Monday, March 07, 2011

A Ramble about the Royal Family and the End of the World

I don’t know how the British Royal Family manages to produce such a seeming lack of basic intelligence in many of its members. Prince Charles and Princess Anne seem bright enough, but the younger two… Prince Andrew is a Trade Envoy for the UK, and has kept up his links with Jeffrey Epstein, an American millionaire who has been convicted of molesting underage girls. And has accepted money off him to help pay off his ex-wife’s debts. If you are in a public position, then this matters. And a case like this is just so obvious. A senior Tory MP described Andrew as having “no discernible mental activity.” If he was anyone else, Andrew would have been sacked, but you don’t treat Royals like this in Britain. I don’t think it does them any favours.

The Queen herself is not immune to idiocy. And I don’t mean PR slip-ups, which anyone could make. Princess Diana’s butler was found to be in possession of a large amount of her effects sometime after her death. The family brought him to court on a theft charge. Half way through the headline-making trial, the Queen mentioned to Charles that the Butler had previously told her that he had these effects, and was looking after them on Diana’s behalf. The trial immediately had to be stopped.

I don’t think the Queen is stupid, though her sons Andrew and Edward may well be. I don’t think it is the famous inbreeding that has done it. I think it is being born into wealth and privilege (which can sometimes be fortunate, if you can see through the nonsense.) It can remove you from ordinary reality, from the sense that you belong to a society that has basic ways of working that you need to pay attention to and understand. That’s why Prince Philip has been making racist remarks for decades (and getting away with it.) That’s also why you get these rich families who are weird because they can buy their way out of the normal rules. Dirty, Sexy Money is a TV series about the US’s richest family (it’s a satire on the Kennedys) and to start with it seems too bizarre to take seriously. But then it dawns on you that the real Kennedys are probably every bit as bizarre. And if you put some of their antics in a TV series, they would seem too implausible. As they say, truth is stranger than fiction.

The Royal Family is not unlike a religious cult, with its rigid rules and hierarchy and sense of being special. Cults are often just more obvious forms, because they are different, of what goes on anyway in a lot of families and sections of society. Look at the unwritten rules and sense of superiority you usually get in wealthy or titled families, for example. I can’t see the difference between that and a religious cult.

One cult making the news is the US-based Family Radio, which is proclaiming Judgement Day on May 21 2011, and the End of the World on Oct 21 2011. A lot of its members have sold up or given away their possessions and are travelling the country in caravans, warning people about what is coming. They have arrived at their conclusions through applying mathematics to the Bible.

Unfortunately astrology does a similar thing. It applies mathematics to the motions of the planets in order to comment on, and even predict, human affairs. I can’t necessarily see the difference! Astrology works primarily symbolically and intuitively, it tells people stories about themselves that resonate with their sense of who they are. As long as the maths is kept simple enough so that the sense of symbolism is preserved and even unfolded, then I’m fine with that. But if it heads too far into abstractions such as mid points and harmonics, I lose my sense of relationship to the planets, even though I can see that these techniques work. It’s like the maths in astrology keeps the rational side happy and quiet so that the intuitive side can get on with its job. But too much maths and the rational begins to usurp its place.
And at this point astrology becomes a legitimate target for the criticisms of the scientists, because viewed from this ‘rational’ angle alone, astrology is indeed nonsense. That is why I like the modern tendency to view the planets not just as principles but as gods. It makes the point forcefully that astrology is not a science and cannot be criticised from that basis.

Anyway, I guess one query I have of Family Radio is that if their dates are produced mathematically, then at the moment of Judgement Day, it will not be 21st May in certain parts of the world. It will be the 20th or the 22nd. And the same with the End of the World. Unless the world is to end gradually, beginning at dawn on Oct 21st in the Far East and then sweeping across the globe, ending with California and Alaska.

A professor from Canada, Lorenzo DiTommaso, has made a 12 year study of apocalyptic movements.

"It’s a philosophy that explains time, space and human existence,” DiTommaso says. And by buying into this sort of outlook, a person can find comfort in a “comprehensive answer.”

He calls the apocalyptic worldview “adolescent” because it’s “a simplistic response to complex problems” and one that “places responsibility for solving these problems with someone else or somewhere else.”

I quite liked that idea of adolescent thinking, because it seems very common. Like the 2008/9 financial crisis was the fault of greedy bankers, or of the governments, or of a secret cabal who engineered it for their own ends. Or that 9/11 was the result of ‘terrorists’, or of a secret government plot. All of these are simplistic explanations for complex problems, and that blame somebody else. In the case of 9/11, both ‘explanations’ are ways of not having to understand why there are foreigners who are angry with America. Politics thrives on adolescent thinking.

Last night, I was watching a programme on the end of the world, or rather the end of the universe, from a scientific rather than from a quasi-theological point of view. The programme was presented by Professor Brian Cox, who has recently become well-known amongst British astrologers for saying on TV that astrology is rubbish. A complaint to the BBC was worked up by the Astrological Association and signed, I assume, by many astrologers. I think it’s helpful not to get too pissed off when astrology gets criticised or dismissed, because it’s always going to happen, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It can be quite interesting if you do get pissed off, to look at why. Is it any different, in principle, to the Islamists and their fatwas? Is astrology part of your sense of who you are, your identity?

Anyway, Professor Cox was presenting what seems to be called the Heat Death theory of the end of the universe, which I hadn’t encountered. It’s based on the idea that entropy in any system always increases with time. Entropy is disorder. So the universe will eventually, after an immense period of time, have no order left in it. This is in a trilliontrilliontrilliontrilliontrilliontrillion… years, if you get the idea. We are at present in a long phase where stars shine. But that will come to an end, and all that will be left are white dwarves and black holes. They too will gradually come apart, and their constituent atoms will dissolve into light particles. And as the universe keeps expanding, so will the average density of energy in the universe approach zero. And that will also be a state of maximum entropy, of no order, of everywhere the same – nothing.

The direction of time is measured by entropy. Time goes in one direction, that of increasing disorder. When the universe reaches maximum entropy, then time will necessarily come to an end.

The period during which life is possible, though lasting for trillions of years, is infinitesimally small compared to the overall lifespan of the universe.

I found it a fascinating story. The universe began as nothing outside of time and will end as nothing outside of time, at least that’s how I interpreted it. The Big Crunch theory, that the universe will end up collapsing back in on itself to a singularity, ready for another Big Bang (which is in line with Buddhist cosmology) has been discredited in recent decades as it has become clear from astronomical measurements that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.

I don’t know where consciousness lies in all of this, if indeed it can be separated from matter. But remember, it’s just a story!

Site Meter


Singing Sparrow said...

I love to flow along with imaginations of Time and the Beginning and the End of Time and what I do know is that I am part of this could never understand the Whole. I am grateful to be within the Whole, to have the sense of being here and now and to have the luxury and time to float on the river with you this morning so many miles and hours from you as you think this out and then write it out. Love to you from California.

Anonymous said...

Well, top marks to the Family Radio lot for consistency. 22 Oct 1844 was the date chosen by the Millerites (later Seventh Day Adventists) for the end of the world. And Bishop Ussher decided that the first day of creation began on the evening of 22 Oct 4004 BC. They also used the Bible to work it out. Third time lucky, maybe? Moragh

Anonymous said...

Singing Sparrow, Your words lightened me up today, and gave me a bit of peace. Thanks for sharing. Jenni-OMG