Thursday, July 16, 2009

Quick the World is Ending! Give Me All your Money

If you haven't been living in a cave for the past few years you have probably heard rumblings about the supposed 2012 doomsday predictions. I have been asked this question quite a few times, so I figured it would be a good idea to write it out rather than try to explain how ridiculous the idea is after a few too many drinks at a campfire.

The first thing about the 2012 predictions that I found questionable, to the point of being ludicrous, was the complete lack of a succinct argument. They quote Mayan prophecy, talk about their calendar then jump to the conclusion that the world is going to end. What comes next is a frantic uninformed brainstorm of ideas. Maybe it will be a supernovae, maybe a planet will come barreling through the solar system and knock the Earth off axis, maybe our magnetic field will switch and cosmic rays will fry all life on earth. There is no clear theory whatsoever, it depends on what particular delusional website you feel like reading. I will get to the specifics of the scenarios in separate posts, I just wanted to highlight the background behind it and deal specifically with the Mayan aspect in this one.

The Mayan's were an incredible society. Their knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, art and agriculture was unprecedented in the Americas at this time. They were the first American culture to have a full written language, which is why we know so much about their lifestyle and also why ideas such as Mayan doomsday "theories" exist.

The Mayan's also had an advanced calendar system. They used a combination of a 260 day calendar coupled to a 365 day calendar. This created a cycle that would last for approximately 52 years, which was fine for most people considering they rarely lived that long. This was used for everyday activities such as planning the harvest and religious observances. They also devised a method to measure longer periods of time it was called the Long Count calendar. The same way as we have a 365 day calendar and then measure our years such as July 19, 2009. The 2009 is our equivalent of a Long Count.

It was written in a base 20 format instead of our commonly used system which is base 10. You can think of it like looking at your odometer in your car. Just as you drive your tenth kilometer it rolls over and instead of being 0009 it becomes 0010. The Mayans went up to 20 so 19 would be represented as, 20 as and 400 as (they weren't perfectly base 20, apparently this number actually means 360 but it will be fine for our purposes).

It has been argued although still not understood completely that will mark the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar which corresponds to, you guessed it, December 21st, 2012. Some experts believe that it may go all the way to but there is no conclusive evidence either way. However anyone who studies the Mayan have the same conclusion that regardless of whether it restarts on 13 or 20 it does in fact restart. It goes all the way back to and this ancient calendar will happily start counting again. That my friends is it. No predicted catastrophe, no "spiritual awakening", nothing. There is no evidence that anything out of the ordinary will occur. Lets apply Occam's razor here, is it more likely they hid the knowledge from us and the world is in fact going to go 'poof' or is it more likely that they wouldn't think a bunch of humans with 21st century science and technology would actually give a shit about some archaic (yet historically interesting) calendar.

That is a brief summary of the basis for the entire 2012 argument. A calendar restarting. When December 31st rolls around every year do you enter a state of extreme panic that the world is going to end or do you pop off some champagne and celebrate. That is the exact same thing we are dealing with here.

Doomsday events have been predicted constantly throughout history. Literally thousands upon thousands of times. James Randi on Penn & Teller's Bullshit! has a segment where he lists dozens of doomsday predictions that have not come true. You need to start with the null hypothesis, nothing out of the ordinary will happen on December 21st, 2012 and then build evidence against that idea if you want to be considered credible. You can't make up your mind and scour the internet for dubious sources to support your position. It is intellectually dishonest and shows your true colours of pushing an agenda instead of searching for the facts.

Now that we have established the underling premise behind this idea I will look in my next posts at the potential outcomes that are "predicted".

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