It there some psychological human urge to predict the end of the world?

Noting this is the latest in the never ending cascade of “the world will end”, and that one thing in humanity seems to be the constant “end of the world” like predictions and claims, and nutty people who stop showering sometimes walk around with signs like “the end of the world is here”, let me ask, is there some kind of brain chemistry that makes humans prone to do this?

I never once felt the urge, and in fact perhaps the psychological urge is to view life as a circle and not a straight line, but what is with this end of the world stuff? The early Christians believed the resurrection would soon happen, and many refused to marry and gave away their possessions. (The second decision not as wise as the first).

So what is the psychological urge? If humans are really animals who evolved as part of nature, and have all sorts of weird emotions and whatnot as part of natural selection, what is it that causes these absurd claims of armageddon? Is there some survival instinct at play? Mutation? Stupidity?

It’s a coping skill I’ve noticed in elderly relatives. They are fond of predicting the end of civilization as we know it because it makes their pending demise seem less tragic. Religious apocalypticism just reenforces that predilection. Note that the predictor of Saturday’s apocalypse is like a hundred years old.

Michael Shermer thinks so.

Fear of death, and an urge to feel special - that it’s in MY time that the world will end, that the world couldn’t possibly go on without me.

I don’t think either of the voting options quite fits my view on it. I think the idea of an imminent Apocalypse is largely a Christian phenomenon, and in modern times, mainly a United States fundamentalist Christian phenomenon. (Note that I’m specifically referring to an imminent Apocalypse – people who are genuinely confident that they will live to see the end of the world.)

I’m not sure; I think there is probably a psychological component there, but I’m not sure what, exactly. My favourite genre of literature is post-apocalyptic fiction; there is something I find totally fascinating about looking at potential scenarios of massive upheavals on earth. Maybe it’s just the urge to run hypotheticals and see what we can come up with.

I’m inclined to think it’s more that people who buy into this bullshit are naturally credulous individuals, making them insanely easy targets. I don’t think the proponent of the “rapture theory” is anything but a money-grubbing sociopath.

Seeing as how many different cultures have an end of the world mythology (Four Horseman, Ragnarok, etc.), I suppose there’s an argument for a Jungian archetype.

I’m not sure that the way the poll is phrased is a meaningful question. If some human somewhere feels some benefit from proclaiming the end of the world then there’s a psychological urge for it, but that doesn’t rule out nuts; on the other hand it doesn’t guarantee nuts either. Consider how many people have assured that society is doomed because of the population bomb, the Y2K bug, the phosphorus shortage, peak oil, … Were they mentally ill? Probably not, but on the other hand it can’t all be blamed on misinformation either, since some very well informed people believed in these things and a few still do.

It’s natural to want to be able to predict what will happen in the future. It’s also natural to want some type of punishment for what you perceive to be an evil society. And, finally, there’s a desire to know that life has meaning and order

I think that one major component is that we fundamentally can’t conceive of a world without us, and that thus, once we reach our demise, so must the world, too. The reason for this is that whenever we think about the world, we think about the world as seen through our eyes, from the particular vantage point that is imposed on us through being a conscious creature within this world. What we see when we think about the future is not how the world would be, in itself, but how it would be to us – we have a hard time switching to a third person perspective, because the first person is all we’re familiar with. So when we try to project a world which we don’t inhabit, we run into the problem that this first person view no longer exists – but implicitly, we think of this first person view as ‘the’ world. So then, the world without us is no world at all – thus it must end when we do, ergo we live to see the end of the world.

Another component – prevalent mostly in those that expect themselves to live through doomsday – is that in a lot of people, there’s a sense that the world’s current problems are just too big to overcome, and yet, there’s a conflicting sense of optimism about the future – we’re naturally hopeful, which makes sense, since if we weren’t, why bother continue. Those two things are difficult to reconcile – but one way to do it is to invoke a sort of ‘fresh start’, a tabula rasa, often brought upon by divine intervention. After all, the believers who expect doomsday typically don’t believe that they’ll be left to burn in the flames, but rather, that an eternal, blissful future awaits them in heaven.

Dude, you’re not living down to your username.

One of the things I like about IT is creating new things, stuff that wasn’t there before…what I HATE about IT is MAINTAINING the stuff that’s already there…there’s something to be said for wiping the slate clean and starting over.

You know, I went through a short phase in my life after I got divorced. I felt like MY end was near. (Not the world) I wasn’t contemplating suicide not in the least.

Hell, I wasn’t even depressed over my recent divorce. It had been a long time coming and was happy when it finally happened.

It was weired. I just had this ominous feeling that my life was going to end soon over some freak accident. Like a meteor falling out of the sky and smashing me to bits.

I’m not sure what the hell that was all about but the feeling finally passed after a few months.

So maybe there is something psychological about it.

I couldn’t vote because it seemed too much like saying that ALL of humanity has this quirk that makes these predictions pop up. I’m not sure that’s true. None of the predictions ever get enough traction to cause a noticeable wide cultural change.

The Y2K problem doesn’t count because there was an actual problem, with an actual deadline, and the changes that were made addressed the problem.

I think that SOME people have different quirks that contribute to the likelihood that they will predict the end of X or to fall in with such predictions. I think it’s different quirks for different people.

One general primate process that may contribute is Leopard Calling. Chimp troops have a hierarchy and compete within it. They also have a Leopard Call that will mobilize the whole troop into a defensive mode that completely suspends in-troop competition. Head Chimps who are feeling pressure from competition will sometimes give the Leopard Call when there is no leopard, in order to remind everyone who’s in charge and to relieve himself of the pressure for awhile.

A general human process is worrying about the future, trying to predict what might go wrong so that it can be prevented. But worry is taxing. Do too much and it can drag you down. In uncertain or harsh times, the need to worry may be overwhelming. And if you don’t trust your ability to predict and plan, you will be a more fearful worrier.

You can see these two processes operating in a lot of political discourse. And any group activity will have a political component. News sells by doing our worrying for us, or showing us more things to worry over. Groups gain cohesion when members turn the worrying (planning) over to leaders.

So someone Calling the End can gain leadership from people who want to ease their worry. The leader gets a feeling of relief from gaining followers. The followers get a feeling of relief from not having the responsibility of worrying any more. Everyone gets a Big Worry that makes little worries look smaller and more manageable.

But it isn’t necessary to Call the End to get this effect. Any Leopard will do. Global warming and those guys who root for a different team will also work. So we’ve all got some of the contributing quirks, but I think that what causes someone to prefer The End as their Leopard is personal quirks or situational events.