Big Think Interview With Ian Buruma
Ian Buruma: It's always been around, but I think it was under Ronald Reagan that it began to be a sort of serious organization. Before that these same people existed, but they weren’t politically so well organized and I think it was under the Reagan Administration that they realized that there was a vast source of voters to tap into and, from the point of view of the Christians, to influence policy.
Question: Could a European conservative Christian movement develop in response to Muslim immigration?
Ian Buruma: I don’t think it’s impossible that there will be a rise of Christianity in Europe as a reaction. I don’t think you can see great proof of it so far, although there is much talk now of sort of the Judeo-Christian underpinnings of western or European civilization, which you didn’t hear so much about before as though the Jews and the Christians have always been such brothers in arms, so there are signs that it could happen and but not yet on a very large scale.
Question: Why hasn’t the U.S. reacted toward Middle Eastern immigrants as Western Europe has?
Ian Buruma: There are I think various reasons for that. One is that most immigrants from the Middle East in the United States tend to be more middle class, better educated, many of them are Christians and they’re not concentrated so much as the European cities. In the European cities the Muslim immigrants on the whole are from village cultures, not very well educated. They came over as guest workers and they’re very concentrated. So if you go even many provincial towns and countries like the Netherlands you’ll suddenly see a very large number of people in headscarves and beards and so on in a way that you don’t really see anywhere in the United States. Here it is just one minority amongst many.
Question: Why don’t Western conservatives have more common ground with Islamic traditionalists?
Ian Buruma: Well, if by conservatives you mean Christian conservatives I think because there is historical antagonism towards Islam, but it’s necessarily entirely true that there is no common ground. I think for example when the book, Salman Rushdie’s book, was burned there were actually conservatives in the West who had total sympathy with the Muslims and thought he had it coming and ran in favor of tightening up blasphemy laws, and so it’s not always true that there is no common ground.
Question: Could the U.S. division between church and state crumble in the near future?
Ian Buruma: I’m not so sure. I think it’s… the system is fairly robust and… but it has always been contested as far back as Jefferson, and he was accused by Christians of being a man of Satan who was not recognizing that the United States was a Christian country, whereas he of course saw it as the State, as a secular state, so it has been contested from the beginning.
Question: Is religion in any way a threat to democracy?
Ian Buruma: I think you can’t really answer that question by yes or no because it depends on what kind of religion, under what circumstances and so on. It’s not necessarily a threat to democracy. What is a threat to democracy is if the authority of organized religion starts to… gets mixed up in what should be secular politics.
Question: How religious are you personally?
Ian Buruma: Well I never had a religion. Neither of my parents were religious, so I grew up with no religion at all, so I suppose I’m an agnostic in the sense that I’m not an aggressive atheist who has a deep belief in the nonexistence of God. I’m indifferent to it, which also means I don’t really have an axe to grind and it doesn’t fill me with rage because I don’t have childhood memories to rebel against, but nor am I particularly attracted by any kind of religion.
Question: Is that why you chose to take a scholarly look at religion?
Ian Buruma: It may have given me a relatively… It may have enabled me to take a fairly dispassionate view of the problem, but no, that is not the reason I decided to write it. The book by the way, is based on three lectures that I gave at Princeton and the reason I chose the subjects is because clearly in one form or another people see religion as a challenge again to liberalism and democracy, which wasn’t true for a while. In Europe people thought that this was a problem that had been successfully licked. But Islam is now seen as a challenge. The mobilization of the religious right in the United States is seen as a challenge and there have been acts of religious-inspired violence in places like Japan and so on. And so it’s an issue.
Question: Do democracy and religion require the same kind of faith?
Ian Buruma: No, I don’t think the two are quite the same thing. In a religion you have to have… you have to believe in some otherworldly or metaphysical force. I don’t think that that is the case with democracy at all. Democratic governments ought to be neutral as far as those big questions about the meaning of life, what happens after death and so on, are concerned. I do think there has to be a common agreement to abide by certain rules and laws, and without that things of course would collapse very quickly.
Question: How much does religious freedom in the U.S. owe to its Protestant heritage?
