The End of the World

© G. P. Jelliss 2004

This was the title of the Outlanders meeting on 5th November 2004, at which I gave a presentation on the current or recent scientific theories about the end of the world, or of the universe, or of life, or of human kind, and at a break in the middle the other members recalled their favourite examples from science fiction sources.

At the Villa Diodati. As a prelude to the talk, after giving the biblical Book of Revelation a mention, I circulated a copy of the poem Darkness by Byron, which was written at the time of the famous meeting where Mary Shelley first told the story of Frankenstein, and Polidori presented a Vampyre story. Stephen Baxter made use of Byron's poem in a short story (in his collection with the title Traces) in which people at the end of the world summon up a simulacrum of Byron to ask if there was anything else he saw in his vision that could help them in their plight.

Eschatology. Eschatology is the study of the end-times, a new science that was formerly a branch of theology but now belongs to cosmology. The talk dealt with the ideas of Frank J. Tipler and Freeman J. Dyson who indicate how they think it may be possible for life to expand to fill the whole universe and to survive and maintain communication to the end almost indefinitely. Tipler's theory applies to the Big Crunch scenario, which now seems to be ruled out by the WMAP results (May 2004), which show the geometry of the universe to be 'flat' (i.e. Euclidean), while Dyson's theory applies to the Big Freeze scenario. A third scenario, in which the expansion of the universe accelerates out of control is known as the Big Rip.

Tipler identifies the state at the end of the Universe with the Christian idea of God and even introduces resurrection, but scientific commentators think he goes into pseudoscience here, if not before. Dyson maintains thinking life could exist indefinitely by making use of a hybernation strategy.

The End of the World in Fiction. Some of the titles mentioned by the members were, in alphabetical order of authors: Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Poul Anderson, Guardians of Time (?). Isaac Asimov, Nightfall (short story). Stephen Baxter, The Time Ships (and numerous others - in fact most of his books!). Greg Bear, The Forge of God, Anvil of Stars. Gregory Benford, Timescape. Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood's End, The Nine Billion Names of God (short story). Frederick Pohl, The World at the End of Time. Olaf Stapledon, Last and First men. H. G. Wells, The Time Machine. Also Babylon V (TV series). Apologies if I've missed out anyone's favourite.

Links on Villa Diodati

Byron, Darkness
Mary Shelley and friends at Villa Diodati
John Polidori, The Vampyre
Mary Shelley and origin of Frankenstein
Giovanni Aldini's experiment
The Reanimators

Links on Eschatology

Frank J. Tipler, The Omega Point Theory
Anders Sandberg on The Omega Point Theory
John Walker on Tipler's Physics of Immortality
WMAP Mission Results
WMAP Geometry and Content of the Universe
Freeman Dyson Biography and Photo
Freeman Dyson page with links
Freeman Dyson, Time without End (text file)
Lynette Cook, The Big Rip
R. R. Britt, The Big Rip
M. D. Lemonick, How the Universe will End

More Links on the End of the World

Stephen Hawking, The Beginning of Time
Gene Smith, The Big Bang
Exit Mundi - A collection of end-of-world scenarios
The End of the World as we know it ... Again
The Millennium and End of World Prophecies
Deep Space Time Line