Welcome back! Having explored the more likely doomsday scenarios in Part 1, we are now free to explore improbable ways to conclude humanity.
5) Zombie Apocalypse
While a zombie apocalypse could be considered a particular extension of the pandemic scenario, its graphic nature and mechanism makes it a much more interesting case to be studied on its own. In this particular scenario, one may not find eternal peace upon death but instead slowly turns into the hellish creatures that perpetually crave to devour you. It is a particularly traumatic notion to know that your fallen companions will come running back with a boundless appetite for (your) human flesh. The problem with these damned creatures is that they don’t seem to behave as regular biological beings. Besides the obvious mystery as to how the “zombie disease” is transmitted and operates on the brain – is it a parasite, virus or bacteria? – it seems to infer superhuman endurance and near infinite energy. Thanks to various zombie apocalypse media depictions, our collective understanding seems to be that the only way to kill a zombie is to destroy its brain. Having an unfed zombie wandering about for weeks will not kill it, nor would chopping off all its limbs. Even freezing temperatures will only succeed in slowing them down. This makes a zombie apocalypse particularly hard to survive as the only way to get rid of it would be to kill all zombies, find a cure – at least the FDA wouldn’t be so annoying for once – or find a way to quench their appetite.
So what would be the best way to survive an zombie apocalypse? While I’m no expert on the matter, there are a few important tips to remember. First of all, you’ll want to stay as far away from dense urban centers. For the same reasons as the pandemic case, cities are the most vulnerable to contagion and as a result will be the first to fall. In an instant, all your neighbours will come knocking at your door except they won’t be asking to lower the music. Stay in small dependable groups, as a chain is only as weak as its weakest link and you could be facing mutiny, treason or simple negligence. Stock up on basic supplies like canned food and bottled water that can easily be moved around in the case of an emergency. Lastly, please don’t walk around with shorts and t-shirt; get yourself some thick protective clothing to at least stand a chance to avoid getting bitten by zombies. I don’t think turning into a zombie suddenly gives you the biting force of a crocodile – especially if half of your jaw musculature is missing.
Likelihood: 1/10 → The only reason this gets a “1” is because there is a type of fungus called Ophiocordyceps, aka “zombie fungus” (if interested check out the Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis), which actually hijacks the ants, tarantulas and other insects’ central nervous system before using its host to grow a spore-releasing stalk to infect more victims. Otherwise, this would get a 0 in my book.
Destruction Factor: 7/10 → This is essentially a pandemic scenario with the “disease” being bipedal and constantly hunting down victims. The relentless nature of this scenario makes it particularly intense as one would never truly be out of danger until the zombie apocalypse is over.
6) Alien Invasion
Upon the discovery and subsequent colonization of North America by European powers, it took only a few centuries to destroy the rich history of Indigenous peoples. In this time frame, it is estimated that 90% of the Indigenous population was wiped out (a smallpox pandemic being the main culprit)– and perhaps even more tragic was the resulting death of their culture and beliefs. I mention this is because this historical event is perhaps the closest analogy we have to an alien invasion. The problem is humanity as a whole would be the ones on the suffering end this time – and yet again if you are of Aboriginal descent. Indeed, if some alien species were to come and visit us on Earth, I doubt it would be to have some cookies and tea with us but rather to pillage our planet’s natural resources or simply to enslave us.
We like to think of ourselves as a sophisticated species capable of compassion and restraint, yet all it took was to cross an ocean for Europeans to reveal their insatiable lust for power and willingness to bring an entire people to their knees. If some alien species travels across the galaxy to Earth, they are probably looking for something and I don’t think we’ll be in much of a position to deny them of anything. If we are lucky, we would conserve a certain amount of autonomy and freedom as long as we meet a certain resources quota to be extracted and handed to our new alien overlords. Alternatively, if the Earth is transformed into one massive planetary death camp, the once great human race would overnight be transformed into nothing more than livestock. Worse case, they wipe us out and effectively steal our planet from us.
Likelihood: 0.01 / 10 → Several theories posits that the fact we’ve yet to be visited by galactic neighbours implies that we might in fact never experience such an event. Let’s certainly hope that is the case.
Destruction Factor: 5-10 → Depending on the temperament of our visitors the outcome can vary drastically – I hope Trump doesn’t have an alien cousin. In any case, it wouldn’t be an alluring one.
7) Ending the Simulation
Bear with me, as this scenario might sound incredibly far fetched if you haven’t heard of such theories in the past. Similar to the The Matrix trilogy, here we can posit that the majority of humans are actually trapped in a simulated world. Some very smart people believe that this is truly the case of the universe we inhabit, including vocal proponents such as Elon Musk himself. Except in our case, there is no such thing as “waking up” outside of the matrix; we have no physical bodies or selves outside of this simulation. Now of course you might ask for proof. Unfortunately, there is no substantial proof that can either validate or refute such a theory at this point given that we simply are unsure what to look for given that our entire existence has always been in this universe. How could we know what is normal or residual effects of a simulation in this case? Presently, the strongest argument for such a belief are simple statistics. If within “real” (as opposed to simulated) universes, an infinite number of simulated universes may be created, well, odds are we find ourselves in a simulated one is simply by probability. What could reinforce this theory is if one day we successfully manage to create a supercomputer powerful enough to run a simulated universe identical to the one we presently inhabit.
As far as we can tell, the odd quantum mechanical phenomena we observe could be artifacts of a simulation. I will not go in depth, but electrons can effectively pop in and out of existence, and can be entangled with another electron halfway across the universe… strange but that could be entirely normal, who knows?! Anyway, say the PhD student – I guess our universe is modeled after their own after all – who is running our simulation is suddenly told by his professor that the experiment is rubbish and he needs to start over. Well, that would mean Game Over for us and we’d be none the wiser. At least there would be no suffering.
Likelihood: ?/10 → Your guess is as good as mine. I don’t find the probabilistic foundation to the theory very satisfying.
Destruction Factor: 0 or 10 / 10 → Depending how you look at it, this could be a 0 or a 10. Yes, the entire universe and everything in it would flash cease to exist in a flash, but we would never be aware of it. As far as I’m concerned I don’t really mind and they would have fooled us good while we enjoyed it. Lastly, we wouldn’t have even existed otherwise and as they say “The Lord Giveth and the Lord taketh away” Job 1:21.