“The universe is not a safe space”

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“The universe is not a safe space”

End Times: A Brief Guide… by Bryan Walsh, Hachette Books, US $29.00, Pp 402, August 2019, ISBN 978-0316449618

Most of us believe the world will come to an end one day — even if not in our lifetimes. This belief is primarily based on our religious beliefs. Most world religions teach that there is a life after death. But religious beliefs are not the only reason why people believe that the world will come to an end. There are several other reasons why people believe this. A Reuters poll in 2012 revealed that 15 percent of respondents believed that the world would end in their lifetimes. The poll was conducted in more than 20 countries. Hence it was quite representative of the world public opinion. A 2015 survey of American, Canadian, British and Australians showed that a majority of people polled thought that our way of life will end within next century. A quarter of them believed life is likely to end over that time frame. Interestingly, more Americans believed that life was better fifty years ago when a nuclear holocaust was a possibility.

In End Times, Bryan Walsh says that it is ironic that this existential panic unfolds against the backdrop of a world that is better than it has ever been. He argues that, as in the stock market, past performance is no guarantee of future results. It is not just the rising tide of climate change, or the creeping instability at home and abroad, or the deadly natural disasters that seem to be piling up with each passing year. It’s not just the nauseating sensation that our world is spinning out of control, one presidential tweet at a time. Our very future is in danger, as it has never been before, both from an array of cosmic and earthbound threats and from the very technologies that have helped make us so prosperous.

We may think that we know how bad it can get, but what Walsh discusses in this book is nothing as compared to what we know such as the two world wars or Black Death, which killed as many as 200 million people in the fourteenth century. Bryan Walsh argues that the risks are darker than the darkest days humanity has ever known. They are called existential risks, risks capable of putting an end to the existence of humankind, for all time. They are the mistakes we cannot recover from, the disasters that could end the human story in midsentence. Bryan Walsh says that our species has always lived under the shadow of existential risk. At least five times over the course of our planet’s 4.5-billion-year history, life has been virtually wiped out in great extinction waves, often punctuated by a natural catastrophe that struck on a planetary scale. Asteroid impacts, super volcanic eruptions, even gamma rays from space — the universe is not a safe space. Going back in distant history, Walsh says that the death of the dinosaurs some 66 million years ago, thanks largely to the impact of a six-mile-wide asteroid, was a mass extension event. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the species that have ever lived on Earth have gone extinct. Some evolved into new species, but most, including every other Homo species we’ve ever shared the planet with, simply died out. And the same fate could befall us.

End Times is a much needed and very revealing book everybody interested in the universe will enjoy. It may be a little scary, but it confirms and articulate some of our beliefs with the help of science. Bryan Walsh powerfully argues that our world may not stay here forever. His arguments are not based on religious faith but on known history and science. It is a very convincing and meticulously researched book everyone must read. The best thing about this book is that Walsh does not let you lose hope and helps you face your darkest nightmare. If you have time to read one book this week or next month, you should read End Times. If you have time to read one book to read in the next year, this is the book you should read.

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