Dear Mudge, Shitty Odds

Dear Mudge,

I think we mortals spend far too much time contemplating The End.

It seems as soon as our consciousness settles in, at about thirteen or fourteen, we begin to visualize, explore and worry about our final moments and the fraction of a nano-second thereafter. Here we go again with having brains far-too-big-for-our-own-good.

Dogs don’t contemplate death. Parrots, pandas, and porcupines live for the moment and the moment only. Maybe elephants and dolphins consider their future expiration, but I doubt it.

Why us? Why are we morbidly enthralled with The End?

I don’t know. But since we’re here, talking about our collective demise, I’m gonna bore you again with more big-picture pontificating… Namely: Fermi’s Paradox and how humanity’s end, or at least its technological collapse, is preordained.

The Holocene is ending. The window for humanity’s bloom was brief and frankly anomalous in the epoch-spanning scheme of things: CO2vsTemp_Holocene

That blue squiggle up there at the right, hovering around 0C, is the Holocene—an unusually long (for us), warm period in Earth’s history. During that tiny window of geological time civilization came to be.

Whether the Holocene ends and temperatures begin to drop, or the anthropogenic CO2 humanity continues to pump into the atmosphere overrides it and we head into a new PETM (Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maxima) the Holocene is toast, in a manner of speaking. But while it lasted, the Holocene was one of a long line of fortuitous accidents benefiting—us.

There are so many serendipitous events that undergird the existence of life, first of all, and secondly, humanity and humanity’s technological position in the Universe, that, just being here is a fucking miracle. The factors that make up our “luck” are mind-blowingly extensive. Here’s my go-to mind-trick for explaining this miraculous streak of good fortune: Imagine flipping a coin 70 times and every flip lands up heads.

That’s 1 / 2^70 = 2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·
2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2 =
1,180,591,620,717,411,303,424 = 1 SEXTILLION

The odds of us (technologically existing) are 1 out of 1 sextillion.

I’ll not bore you further with the source of all these coin flips, but things like: Goldilocks zone, distance from galactic center, our G2V sun, Theia/Moon, rocky planet, ice comet bombardment, 3 billion years of biological life cleansing the seas and depositing vast stores of carbon (oil/coal/nat.gas), trees, grass, livestock—are all factors from which these flips are derived.

Now that I’ve got you crying for The End…

Given all the “luck” we’ve had getting here, and it’s been a stunning chain of events, that luck can’t possibly hold. The party is most definitely coming to an end.

As we know, there are a couple of dozen excellent ways for that to happen. Will it end in an instant or a tortuous dwindling of resources; a massive calamitous extinguishing BANG! Or a crippling thwack against our infrastructure leaving ragged remnants to piddle along for millennia? Who’s to know?

But, the odds are against us. So, toot your horn, raise a glass, sing a song, love the one you’re with…

Then again, who fuckin’ cares how it all ends? None of us make it out of here alive.

Stewie the Stoic would remind us however, that…

[Addendum: The Fermi Paradox tie-in? Humanity enjoyed a string of incredible luck. Any other intelligent life, arising in the Universe, would require an equally improbable run of happy coincidences. Therefore, the question regarding the absence of life we see in the Universe (Fermi’s Paradox) can be answered by our own improbable existence. We are a most outrageous cosmic accident.]