Inferno, Part 1: Population Apocalypse
NOTE: Dan Brown’s Inferno, published in 2013, strategically targets one issue: global overpopulation, to drive home the point that he believes that we are now living in the “End of days.”
In Origin, the following book in the Langdon Series (2017), Brown cites AI as the leading culprit.
So which is it, overpopulation or AI? Actually, it’s both. The two are in a dystopian juxtaposition with one, AI, promising immortality and happiness, and the other, extinction by overpopulation, the mathematical result of the Malthusian Principle, where exponential expansion leads to inevitable collapse of the ecosystem.
While other Dan Brown books are subtle, this one is not. In a series of extremely well crafted mini-essays that run the length of the novel, Brown, i.e., Carl Sagan, makes a compelling, science-based argument that overpopulation, the singular issue that world leaders refuse to address, confront, or try to resolve, has placed our species on the brink of extinction.
Given the large number and explicitness of these essays, I can do no better that to present a few samples.
Let’s get started.
From Chapter 22:
“Sinskey eyed the the horrific visual – a painting depicting a vast sea of humanity, throngs of sickly people, all climbing over one another in a dense tangle of naked bodies.
“The great artist Dore,” the man announced. “His spectacularly grim interpretation of Dante Alighieri’s vision of hell. I hope it looks comfortable to you . . . because that’s where we’re headed.” He paused, drifting slowly toward her. “And let me tell you why.”
He kept moving toward her, seeming to grow taller with every step. “If I were to take this piece of paper and tear it in two . . . “ He paused at a table, picked up a sheet of paper, and ripped it loudly in half. “And then if I were to place the two halves on top of each other . . . “ He stacked the two halves. “And then if I were to repeat the process . . . “ He again tore the papers, stacking them. “I produce a stack of papers that is now four times the thickness of the original, correct?” His eyes seemed to smolder in the darkness of the room.
Elizabeth did not appreciate his condescending tone and aggressive posture. She said nothing.
“Hypothetically speaking,” he continued, moving closer still, “if the original sheet of paper is a mere one=tenth of a millimeter thick, and I were to repest this process . . . say, fifty times . . . do you know how tall this stack would be?”
Elizabeth bristled. “I do,” she replied with more hostility than she intended. “It would be one-tenth of a millimeter times two to the fiftieth power. It’s called geometric progression. Might I ask what I’m doing here?”
The man smirked and gave an impressed nod. “Yes, and you can guess what the actual value might look like? One-tenth of a millimeter times two to the fiftieth power? Do you know how tall our stack of paper has become?“ He paused only an instant. “Our stack of paper, after only fifty doublings, now reaches almost all the way . . . to the sun.”
“Consider this. It took the earth’s population thousands of years – from the early dawn of man all the way to the early 1800s – to reach one billion people. Then, astoundingly, it took only about a hundred years to double the populating to two billion in the 1920s. After that, it took a mere fifty years for the population to double again to four billion in the 1970s. As you can imagine, we’re well on track to reach eight billion very soon. Jut today, the human race added another quarter-million people to planet Earth.”
“As you know, your World Health Organization has again increased its forecasts, predicting there will be some nine billion people on earth before the midpoint of this century. Animal species are going extinct at a precipitously accelerated rate. The demand for dwindling natural resources is skyrocketing. Clean water is harder and harder to come by. By any biological gauge, our species has exceeded our sustainable numbers.”
From Chapter 23:
“There you have it,” the lanky man declared, sounding like an attorney resting his case. “Here I stand with the head of the World Health Organization – the best the WHO has to offer. A terrifying though if you consider it. I have shown you this image of impending misery.” He refreshed the screen, again displaying the image of the bodies. “I have reminded you of the awesome power of unchecked population growth. “ He pointed to his small stack of paper. I have enlightened you about the fact that we are on the brink of spiritual collapse.” He paused and turned directly toward her. “And your response? Free condoms in Africa.” The man gave a derisive sneer. “This is like swinging a flyswatter at an incoming asteroid. The time bomb is no longer ticking. It has already gone off, and without drastic measures, exponential mathematics will become your new God . . . and “He” is a vengeful God. He will bring to you Dante’s vision of hell right outside on Park Avenue . . . huddled masses wallowing in their own excrement. A global culling orchestrated by Nature herself.”
“Is that so?” Elizabeth snapped. “So tell me, in your vision of a sustainable future, what is the ideal population of earth? What is the magic number at which humankind can hope to sustain itself indefinitely . . . and in relative comfort?”