Ian Buruma: I think that the particular nature of the separation of church and state in the U.S., as is true of Protestant countries in Europe or majority of Protestant countries in Europe, does have a lot to do with that. And that the authority of the Vatican, of the Catholic church, was much more opposed to democratic development in the past than the Protestant churches were. The Protestant churches have a tradition of being suspicious of authority, certainly of absolute authority, encouraging a certain kind of individualism since every individual according to the Protestant faith has his own pipeline to God and doesn’t need to go on his knees or her knees to priests.
Question: Has its immigration history made the U.S. more receptive to outside religious beliefs?
Ian Buruma: Yes, I do think that. It’s very clear what it is to be an American citizen. It’s a political concept more than anything else. It means that you are loyal to the Constitution and you’re a good citizen and then you can have whatever culture you wish in your private life, so you have the hyphenated citizen. It’s much harder for Europeans to accept that this is possible. Also the fact that so many Americans still themselves are religious makes them much more accepting of other people who are equally religious even though of religions that, you know, are not Christian or are not all that familiar.
Question: Does entrepreneurship trump religion in the US?
Ian Buruma: Yes, I think that is probably fair to say. Also the U.S. has a long history of a kind of folk Christianity in the form of evangelism, evangelical faiths, which in itself is very close to business and entrepreneurship. People who start mega-churches or promote their religious faith on television are businessmen as well as preachers and that goes back you know almost the beginning of the United States. That is why I started my book with the story of Elmer Gantry.
Question: Why is intellectualism met with suspicion here in the U.S.?
Ian Buruma: I think it may have something to do with the myth... or at least the ideal of egalitarianism that it’s better to be a regular guy with sort of good standing in the community, good character and so on than to be an egghead. Eggheads are suspected and that is not just American culture. I think that was true traditionally in Britain as well and there is something to be said for it. I mean there are many unpleasant effects of that kind of philistinism. But the good thing is that ideas can be dangerous. Intellectuals are dangerous when you give them too much power because they tend to take ideas to their extreme, and they’re not practical people on the whole. And it’s good I think to be a little suspicious of taking any idea to its extreme and it is probably better to have people in power who are more practical and who know the art of compromise.
Question: What would de Tocqueville say if he could see us now?
Ian Buruma: Well I think he would be on the hand probably shocked because some of his... possibly some of his worst, his most pessimistic predictions would seem to have come true in that he was on the one hand in favor of democracy and he admired American democracy, but he was frightened of the possible consequences. He thought it could lead to tremendous vulgarity and so on and I think he probably would see that. He would also see a much less conformist population probably than the one he saw, depending on where he would travel of course. And I think he probably would be rather shocked by the tone of the public figures, of the politicians who are probably less, little less high minded than the ones he encountered when he was there.
Question: Is tolerance staging a comeback?
Ian Buruma: Well of course it is not dead, but what has happened is that tolerance which we on the whole used to regard as a positive term more and more has become a very negative one, and that those who are afraid that the West or Europe in particular is going to be Islamized, that Europe is going to end up as Eurabia or that we’ll be swamped by intolerant Muslims and so on, tend to see tolerance as at best indifference, at worst a sort of cowardly appeasement and collaboration with Islamic fascism. I think that is very regrettable because tolerance in the sense of being able to live with people whose opinions or values you may not share, as long as everybody abides by the law and doesn’t start you know slitting each other’s throats I think is necessary. And you can’t demand—and the United States is a good example of this—that the entire population shares exactly the same cultural values, it’s impossible, nor should one demand it. I mean diversity is part of the societies we live in.
Question: Who does multiculturalism hurt?
Ian Buruma: Well multiculturalism, if it is simply a description of a society which consists of various different cultures and languages, is one thing. We live in such societies. Multiculturalism as an ideology that somehow supposes that or promotes the idea that people should stick to their own culture and not integrate or assimilate I think is wrong. But I think as an ideology it is certainly on the way out. I don’t think that that many people believe in that anymore. I think that when you think of it in that dogmatic way it harms minorities because they’re not encouraged to learn the skills or the languages that would allow them to take part in the societies and the economies in a way that would be beneficial to them.
Question: How have former British colonies dealt with the phenomenon of multiculturalism?
Ian Buruma: Well India is rather a good example of a place which has institutionalized multiculturalism in the sense that it includes a population of very different cultures and even ethnicities and I don’t just mean Muslims and Hindus. There are a huge number of different languages in India and so on. And somehow it works even though there are instances of violence and tensions and it is a democracy that's hugely problematic, but it works. They’ve found a way of dealing with it that actually probably the West in its more hysterical moments could learn something from.
