Human beings are fascinated by beginnings and endings. Every culture has an origin story to explain how humans came to live on Earth in the first place. And many cultures make apocalyptic predictions about how we’ll go out as a species. In contemporary times, there are enough apocalyptic books and movies to deserve their own genre. Artists and musicians tackle apocalyptic themes as well. Why does the idea of apocalypse — the end of the world as we know it — fascinate us so much?
Rarely do the apocalyptic events in these stories bring about the absolute end, though. Some remnants of humankind usually survive to rebuild. We sometimes forget that we constructed the cultures in which we live, that we made up all the rules that govern our lives. A catastrophic event is an opportunity to wipe the slate clean, to press the restart button. Whoever survives gets the chance to start from zero and rewrite all the rules. And the apocalypse enables us at one fell swoop to solve the massive problems that confront us. Humankind is forced to return to the basics of survival, perhaps making our lives more meaningful — or at least more interesting. It’s an appealing fantasy.
But our fascination with the apocalypse is more than just a fantasy about starting over. I think, at its roots, exploring the possible scenarios for the end of human civilization gives us a way to confront our own mortality. We each face a personal apocalypse. We don’t know when or how it will come, or what — if anything — comes afterward. Just as each of our lives has a beginning and an ending, so it seems that the human race should have one too. Imagining that ending possibly makes it easier to accept our own endings.