End of the world: myth, meme, inevitable reality or way of thinking of modern man?

End of the world

Recently I watched a series of wonderful films on TV about the origin of planets, galaxies, the evolution of the universe. The programs were mesmerizing, it seemed that you were at the construction site and in the theater of the "creation of the universe" and experienced the conception, formation and death of cosmic worlds. But at the same time, something disturbed, what exactly, I could not immediately understand. Then I realized: the filmmakers, relying on modern astronomical research, painted a future where either there was no place for a person at all, or a sad fate awaited him.

Humanity can die at any moment for a variety of reasons: either the earth will collide with another celestial body (a comet, a giant asteroid), or it will lose its magnetic field due to the internal movement of magma, or this field will be destroyed by a supernova explosion (moreover, the authors of the program say, one of the stars closest to us is about to explode, become a supernova, and the giant streams of its radiation, according to astronomers, will rush straight to our earth).

There are other scenarios for the death of the Earth and humanity as a result of the natural evolution of the universe, for example, metamorphosis during the retreat of galaxies or, conversely, their collapse into a superdense fantastically small core. Moreover, all this is not fantasy, but rigorous calculations based on astronomical observations and the laws of nature. It seems to be impossible not to believe them, you begin to believe them, and as a result, anxiety and so-called eschatological experiences.

Of course, this is not the first time that humanity has experienced the expectation of the end of the world. For example, at the end of the 14th - beginning of the 15th centuries, Rus' was preparing for the end of the world, and everything confirmed the approach of this terrible event: the calculations of the church, signs of nature (a comet flew by, an earthquake happened, a drought swept the country), terrible events indicated in the apocalypse (wars, civil strife , running wild people). And the end of the world is not coming! But this does not make eschatological experiences less acute and more habitual each time.

So it is at the present time. Modern man, trusting scientists of the natural sciences, foretells the near end of the world, sees no way out. And what can be done if, for example, the earth's magnetic field disappears or a giant asteroid crashes into us? True, eschatological experiences are intensified and even provoked by the fantasies of the person himself: films and books about aliens from outer space, giant man-made disasters, world wars, and so on and so forth have become popular. It feels like people are intimidating themselves. But is it because scientists have unwittingly deprived them of a future?

But why do we trust scientists so much? And why shouldn't a modern person believe astronomers who study planets, galaxies and the universe using the most modern technology (telescopes, satellites, various instruments)? And they reveal the characteristics of the cosmos, relying on the laws of nature, using mathematics, computers, natural sciences. At the same time, scientists (astronomers) assure us of a future where humanity can expect catastrophe and the end of the world every hour. It seems that there is no alternative to such a future. However, let's not rush and consider a number of arguments in favor of such an alternative.
The first argument can be called cultural-historical.

It is known that for many millennia, man believed that the Universe is not a physical world, but either gods (the Sun, Moon, stars - they were all gods) or, as in the Middle Ages, the world created for man by God. The universe, so to speak, was turned towards man. For example, the sun, understood as a god, for the Sumerians warmed the earth, illuminated, gave life.

From the point of view of an ancient or medieval person, the universe, life on earth and the mind were conceived at the same time, since they had to serve each other. In Plato, the Demiurge, out of all-goodness, almost love for man, conceives and creates the Cosmos and at the same time man himself. According to Aristotle, the Mind, a living thinking and reflecting deity, coinciding with the sky and the cosmos, moves the planets with its thought. A person thinks correctly, says Aristotle, if he imitates Reason. The God of the Middle Ages created man in his own image and likeness; and, having created the world, he intended it specifically for man. “Fire by its nature,” writes John Chrysostom, “strives upwards, breaks and flies to a height ... But with the sun, God did the opposite: he turned his rays to the earth and made the light strive down, as if telling him with this position, look down and shine on people: for them you were created.
The problem arose only in the New Age, when faith and reason were divorced in different instances, and the Universe was interpreted in the spirit of the natural sciences, that is, as a physical reality. Here it turned out, as Pascal wrote, that man is a pitiful reed, his place in the Universe is incomprehensible and insignificant. From the point of view of such a Universe, there is no meaning for human existence. At the suggestion of F. Bacon and Galileo, nature began to be understood as "constrained by art" (in experiment and technology). Everything in nature, to which a person could reach, he turned into technology. Today, in the same spirit, he wants to master the solar system.

