from the world's big
Is the end near? Podcaster Dan Carlin discusses his new book.
The host of Hardcore History has written his first book, The End Is Always Near.
- In his debut work of nonfiction, Dan Carlin discusses the last 6,000 years of apocalyptic moments.
- The podcaster talks about the choices we're collectively facing in view of the historical record.
- Carlin warns against judging past deeds on current standards, as we're setting a bad precedent on future generations.
What if you found out that you're alive today only because of the Holocaust? Discovering whether or not you're of Genghis Khan's stock is now a pastime, but what if that means many great-grandmothers ago your forebear was raped? How about this one: What if your death today resulted in the emergence of a world savior a century from now? Future generations would claim the sacrifice worthwhile. Would you?
Religious texts would idolize you as a great sacrificer, regardless of whether you actually wanted the cup taken from you. Contemplating the historical record requires masterful narration, first to suss out what is true, then to relay it in an engaging manner. Dan Carlin is one of the most gripping storytellers of our generation.
Since 2005, his podcasts, Hardcore History and Common Sense, have been downloaded more than 100 million times. While the opening episode of Hardcore History was just 16 minutes long, by the episode "Prophets of Doom" we were listening to the broadcast journalist for four-and-a-half hours straight.
Now we have another medium in which to hear, or at least read, Carlin. His first book, The End is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments, From the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses, asks the uncomfortable questions above (along with many others). It also offers insights into how to not make the mistakes of the past.
Fans have long asked Carlin to write a book. With a background in talk radio, podcasting made sense; nonfiction is another beast. As he told me during a wide-ranging interview, the creation of this book was a team project.
"I was in neophyte; my editors were going to teach me how to do this. They suggested a good way to start was to lay out all your past work on a big playroom floor where you have space and find commonalities between them. Obviously, I have a lot of material that never made it into the shows. It was like the old inkblot test from the psychologist where I never go back and look at old work. It was hard not to notice that the inkblots began to form a somewhat disturbing pattern in terms of my interests."
Joe Rogan Experience #1041- Dan Carlin
Throughout the book Carlin utilizes the revelatory moment at the end of the original "The Planet of the Apes," with the Statue of Liberty's head sticking out of the sand — Dorothy was in Kansas all along — to remind us that history happens to everyone, all the time, and that we're living through moments now without the ability to perceive where we're heading.
He begins the book with another question — do tough times make tougher people? — then makes his case, starting with a chapter on the history of child abuse in Bronze Age (and later) cultures and working up to the existential dilemma we currently face with nuclear armaments.
The book itself isn't so much a review of apocalyptic thinking as much as situations that empires have created over the last few millennia and how they've handled the dissolution of their reigns. Did Rome truly fall apart, or, "Did it transition to an equal yet more decentralized era, one with a more Germanic flair?" History compresses itself the further back we go; centuries are treated like months to suit our generally incapable brains from understanding the slow slog of time.
It can't happen here? Think again.
Don't expect conclusions from this book, however. As Carlin repeats during our talk, he offers process, not solutions. In a world of endless bold pronouncements on social media, Carlin's voice is refreshing. He's revitalizing the lost concept of nuance. Sadly, in the age of hashtag activism this skill is broadly denounced. Yet you don't have to agree with every point he makes. Education at its best offers tough questions and expects students (in Carlin's case, listeners, and now readers) to work it out for themselves.
But we have to face this fact: in a world with Great Destroyers in the form of nuclear bombs just a phone call away, these questions need to be asked.
"The basic questions may be different, but they boil down to the same either-or situation. Either things are going to be the way they always have been or they're not. Example: either we're going to continue to have another all-out war between the great powers on the planet as we have since caveman times or we're not. If we have another one, it's going to involve nuclear weapons and all the other fun stuff in the arsenals. So it's relatively inconceivable. But so is the idea that we have banished major war between the great powers for the first time in human history. A lot of the book boils down to that same either-or: either it's going to be the way it always has been, which is terrifying, or it's not going to be the way it always has been, which is fascinating."
Ruins of the Palatine, the nymphaeum or hall of the fountains and the apse of the Triclinium in the gardens of Villa Mills, Rome, Lazio, Italy, engraving from Roma la Capitale d'Italia (Rome the Capital of Italy), by Vittorio Bersezio.
Photo by Icas94 / De Agostini Picture Library via Getty Images
It comes down to our decision-making, not some pre-ordained apocalypse as many religious traditions espouse. This isn't speculation, but an inherent part of our biology. The human brain's hippocampus and entorhinal cortex, regions that process and store memories and perceive time, form the same network that predicts the future. We envision—we create—what's ahead by our perception of we've experienced. In a sense, the future is our collective memories playing out in real-time.
