Friday, June 17, 2016

end of the world, as we know it

Impermanence has been one of the most difficult things to come to terms with, in my life.  Everything we do, everything we know, everything we are, a moment all too soon to be gone forever.  Entire civilizations rise and fall, cultures come and go, the very earth we walk on will be unrecognizable one day, and gone the day after that.

In Buddhism, this is considered a fundamental mark of existence.  The idea though, is that in truth, we never lose anything, because we never have anything to begin with.  The pain that comes with impermanence is really the pain of desperately clinging to that which doesn't actually exist.  It's something to be meditated on at great length, until the illusion of ego falls away, and we realize that nothing is lost, because nothing is as we thought it was to begin with.

In physics, there is the idea that time is really just another dimension of space.  Length, width, depth, time.  In order to understand this, again, ego needs to be removed from the equation.  If we were to go back in time, there is no self to step outside and back in.  Rather, it would be like rewinding a video.  All the same things would happen again.  We only experience time as we do, as that's how the brain is wired.  We are on a ride that only moves forward, thinking that everything behind us is gone forever.  In physics, impermanence takes on a very different meaning.

Still, it is so hard not to feel an overwhelming sense of loss, at all that goes wrong in the world.  At all that will go wrong.  How much has been lost behind us, already?  How much more will we lose?  How can we not get emotional about history as it unfolds before us, one horrifying event after another.  All the senseless political maneuvering and strife, the constant churning of avarice, and altruism, the desperation of rationality, and the completely fucking nuts.

As we turn from day to day, amidst the cacophony of this vast human endeavor to stop each other from destroying each other, how can we not be moved by it?  How can we be aware of it all, and not be overwhelmed by it?  How is it that every terrible thing we do seems to be overshadowed by something even worse?  Threatening to trounce all of it, what this plague of humanity is now doing to the entire planet itself.

Climate change is more terrifying than most people realize.  The rate at which we've poured carbon into the atmosphere over the past century far exceeds anything that's ever happened on this planet before.  This is likely to mean a climate shift more severe than ever before, while most people don't even seem to grasp how serious past climate shifts were.  Those that happened before humanity even existed.  Those which wiped most species off the face of the Earth, forever.

These things are geologically gradual, though.  It's not something that occurs over the course of a few years.  It's impossible to predict how severe it will be, how quickly.  It could cascade into a series of reactions that could be very serious, very fast.. or could drag out over decades.  Over centuries, we're talking about a very different planet.. but on the other hand, it's impossible to predict what technology will be able to do, to mitigate the impact, reverse it, or even recover from it.

Much that has gone extinct in the past is irrecoverable, as DNA decays beyond recognition within a few thousand years.. but we likely will have the means to resurrect much that goes extinct in the modern era - if we get through the worst of it, without civilization collapsing entirely.. and assuming it doesn't spiral out of control so severely as to make Earth as uninhabitable as Venus.

There are too many variables to really know how this will all play out, but if we're lucky, it will all make for quite a story, someday.

No comments: