..before the world ends on Saturday.
New York Magazine interviews the crank who predicts the end of the world May 21. At 6 pm.
Describe to me what exactly you expect to happen on May 21.
I know reporters don’t like to hear from the Bible, but the Bible has every word in the original language — it was written by God. Incidentally, no churches believe that at all, they don’t hold the Bible in the high respect that it ought to be. But every word was written right from the lips of God, and God declares: [Camping reads various passages from the Book of Revelation describing the Rapture.] In other words, when we get to May 21 on the calendar in any city or country in the world, and the clock says about — this is based on other verses in the Bible — when the clock says about 6 p.m., there’s going to be this tremendous earthquake that’s going to make the last earthquake in Japan seem like nothing in comparison. And the whole world will be alerted that Judgment Day has begun. And then it will follow the sun around for 24 hours. As each area of the world gets to that point of 6 p.m. on May 21, then it will happen there, and until it happens, the rest of the world will be standing far off and witnessing the horrible thing that is happening.
Michael Shermer explains the allure of such silliness.
Why are such apocalyptic prophecies so common in human history? What are their emotional and cognitive underpinnings?
A Staten Island man is buying ads all over New York City, claiming the world is going to end on May 21st. Video courtesy of Fox News.
In most doomsday scenarios, destruction is followed by redemption, giving us a sense of both fear and hope. The ostensible “end” is usually seen as a transition to a new beginning and a better life to come. For religionists, God destroys Satan and sinners and resurrects the virtuous. For the secular-minded, humanity atones for its sins through political, economic or ideological enlightenment.
Marxists saw communism as the liberating climax of a multistage evolutionary process. Environmentalists usually conclude their forecasts of calamity with earnest recommendations for how to save the planet. Or consider John Galt, the hero of Ayn Rand’s anticollectivist novel “Atlas Shrugged” and an inspiration for many of today’s tea-party activists. In the book’s final apocalyptic scene, the heroine Dagny Taggart turns to Galt and pronounces, “It’s the end.” He corrects her: “It’s the beginning.”
Cognitively, there are several other processes at work, starting with the fact that our brains have evolved to be pattern-seeking belief engines. Imagine yourself as a hominid on the plains of Africa three million years ago. You hear a rustle in the grass. Is it the wind or a dangerous predator?
If you guess that it’s a dangerous predator but it’s just the wind, you’ve made a mistake—believing that something is real when it’s not (a “false positive,” as cognitive scientists call it)—but a rather harmless one. On the other hand, if you guess that the rustle in the grass is the wind but it turns out to be a hungry lion, your mistake is more serious: The lion was real but you thought it wasn’t (a “false negative”). In this case, you’re lunch, and you won’t get the chance to be more cautious next time.
Fair enough, but maybe people are just weird.