Doomsday survivalists and the anthropic principle

This morning I read an article on The Verge about survivalist condos—homes built in disused missile silos and military bunkers—intended to allow their wealthy and determined owners to survive a cataclysm.

Most doomsday theories are just plain silly, particularly those based on prophesy. Neither the ancient Mayans nor the authors of the Old Testament had true insight into the future of the world. They were doing the best they could with the information they had, of course; but they were mere storytellers.

However, there are conceivable threats to humanity’s survival. Extinction-level events have occurred in our planet’s history, and will probably occur again. This leads to a macabre corollary to the anthropic principle (and a form of selection bias): those who plan for catastrophe, will be the only ones to survive in a universe where such events are common. Disasters of large magnitude are relatively uncommon. However, assuming such events have a non-zero probability, doomsday theorists will eventually be proven correct: it’s just a matter of time.

I assume though that most of the people who invest in such bunker homes believe that the cataclysm for which they are preparing is likely to occur within their lifetimes. So the real question is whether it makes sense to invest time, money, and effort in what is essentially a form of insurance against an event whose probability is very difficult to estimate. If this investment requires diversion of resources and isolation from the rest of the world, then there are additional opportunity costs. It’s an interesting dilemma!

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