But he can't reach the universe. It seems that we will build spaceships, fly, explore all corners of the universe. But these are only our intentions – pure speculation. Today, and in the long term, a person will not fly anywhere, he does not even know if this is possible in principle.

In addition, there is another important difficulty that constitutes the second argument: our knowledge of the universe is constantly changing. In the ancient world, the universe was understood as the world of the gods, in the Middle Ages this pagan understanding was rejected, in modern times, people criticized the Christian understanding of the world, and starting from the second half of the 19th century, our ideas about the universe change almost every 50 years. With the development of science and technology that we are witnessing today, as well as the knowledge of the world (it is also developing), our ideas about the universe in the next few centuries are likely to change dramatically more than once.

My friend Vadim Kazyutinsky, who studied cosmology (the doctrine of galaxies and the universe) for many years, said that there is a certain contradiction between the grandeur of the universe, the processes that take place in it - their scale and nature boggle the imagination - and the role of man in the universe. Take, for example, he said, the recession of galaxies or the giant ejections, outflows, absorptions of matter and energy observed in supernovae, black holes or quasars. Against this background, the short duration and insignificance of human existence. How to combine all this? Will we disappear forever if some asteroid hits us, or will we gradually die out during the next collapse of galaxies?

True, Isaac Newton answered such doubts. When his theory did not quite agree with the observed reality, he said: “What is God doing, so he puts everything in order.” Vadim Kazyutinsky, who for many years dealt with the “problem of contact”, in fact, also took the point of view of faith, but not religious, but “stoic faith” in the chosenness and uniqueness of mankind. All observations, he told me privately, show that we are alone in the universe. And, it must be admitted, this is a more adequate, more courageous position.

Yes, life and mind are unique, yes, we are alone in the universe. Of course, science fiction writers write about other planets and life forms all the time. But they simply do not understand what life is, and they do not know the research of astrophysicists. It's amazing how the earth turned out to be adapted for the emergence of life. It is located and not too close to the Sun and not too far. In the first case, it would be very hot for us, like on Venus, and life, therefore, would be impossible, in the second - like on Pluto, eternal cold and ice. It turns out something like a pre-established harmony, more precisely, an a priori attitude to life.

Our sun is neither too young nor too old; in both opposite cases, life would be impossible. Our planet is surrounded by an atmosphere and a magnetic field, which reliably protect life from ultraviolet radiation and destructive cosmic rays. We are located in an ideal peaceful place in the galaxy. The more, Kazyutinsky said, I think about this, the more I am convinced that the Earth is a unique place for the origin of life. It feels like the universe was created just for us, as if it were a specially designed test tube and laboratory for life. If I were a believer, Vadim said, then it would be on the basis of the data of modern astronomy that I would come to the conclusion about the creation of life on earth, and the universe was conceived by God as a mother's womb.

I didn't want to accept such a religious version. But why should we consider, I said in reply, that the solar system is only a physical object? Maybe it is at the same time some other organism, well, there, cosmic, vital, sacred. I don't know. The physical plane does not negate the others. For example, it would be strange, on the basis that the brain is the substratum of thinking, to deny the existence of the psyche and reduce it to the brain. By the way, the brain is only one of the substrata of the psyche, and others are no less significant - signs, activity, communication. So it is in the universe: there is both a physical plane and non-physical ones.

The question is different: what should we consider the main thing when solving certain problems? Let's say I want to understand the place of man in the universe, and in such a way as to inspire him. What, then, should I put at the basis of thought - a physical reality or a non-physical one?

Kazyutinsky thought about it and after a while came up with a new scenario. Once upon a time, Vadim said, man came out of nature. Now he is redoing it. True, while clumsily, often to their own detriment. But I'm sure he will learn and change nature, considering that man is an organic element of it. Sooner or later, even in a thousand years, although it seems much sooner, a person will completely change the appearance and structure of the Earth.

