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Minutes to Midnight

The song “2 Minutes to Midnight” from heavy metal band Iron Maiden described the state of the world in 1953 when the “Doomsday Clock” was at its closest to midnight (indicating the likelihood of global catastrophe, in that case because of H bomb tests by both the USA and USSR).

Here’s a few lines from that jolly little ditty…

The body bags and little rags of children torn in two
And the jellied brains of those who remain to put the finger right on you.
As the madmen play on words and make us all dance to their song,
To the tune of starving millions to make a better kind of gun.

Two minutes to midnight
The hands that threaten doom…

Yeah, not very optimistic but probably quite appropriate even though the situation was considerably better by the time the song was written in 1984. And recently the Doomsday Clock (a symbolic clock face representing a countdown to possible global catastrophe, maintained by the members of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists) has been at 5 minutes to midnight.

But this year it has been moved forward again to 3 minutes to midnight – maybe not bad enough to write a rather lugubrious metal song about but still pretty bad!

The reasons for moving the clock forward include “rising tension between Russia and the US, North Korea’s recent nuclear test, and a lack of aggressive steps to address climate change”. There is also concern about the potential of modern, compact nuclear weapons and how those might fall into the hands of groups who might be less responsible than the major nations.

So I would have to agree that things do look fairly grim and I thought there might be an interesting link with another article I read regarding intelligent life on other planets. I have mentioned the Fermi Paradox (which basically asks why we have never found any signs of advanced civilisations anywhere in the universe) in this blog before and have never been able to find a good explanation.

The article suggested there is a critical point in the early stages of life on a planet where evolution must lead to forms of life capable of modifying the environment. At this point life is in a race against potential destruction by physical forces. Life has to evolve quickly and regulate concentrations of water and carbon dioxide to keep the temperatures stable and be able to survive.

If this doesn’t happen then advanced life will never evolve and even simple life forms might die out completely. So it might be that life is much less common than we suspect just because progress past this stage so rarely happens.

Or it could be another factor in the Drake Equation (an equation describing how often life should arise) which is responsible for our failure to discover intelligent extraterrestrial life. That is the point where the expected lifetime of an intelligent civilisation is considered.

Maybe all intelligent life quickly and inevitably gets to the point where its “Doomsday Clock” is close to midnight and for most of them maybe it reaches that ominous time instead of just hovering close to it like it has for us (so far).

For a civilisation to become successful maybe it needs to be aggressive and/or reckless. It’s easy to see how those two attributes which can lead to success can also often lead to failure.

Maybe somewhere in the universe a metal band created a song “one minute to midnight” and maybe that was the last song ever heard on that planet…

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