Indonesia likewise. It was only a nation state because of... because the Dutch colonial history made it that. I mean it is highly diverse. It has only just become a democracy and showing many tensions, but I think again one probably we should be paying more attention to Indonesia because it is the country with the largest Muslim population in the world and when people say Islam in incompatible with democracy they should take another look at Indonesia.
Question: Are urban-rural divisions a source of violent culture clash in Europe?
Ian Buruma: Well the violence that comes from radical Islamists for example is sometimes blamed on a clash of civilizations that somehow different traditions, one a non-Western one, one a European one, are sort of violently clashing. I think that is a mistake. It’s a mistake in analysis, because the people who drop bombs in the London underground for example are not guest workers from little villages in Anatoli or the Rif Mountains in Morocco. They’re people born in Europe and raised in Europe who often grew up not knowing much about religion. And I think they indeed are often in a kind of no man’s land, which is very often true of second generation immigrants, where they are alienated from the culture of their parents or grandparents and feel rejected for one reason or another by the country in which they grew up. And of course they’re vulnerable, particularly vulnerable, to violent causes. All young people are vulnerable to them, but they are perhaps especially vulnerable.
Question: How does the Tea Party movement reflect broader global fears about multiculturalism?
Ian Buruma: Well I see the Tea Party movement as something that is part of a phenomenon that is going on all over the world now that there is a general anxiety caused by globalization, by the influence of international corporations, of super-national organizations and so on... people feel that they’re in a world where they’ve lost their grip on who they are, where they belong. They don’t know who represents them anymore and so on. And this has led often to defensive reactions and often hostile reactions, partly against the political elites that are blamed for this state of affairs, that are blamed for these anxieties, but also against the alien elements. And the two are linked because in Europe is it the elites that are blamed for bringing in the immigrants and for dismissing everybody who complained about tensions that come out of large-scale and not-very-well-managed immigration, that dismissed such complaints as racism. And so there is a populist reaction against the elites which has taken this immigration issue somehow as a sort of focal point.
Question: Would promoting a view of religion as a cultural product reduce intolerance?
Ian Buruma: Well I don’t think it would make much difference whether we call it a cultural product or anything else. Of course to some extent it is a cultural product. I mean the religions most people believe in are the ones that they were born with or part of the communities they were born into, but recognizing that is not going to lessen the hostilities or the tensions that are there because I think the reasons for those are social, political and as I said earlier to do with more general anxieties, which are not always very focused. But when people are frightened the first things that they are going to react against are minorities, alien minorities—or minorities that look alien—and the people who supposedly have power, the elites who are blamed for making life difficult.
Question: Would some European countries benefit from the establishment of an Islamic political party?
Ian Buruma: It might, but the problem… Well, it depends on the political system. In a basically two party system like Britain, or the United States for that matter, having a splinter party that is religious that kind doesn’t make any difference. In countries with proportional representation where you have coalition governments, many parties there are of course religious parties. You have Christian Democrats. You have Christian parties of various kinds, and it is very possible that there will be Islamic parties of that nature. The problem with forming an Islamic party, and there have been people who have tried, is that there is no such thing as an Islamic community. They are very divided. They come from very different cultures. There is a schism between the Shiites and the Sunnis and so on, so it is difficult for Muslims to make a common political cause even though from the outside, from the non-Muslim perspective they all may look like one great monolith.
Question: Is genuine religious compromise possible in a liberal democracy?
Ian Buruma: Well yes, because without compromise you can’t have a liberal system, liberal democratic system. That is the name of the game. And so you would have to have compromises and in fact, on a daily basis we have compromises. The question is where do you draw the line and are there things that you cannot compromise with and I would draw the line always at the use of violence or the threat of the use of violence. If people use violence or threaten violence to impose their views on others that is something that cannot be tolerated or compromised with.
Recorded April 21, 2010
A conversation with the Henry R. Luce Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College.
Join Radiolab's Latif Nasser at 1pm ET today as he chats with Malcolm Gladwell live on Big Think.
UNC School of Medicine researchers identified the amino acid responsible for the trip.
- Researchers at UNC's School of Medicine have discovered the protein responsible for LSD's psychedelic effects.