Arguing in the same vein, we can assume that humanity will not stop there: it will begin to remake the solar system for itself, then the galaxy, and finally, it will be the turn of the Universe. The result of these titanic efforts, which will stretch over millions and possibly billions of years, will be the transformation of the Universe into a living being - nature and humanity at the same time. Of course, I understand, Kazyutinsky added, you will accuse me of pride: not only does a person destroy nature on earth, so I try on the Universe. But I solved the problem you set: I created a meaningful and optimistic for a person scenario of the Universe.

I agreed, but remarked that I probably would have tried to build a different scenario. It is hard to imagine, I said, that humanity on such a long journey (millions and billions of years) will retain its goal, that it will not change radically, so that the task of remaking the universe will still be of interest to it. In addition, I would draw your attention to the fact that our understanding of the universe will change many times over. I would also add that we may not be able to understand the nature of the universe for a very long time. That is, we have before us something, some kind of formation, perhaps organic, but not living, perhaps it is some form of life, perhaps something else that, due to our underdevelopment, simply does not occur to us yet.

In this case, it is wiser to act cautiously, according to the principle of establishing "contact", something like the heroes of the Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem acted in the novel "Solaris". But here the case is much more complicated. At least Lem had a clear whole, the boundaries were the planet and Ocean-Solaris on it. In the case of the universe, everything is unclear: where is the whole, is it one, where are the boundaries, what they can represent, and so on.

All this must be borne in mind and act accordingly: try in every possible way to listen to the universe, turn to it, talk about yourself, be ready for any answer, the most unexpected, study and think all the time, trying not to lose sight of all the uncertainty and limitations of our knowledge about the universe. Maybe this scenario is not the most optimistic, yours, Vadim, of course, is more inspiring. But on the other hand, mine, you must admit, is more realistic and reasonable in terms of our knowledge and capabilities. Here's a conversation we had somewhere in the late 90's.

And then, as if arm in arm, the book “Between the Past and the Future” was published, where Hannah Arendt, back in the 60s of the last century, discussed, in fact, our topic. In particular, it shows that scientists (physicists and astrophysicists) led us to such a strange view of the universe, who began to look at man and the Earth as if from the outside and from space, as well as with the help of tools. True, Arendt shows, the result of these titanic esoteric searches turned out to be paradoxical and sad for the scientists themselves: in the world they discovered, it was not beauty and harmony that reigned, but chance, chaos and nonsense.

Arendt comes to the conclusion that, moving in this direction, a person meets only with himself (“with what is done by the person himself and is another mask of himself”), but that such a development of events threatens the death of a person. “The situation, as it appears today, strangely resembles an elaborate confirmation of a remark made by Franz Kafka at the very dawn of these changes: man, he said, “found the Archimedean point, but used it against himself; it seems that only under these conditions he was allowed to find her. After all, the conquest of space, the search for a point outside the Earth from which the planet could be moved, as if removed from its hinges, is not an accidental result of science. From the very beginning, it was not the science of "nature", but the science of the universe: not physics, but astrophysics .... The conquest of space and the science that made it possible have brought us perilously close to this point. If they ever truly achieve it, the status of a person will not only become lower by all standards known to us, but will cease to exist.

How can one understand Kazyutinsky, Hannah Arendt and my own reflections? And so that the vision of reality, given by rationalism and natural science, there is an alternative, moreover, not one. For the author, this is a humanitarian philosophy. For Kazyutinsky, it is a stoic worldview, faith in man and humanity. For Hannah Arendt, it is an understanding of the crisis of our thought and civilization. She, probably, following her teacher Martin Heidegger, believes that if a person critically thinks about his activity, and also understands "that it is the Earth, and not the universe, that is the home and center of habitation of mortal people", - in this case there is hope .


  1. Самый глубокий космос-это Человек!Заглянуть в себя сложнее,чем в космос,так как у нас нет приборов и не может быть,кроме человеческого сознания и того,что мы зовём “сердцем”.

  2. Чувства переполняют…
    Действительно – материнское лоно. И сейчас, как никогда это очевидно.
    Рождение нового типа человека, который будет отличен от нас нынешних, как мы отличны от пещерного.
    Чем мы можем быть полезными для тех, кто рождается?

  3. All religions describe the end of the world. It's very scary. And imagine that all of humanity died out like flies from dichlorvos, and an empty planet will remain. It's even scarier.

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