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2012: Psychology of the Apocalypse

Posted by on Jun. 13, 2010 at 10:13 AM
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2012: Psychology of the Apocalypse (Part 2)

Updated: 2 days 1 hour ago
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Tony  Deconinck

Tony Deconinck Contributor

AOL News
Editor's Note: For Part 1 of "2012: Psychology of the Apocalypse," click here.

(June 11) -- Earlier this week, we discussed the re-emergence of the doomsayers calling for another imminent apocalypse at the end of the Mayan long-count calendar, scheduled for Dec. 21, 2012.

While most simply brush off the apocalyptic warnings, the groups always seem to find new followers. With all the prior failed prophecies (and there have been many), it raises one question: Why are we susceptible to these suggestions in the first place?

"It appears to be a human trait to initially believe what we are told, then subsequently we may search for evidence to confirm or deny," says Ann Winsper, a psychical phenomenologist. "Unfortunately, we also tend to seek out confirmatory evidence ... rather than searching out evidence that will not support what we have been told."

Winsper sees the initial seed of Armageddon planted by religion and watered by our own deep-rooted survival fears. "In more ancient times, there were set rituals at set times to ensure that winter would end, crops would ripen, etc. In modern society, we still have the fears but have no defined rituals to overcome them."
Mayan Calendar
AOL News
A Mayan religious calendar at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., expires on Dec. 21, 2012. Some have predicted that the world will end on that date.

Dismissing it as simply a byproduct of religious superstition does little to explain the origins of the superstition itself.

The late anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski examined the origin of superstition and found it arising in the gap between a disappointing situational reality and our ability to reconcile it with our understanding. Where no internal explanations resolved a disappointing situation, humans sought external explanations, providing a release valve for our anxiety.

And we are more anxious than ever.

Today we are drowning in a sea of information: 24-hour news channels, newspapers, magazines and the crashing pandemonium of the Internet provide us with a gushing abundance of real-time information about events happening throughout the world.

There is an unintended consequence of this bombardment. It increases our perception of perceived threats, even when those threats are declining.

Psychologist and lecturer L. John Mason has noted that the avalanche of information in the 24-hour news cycle is destructive because, whether consciously or subconsciously, we react to these threats, even though they may have little chance of affecting us.

The message is echoed by Dr. Robert London, who examined the media influence on the H1N1 virus updates and how the flood of information had an unintended consequence of generating massive anxiety.

"In our information-infused culture, a large-scale event is likely to generate frightening daily updates, analysis, commentary and anxiety-stimulating doom-and-gloom perspectives," London says. "These media messages offer little reassurance and hope, but frequently lay the groundwork for increased anxiety and stress in the entire population."

Our ability to not only comprehend but prepare for events that have not yet occurred is a critical evolutionary advantage. But when our anxiousness overwhelms us, it has the opposite effect of causing us to build up survivalistic fears that exist subconsciously and then surface once an explanation gives them a recognizable face. These fears can continue after a prediction is shown to be false.

In the book "When Prophecy Fails," social psychologist Leon Festinger describes a famous account of a UFO group in 1954 led by a suburban housewife named Marion Keech. She claimed to have received messages from aliens describing the imminent flooding of Earth and the specific date of the event.

When the time of the destruction came and passed, the group was briefly stunned. They had made massive sacrifices, expecting the world to end, and were speechless when it didn't happen.

But then Keech conveyed a new message to the group from the aliens. The disaster didn't occur because their enlightenment delayed the coming apocalypse. Instead of disbanding, the group went on a publicity offensive, spreading the word of their salvation in a well-documented display of cognitive dissonance.

Our wealth of available information can have the opposite effect on understanding. While serving as a illuminating light for some, it gives others the opportunity to cherry-pick the information that fulfills their preconceived notions, right or wrong.

Humans are pattern-seeking creatures, and having such a massive resource of events and news makes it easy for us to absorb what fits our fears and expectations, letting us create our own constellations, thick with meaning.

Perhaps it's not our doom that people seek. Perhaps it's the concept of unequivocal transformation, a forced correction to the perceived imbalances in our society, a desire for a massive change to something better than what we have.

Fortunately, it all leads back to a simple truth: We adapt. We may chafe about our situation, and long for the things we miss, but we always find a way to adapt.

Less than 100 years ago, the Great Depression seized our country. People walked miles to find work, moved their entire families to different states, stood in bread lines and often just went hungry.

They fought and scraped for every opportunity because they did not know when the next opportunity might come. And little by little, they survived a life-threatening challenge of their own.

They are our parents, and our grandparents, and our great-grandparents, who suffered and scraped and made it through their own dark times.

We will, too.

To the bolded, Do you believe our access to information leads us to be overly concerned and anxious or do you think that we are more skeptical?



How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of both the weak and strong, because sometime in life you will have been one or all of these. George Washington Carver

by on Jun. 13, 2010 at 10:13 AM
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by Christi on Jun. 13, 2010 at 10:21 AM

It's the use of fear again.  I remember the craziness that was created around the coming of the year 2000.  they had people buying water and batteries and food.  

by on Jun. 13, 2010 at 2:16 PM

 ok, unless there is someone that TRUELY can read this calendar which to me would be someone that was alive when it was used (so impossible lol) then I choose to live life.

I've heard it will be 12-12-2012, 12-21-2012, etc. sooooo who's really right here??  OI peeps!!

There is NO WAY we can really tell until it happens and with that said.... even if we knew how/who is gonna STOP it??  It's gonna happen some day one day whether it's in our lifetime or hundreds or millions of years away...

eye rolling

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