Christian Long

Stephen Petranek: Counts Down to Armageddon

In TED Talks on May 10, 2010 at 9:34 pm

Reflection by ALEX D.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Stephen Petranek:  Counts Down to Armageddon

This talk may be one of the more entertaining ones I have yet seen, but it is also one of the least viable, only second to John Hodgman’s. I wasn’t prepared to disagree with this video, but after overcoming natural paranoia, I understand that unrealistic to “freak-out” over any chance that human life may come to a premature end.

Like any other living organism, I fear death. Actually, I have thanatophobia, in that I fear the unknown after death. Petranek frightened me at first… then I realized that most of these events are highly unlikely. We will have probably all died by the time any of these actions take place.

A number of things could end life spontaneously, and it’s impossible to sustain our lives forever. What Petranek did do that impressed me was that he offered (rather general) solutions to most of the worst-case scenarios he described.

Allow me to enlighten the public about how a nearby Armageddon is implausible.

Note:  The first letter of each paragraph should spell something familiar.

A loss of will to survive. If one asked if a person is truly happy or depressed, a majority will respond with the latter. They will find some aspect of their lives that is disappointing, and focus on that. Now, this isn’t backed by evidence, but Petranek doesn’t back his statement with fact either. Many people are depressed, but a handful of people would even contemplate suicide, and even fewer would follow through. If the entire population is going to assassinate themselves because of depression, I suggest that marijuana be legalized.

Realistically, there is life out there. It might make contact with us eventually, and it might be hostile. But I highly doubt they are going to land on our planet and eliminate us just for hydrogen, which is probably plentiful across the universe.

Many will argue that humans are destroying their own planet. And many will be right. We are unknowingly killing thousands of species of animals and plants at a high rate. We’re damaging our ecosystems, and stumbling to repair it. A current example is the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but I’m sure you’ve heard of that. It’s a pretty big deal. What is far-fetched is that we will destroy our atmosphere by foresting. Humans are weakening it, but at no time in the near future is it going to *poof* vanish without warning.

As an average person, I don’t understand particle physics. I am not going to attempt to analyze this situation, because the level of knowledge it takes to comprehend this science is above me. But from watching the video, I can assume that a machine cannot as of now create a power that can destroy galaxies.

Growing plants and crops have been apart of humanity for thousands of years. Armageddonists say that with all the medicine in use now, diseases will mutate around cures. An honest question is, “why can’t plants do the same against pesticides?” But this situation is plausible.

Even if the Earth’s current magnetic field is diminishing, a change wouldn’t come suddenly. If the reversal of the the magnetic field is due, a complete switch of the north and south poles would take thousands of years, by which humanity may have advanced enough to fix the problem.

Don’t count on it. Although our sun may seem immensely powerful in our eyes, (hopefully not directly) a giant solar flare would come from a different staged star. “Considering our sun is at least four and a half billion years old, it is expected to last for a few billion more. Don’t expect too many changes.”

Down the road, humans may face some disease that poses a threat to our existence, but if there is even a few survivors, our species can start again. There are also many scares of epidemics that for a while, seems disastrous. Many of these threats blow over, or lessen in seriousness. Remember Swine Flu? Sure, it’s still out there, but not on a global threatening level. Petranek spoke of Ebola, which at the time may have turned heads, is now rare, and only spreads through contact of another who already has the disease.

Over 15 years ago, no astronomer ever thought there would be a black hole at the center of every galaxy. Nowadays, it’s common knowledge. Our galaxy is incredibly vast, and its black hole constantly swallows up planets and stars. What are the chances that a random, unseen galaxy will immediately collide with ours? There are more stars in the universe than black holes. It would be more likely that we encounter another sun. But the universe does work in strange ways, and what goes on in outside our own ecosystem is a mystery.

No other previously mentioned event frightens me as much as an asteroid. There are countless of them, and if we get hit, we’re done for. But if we do know of one that is supposed to hit our planet, why isn’t there discussion of how to stop it? It seems next to impossible to stop an asteroid, but we could always send a triangular spaceship to destroy those that pose a threat. No, but in all seriousness I’m worried.


Similar to the talk, much of my ideas were speculation as well. I understand that I have been too brief in my arguments, and that I used “if” a lot, but it doesn’t take much to disagree with something. It would have been more difficult for me if I attempted to support Petranek’s thoughts.

Our little blue planet is a mere atom in the eyes of the universe, and vulnerable to many disasters. There are billions of planets in the universe, and billions of people on our planet. People die every second. We could be next.


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