Of Mayans and Mayhem: Goodbye World or Hello Wild Conjecture?
A quick note before I continue this blog post, dear readers: this post won’t be as ‘scientifically’ minded as the rest of the posts on this site will hopefully be. The reason being that I am on a bit of a deadline with this one…no pun intended. All the same, I hope you will enjoy it and that, as the first post here, it will be entertaining and informative in equal measure. Without further ado, let us push the boundaries of reality:
Of Movies and Madness: 2012
As I’m writing this, the clock is ticking away, undeterred in its one task: to eat away at precious seconds. And every second it eats, the closer we are brought to the dreaded day where the world will supposedly undergo a cataclysm. That date is December 21st, 2012…a date predicted by the Mesoamerican ‘Mayan’ people as an end of an era, marked by the end of a 5125-year cycle. Depressing, right?
Actually, depressed how I felt sitting through that movie ‘2012’ with my sister, once upon a time ago. It was 3 hours of excrutiating inaccuracies, with many ‘false endings’. You know what I mean. There’s a perfect point for the movie to end: a point where no more of your time needs to be taken up. A point where, you still feel cheated out of your money, but you can go away very barely satisfied with what you’ve just seen. Unfortunately, it’s also a common point where directors just carry on. No joke, they just carry on like they NEED to show you more of their creative blasphemies. And 2012 was riddled with so many of those we were just rooting for all the characters to be topped off in comical fashion.
Anyway, after watching it (only the once, thank the Singularity, although my brother did purchase it on DVD since…ahem), I was convinced that the world couldn’t end the way it did in this movie, even in the slightest. I mean…really? An amateur pilot who only took two lessons but could dodge falling buildings like it was second nature? A hero who who fairly hilarious in Hot Tub Time Machine (shameless plug!) but just bored you to tears in an apocalyptic mess of a film? And let’s not forget the characters that drive away from a pyroclastic flow and LIVE! Many geologists I’ve spoken to about this film have snorted at that scene. Geologist friends: I apologise that they made such a mockery of your noble science.
My glaring hatred for that movie aside, it does raise a fundamental question: WHY are we obsessed with doomsday prophecies and the end of the world? Or, more specifically, why are we so obsessed with them when we’re not really sure of the science behind it? The actual logic? Do we just love the drama and the wild conjecture…or is there some element of truth in it all that we actually want to believe? Or, dare I say it, things that we have factual reason to believe? So many questions and, arguably, so little time! Let’s get started then:
The Mayans and their Prediction: a very quick summary
The Maya civilisation was a pre-Columbian civilisation, in Central America (thanks very much for the clarification there, Carlos Alzate!). Notably, the Mayans are known nowadays primarily for their art, architecture, and mathematical and astronomical systems. In a nutshell, they seemed like a pretty awesome bunch of people. Well, their relative prosperity lasted until the Spanish arrived to South America and…well…let’s just leave it there for the colonial part of this story. It doesn’t have a happy ending. But, more interestingly, Mayan religion also had its quirks, many of them fairly eye-opening They practiced ritualistic human sacrifice (involving cutting out hearts…lovely) and believed in 3 cosmos/’planes’: Earth, the underworld and the heavens above. So their belief system was not unlike many modern day religions…just replace underworld with ‘Hell’, if you will.
More interestingly to us, though, the Mayan belief system centred on the fluidity of time, organised in ‘cycles’. Simply put, cycles marked the beginning, and end, of ‘eras’. December 21st, 2012, is supposedly the end of the 13th b’ak’tun, a 144,000 day landmark in the Maya Long Count Calendar…a calendar which is meant to be linear rather than cyclic. The previous world ended after 13 b’ak’tuns. According to Mayan lore, Now, here’s the little point that most doomsday prophets, conspiracy theorist fanatics and godawful Hollywood film directors fail to mention: the end of the 13th b’ak’tun DOES NOT necessarily mean the end of the world! Seriously, it doesn’t!
That’s right! Is that a shocking claim to make? Or is it just that you’ve done a lot of unspeakable acts thinking the world will end when, actually, it probably won’t? If that’s the case, then you probably won’t want to read the rest of this post (though I bet you’re tempted, right?!). The real issue is all about our interpretation of the Mayans and their beliefs that we have inherited through the ages. Interpretation, as we must all discover at some point in our lives, isn’t just another fancy word that pseudo-academics can throw around just like that. Nor is it a dessert, which I learnt the hard way. Needless to say, I’m not welcome in that restaurant again…
Keep Calm and Don’t Misinterpret!
OK, so the biggest issue here is that we don’t really know what the predictions were alluding to. What both Professional Mayanist academics and astronomers assert firmly is that the idea of a doomsday plot is quite absurd. The Mayanist academics claim that it significantly undermines and misrepresents Mayan culture and history, while astronomers just dismiss it as pseudoscience that has no factual basis. And I can’t really disagree with them! So what can the Mayan lore actually be referring to?
