Did the Rapture happen or didn’t it? There are about seven billion people on the planet. Would the planet notice if 144,000 or even 144,000,000 disappeared? Comedians should be paying tributes to Harold Camping for his prediction of the rapture. Their writers appreciate the source material. Despite that prediction’s apparent failure, there are many other ways the world could dramatically change resulting in lots of five year and retirement plans becoming suddenly obsolete. Some scenarios are heavens. Some are hells. Planning for them may not make more sense than the plans made by Camping’s followers. But I continue to find the speculations fascinating because the range of disruption puts normal plans into perspective.
I’m going to skip these scenarios because, being human, we are better at imagining hell than we are at imagining heaven. Long time readers know my favorite example: Dante’s Inferno. Really it is a trilogy, but as he steps from hell to heaven the language and imagery gets duller. Just for a quick example though, one bad asteroid could ruin our day forever. (Pity we don’t have a better space program, but that’s another post.)
I mentioned this one in a previous post (check my tag cloud for the links). Technology in genetics, information, and robotics is changing rapidly. If any of it develops consciousness and can develop an improved successor, technological evolution could rapidly run past human capacity to control or understand it. The heaven scenarios include cures for all bodily, societal, and environmental ills. The hellish scenarios are popular enough to inspire movies like The Matrix and Terminator. Either case makes the choice between stocks and bonds very moot when there’s no more need or use for money.
Our world has radically changed in the past through our own advancements. Digital Singularity is an extreme example, but equally or more likely are discoveries in physics and biology that can change everything. Physicists are exploring dark energy and dark matter. Maybe we can tap the all-pervasive dark energy and suddenly stop burning fossils. Biological understanding may reveal magic pills or procedures (which in retrospect were probably obvious to some shaman) that can cheaply heal our ills. Heaven and hell in concert, in that our lives are better, but our economies are trashed. Retirement plans may have to accommodate very long lives, but did life just get much cheaper or much more expensive?
I don’t expect aliens in massive starships descending from the skies. The physics can work, but the movie versions use far too many resources and very inefficient ships. Contact is more likely to come through information, which is why SETI listens to the universe. Information is cheaper and easier to send than people, ships, and probes. Contact is such an appropriate word that Carl Sagan used it as the title of his book, which also became a movie. That was more of a heaven scenario, where we are welcomed into a galactic or universal community where answers are freely available, eventually. The truly hellish scenarios don’t make it into the movies because the invasions would be more subtle: nano-infiltrations, social engineering, effects that seem more like magic than technology. But in an infinite universe anything can and probably will happen somewhere, so we could see something like Independence Day, but with smarter aliens. In that case, which financial institution owns the title to my thirty year mortgage is not a big issue.
This one is my favorite. Science has a tough time understanding consciousness. Regardless of technological achievements, maybe some spiritual types will find a simple way, or maybe simple evolution, will lead us to communal consciousness. Rupert Sheldrake‘s work points to the possibility, in my interpretation. Compassion and love of all becomes the norm, because someone thought or felt in a new way. If love cures all ills, then this sounds like a heaven. Worries about the future are no longer solitary cells. An extension of this then reaches out beyond the planet. Maybe that’s the entrance requirement for joining the cosmic party.
So, what am I planning for? I try to spend frugally while investing in today’s society via stocks; and by investing in my skills by creating and selling my books and photos, and by teaching. I’m a few years into a fixed-rate thirty year mortgage. I try to live a healthy life and generally want to live long and prosper. Everything can change, but usually, for the most part, it stays the same. I’d hate to find that I’d planned for aliens inducing an involuntary cosmic consciousness via dark energy delivered by asteroid at the end of the Mayan calendar only to find out that contact is planned for the end of the next Mayan cycle. That would be so embarrassing.