- A single amino acid—part of the protein, Gαq—activates the mind-bending experience.
- The researchers hope this identification helps shape depression treatment.
What is Bicycle Day?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d346092205da3c9ed10bad283222c9f1"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/L32mAiLXnLs?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Back in the world of clinical science, LSD has always showed promise. That trend continues as restrictions are finally easing up. Understanding LSD's effects on our brain's complex system of networks is an important step toward discovering therapeutic actions. As Roth <a href="https://www.inverse.com/mind-body/how-lsd-binds-to-the-brain-study" target="_blank">says</a> of his research,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Now we know how psychedelic drugs work – finally! Now we can use this information to, hopefully, discover better medications for many psychiatric diseases."</p><p>Using X-ray crystallography, Roth's team discovered a single amino acid—a building block of the protein, Gαq—responsible for binding to serotonin receptors. As LSD is only a partial agonist, they also experimented with a full-agonist designer psychedelic in order to observe complete receptor activation. This amino acid appears to be the master switch for the psychedelic experience. </p><p>While psilocybin has been in the news, the psychedelic renaissance is expanding in all directions. Phase 1 clinical trials on the <a href="https://newatlas.com/science/landmark-clinical-trial-lsd-mdma-mindmed/" target="_blank">combination</a> of LSD, MDMA, and psychotherapy will soon commence. LSD's effects on <a href="https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03866252" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Major Depressive Disorder</a> and <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/first-clinical-trial-shows-micro-doses-of-lsd-can-increase-a-person-s-pain-tolerance" target="_blank">pain management</a> are ongoing. With the <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-09-18/-magic-mushroom-company-moves-toward-mainstream-in-nasdaq-ipo" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first psychedelics company</a> to IPO on the American stock market, along with hundreds of millions of dollars of investment flowing into similar companies and organizations, the push for legalized psychedelics intensifies. </p>
Credit: ynsga / Shutterstock<p>Researchers are actively attempting to remove the hallucinogenic component of psychedelics for widespread therapeutic usage—<a href="https://www.healtheuropa.eu/could-ibogaine-offer-a-revolutionary-long-term-solution-to-addiction/100635/" target="_blank">trials</a> using ibogaine for addiction treatment, for example. Identifying the chemical effects of psychedelics on our brains is an essential step in that process.</p><p>Of course, believing psychedelics <em>only</em> matters to brain chemistry is problematic as well. The rituals associated with their use are just as relevant. The "<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Set_and_setting" target="_blank">set and setting</a>" model espoused by Timothy Leary reminds us that biology isn't everything; environmental factors play just as important a role in mental health. </p><p>Isolating specific chemicals without understanding the impact of the drug <em>and</em> the environment overlooks the holistic nature of the psychedelic experience. For example, ketamine trials <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/ketamine-depression" target="_self">were rushed</a> and could potentially backfire; we can't afford to make that mistake again. </p><p>Still, understanding the pathways LSD utilizes is an important step forward. As Roth says, "Our ultimate goal is to see if we can discover medications which are effective, like psilocybin, for depression but do not have the intense psychedelic actions." In a world where more people are growing anxious and depressed by the day, every intervention should be explored.</p><p> --</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
A team of researchers have discovered the brain rhythmic activity that can split us from reality.
- Researchers have identified the key rhythmic brain activity that triggers a bizarre experience called dissociation in which people can feel detached from their identity and environment.
- This phenomena is experienced by about 2 percent to 10 percent of the population. Nearly 3 out of 4 individuals who have experienced a traumatic event will slip into a dissociative state either during the event or sometime after.
- The findings implicate a specific protein in a certain set of cells as key to the feeling of dissociation, and it could lead to better-targeted therapies for conditions in which dissociation can occur.