A New Age interpretation that I personally buy into because it seems incredibly plausible, is that the Earth’s inhabitants will undergo a positive physical and spiritual transformation on December 21st 2012: the beginning of a new ‘era’. There’re loads of reasons why I wholeheartedly buy into this, although the degree of spiritual/physical transformation is certainly debatable. The majority of the reasons are to do with the fact that we are living in hugely uncertain times, which I believe will strongly test the resilience and adaptability of the human race. Climate change, economic crises…and incredibly exponential growth, to name but a few.
But what are some of the other theories floating around about what event could take place on December 21st 2012?
1) Planet Nibiru/X/Eris …and also meteors
A classic astronomical doomsday prophecy, this one. Earth will be struck by a planet that, surprise surprise, astronomers haven’t detected (even though, y’know, it’s another darn planet) and will not detect until it crashes into us and obliterates life off the face of the Earth. By the way, I have already subtly refuted this in the first sentence. Did you catch it? OK, well, if not, here it is once again with more bluntness: astronomers would have picked up any sort of planet on a trajectory that will hit Earth. They will have picked it up ages ago! Therefore, you can rest assured that no planet with an incredibly dull name will crash into us and do to us what a meteor did to the dinosaurs. Nor will a meteor, for that matter. Our friends at NASA (completely shameless plug!) reassure us that no near-earth object will be hitting the Earth in 2012. So no need to try and build an incredibly large tennis racket to hit it out of the way. I’ll end this small segment by noting that Eris does exist, but is about 4 billion miles away. Yay!
2) Magnetic shift
No, no and a million times no. The Earth’s magnetic field reverses every 400,000 years. Dear pseudoscientists, let’s try to put this to rest once and for all. There is a relationship between the rotation and magnetic polarity of the Earth. An IRREGULAR one. As irregular as my use of bold and italics! Plus, any actual change in the Earth’s magnetic polarity will actually have no effect on life on Earth. We’re actually not going to be due for a magnetic shift for quite a few millenia now. So there we go. Stop pretending you understand physics. You don’t. Well…it may have an effect if you’re anything like this guy:
3) Aliens, supernovas and …Skynet’s long lost brother???
OK, so these are actually 3 theories in one. But there you go. I’ll actually refer to them in reverse order than I’ve listed them…because I’m just cool like that.
- Web Bot: Skynet’s long lost, and dimwitted, brother is a computer programme that has apparently predicted the end of the world using ‘internet chatter’. Well, that’s just the pinnacle of validity, is it not? …that was a rhetorical question, for it is not. A computer programme could never predict natural disasters since, well, web chatter just can’t be classed as reliable data to predict such things. Stock market crashes maybe, but I’d like to see the world end because Wall Street got caught with its knickers in a series of twists. Ahem. Nice mental imagery there.
- Supernovas: there are those out there, without physics degrees or similar qualifications, that claim a red supergiant star, Betelgeuse, will explode in a supernova and destroy the Earth and all upon it. Turns out that this has been claimed by some media outlets…and not very successful ones at that, I’d imagine. Dear media muppets, it is impossible: Betelgeuse is approximately 600 lightyears away from us. It’d have to be 25 lightyears away for the supernova to impact us. Please try to explain that discrepancy of about 575 lightyears and we can talk. Maybe.
- ALIENS: if Avatar was anything to go by, aliens would only really threaten us if we went to their planet and started messing their natural environment up. If Aliens vs Predator was anything to go by, we have no hope of survival either way. If reality is anything to go by, then Signs was an awful movie and Mel Gibson, why are you still acting?! But seriously, an alien invasion? The basis for this conspiracy theory (which, frankly, I believe is overdone to no end) was an article published in the examiner.com in December 2010, citing some photograph with apparent imagery of a spaceship. It has since been debunked. Sorry, people, we’re just not interesting enough for extraterrestrial visitors! Even E.T. probably felt sorry for us and threw Steven Spielberg a bone.
And so there’s a quick rundown of all the crazy things that people believe will happen in 2012, but probably won’t. Or they might all happen at once…and possibly even cancel each other out? How sweet would that be!? Alas, not a lot will probably happen. Hopefully, people might actually start realising that science is actually worth knowing a bit about so they don’t have to stay awake at night worrying that E.T.’s returned from his home planet with a bunch of pissed off relatives in tow. Day-amn. Until then, go out, enjoy life and go have yourselves a merry Christmas and a pretty darn joyful New Year! 😀
Thus ends my very first blog post! Thank you for reading it! I may write another post on this same topic if I feel compelled to, or there is an interesting turn of events between now and the apocalypse, but I most probably won’t. In my next series of posts, myself and my faithful companion(s) will be exploring the science behind the stories of decaying bodies rising from beyond the grave, viruses that make such bodies want to eat brains and, of course, real life examples of zombified animals that can be found all throughout nature! Eerie! Until then, folks:
Note: I would like to kindly thank the folks at http://www.wikipedia.com and http://www.nasa.gov for providing such excellent resources, information from which was used liberally in this post. Let’s not underestimate the power of knowledge, friends!