29 June 2010


Chris Impey. How it Ends: From You to the Universe. W. W. Norton, 2010

Just to cheer you up in this time of recession, here is a book on life and death, mainly the latter, from our own death, (which if we suffer from cardiac arrest, will be hastened by an over liberal application of neurone-frazzling oxygen, ice packs are better), through the extinction of species including our own, through the extinction of life on earth, the death of the earth, the sun, the galaxy and the cold, cold decay of the universe.
Astronomer Chris Impey takes you through all these happy prospects in turn. You might like to know, or not probably, that Gaia enthusiast James Lovelock thinks that it is already too late to prevent global warming, that within 20 years we will all be doomed, DOOMED (in the melifluous voice of John Laurie). Optimists may note that exactly the same thing was said in the 1970s and we are still here.

Not to worry though, there are still the doomsday viruses and the rogue nuclear weapons, and those nasty old asteroids and even nastier comets, the sort of thing that if it hit Neasden it would wipe out Inverness (and if you are in Moscow make sure you are in that nice artistic metro).

The odds against some of these disasters happening now are pretty large, probably a good deal less than being done in by a pot of paint falling from the top shelf, but sooner or later, however much we transhumanise ourselves into Star Trek's 'Seven of Nine', something will get us. If all else fails the sun's expansion will do old earth in, in a couple of billion years time, and if we escape that in some super spaceship, there is the universal death of the stars, the decay of matter and the evaporation of the black holes, which will make everything pretty bleak in about a googleplex years time, though by that time the dark energy may have ripped everything including your transhumanised plastic gut apart.

But not to worry, because there is the suggestion that we are all simulations in a giant computer (presumably one of those entombed in a glacier of solid hydrogen), in which case the operator could get bored and just press the 'delete' key.

This is one of a number of books cataloguing the various potential ends of all things produced in the last few years, which suggests that they appeal to a general sense of unease and cosmic angst. Memento mori for our time perhaps, hinting at the transience of the consumer capitalist culture now approach the end of its sell by date.  
  • Peter Rogerson.

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