There was an article in Scientific American, and what they said, somewhat ominously, is that we are all creatures of the savannah. We have existed for all these years with instinct and intuition—maybe we actually are sensing something that might happen.
Where will you guys be on December 21st?
Lester: As you see in the book—you should be spending the 21st doing barbiturates, maxing out credit cards, having risky sex and waiting in the toilet for the world to end. And hoping Christmas comes.
Did studying all these terrible hypotheticals bum you guys out?
Appleby: There's the constant bath of bad news from Europe that we are dealing with. But you have to laugh about it I think—I know it's not a laughing matter and a few people have been slightly offended by the book. But humor is a good way to point out serious issues.
So a few people have gotten offended—how about scientists? What have they thought about the book?
Lester: Nobody has really disputed our information. We were put on BBC with a scientist—presumably, we were going to argue. But what he realized was we were talking about this fixation with doom that simply can't be denied by science. Actually, we've had a pretty good reception from scientists.
[PHOTOS: Extreme Weather]
Which of the dooms laid out in your book do you think would be most chaotic or interesting?
Lester: I think one of the things that could happen—the weakening of earth's magnetic field leading to disruption in digital technology. We talk about how a complete breakdown of digital communication would throw us back to the Stone Age instantly. We'd have to know how to make stone axes and find buffalo somewhere on city streets.
Appleby: That one's almost too real or alarming to think about. Mine is the false vacuum event—the idea that our universe isn't a true vacuum and it comes upon a true vacuum and pops like a bubble. That one is rooted in fact from an article in the International Journal of Theoretical Physics. If that happened, not only would we cease to exist, but we would have never existed.
What about most likely?
Lester:I think there's always a danger of pandemic—that would be one of the least fun, one that most would like to avoid. The consequences from global warming could also come up on us pretty suddenly.
Appleby: I don't know if it's likely exactly, but another one I like is philosophical doom—that whatever doom eventually occurs, it will wipe us out and everything we've ever done. If there's no evidence, it's like we never existed. I like that one.
Lester: I like it too—it's based on the idea that in order for something to exist, then it has to be observed. If the sun goes supernova and everything is wiped out, all our monuments and traces of humanity, according to that point of view, no one will know we existed. And that's a doom that will definitely happen eventually. And if we're talking about the universe being infinity, it's something we can say has happened somewhere.
Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.