The future is malleable, even when (sometimes especially when) we're at the edge of a precipice. Therein lies one of the driving arguments of Carlin's work: you can never know what will happen until we get there. It's a fascinating realm of possibilities to contemplate.
The quick Twitter finger ready to fire a shot anytime one's sensibilities are offended is paralyzed in this realm, as it requires, as in the great Socratic and Buddhist debate traditions, a willingness to grapple with all the possibilities. Carlin and I both come from local news reporting. Back in the eighties and nineties, newspapers hired one editor to write every reporter's headline in order to avoid redundancy. The headline and lede offered a synopsis that introduced the reader to the heart of the story. Today the headline is often the only part being read.
I mention the tendency to immediately react based on headlines, the antithesis of nuance that often misleads one from grasping the actual story. Though there are benefits to everyone having a voice—nuance spreads in every direction—Carlin says,
"At least today, everybody kind of has an idea. We know what you're going to say that's going to get you in trouble. Those people [in the past] had no idea what the current standards were going to be for their past behavior, so they could not have complied even if they wanted to. For example, if a hundred years from now eating meat or driving cars gets your statue pulled down in the public square, how on earth could somebody have known that and and altered their behavior accordingly?"
Dan Carlin: "The New Golden Age of Oral Historical Storytelling" | Talks at Google
History might not repeat itself—we also discuss on the nature of patterns—but it does, as Mark Twain (might have) said, rhymes. Understanding the circumstances of past cultures on their own terms (and not current standards) is vital in recognizing our social evolution as a species.
Future historiographers will have to contend with a deluge of misinformation. Carlin notes that false history has always been a problem, but imagine turning to Twitter a century from now to piece together our current political situation in America. Where to even begin?
"It's a needle in a haystack problem. In the old days, there's one haystack and one needle. Today there's a million haystacks and a million needles. The problem that the historian is going to be much more about filtering rather than finding nuggets upon which to hang data points."
Most hour-long transcriptions of my interviews produce roughly 5,000 words; Carlin's was over 12,000. That's why we love him. You'll learn more in four hours of Hardcore History than most semester-long classes. The same holds for The End is Always Near, a book that should make its way into history classes nationwide.
Concluding a story is often more challenging than beginning one, because like history, it never actually ends. As with Carlin's career, you keep processing as information arises and try to make the most well-informed decisions possible.
The best advice of all didn't come from our talk, but from the last two lines in the book's preface, a message that a hyper-individualized world needs to take to heart. Three simple words remind us that we all create history every day, and that what seems to be the biggest grievance in the world will be lucky to receive a footnote even a decade from now.
"Hubris is, after all, a pretty classic human trait. As my dad used to say, 'Don't get cocky.'
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Why do so many people encounter beings after smoking large doses of DMT?
- DMT is arguably the most powerful psychedelic drug on the planet, capable of producing intense hallucinations.
- Researchers recently surveyed more than 2,000 DMT users about their encounters with 'entities' while tripping, finding that respondents often considered these strange encounters to be positive and meaningful.
- The majority of respondents believed the beings they encountered were not hallucinations.
