How many predictions have we heard in our lives that seemed so entirely plausible, authoritative, well researched, or simply believable that we inevitably found ourselves swayed to believe them despite the fact that no real evidence accompanied them? What is it about prediction about massive global events that draws us near? And when have predictions about the paranormal (particularly of a religious or extraterrestrial nature) simply turned out to be entirely false?
Now that we’ve survived yet another rapture prediction supposed to have happened “sometime between September 9th and the 18th” and coinciding with Rosh Hashanah, it may be time to take another look at the topic of predicting the future. While some predictions have come true (many defying all odds in order to prove correct even after much criticism) the vast majority of predictions about the future are simply wrong.
Michael Smith in 2007 predicted a supervolcano would disrupt the entire planet when it coughed up more ash than the human race had seen in thousands of years and cloud the entire planet in darkness. Thankfully, this never happened within the alotted time frame. And yet despite this, Mr. Smith had the attention of millions of radio listeners despite having nothing more than a vague impression that it was imminent. The only reason anyone came to believe Mr. Smith’s prediction may have been due to several factors. He was passionate about what he believed to be a genuine disaster on the horizon. He felt there was nothing humanity could do to stop it. And finally, it was so world changing and apocalyptic that many people felt themselves believing and preparing simply to be on the safe side. Major predictions about the end of the world happen every year. Often they are new variants on old themes of established end of the world scenarios, but often they are simply the same predictions over and over again.
So if they’re so often wrong, why do we listen? All of us wish to lose ourselves in a fantasy about the future where everything that is bothering us today no longer exists at some point in the future. It’s a sort of grim garden of Eden scenario where basic survival is the most pressing concern. The burden of society to compete in a stifling framework many find to be against their best wishes is -to millions worldwide- too tempting to abandon in light of an incredible disaster that takes precedent over the mundane aspects of life. But how much do we believe these predictions? Considering the ubiquity of these world changing predictions, it may be interesting to note how many people believe the world will end in a given year. At the moment the big apocalyptic burden is 2012 with 12% believing humanity will end.
So if every previous prediction about the end of the world has been wrong, then is there another reason to hop on-board anyway? Perhaps the preparation necessary to deal with such events is of psychological comfort to some. It’s difficult to worry about the economy tomorrow if next week the stock market will not exist in theory or in practice. Anxiety is shifted to a more distant plateau where the problems of today all seem temporary.
So by believing the world will end tomorrow, many find it easier to enjoy today. Even if Armageddon has to be pushed back a few years occasionally.