What is the most likely source of doomsday in 2012?

by on September 15, 2010 at 8:23 am in Current Affairs, Political Science, Science | Permalink

Alek has a request:

1) While I'm far from a doomsayer, I'm wondering what is the best way to bet in favor of the world ending in 2012? Betting against is pretty obvious.

I am taking this to ask what is the most likely cause of the destruction of all civilization, circa 2012, and not how to collect on the bet, in which case he should read Pascal.  (If the 2012 end of the world won't be a total surprise, any leveraged short position should do, but spend the money quickly!)

Here are some hypotheses, but my answer is: destruction of the earth by space aliens.

Here are previous MR posts on The Fermi Paradox.  Rampaging space aliens would explain why we don't see more civilizations out there, plus predatory ways imply that contact is short-lived, thereby making our current lack of contact more likely in the Bayesian sense.

We could be living in some kind of "branching/splitting" theory where the highest number of branches come right before everything ends and for Bayesian reasons we expect to be right up against that final point.  Still, why should we think that maximum branching/splitting is coming in 2012?  After a Lakers threepeat, are there no more possible worlds to create?  

The overwhelming probability from a nuclear exchange, at least circa 2012, is that it would remain limited, albeit highly destructive.  A pandemic is unlikely to kill more than a billion people.  A very large asteroid or a super-volcano explosion can be considered other leading contenders for world-enders.

A few nights ago Natasha and I saw The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951 version.  It's more a tract on foreign policy than science fiction and Klaatu of course is a stand in for the United States.  I hadn't seen it in over twenty years and I'm astonished how well the movie captures and presages today's current mix of paranoia and utter unpreparedness, vis-a-vis "aliens."  It works poorly when Klaatu dons the rhetoric and tactics of the United States in galactic affairs, combined with equally clumsy implied threats, backed by no moral authority but superior hardware.  It's one of the scariest, and best, movies to watch in 2010, with a superb Bernard Herrmann soundtrack and it also has good shots of WDC in 1951.  I won't give away the ending but a careful listen shows it's as pessimistic about the aliens as anything.  Supposedly the movie deeply influenced Ronald Reagan and brought him to the arms control table.

Andrew September 15, 2010 at 8:45 am

I’m glad all those radio messages we sent out left a fake return address.

gwern September 15, 2010 at 9:12 am

> While I’m far from a doomsayer, I’m wondering what is the best way to bet in favor of the world ending in 2012?

This seems like stupid-day on MR, given the other post’s Caplan quote. But I’ll bite.

Take out loans. Lots of loans. Home loans, credit card loans, personal loans, student loans… You can use some to pay off others if need be.

After all, a loan is free if you never need repay it. By definition, you’re not ‘paying’ for a loan – the loan pays you.

No doubt sophisticated financial players could take out even larger debts, but the previous mentioned loans are available to pretty much anyone. Come to think of it, low interest rates mean the downside of loans (should the world fail to end) may not even be too bad.

Cyrus September 15, 2010 at 9:26 am

Existential threats that have always been existential threats have not happened in recorded history. We might conclude that the risk of them happening in any given year is small.

While the ability to estimate the risk of existential threats that have only recently become existential threats entails signficantly more uncertainty, such threats have a larger fat tail of very bad outcomes.

Nuclear war among superpowers still seems the most likely way for civilization to end in the very near future.

MichaelB September 15, 2010 at 10:04 am

It depends a lot on what you mean by the world ending. If you mean major nuclear exchange, well there are lots of places that would be relatively safe you could move to. Borrow money from Citibank (which presumably would be basically destroyed by a major nuclear exchange, and thus unable to demand repayment) and buy a ranch in Argentina (which is probably not going to be nuked). If we’re talking about a super-volcano or an asteroid there may not be anywhere that’s safe – so the above “borrow money and live it up” plan is about as good as it gets.

Also, it may be a good idea to get serious about whatever god you believe in.

dearieme September 15, 2010 at 10:20 am

“destruction of the earth by space aliens.” Viral or bacterial?

mpkomara September 15, 2010 at 11:16 am

I’d like to hear Tyler’s answer on how best to a) bet on how the world ends and b) collect on that bet if the only remaining survivor is Tyler and he is left somewhere safe.

matt September 15, 2010 at 11:46 am

tyler is hillbilly jack?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHfY1Wh-FbM

aliens? man, it’s one thing to have an active imagination but the idea that space aliens will be our demise is absolutely preposterous. mormons hold less delusional beliefs.

great movie, by the way.

Scott September 15, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Self-fulfilling prophecy. The world is slated to end in 2012, thus because the world hasn’t ended by some point in 2012, some believer group will plot to destroy the world.

Paul Zrimsek September 15, 2010 at 12:28 pm

I don’t think space aliens have what it takes. A zombie-ninja alliance, on the other hand…

Georges-Etienne Fortin September 15, 2010 at 1:25 pm

The end of the world in 2012 scenario is stated as being predicted by the Mayan calendar.

Thus, the first question to be asked is not what will cause the end of the world, but what did Mayans consider as being the world.

Humans are limited by their perceptions, and the perception of the world to one culture at a given time might vigourously differ, in form and in size, with the perception of the world to another culture at a different time.

BKarn September 15, 2010 at 1:49 pm

No longer stunning (but still worthy of comment) to see people whose hyperpartisanship bleeds into quite literally every subject,

Jody September 15, 2010 at 3:04 pm

In answer too what I think the question was – take out a loan payable after 2012.

sam September 15, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Interesting to me how they flipped the short story The Day the Earth Stood Still is based on: It turns out that Gort’s the master (in the short story, he’s called Gnut). Maybe Reagan read the short story, Farewell to the Master.

Sigivald September 15, 2010 at 5:45 pm

today’s current mix of paranoia and utter unpreparedness, vis-a-vis “aliens.”

Well, paranoia I can’t really speak to, but how can one prepare for “aliens”?

We can’t know anything useful about them in the specific; and in the abstract we can more or less assume that they have effectively unlimited access to energy*, and technological advancement in at least one area (interstellar travel) beyond anything we can even hypothesize.

(* Unless we assume they arrive in a slow ship… but even then they’ll have more than enough energy to pile rocks on the Earth until we’re all dead. And most likely, if they were likely to be so inclined, or even for reasons of self-defense, they’d have sufficient technology to stop any plausible attacks we could make on their slow ship.)

Even granting a minimum set of both, they still have an almost un-breachable advantage. Kinda like a modern armored column going up against paloeolithic plains scavengers. All we could hope for is that they don’t want to destroy us.

Thus, plainly, the way to be “prepared” for aliens is to become them by developing such technologies, if it’s physically possible, and be the ones doing the visiting. Or at least be at a technological place where we might have a chance of parity, and have sufficient colonial presence that a single attack on one world can’t wipe us out…

dirk September 15, 2010 at 6:44 pm

A man steps into a bucket of paint, trips and accidentally sets some curtains on fire. But these are very large curtains, you see. Our universe is only a molecule in one of the fibers in these curtains, and some of the particles (our galaxies) within this molecule are bonded with particles from another molecule and the earth is instantly swallowed by the sun in the reaction.

I’m trying to get this contract listed on Intrade.

bel September 15, 2010 at 7:13 pm

The world ends for those who die

Kelfort September 16, 2010 at 2:32 am

This is definitely the first time I hear a serious financial advice forgetting to mention about the importance of hedging any position.

Would this imply that Doomsayers don’t take insurances ?

aaron September 16, 2010 at 8:45 am
guy in the veal calf office September 20, 2010 at 12:36 pm

I’ll deal with Ragnorak when it gets here. Too busy reviewing credit agreements.

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