T

he end of the year always seems to be about two things: looking back and looking forward. Looking back is easy. That's why the end of the year brings with it countless best-of and worst-of lists as well as a lot of speculation about how the new year might unfold.

Given that we've been trying to foretell the future for most of human existence, you'd think we'd have gotten pretty good at it, but we haven't.

It's not clear exactly when mankind first tried to guess how things might turn out in the future, but the things being predicted have more or less remained constant: the weather, which investment/wager will produce the best result, and when the world will end.

Given that we've been trying to see into the future for most of human existence, you'd think we'd have gotten pretty good at it, but we haven't. Weather can be reliably predicted about 48 hours in advance, but beyond that, the degree of accuracy begins to dwindle. Predicting the outcomes of games or investments has a poor success rate, as evidenced by the fact that most people who wager and/or invest have not become independently wealthy.

And as for end of the world predictions, the accuracy rate remains steady at zero percent.

The Romans predicted the end would come way back in 634 BC. When the end failed to come that year, they revised their prediction, and said that 389 BC would be the year. Once again mankind stubbornly refused to be abolished, so new dates were announced.

According to some New Testament scholars, Jesus predicted that the end of times would happen within a few decades of his time on Earth. When that failed to happen, many notable seers and sages predicted that the world would end upon Jesus' return in the year 500. 1033 was next chosen, as it was believed to be 1000 years from Jesus' death.

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This is the way the world ends.

Thomas Muntzer, a reformation-era German philosopher, predicted that the end would come by 1526, and in a sense he was right. His rebellion against Martin Luther got him tortured and beheaded in 1525.

The 20th Century was the golden age of doomsaying, however. In 1831 the Catholic Apostolic Church predicted that the world would end upon the death of the last of its 12 founding members, which occurred in 1901, yet strangely enough the world remained.

Cult leader Jim Jones predicted a nuclear apocalypse would happen in 1967, Leland Jenson predicted that a similar fate would befall the world in 1980, and the authors of the book The Jupiter Effect foresaw 1982 as the year in which a planetary alignment would wreak havoc on the Earth.

Louis Farrakhan predicted that the first Gulf War would prove to be the "War of Armageddon," and a psychic named Sheldon Nidle fortold that 16 million spaceships and a host of angels would signal the end on December 17, 1996.

The year 2000 was predicted by many to be a sure bet for the death of our civilization, and more recently Harold Camping assured us all that May 21, 2011 would be the Big Day. On May 22 he announced that his initial calculations were wrong, and that October 21 was what he meant to say. He was unavailable for comment on October 22.

And we all know about the Mayan Apocalypse that wasn't, but don't think that means humans have given up. Beware of May 19, 2013, says Ronald Weinland, who has so far been wrong twice in his guesses. Psychic Jeane Dixon says 2020 is the year Satan returns, but she had previously guessed February 4, 1962.

If you're one of those who trust science, you might want to place your bets on the year 500,000,000. That's when the level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is predicted to drop to levels that will make life on Earth unsustainable, according to James Kasting.

Most scientists put more trust in the year 5 Billion. That's when our Sun is likely to swell into a red giant, which will overheat the Earth, rendering it a charred wasteland.

And even if humanity manages to relocated before that happens, there won't be much hope for anyone come the year Googol (10 to the 100th power). That's when some scientist say the heat death of the universe will occur.