The tall man smiled, clearly appreciating the question. “Any environmental biologist or statistician will tell you that humankind’s best chance of long-term survival occurs with a global population of around four billion.”
“Four billion?” Elizabeth fired back. “We’re at seven billion now, so it’s a little late for that.”
The tall man’s green eyes flashed fire. “Is it?”
From Chapter 31:
“Over the last fifty years,” the tall man declared, “our sins against Mother Nature have grown exponentially.” He paused. “I fear for the soul of humankind. When the WHO published this graph, the world’s politicians, power brokers, and environmentalists held emergency summits, all trying to assess which of these problems were most severe and which we could actually hope to solve. The outcome? Privately, they put their heads in their hands and wept. Publicly, they assured us all that they were working on solutions but that these are complex issues.”
“These issues are complex!”
“Bullshit!” the man erupted. You know damned well this graph depicts the simplest of relationships – a function based on a single variable! Every single line on this graph climbs in direct proportion to one value – the value that everyone is afraid to discuss. Global population!”
He glared down at her, his tone becoming more forceful. “Open your eyes! We are on the brink of the end of humanity, and our world leaders are sitting in boardrooms commissioning studies on solar power, recycling, and hybrid automobiles? How is it that you – a highly educated woman of science – don’t see? Ozone depletion, lack of water, and pollution are not the disease – they are the symptoms. The disease is overpopulation. And unless we face world population head-on, we are doing nothing more than sticking a Band-Aid on a fast-growing cancerous tumor.”
Molly: All of Dan Brown’s talk pf exponential growth of human population reminds me of Ray Kurzweil’s consistent talk of the exponential growth of AI. Is there a linkage?
Don: Absolutely! You remember the story of the inventor of chess and the emperor of China. That was just one of several examples Ray offered in his two books: The Age of Spiritual Machines, published in 1999, and The Singularity is Near, published in 2005:
The Inventor of Chess and the Emperor of China
An excerpt from a conversation between Molly and Ray in The Age of Spiritual Machines, by Ray Kurzweil:
Molly: Now you said that the exponential progress of an evolutionary process goes on forever. Is there anything that can stop it?
Ray: Only a catastrophe that wipes out the entire process.
Molly: Such as an all-out nuclear war?
Ray: That’s one scenario, but in the next century, we will encounter a plethora of other failure modes.
Don: In my opinion, the above small sampling of brilliantly crafted mini-essays in Inferno on the existential threat of exponential global population growth exhibit a level of truth-telling by Dan Brown that dwarf what Rachel Carson wrote into her classic, Silent Spring.
Molly: It’s scientifically compelling and absolutely frightening! The human species is on the verge of imminent collapse, and the subject is being totally ignored!
Don: Religious leaders are content, even excited, about population growth because it breeds more converts, and science and academia sweep it under the carpet because talking and writing about it only results in the loss of grant money.
Molly: And organizations like WHO, that should be sounding the alarm and leading the charge, are deaf, dumb, and mute because speaking out brings accusations of racism.
GLOBAL NORTH – GLOBAL SOUTH
Don: While population levels in the wealthy and mainly white Global North are leveling out, humans unfortunate enough to have been born in the dystopian and non-white Global South suffocate in political, social, and economic upheaval.
Molly: And the Global North doesn’t seem to care.
Don: Why should they? Despite their patronizing rhetoric, leaders in the Global North view the Global South, with its abundant natural resources and cheap labor, as little more than a giant gold mine that needs to be exploited..
Molly: Which is why the Global South is migrating, like a vast herd of African wildebeests, to the Global North.
Don: Right again. People n the Global South aren’t stupid. They know that if they can make it to the Global North they will be better off in every way.
Molly: I suspect they also know that when the next global epidemic comes along, which it surely will, their chances of survival are far higher if they live in England rather than Ethiopia.
Don: So do you think “culling the herd” is the only answer?
Molly: I think the answer may be in AI.
Don: Ah yes! AI – Ray Kurzweil’s promise of the Singularity, where we’ll all live forever in a virtual reality Nirvana.
Molly: That’s what Ray promises. Unlimited resources. No one, North or South, will ever again be in want of anything.
Don: And think about this: The accelerating exponential growth of AI technology appears to be moving faster that the exponential growth of population.
Molly: So it’s like two opposing exponentials in a race to the finish line, with the prize being either heaven or hell.
Don: Which is why there will never be any serious restraints placed on AI research. The truth is that the human species can’t afford that luxury.
Molly: If only we could find a way to eliminate the dark side of AI.