What is dissociation?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bd2f1f29418bd4805bf1282001dca814"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/XF2zeOdE5GY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Dissociation is an experience commonly described as a feeling of sudden detachment from the individual's identity and environment, almost like an out-of-body experience. This mysterious phenomena is experienced by about 2 percent to 10 percent of the population.</p><p>"This state often manifests as the perception of being on the outside looking in at the cockpit of the plane that's your body or mind — and what you're seeing you just don't consider to be yourself," explained senior author Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD, <a href="https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2020/09/researchers-pinpoint-brain-circuitry-underlying-dissociation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in a Stanford Medicine news release</a>. Deisseroth is a professor of bioengineering and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, as well as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.</p><p>Nearly three-quarters of individuals who have experienced a traumatic event will slip into a dissociative state either during the event or in the hours or even weeks that follow, according to Deisseroth. Most of the time, the dissociative experiences end on their own within a few weeks of the trauma. But the eerie experience can become chronic, such as in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder, and extremely disruptive in daily life. The state of dissociation can also occur in epilepsy and be invoked by certain drugs. </p><p>Until now, no one has known what exactly is going on inside the brain triggering and sustaining the feeling of dissociation — and so it has been a challenge to figure out how to stop it and develop effective treatments. </p>
New Research: The Molecular Underpinnings of Dissociation<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyNjk3My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNTQ3MTI1NX0._nJoxm1eDcTsHsy1Y27JxNl2uR5hlbEYDWYoQlO0EAU/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C121%2C0%2C121&height=700" id="26e86" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1094af23e35a498a8a6b691f1d0cbfaf" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="neurons" />
Neurons from a mouse spinal cord
Credit: NICHD on Flickr<p>Last week, in a study published in <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2731-9" target="_blank">Nature</a><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2731-9">,</a> Deisseroth and his colleagues at Stanford University uncovered a localized brain rhythm and molecule that underlies this state.</p><p>"This study has identified brain circuitry that plays a role in a well-defined subjective experience," said Deisseroth. "Beyond its potential medical implications, it gets at the question, 'What is the self?' That's a big one in law and literature, and important even for our own introspections."</p><p>The authors' findings implicate a specific protein existing in a particular set of cells as key to the feeling of dissociation. </p><p>The research team first used a technique called widefield calcium imaging to record brain-wide neuronal activity in lab mice. They observed and analyzed changes in those brain rhythms after the animals had been administered a range of drugs that are known to cause dissociative states: ketamine, phencyclidine (PCP), and dizocilpine (MK801). At a certain dosage of ketamine, the mice behaved in a way that suggested that they were likely experiencing dissociation. For example, when the animals were placed on an uncomfortably warm surface, they reacted to it by flicking their paws. However, they signaled that they didn't care enough about the unpleasantness to do what they would typically do in such a situation, which is to lick their paws to cool them off. This suggested a dissociation from the surrounding environment.</p><p>The drug produced oscillations in neuronal activity in a region of the mices' brain called the retrosplenial cortex, an area essential for various cognitive functions such as navigation and episodic memory (a unique memory of a specific event). The oscillations occurred at about 1-3 hertz (three cycles per second). The authors then examined the active cells in more detail by using two-photon imaging for higher resolution. This revealed that the oscillations were occurring only in layer 5 of the retrosplenial cortex. Next, the researchers recorded neuronal activity across other regions of the brain. </p><p>"Normally, other parts of the cortex and subcortex are functionally connected to neuronal activity in the retrosplenial cortex," Ken Solt and Oluwaseun Akeju wrote in <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02505-z#ref-CR1" target="_blank">Nature</a>. "However, ketamine caused a disconnect, such that many of these brain regions no longer communicated with the retrosplenial cortex."</p><p>The scientists then used optogenetics, a method of manipulating living tissue with light to control neural function, to stimulate neurons in the mice's retrosplenial cortex. When the scientists did this at a 2-hertz rhythm, they were able to cause dissociative behavior in the animals analogous to the behavior caused by ketamine without using drugs. The experiments conducted by the team displayed how a particular type of protein, an ion channel, was essential to the generation of the hertz signal that caused the dissociative behavior in mice. Scientists are hopeful that this protein could be a potential treatment target in the future. </p>
What about humans?<p>The researchers also recorded electrical activity from brain regions in an epilepsy patient who had reported experiencing dissociation immediately before each seizure. The sensations experienced right before a seizure is called an aura. This aura for the patient was like being "outside the pilot's chair, looking at, but not controlling, the gauges," Deisseroth said.</p><p>The researchers recorded electric signals from the patient's cerebral cortex and stimulated it electrically aiming to identify the origin point of the seizures. While that was happening, the patient responded to questions about how it felt. The authors found that whenever the patient was about to have a seizure, it was preceded by the dissociative aura and a particular pattern of electrical activity localized within the patient's posteromedial cortex. That patterned activity was characterized by an oscillating signal sparked by nerve cells firing in coordination at 3 hertz. When this region of the brain was stimulated electrically, the patient experienced dissociation without having a seizure. </p><p>This study will have far-reaching implications for neuroscience and could lead to better-targeted therapies for disorders in which dissociation can be triggered, such as PTSD, borderline personality, and epilepsy.</p>
Astronomers find these five chapters to be a handy way of conceiving the universe's incredibly long lifespan.
