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Aug 30,2020


  • Armageddon, Ragnarok, doomsday: what’s up with the end of the world? ‘This is the way the world ends/not with a bang, but with a whimper’ ~T. S. Eliot

    Armageddon, Ragnarok, doomsday: what’s up with the end of the world?
    ‘This is the way the world ends/not with a bang, but with a whimper’                                                             
                                                                                                                   ~T. S. Eliot

    The Hollow Men by T.S Eliot is regarded as a stroke of literary genius (as are most works by him). But what does an archaic poem have to do with the end of the world? Well, I’m not actually interested in the poem, save the last two lines, detailing how the world ends. Eliot died in 1965, and unless you’re reading this in some parallel universe where the world actually did end, and you’re the sole survivor (in which case, this article is essentially useless to you), you know the world didn't end in his lifetime. ‘The Hollow Men’ is something you’re much more likely to study in English class, not a Physics class detailing the numerous theories on the end of the universe. Eliot isn’t the only one who was interested in this grim topic. Humans have never been good at grasping their ownmortality and, throughout time, have created countless afterlifes (think of Elysium, re-incarnation, heaven) to make the void after death seem less uncertain. As a species, we’ve also created hundreds of humanoid gods/things/monsters, depending on who you ask, to take our lives- the Grim Reaper, Yamaji, Anubis, Thanatos. It is then, seeing as we can’t leave the death of a single person to the unknown, no shock that the eradication of the species is even harder to leave alone. And fair enough! Humans are, by nature, inquisitive and territorial- we had to be, back when we were cavemen fighting to survive. It isn’t easy to accept that one day, all we’ve worked for will account to nothing, or be left hanging in the balance of some karmic being. So, the end of the world.

    The Norse depicted an all consuming battle ending our world. Watch Marvel movies? You may have heard of it. Ragnarok, oddly enough, was not invented in 2017. Leave your preconceptions from the film behind, please (why yes, I am British, hence film>movie). In Ragnarok, even the gods die. Ragnarok isn’t a vague rumor, no- the Norse meticulously wrote out every detail. Freyer, god of spring, dies at the hand of a fire giant, Surt; Thor’s sons- Modi and Magni survive, while the king of gods, Odin, doesn't. Tyr the one-handed god and Fenrir the wolf battle it out, both dying in the process. Two humans manage to survive it all. Which begs the question, is it the end of the world, if there are survivors?

    Well, yes. Of course, you can disagree (but seeing as this an article that you’re reading without me present, I won't really know), but hear me out. Surely, an explanation for the end of the world is the end of the world as the person telling the tale knows the world? For a physicist, this means the entire universe. Yellowstone (massive volcano in California that could kill us all) could destroy our planet, but an astronomer wouldn't call it the end of the world.

    ‘World’ doesn't have to mean Earth. So, for the Norse, the gods dying did mean the end of their world. And this can be seen in most ways people say the world will end. Eliot wasn’t wrong, not really. At least, we can never know- nobody sat Eliot down and

    asked him what his entire world was. Christians say the releasing of the anti-Christ signals the end of the world; God’s work is being undone, and for a devout Christian, a hefty part of their world is God (Capital ‘G’ God. Different to the Norse lower ‘g’ gods’-maybe I’ll explain it next time). Egyptian doomsday means the fall of the sun and Nile-both things their society was built on. In Hinduism, the end of the world leads to...another world? But a less moral one- and for a religion focused on karma and ethics, this makes sense.

    The end of the world doesn't really have to destroy everything and anything. Of course, it can. A scientists ‘end of the world’ leads to the destruction of everything - whether through everything exploding or imploding or freezing.

    So, what means the end of the world for you?