August 29, 2010
End Time Believers Want To Feel Special?

Do you feel special? So special that you think you live in a unique time? Andrew Stuttaford thinks vanity is behind the belief of many people who believe they live in the end time or in the time where great disaster will befall us.

I’ve long suspected that amongst those who believe that the apocalypse is just round the corner, a certain vanity may well be at work – the belief that their time is somehow special.

Stuttaford points to a Scientific American article on why humans have a tendency to believe they live in a special end time: it is all about the desire to feel special.

The desire to treat terrible events as the harbinger of the end of civilization itself also has roots in another human trait: vanity.

We all believe we live in an exceptional time, perhaps even a critical moment in the history of the species. Technology appears to have given us power over the atom, our genomes, the planet—with potentially dire consequences. This attitude may stem from nothing more than our desire to place ourselves at the center of the universe. “It’s part of the fundamental limited perspective of our species to believe that this moment is the critical one and critical in every way—for good, for bad, for the final end of humanity,” says Nicholas Christenfeld, a psychologist at the University of California, San Diego. Imagining the end of the world is nigh makes us feel special.

To feel special is to feel one's status is higher. That's a fundamental human need. On a related note see my post Mickey Foley: The Doomer's Curse about why people wish for a disastrous end to our current civilization: the desire for higher relative status. You can also listen to me interviewed about this in KMO's podcasts Got Status? and The Success Trap.

Natural selection bequeathed us many cognitive flaws that cause our emotional needs to distort already flawed and very limited reasoning faculties. Only a small fraction of the human race is smart enough to create the scientific and technological civilization that makes web logs and social networking sites possible. Even that smart fraction has lots of cognitive flaws that prevent an accurate assessment of our situation. I hope our cognitive flaws do not eventually lead us into creating an extremely special disastrous situation. I prefer boring progress and the only special thing I really want is a fully rejuvenated body.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 August 29 07:54 PM  Society Status Hierarchies

Underachiever said at August 29, 2010 9:38 PM:

To be fair, we do live in a special time.

cathy said at August 30, 2010 4:48 AM:

Each of us deserves an award for participating in this special time.

Chris T said at August 30, 2010 9:45 AM:

The last hundred years is objectively unique compared to the rest of human history. Humanity is gaining increasing control over its own destiny and the next couple hundred years will almost certainly determine whether we continue along this trend or just become another blip in Earth's long history. As important as it is not to overestimate our own time period's significance, it's also critical not to ignore all evidence that it is unique compared to the rest of our specie's or any species' existence.

Doug said at August 30, 2010 12:06 PM:

As Charley Brown sometimes said, "Good grief."

What is this post about, apocalyptic alarmists in general, like some of the the AGW folks, the Greenies, or psychological aspects of Christian belief in eschatology? Or all of it?

I'll just venture that if you lived through much of the 20th century and have any adrenalin left with which to contemplate the state of mankind and the 21st Century's possibilities, you are indeed special.

Sione said at August 30, 2010 12:14 PM:

There was a Chinese saying, "May you live in interesting times." It was supposed to be a curse. Perhaps they should have said, "May you live in exceptional times."

What I'd like to see is what will happen next.


Fly said at August 30, 2010 2:44 PM:

The most probable time period a person could have lived is the historical period during which the human "mind type" had the largest population. Hence my being alive today combined with recent evidence of accelerating change weakly suggests that humanity will experience a drop in population within the next few hundred years...possibly due to a non-human "mind type" displacing humanity. From an outsider's perspective human history would consist of a million years of very low population, a few thousand years with moderate population, and a final very large bulge just before the disappearance of humans. I.e., most humans would have lived during the final special era.

Maximillian said at August 31, 2010 5:36 PM:

The atomic bomb is the only thing special about the modern age. And we've learned that nuclear winter and the nuclear apocalypse have both been overstated. Overpopulation hysteria is a joke, as is peak oil and global warming doomism. The club of rome is an asylum of brain rotted fools, like most university faculties.

Time to get out in the real world and start solving problems, instead of ruminating over a Y2K apocalypse that wastes your life.

Dan C said at September 2, 2010 2:10 PM:

Unforunately, I fall into this category as someone who thinks they are special, or live during a special time, although I am no "end timers" that is for sure. Instead I believe (well, really hope) that with sufficient funding and support into research of aging (e.g. SENS) that my lifespan can be significantly extended, much more than those humans that have lived before me. I guess in a way that is true no matter how long my life is extended... 200 years ago I would have died of appendicitus.

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