Every culture has predicted vainly its own end, and we ourselves are children of others' catastrophes. In the past, in fact, mass extinctions and large-scale slaughters have often signalled a new beginning for other life forms. Catastrophes - that is, final showdowns with history - have always fascinated us because they satisfy psychological needs and cognitive restraints; they are magnificently mirrored in classic imagery as the end of the world in terms of ultimate catharsis, revealing apocalypse, punishment, vengeance. On 21 December, 2012 - allegedly the final day of the Mayan calendar cycle - once again we will meet with our imminent doom. Telmo Pievani, a philosopher of science and one of the most renowned Italian science essayists, accompanies the reader on a journey to the end of the world, through a selection of keywords: apocalypse, disaster, nemesis, extinction. Drawing on science, philosophy, and literature, the author offers a message of evolutionary humility and acceptance of the fortuitous nature of life on Earth - and some tips on what to do when, once again, the world doesn't come to an end.
Telmo Pievani teaches Philosophy of Science at the University of Milan-Bicocca.