ebola a pandemic? It could
be. It’s certainly touching down
in a number of worldwide
territories. Granted, the virus
begins in Africa and could
have been contained in that
territory, but for the good will
of aid workers and medics that
chose to export their services,
before returning home.
It’s NOT quite the nightmare
scenario that it could have
Panademic
been. Containment strategies
have been swift and decisive,
even brutal (note the
quarantine of the Nurse in
New York). But it is a problem,
nonetheless. One cannot be
flippant about a killer virus
(take note all those who think
it’s funny to say ‘more people
have married Kim Kardashian
than have contracted Ebola’).
The test is not so much the
virus or indeed ANY virus /
disease as our responses. If
we don’t respond adequately
and are complacent, then the
spread WILL continue and
COULD have untold impact
on population and our general
quality of life even if we do
NOT contract it! But act in
TOO draconian a fashion and
we breed that other virus of
human hysteria, itself just as
deadly as a biological enemy.
Once again, we see that the
apocalypse is simply catalysed
by the outside scientific
force. The problem is either
contained or worsened by
our human, social, political
and economic reactions. That
said, a virus is a life form too.
Yes, it is clever and mutates
ad infinitum. But then, so do
we. Where there’s life, there IS
hope.
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We have hinted, throughout,
that an apocalyptic event is
simply the beginning. The real
test is in how we cope with the
fallout. A collapse in society
itself, either before or after
said event, would make the
physical shock and scientific
implications a mere blip next to
the human cost of mass panic
and division. We see glimpses
and hints of that behaviour
every now and again: a ripple
in the structures.
The UK riots of 2011; the on /
off ‘Occupy’ movements and
so on: there is a very thin line
between a legitimate, peaceful
Societal collapse
protest movement that grows
and all out anarchy. The Arab
Spring can rapidly devolve to
an ISIS and so on. We fear it
but we somehow cannot avoid
it, either. And Social media
LOVES a good crisis!
Science is about avoiding the
value judgement and enabling
a kind of moral neutrality.
True, we must address moral
implications of scientific
endeavours but science in
itself is about breaking down
the kind of value judgement
social politic that often excuses
the destruction of social fabric.
It is also the tools of science
and from science through
which the impact of a social
breakdown is contained:
architecture; transportation;
medicine. Educate more
people on those crafts and
associated merits and perhaps
this is one apocalypse that
science might just avoid rather
than simply define or predict.
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9
Stephen Hawking is worried;
Elon Musk is worried. You
should be, too. AI means
‘artificial intelligence’. The
‘artificial’ bit is fine; we have that
one checked. Artificial simply
means that WE created it. This
could be a robotics system,
a computer programme..you
Superintelligent AI -
Technological Singularity
name it, we can and indeed
have invented it.
But, as with evolution in
humans, so there is an
evolution in technology. If you
begin to allow a computer
the ability to ‘think’, then
you are beginning to give
it that ‘intelligence’. It is that
‘intelligence’ that COULD,
theoretically, become the
agent of the apocalypse.
Learning computers
that rapidly become
superintelligent may take
unforeseen actions or simply
out-compete humanity.
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One day, the world itself could
just END. Yep, it’s not terribly
scientific. Indeed, the only
ways that could happen would
entail:
i.) Our true existence
being that of a computer
simulation; consciousness and
sensation are illusions.
ii.) There IS a God; some
higher, divine power. And one
day the power just gets bored
with our existence and ends it.
It just ends - The End
Bathetic. Pathetic. Destructive.
Dramatic. Impossible.
Probable. Imminent. Current.
We have considered all
manner of ends that face us.
The constant fact: we WILL
face an end at SOME point
and in SOME form. It’s better to
embrace and accept that rather
than deny it, whilst using it as a
rallying call to experience and
advance scientific education
in all its marvellous forms.
And if the world DOES end:
you read about it here first!
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Your turn!
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We welcome YOUR comments and discussion threads.
Which Apocalypse is YOUR favourite?
Did we leave anything out?
Do YOU have inside knowledge on the end of the world?
Start that feedback
@whatisuniverse.com!

Info

25.11.2014by James Muprhy, Robert Sugar, Velitchko Filipov

Published in

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