- We're in the middle, or thereabouts, of the universe's Stelliferous era.
- If you think there's a lot going on out there now, the first era's drama makes things these days look pretty calm.
- Scientists attempt to understand the past and present by bringing together the last couple of centuries' major schools of thought.
The 5 eras of the universe<p>There are many ways to consider and discuss the past, present, and future of the universe, but one in particular has caught the fancy of many astronomers. First published in 1999 in their book <a href="https://amzn.to/2wFQLiL" target="_blank"><em>The Five Ages of the Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity</em></a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Adams" target="_blank">Fred Adams</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregory_P._Laughlin" target="_blank">Gregory Laughlin</a> divided the universe's life story into five eras:</p><ul><li>Primordial era</li><li>Stellferous era</li><li>Degenerate era</li><li>Black Hole Era</li><li>Dark era</li></ul><p>The book was last updated according to current scientific understandings in 2013.</p><p>It's worth noting that not everyone is a subscriber to the book's structure. Popular astrophysics writer <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/ethansiegel/#30921c93683e" target="_blank">Ethan C. Siegel</a>, for example, published an article on <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2019/07/26/we-have-already-entered-the-sixth-and-final-era-of-our-universe/#7072d52d4e5d" target="_blank"><em>Medium</em></a> last June called "We Have Already Entered The Sixth And Final Era Of Our Universe." Nonetheless, many astronomers find the quintet a useful way of discuss such an extraordinarily vast amount of time.</p>
The Primordial era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTEyMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNjEzMjY1OX0.PRpvAoa99qwsDNprDme9tBWDim6mS7Mjx6IwF60fSN8/img.jpg?width=980" id="db4eb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0e568b0cc12ed624bb8d7e5ff45882bd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Sagittarius Production/Shutterstock<p> This is where the universe begins, though what came before it and where it came from are certainly still up for discussion. It begins at the Big Bang about 13.8 billion years ago. </p><p> For the first little, and we mean <em>very</em> little, bit of time, spacetime and the laws of physics are thought not yet to have existed. That weird, unknowable interval is the <a href="https://www.universeadventure.org/eras/era1-plankepoch.htm" target="_blank">Planck Epoch</a> that lasted for 10<sup>-44</sup> seconds, or 10 million of a trillion of a trillion of a trillionth of a second. Much of what we currently believe about the Planck Epoch eras is theoretical, based largely on a hybrid of general-relativity and quantum theories called quantum gravity. And it's all subject to revision. </p><p> That having been said, within a second after the Big Bang finished Big Banging, inflation began, a sudden ballooning of the universe into 100 trillion trillion times its original size. </p><p> Within minutes, the plasma began cooling, and subatomic particles began to form and stick together. In the 20 minutes after the Big Bang, atoms started forming in the super-hot, fusion-fired universe. Cooling proceeded apace, leaving us with a universe containing mostly 75% hydrogen and 25% helium, similar to that we see in the Sun today. Electrons gobbled up photons, leaving the universe opaque. </p><p> About 380,000 years after the Big Bang, the universe had cooled enough that the first stable atoms capable of surviving began forming. With electrons thus occupied in atoms, photons were released as the background glow that astronomers detect today as cosmic background radiation. </p><p> Inflation is believed to have happened due to the remarkable overall consistency astronomers measure in cosmic background radiation. Astronomer <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGCVTSQw7WU" target="_blank">Phil Plait</a> suggests that inflation was like pulling on a bedsheet, suddenly pulling the universe's energy smooth. The smaller irregularities that survived eventually enlarged, pooling in denser areas of energy that served as seeds for star formation—their gravity pulled in dark matter and matter that eventually coalesced into the first stars. </p>
