Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Bad news from the future

My current work-in-progress (well, work-in-extremely-slow-progress) is a fall-of-civilization novel called In the Midst of Lions that I swear wasn't inspired by the events of the last year and a half.  Set in 2035, it chronicles the struggles of five completely ordinary people to survive in a hellscape that has been created by an all-too-successful rebellion and war, that one character correctly calls "burning down the house you're locked in" because the resulting chaos is as deadly to the rebels as to the people they're rebelling against.

I suppose it's natural enough to assume the future is gonna be pretty bad.  I mean, look around.  The United States is gearing up for another catastrophic heat wave, we're in the middle of a pandemic, and so much of the western U.S. is on fire that the smoke is making it difficult to breathe here in upstate New York.

I try to stay optimistic, but being an inveterate worrier, it's hard at times.

Albert Goodwin, Apocalypse (1903) [Image is in the Public Domain]

If the current news isn't bad enough, just yesterday I ran into not one but two people who claim to be time travelers from the future who have come back somehow to let us know that we're in for a bad time.

The first, who calls himself Javier, goes by the moniker @UnicoSobreviviente ("only survivor") and posts videos allegedly from the year 2027 on TikTok.  "I just woke up in a hospital and I don’t know what happened," he says.  "Today is February 13, 2027 and I am alone in the city."

How he's posting on TikTok in 2021 if he's stuck in 2027, he never explains.

However, I must admit the videos are a little on the creepy side.  They do appear to show a city devoid of human life.  On the other hand, everything looks like it's in pretty good shape.  One theme I've had to deal with in my own novel is how fast stuff would fall apart/stop working if we were to stop maintaining it -- the answer, in most cases, seems to be "pretty damn fast."  (If you are looking for a somewhat depressing but brilliantly interesting read, check out the book The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, which considers this question in detail.)

So either Javier showed up immediately after the rest of humanity vanished, or else his videos are just an example of a cleverly-edited hoax.

I know which I think is more likely.

The other alleged time traveler goes by the rather uncreative name @FutureTimeTraveler, and also posts on TikTok (apparently this is the preferred mode by which time travelers communicate with the present).  And he says our comeuppance is gonna be a lot sooner than 2027.  He says it will come at the hands of seven-foot-four-inch aliens with "long, distorted skulls" who will land on Earth on May 24, 2022.  They're called Nirons, he says, and come in peace, but humans (whose habit of fucking up alien encounters has been the subject of countless movies and television shows) decide it's an invasion and fire on them.  This initiates a war.

So we've got an alien race who can cross interstellar space fighting a species who thinks it's impressive when a billionaire launches himself for a few minutes aboard what appears to be a giant metal dick.

Guess who wins.

Interestingly, this is not the first case of an alleged time traveler talking about future attacks by Nirons.  Another TikTok user, @ThatOneTimeTraveler, says the Nirons come from Saturn and we're going to get our asses handed to us.

So, corroboration, amirite?  Must be true!

I figure I'm doing my civic duty by letting everyone know that they should get themselves ready for a rough ride.  We've got the Nirons coming next year, then everyone vanishes five years after that, and if that's not bad enough, in 2035 there's a massive rebellion that takes down civilization entirely.  (Yes, I know that (1) it's impossible to have a rebellion if everyone disappeared eight years earlier, and (2) the rebellion itself is part of a novel I made up myself.  Stop asking questions.)

Anyhow, I figure knowing all this will take our minds off the fact that we seem to be doing our level best to destroy ourselves right here in the present.  I'm hoping I at least live long enough to meet the Nirons.  Sounds like they'll probably blast me with their laser guns immediately afterward, but you know how I am about aliens.  If I'm gonna die anyway, that's a fitting end.


One of the characteristics which is -- as far as we know -- unique to the human species is invention.

Given a problem, we will invent a tool to solve it.  We're not just tool users; lots of animal species, from crows to monkeys, do that.  We're tool innovators.  Not that all of these tools have been unequivocal successes -- the internal combustion engine comes to mind -- but our capacity for invention is still astonishing.

In The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another, author Ainissa Ramirez takes eight human inventions (clocks, steel rails, copper telegraph wires, photographic film, carbon filaments for light bulbs, hard disks, scientific labware, and silicon chips) and looks not only at how they were invented, but how those inventions changed the world.  (To take one example -- consider how clocks and artificial light changed our sleep and work schedules.)

Ramirez's book is a fascinating lens into how our capacity for innovation has reflected back and altered us in fundamental ways.  We are born inventors, and that ability has changed the world -- and, in the end, changed ourselves along with it.

[Note: if you purchase this book using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]

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