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.