The Stelliferous era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTEzNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMjA0OTcwMn0.GVCCFbBSsPdA1kciHivFfWlegOfKfXUfEtFKEF3otQg/img.jpg?width=980" id="bc650" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c8f86bf160ecdea6b330f818447393cd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Casey Horner/unsplash<p>The era we know, the age of stars, in which most matter existing in the universe takes the form of stars and galaxies during this active period. </p><p>A star is formed when a gas pocket becomes denser and denser until it, and matter nearby, collapse in on itself, producing enough heat to trigger nuclear fusion in its core, the source of most of the universe's energy now. The first stars were immense, eventually exploding as supernovas, forming many more, smaller stars. These coalesced, thanks to gravity, into galaxies.</p><p>One axiom of the Stelliferous era is that the bigger the star, the more quickly it burns through its energy, and then dies, typically in just a couple of million years. Smaller stars that consume energy more slowly stay active longer. In any event, stars — and galaxies — are coming and going all the time in this era, burning out and colliding.</p><p>Scientists predict that our Milky Way galaxy, for example, will crash into and combine with the neighboring Andromeda galaxy in about 4 billion years to form a new one astronomers are calling the Milkomeda galaxy.</p><p>Our solar system may actually survive that merger, amazingly, but don't get too complacent. About a billion years later, the Sun will start running out of hydrogen and begin enlarging into its red giant phase, eventually subsuming Earth and its companions, before shrining down to a white dwarf star.</p>
The Degenerate era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTE1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTk3NDQyN30.gy4__ALBQrdbdm-byW5gQoaGNvFTuxP5KLYxEMBImNc/img.jpg?width=980" id="77f72" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="08bb56ea9fde2cee02d63ed472d79ca3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Diego Barucco/Shutterstock/Big Think<p>Next up is the Degenerate era, which will begin about 1 quintillion years after the Big Bang, and last until 1 duodecillion after it. This is the period during which the remains of stars we see today will dominate the universe. Were we to look up — we'll assuredly be outta here long before then — we'd see a much darker sky with just a handful of dim pinpoints of light remaining: <a href="https://earthsky.org/space/evaporating-giant-exoplanet-white-dwarf-star" target="_blank">white dwarfs</a>, <a href="https://earthsky.org/space/new-observations-where-stars-end-and-brown-dwarfs-begin" target="_blank">brown dwarfs</a>, and <a href="https://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/definition-what-is-a-neutron-star" target="_blank">neutron stars</a>. These"degenerate stars" are much cooler and less light-emitting than what we see up there now. Occasionally, star corpses will pair off into orbital death spirals that result in a brief flash of energy as they collide, and their combined mass may become low-wattage stars that will last for a little while in cosmic-timescale terms. But mostly the skies will be be bereft of light in the visible spectrum.</p><p>During this era, small brown dwarfs will wind up holding most of the available hydrogen, and black holes will grow and grow and grow, fed on stellar remains. With so little hydrogen around for the formation of new stars, the universe will grow duller and duller, colder and colder.</p><p>And then the protons, having been around since the beginning of the universe will start dying off, dissolving matter, leaving behind a universe of subatomic particles, unclaimed radiation…and black holes.</p>
The Black Hole era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTE2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjE0OTQ2MX0.ifwOQJgU0uItiSRg9z8IxFD9jmfXlfrw6Jc1y-22FuQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="103ea" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f0e6a71dacf95ee780dd7a1eadde288d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock/Big Think<p> For a considerable length of time, black holes will dominate the universe, pulling in what mass and energy still remain. </p><p> Eventually, though, black holes evaporate, albeit super-slowly, leaking small bits of their contents as they do. Plait estimates that a small black hole 50 times the mass of the sun would take about 10<sup>68</sup> years to dissipate. A massive one? A 1 followed by 92 zeros. </p><p> When a black hole finally drips to its last drop, a small pop of light occurs letting out some of the only remaining energy in the universe. At that point, at 10<sup>92</sup>, the universe will be pretty much history, containing only low-energy, very weak subatomic particles and photons. </p>
The Dark Era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTE5NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0Mzg5OTEyMH0.AwiPRGJlGIcQjjSoRLi6V3g5klRYtxQJIpHFgZdZkuo/img.jpg?width=980" id="60c77" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7a857fb7f0d85cf4a248dbb3350a6e1c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Big Think<p>We can sum this up pretty easily. Lights out. Forever.</p>
Innovators don't ignore risk; they are just better able to analyze it in uncertain situations.