What are DMT beings?<p>Do DMT entities actually exist in some other dimension, or are they hallucinations that the brain generates when its visual processing system is overwhelmed by a powerful tryptamine?<br></p><p>The late American ethnobotanist Terence McKenna believed that DMT beings — which he called "machine elves" — were real. Here's how he once <a href="https://www.ranker.com/list/dmt-machine-elves-facts/inigo-gonzalez" target="_blank">described</a> one of his DMT experiences:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I sank to the floor. I [experienced] this hallucination of tumbling forward into these fractal geometric spaces made of light and then I found myself in the equivalent of the Pope's private chapel and there were insect elf machines proffering strange little tablets with strange writing on them, and I was aghast, completely appalled, because [in] a matter of seconds... my entire expectation of the nature of the world was just being shredded in front of me. I've never actually gotten over it.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">These self-transforming machine elf creatures were speaking in a colored language which condensed into rotating machines that were like Fabergé eggs but crafted out of luminescent superconducting ceramics and liquid crystal gels. All this stuff was just so weird and so alien and so un-English-able that it was a complete shock — I mean, the literal turning inside out of [my] intellectual universe!"</p><p>McKenna believed machine elves exist in alternate realities, which form a "<a href="https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/old-favourites-the-archaic-revival-1991-by-terence-mckenna-1.3924887" target="_blank">raging universe of active intelligence that is transhuman, hyperdimensional, and extremely alien.</a>" But he was far from the first to believe that DMT is a doorway to other realms.</p><p>Indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin have used ayahuasca in religious ceremonies for centuries, though no one is quite sure when they first started experimenting with the psychedelic brew. The Jibaro people of the Ecuadorian rainforest believed ayahuasca allowed regular people, not just shamans, to <a href="https://atrium.lib.uoguelph.ca/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10214/17902/RichardsonG_202004_HonThesis.pdf?sequence=3" target="_blank">speak directly to the gods</a>. The 19th-century Ecuadorian geographer Villavicencio wrote of other Amazonian shamans who used ahaysuca (known as the "vine of the dead") to contact spirits and foresee enemy battle plans.</p><p>In the West, research on DMT experiences has been sparse yet interesting. The psychiatrist Rick Strassman conducted some of the first human DMT trials at the University of New Mexico in the early 1990s. He found that <a href="https://www.erowid.org/chemicals/dmt/dmt_article3.shtml" target="_blank">"at least half"</a> of his research subjects had encountered some form of entity after taking DMT.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I was neither intellectually nor emotionally prepared for the frequency with which contact with beings occurred in our studies, nor the often utterly bizarre nature of these experiences," Strassman wrote in his book "DMT The Spirit Molecule".</p>
Manuel Medir / Getty<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Whenever I tried to pull any information out of the entities regarding themselves, the data that was given up was always relevant only to me. The elves could not give me any piece of data I did not already know, nor could their existence be sustained under any kind of prolonged scrutiny."</p><p>It's also worth noting that not all people who smoke DMT see beings, and that some see beings that look <a href="https://www.erowid.org/chemicals/dmt/dmt_article3.shtml" target="_blank">nothing like elves or aliens</a>. The diversity of these reports seems to count against the argument that DMT beings exist in some objective alternate reality.</p><p>In other words, if DMT beings exist in some other dimension, shouldn't they appear the same to anyone who visits that dimension? Or do the beings assume a different appearance based on who's looking? Or are there many types of beings in the DMT universe, but most look like elves? </p><p>You might start seeing elves just trying to sort this stuff out.</p><p>Ultimately, nobody knows exactly why DMT beings take the forms they do, or whether they're just figments of overstimulated imaginations. And the answers might be beside the point. </p><p>In the recent survey, 60 percent of participants said their encounter with DMT beings "produced a desirable alteration in their conception of reality whereas only 1% indicated an undesirable alteration in their conception of reality."</p><p>DMT beings may be nothing more than projections of the subconscious mind. But these bizarre encounters do help some people find real meaning, whether it's through personal revelation or the raw power of ontological shock.</p>
So far, 30 student teams have entered the Indy Autonomous Challenge, scheduled for October 2021.
- The Indy Autonomous Challenge will task student teams with developing self-driving software for race cars.
- The competition requires cars to complete 20 laps within 25 minutes, meaning cars would need to average about 110 mph.
- The organizers say they hope to advance the field of driverless cars and "inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>Completing the race in 25 minutes means the cars will need to average about 110 miles per hour. So, while the race may end up being a bit slower than a typical Indy 500 competition, in which winners average speeds of over 160 mph, it's still set to be the fastest autonomous race featuring full-size cars.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"There is no human redundancy there," Matt Peak, managing director for Energy Systems Network, a nonprofit that develops technology for the automation and energy sectors, told the <a href="https://www.post-gazette.com/business/tech-news/2020/06/01/Indy-Autonomous-Challenge-Indy-500-Indianapolis-Motor-Speedway-Ansys-Aptiv-self-driving-cars/stories/202005280137" target="_blank">Pittsburgh Post-Gazette</a>. "Either your car makes this happen or smash into the wall you go."</p>
Illustration of the Indy Autonomous Challenge
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>The Indy Autonomous Challenge <a href="https://www.indyautonomouschallenge.com/rules" target="_blank">describes</a> itself as a "past-the-post" competition, which "refers to a binary, objective, measurable performance rather than a subjective evaluation, judgement, or recognition."</p><p>This competition design was inspired by the 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge, which tasked teams with developing driverless cars and sending them along a 150-mile route in Southern California for a chance to win $1 million. But that prize went unclaimed, because within a few hours after starting, all the vehicles had suffered some kind of critical failure.</p>
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>One factor that could prevent a similar outcome in the upcoming race is the ability to test-run cars on a virtual racetrack. The simulation software company Ansys Inc. has already developed a model of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on which teams will test their algorithms as part of a series of qualifying rounds.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We can create, with physics, multiple real-life scenarios that are reflective of the real world," Ansys President Ajei Gopal told <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/autonomous-vehicles-to-race-at-indianapolis-motor-speedway-11595237401?mod=e2tw" target="_blank">The Wall Street Journal</a>. "We can use that to train the AI, so it starts to come up to speed."</p><p>Still, the race could reveal that self-driving cars aren't quite ready to race at speeds of over 110 mph. After all, regular self-driving cars already face enough logistical and technical roadblocks, including <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-53349313#:~:text=Tesla%20will%20be%20able%20to,no%20driver%20input%2C%20he%20said." target="_blank">crumbling infrastructure, communication issues</a> and the <a href="https://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/would-you-ride-in-a-car-thats-programmed-to-kill-you" target="_self">fateful moral decisions driverless cars will have to make in split seconds</a>.</p>But the Indy Autonomous Challenge <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5da73021d0636f4ec706fa0a/t/5dc0680c41954d4ef41ec2b2/1572890638793/Indy+Autonomous+Challenge+Ruleset+-+v5NOV2019+%282%29.pdf" target="_blank">says</a> its main goal is to advance the industry, by challenging "students around the world to imagine, invent, and prove a new generation of automated vehicle (AV) software and inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
A new Harvard study finds that the language you use affects patient outcome.
