Pim Razenberg on the unconsidered consequences of Thanos’ finger snap…
Warning: If you have not seen Avengers: Infinity War and want to avoid spoilers, do not read the following article.
Intelligent, calculated and truly righteous in his own beliefs, Thanos snapped his fingers at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, disintegrating half of all life across the universe. Josh Brolin’s Mad Titan shocked audiences around the world as fan-favourite characters such as T’Challa, Groot and Spider-Man turned to dust. During the movie’s post-credit scene we saw the effects of the snap taking out half of the population of New York City, which including the disappearance of agents Maria Hill and Nick Fury.
On the surface it seemed Thanos delivered exactly what he had promised: he decreased the universe’s population by 50%, bringing balance to the cosmos. The absence of detail in this life-changing plan, however, complicates things quite a bit. Because, if Thanos aimed to actually decrease 50% of all life, he miserably failed. This becomes evident in the film’s final scenes: Wakanda’s lush environment not only served as the Avengers’ final battleground, but also betrayed a flaw in Thanos’ masterplan. The moment the Mad Titan snapped his fingers, we saw half of the people present on the battlefield disintegrate… but every tree, grass leave and shrub surrounding our heroes peacefully sat out the destructive event…
This raises several questions. Did Thanos actually aim to erase 50% of all life? And if he did, then why didn’t half of all those trees vanish as well? In fact… how exactly does the Infinity Gauntlet work?
By definition, life is a characteristic attributed to physical entities to distinguish them from inorganic matter. It is a condition that indicates a capacity for growth, functional activity, reproduction, and continual change preceding death. According to the taxonomic system set by Carl Woese in 1990, the tree of life consists of three domains: Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya. The domain of the Eukarya then consists of the five taxonomic kingdoms; Animalia (animals), Plantae (plants), Fungi (fungi), Protista (unicellular organisms) and Monera (unicellular organisms without a nucleus). Given this definition, half of all vegetation in Wakanda should have disappeared along with our favourite heroes. Since obviously it didn’t, we’ll have to take a closer look at how exactly the Infinity Gauntlet itself operates.
In the movie, Thanos utilizes the Infinity Gauntlet without the use of spoken words or spells. As such, the gauntlet seems to follow its operator’s thoughts and wishes, rather than their direct vocal commands. This is most obvious when Thanos utilizes the Space Stone to transport himself across the cosmos: without directly informing the gauntlet where he wants to go, the device transports him to his destination. Through these scenes it becomes evident that the Infinity Stones not only delve into their master’s consciousness, but also his subconscious. Halfway the movie, the Space Stone transports Thanos and Gamora to Vormir. Not knowing the exact location of the Soul Stone, nor whether the Stone is actually there, the Space Stone transports Thanos to a safe location near the supposed hiding place of the Stone. At the close of the movie, however, the Space Stone perfectly reads Thanos intentions to transport himself to the Mind Stone, of which he knows the exact state and location.
This indicates that the Infinity Stones not just execute what their master consciously desires, but utilize a deeper reading of the gauntlet’s operators’ true intentions. Thus, even though Thanos claimed to want to erase half of all life in the universe, this did not happen because the Infinity Stones read his true, subconscious purpose as being slightly different.
Still, the full extent of Thanos’ destructive desire is left unexplored. Visibly, we saw several human and alien species being affected by the spell. As categorized in the taxonomic kingdom of the Animalia, the non-disappearance of Wakanda’s foliage doesn’t rule out the fact that all animal life on Earth – and elsewhere – has been decreased by 50% as well. If so, this would mean Thanos achieved the far opposite of bringing balance to the universe: a plethora of species that were on the brink of extinction even before the Titan’s infamous snap now no longer stand a chance of survival, while species with an abundant universal population – such as humans, or, say, the Kree – can now simply continue their exponential growth in sight of the abundant resources that have become available to them after the erasure of half of their species.
In 2016, one of the four remaining Yangtze giant soft-shell turtles alive on Earth died of natural causes in Vietnam’s Hoan Kiem Lake. There are now only three Yangtze turtles left: two males – one possibly infertile – and one female. If we accept Thanos’ intentions as decreasing every species by 50%, rather than erasing a random 50% of all life in the universe, this would mean that in the best-case scenario only one of the turtles turned to dust. Worst-case scenario, Thanos ended the species altogether. The same goes for many other species: from the Sumatran tiger to the Mahé boulder cricket, many of Earth’s lifeforms would no longer stand a chance of survival in the presence of human dominance – if ever they did. This would then qualify as an extinction level event, which is defined as a widespread and rapid decrease in the biodiversity on Earth. If anything, Thanos would have paved the way for humans to completely overtake the Earth and deplete its natural resources rather than “save” our planet. His actions may have halted overpopulation for a generation or two, but in the long run, his snap would have actually ended the existence of those species that were already struggling, and doomed the species that were already numerous through self-destruction by overpopulation – the very thing he tried to prevent.
Taken one step further, Thanos’ life-ending crime might have even more complex consequences: if the snap erased half of all individuals within the Protista and Monera kingdoms as well, it is very likely all life in the universe will cease to exist. Humans, for example, are colonized by trillion of bacteria – estimates range from 15 to 150 trillion individual bacteria per body. Due to our co-dependency on bacterial life, it would be catastrophic for our bodies if half of our residential bacteria would be turned to dust.
Outside our bodies, the consequences of Thanos’ snap would be equally saddening: just think about every product that is produced through bacteria: all the yogurt in the entire universe would instantly expire! Made through the bacterial fermentation of milk, Thanos snapping half of all life away would instantly decimated half of all “yogurt cultures” in our universe, perishing everything from Turkey’s delicious Ayran to Dovga, the unique yoghurt-based soup of Azerbaijan and the Outer Rim’s Blue milk. Thanos halving the population of lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophiles would thus seriously affect our breakfasts…
Luckily, it seemed the remaining Avengers did not suffer from any internal problems by the end of Avengers: Infinity War, indication their bacterial colonies – as well as the strained Greek yogurts and foreign cheeses in their fridges – were still intact. This leads us to the conclusion that perhaps the Infinity Gauntlet read Thanos’ desire as “ending all sentient life in the universe”… Which poses a whole new philosophical question and opens the debate on whether animals – and alien species, such as the mindless Outriders or Morag’s Orloni – are considered sentient or not… and whether Thanos’ subconscious – as read by the Infinity Stones – believes them to be.
How deep do you think Thanos’ desires to half the universe’s population ran? Do you think post-Infinity War still hosts Yangtze turtles? And is the idea that perhaps your yogurt didn’t expire give you some peace of mind? Sound off in the comments below…