Recommended Watch: Apocalypse: Should we start to panic? | DW Documentary (
From Armageddon to Extinction Rebellion: The end of the world is one of humanity’s greatest fears. The apocalypse has been predicted almost 200 times in the past 2,000 years. We’re still here. But has the danger passed?

What if the prophets just got it wrong? What if their intuition was right, even if their calculations were off the mark? The famous Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has been set at 90 seconds to 12 since 24 February 2023 - the closest humanity has ever been to its extinction. But the Doomsday Clock is only an allegory. It isn’t predicting a precise moment when the end will come.

Perhaps the apocalypse is something we can predict exactly? In the Late Middle Ages, mathematician Michael Stifel used complex numerical symbols to convert Bible verses into tangible data. And even Isaac Newton wrote more about apocalyptic ideas than he did about physics, says historian Johannes Fried. If Newton’s calculations are correct, the end is nigh.

But surely these days, we have more precise scientific methods at our disposal? For example, we’ve got a pretty good idea of when we might potentially be hit by comets or asteroids. Nowadays though, the most acute threat is the result of our own actions - environmental destruction, wars, the climate catastrophe. And as we know from history: societies aren’t exactly stable and can collapse. But whereas destruction used to take place on a more local scale, now we’re living in a globally networked high-tech civilization, which means that the next demise could very well be a global one.

This episode of "42 - The Answer to Almost Everything" examines the question of whether we’re able to calculate civilizational implosions as precisely as comet impacts. Are there recognizable patterns in the extinction of past cultures? And can we spot and use them to protect ourselves from eventual doom?

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