- A study at Harvard's McLean Hospital claims that using the language of chemical imbalances worsens patient outcomes.
- Though psychiatry has largely abandoned DSM categories, professor Joseph E Davis writes that the field continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system."
- Chemical explanations of mental health appear to benefit pharmaceutical companies far more than patients.
Challenging the Chemical Imbalance Theory of Mental Disorders: Robert Whitaker, Journalist<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="41699c8c2cb2aee9271a36646e0bee7d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-8BDC7i8Yyw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This is a far cry from Howard Rusk's 1947 NY Times editorial calling for mental healt</p><p>h disorders to be treated similarly to physical disease (such as diabetes and cancer). This mindset—not attributable to Rusk alone; he was merely relaying the psychiatric currency of the time—has dominated the field for decades: mental anguish is a genetic and/or chemical-deficiency disorder that must be treated pharmacologically.</p><p>Even as psychiatry untethered from DSM categories, the field still used chemistry to validate its existence. Psychotherapy, arguably the most efficient means for managing much of our anxiety and depression, is time- and labor-intensive. Counseling requires an empathetic and wizened ear to guide the patient to do the work. Ingesting a pill to do that work for you is more seductive, and easier. As Davis writes, even though the industry abandoned the DSM, it continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system." </p><p>That language has infiltrated public consciousness. The team at McLean surveyed 279 patients seeking acute treatment for depression. As they note, the causes of psychological distress have constantly shifted over the millennia: humoral imbalance in the ancient world; spiritual possession in medieval times; early childhood experiences around the time of Freud; maladaptive thought patterns dominant in the latter half of last century. While the team found that psychosocial explanations remain popular, biogenetic explanations (such as the chemical imbalance theory) are becoming more prominent. </p><p>Interestingly, the 80 people Davis interviewed for his book predominantly relied on biogenetic explanations. Instead of doctors diagnosing patients, as you might expect, they increasingly serve to confirm what patients come in suspecting. Patients arrive at medical offices confident in their self-diagnoses. They believe a pill is the best course of treatment, largely because they saw an advertisement or listened to a friend. Doctors too often oblige without further curiosity as to the reasons for their distress. </p>
Image: Illustration Forest / Shutterstock<p>While medicalizing mental health softens the stigma of depression—if a disorder is inheritable, it was never really your fault—it also disempowers the patient. The team at McLean writes,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"More recent studies indicate that participants who are told that their depression is caused by a chemical imbalance or genetic abnormality expect to have depression for a longer period, report more depressive symptoms, and feel they have less control over their negative emotions."</p><p>Davis points out the language used by direct-to-consumer advertising prevalent in America. Doctors, media, and advertising agencies converge around common messages, such as everyday blues is a "real medical condition," everyone is susceptible to clinical depression, and drugs correct underlying somatic conditions that you never consciously control. He continues,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Your inner life and evaluative stance are of marginal, if any, relevance; counseling or psychotherapy aimed at self-insight would serve little purpose." </p><p>The McLean team discovered a similar phenomenon: patients expect little from psychotherapy and a lot from pills. When depression is treated as the result of an internal and immutable essence instead of environmental conditions, behavioral changes are not expected to make much difference. Chemistry rules the popular imagination.</p>