The End of the World

A few days ago I went to a talk on the end of the world.

It sounds like a morbid choice of Wednesday night entertainment but I thought it might help me to shift some of the panic that thinking about our mortality often provokes in me. Plus, the line up included A.S. Byatt and I have always had a bit of hero worship for people that featured on my university reading list.

Even those I didn’t quite get round to reading.

Anyway, with A.S. Byatt as the voice of fiction, and scientist, Steve Jones, as the voice of fact, the evening explored the end of the world from two different perspectives….both of which seemed to reach the conclusion that we will go with a bang rather than a flicker. Oh yes, and that we will be partly responsible for the explosion.


Not really – and yet the evening seems to have shaken my thinking in ways that do feel a little more positive. I have been trying to work out why.

The meaning of life thing

During the interval, I was talking to my friend about regret. I can’t quite remember how we moved onto the subject, but the moment you realise the limitations of a lifetime, it seems inevitable to reflect on how it is spent…

Anyway, the move from regret to existentialism was only a few inches, and it clarified some of what I was trying to write in my last post. Apparently, one aspect of existential angst is when we wake up and say “what the fuck am I doing with my life?” There are a few reasons that we wake up and say this, common ones being that we are not doing what we want to do with our lives, or that we’re doing it but we’re carrying a load of baggage with us that is preventing us from moving forwards.

For me, the thing that I was referring to as an “inner compass” is finely tuned to both these factors, and seems to flash noisily when I am stepping away from things that I want to achieve with my life or towards patterns that will keep me stuck.

At this point, the regret – and the potential for further regret – is high…but whilst we’re still alive and kicking, there is always the possibility for change. And, when you take that option….


That’s some learning.

You’d have thought that it was enough for one evening – but the second half moved onto a debate about how imminent the end of the world was, and whether fact – or fiction – could accurately predict when the apocalypse would come.

They are, it seems, scarily in agreement.

The end of the world

Science predicts that the sun will continue growing and the population reach a critical mass. Myth foretells that we will destroy ourselves. A few of these soften the blow by saying that we will then start over again. In both science and fiction, the end is a bang rather than a flicker. On a personal note, Steve Jones was unable to budge on the scientific evidence behind the end of the world thing. A.S.Byatt was even more adamant that the changing natural habitat was proof that we are doomed – and contributing to the inevitable outcome.

It was strange to hear the end of the world described in such final and confident terms. I am not a scientist, nor particularly up on myth or theology. I am terrified by inevitability and surprise of death – and yet, the discussion shifted, rather than terrified, me.

I have been trying to work out how.

Maybe it was the scientific angle, which I don’t often explore. Maybe it was something about the fact that we have, as the myths demonstrate, been thinking about this scenario for generations. Maybe there is a leveling and a strange kind of re-connection when you zoom out.

One of the questions that provoked their discussion was from a member of the audience who pointed out that the very conditions that made it possible for man to inhabit the world were so rare that this window was a gift that should be treasured, even if it was inevitable that it would end.

He was looking at humanity, which did some of the zooming thing for me –

But the same then applies to one life.


6 responses to “The End of the World

  1. Yes, and yes. Endings are inevitable when viewed over a long enough time line. Nobody gets out of this alive. It’s amazing how afraid we are of that sometimes.

    As for regret, I believe that we have the opportunity to define the meaning of everything that happens to us, whether the result of choices we make or not. So why regret? Things that work are easy, and the things that don’t are just a chance to learn something new. Who has time for regret in that equation? And why bother even when we’re tempted? Can we change the past? Better to make the best choices we can, learn as we go, and refuse to ever stop learning.

    I love how you processed this, by the way.

    • I like the “who has time for regret” question. It makes a lot of sense. Regret is something I find so hard, especially because of the fact that there is a stop date. I am noticing though, that when I do the last sentence (..make the best choices…) then I experience regret a lot less. I’m hoping that recognising that fact will make a difference. The other thing this has made me question though, is where regret is determined by not matching up to other people’s standards – and how we manage that. Maybe it’s a different emotion? Or a different form? Anyway… 😉 Love your opinion, as always. xx

  2. Maybe the switch was to do with the ‘not pretending’.

  3. Maybe. There is certainly something in talking about things that makes it hard to skirt around the edges so much. And, as well, something about not pretending to yourself…I’m not sure which one you meant? Both are true for me in some respects.

  4. I have found a refined and active appreciation of the nonsense of life blunts the feeling of regret that are inevitable in all our lives.

    Fascinating insights – thanks!

  5. The Mayans believed that the world would end in fire, flood, earthquake or…jaguars falling from the skies. There is also a not terribly well thought out theory that the Mayan calendar foretells the end of the world next year, but it kind of relies on a misunderstanding of how their Long Count worked. Still, if jaguars start falling from the skies on Dec 21st next year – which you never know, they might – that has to be a more interesting way to go than pretty much anything short of a proper zombie apocalypse.

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