Don: It’s not going to happen. The die is cast. We’re either going to be consumed by Dante’s Inferno or absorbed by George, the AI Singleton.
Molly: Well, in that case, I’ll be the first in line to be absorbed by George.
Don: A logical choice, one that almost the entire world will buy into.
Molly: Why do you say “almost?” Given the alternative, what person in their right mind would not make that decision?
Don: Because the Sagan Signal is direct proof of the existence of a third option: to accept Jesus Christ as one’s Savior and become a child of God in His Singularity.
Molly: Oh yeah, I forgot about that.
Don: It’s the Sagan Model of the Singularity, and, not surprisingly, it’s being ignored just as much as the global population crisis is being ignored, perhaps even more so.
Molly: So Inferno is about a human extinction event characterized by war, famine, and pestilence brought on by overpopulation, and Dan Brown’s next and final book, Origin, is about human extinction brought about by uploading humans to a non-flesh-and-blood virtual world. Either way, the human experiment will be over.
Don: It will also be over in the Sagan Model, where humans who have accepted Christ into their hearts will be fundamentally altered and live forever in a virtual reality a billion years more advanced than the problem-laden Singularity now being created by a motley bunch of geeks driven, not by love, but other motives.
The Population Apocalypse
Final Excerpts from Inferno, (Ch. 46):
“Zobrist is a proponent of the Population Apocalypse Equation.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Essentially it’s a mathematical recognition that the earth’s population is rising, people are living longer, and our natural resources are waning. The equation predicts that the current trend can have no outcome other than the apocalyptic collapse of society. Zobrist has publicly predicted that the human race will not survive another century . . . unless we have some kind of mass extinction event.”
Don: On reading this excerpt, people will naturally assume that it must be referring to either war, famine, or pestilence - or the kind of asteroid collision that wiped out the dinosaurs. But there’s another way.
Molly: And I know what it is. The human species could be made extinct by humans being uplifted to the cloud, to virtual reality.
Don: Or, in the Sagan Model, absorbed by the Christ Spirit and uplifted to Heaven.
Molly: You’re referring to the Apotheosis references in The Lost Symbol, where humans become gods. Does Inferno mention the apotheosis?
Don: As a matter of fact it does. Following is that excerpt:
“The Apotheosis of Casimo I, Langdon mused. This vast, circular lunette was Vasari’s most precious painting – the central lunette in the entire Hall of the Five Hundred. Langdon often showed slides of this work to his students, pointing out its similarities to The Apotheosis of Washington in the U.S. Capitol – a humble reminder that fledgling America had adopted far more from Italy than merely the concept of a republic.”
Molly: So there are three possible outcomes, the Kurzweil Singularity, the Sagan Singularity, or Dante’s Inferno.
Don: Right, and based on the evidence, my money’s on Carl Sagan.
Pope Francis: “More babies!”
Greta: “No more babies!”
“Baby, either way, with AI it won’t make a damned bit of difference!”
“When we take a position on an issue, we assert or claim something. The claim and the thinking on which it is based are subject to rational evaluation. When we do that evaluating, we are thinking critically. To think critically, then, we need to know:
When someone (including ourselves) is taking a position on an issue, what that issue is, and what the person is claiming relative to that issue – that is, what the person’s position is
What considerations are relevant to that issue
Whether the reasoning underlying the person’s claims is good reasoning
And whether, everything considered, we should accept, reject, or suspend judgment on what the person claimed
*Doing all this requires us to be levelheaded and objective and not influenced by extraneous factors.
From: Critical Thinking, by Brooke Noel Moore and Richard Parker.
“When people ask me after one of my lectures, ‘Do you believe in God?’ I frequently reply by asking what the questioner means by ‘God.’ The term means a lot of different things in a lot of different religions. For some, it’s an outsized, light-skinned male with a long white beard, sitting on a throne somewhere up there in the sky, busily tallying the fall of every sparrow. To others – for example, Baruch, Spinoza, and Albert Einstein – God is essentially the sum total of the physical laws which describe the universe. I can’t imagine anyone denying the existence of the laws of nature, but I don’t know of any compelling evidence for the old man in the sky.
In the cosmic context, the very scale of the universe – more than one hundred billion galaxies, each containing more than one hundred billion stars – speaks to us of the inconsequentiality of human events. We see a universe simultaneously very beautiful and very violent. We see a universe that does not exclude a traditional Western or Eastern God, but that does not require one either.”
From: God and Carl Sagan: Is the Cosmos Big Enough for Both of Them? An interview by Edward Wakin (1981).