Re-cycled Mayan calendar nonsense

By Phil Plait | May 11, 2012 12:24 pm

… or, B’ak’tun The Future.

There’s some buzz going around the web right now because some Mayan archaeologists found wall writings in the Xultun ruins in Guatemala dealing with the Mayan calendar. The writing clearly shows the Mayan calendar extending well past 2012.

As you can imagine, this is being played up as (yet more) evidence the world won’t end come December.

Well, duh.

But the thing is, we already knew that. I mean, of course we know there’s nothing to any of the Mayan Apocalypse nonsense doomcriers are advocating. That’s all crap. But in this case, as far as I can tell, what they found doesn’t change much in this regard. It’s a fascinating archaeological find and gives insight on how the Mayans worked out their math and astronomy when it came to calendars — there are notes painted on the wall clearly describing the patterns of Venus and Mars in the sky, which is very cool — but I don’t think it changes the 12/21/12 nonsense at all.

Mostly because we already knew their calendars went past December 21 of this year! For one thing, the cycle that ends this year, the b’ak’tun, is a repeating cycle. The ancient Mayans had lots of cycles to their calendar, just as we do. We have cycles of days, weeks, months, years, decades… The Mayans used different units, but it boils down to the same idea. They had cycles roughly equivalent to a month, a year, and so on.

The b’ak’tun is a unit roughly 394 years long. When one b’ak’tun ended, another one started, just like any other cycle. So when the b’ak’tun we’re in now ends, on or about December of this year, why then, the next one starts up.

Think of it this way: what happens on December 31 of every year? You throw away the old calendar and hang up a new one. Tadaaa!

Worse, there’s no evidence that the Mayans even thought the end of this b’ak’tun was the time of any kind of renewal, doomsday, or anything. All of that nonsense can be traced back to a series of New Agey books and speculations that built on one another like a pyramid built upside down. At some point, it’ll fall over. Stuart Robbins at Exposing Pseudoastronomy has a great series of articles all about this.

By the way, there are longer Mayan calendar cycles, too, like the pictun, which is 20 b’ak’tuns. The pictun we’re in now ends in the 4772! So clearly the Mayans didn’t think the world was ending in 2012.

There’s also one cycle that lasts for 63 million years! If you believe in the Mayan Apocalypse, I guess they knew about the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs, too.

If I sound a little exasperated, well, I am. I have never been a fan of nonsense, but nonsense doomsday conspiracy theories really make me angry. Whether the doomsday mongers believe in what they say or not, they are scaring people over stuff that’s provably wrong! If evil exists, that kind of thing falls under the definition in my book.

If there’s any good to come of any of this, it’s a renewed interest in the real Mayan culture, calendars, and how the ancient peoples of our planet used astronomy to reckon time. And, as usual, reality is far more interesting, engaging, and plain old cool than any nonsense we can make up about it.


Related Posts:

MSNBC interview: 2012, the year the Earth doesn’t end. Again.
Charlie debunks 2012 nonsense
Debunking doomsday

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Debunking, Piece of mind

Comments (69)

  1. uudale

    2012, yuk.

    Amanda Peet should have her Actors Guild card revoked for being in that movie.

    Pretty good special effects, though.

  2. Another bit of nonsense that got caught up in this (while actually ettempting to debunk the nonsense) is that the Myans didn’t account for leap years. I saw it all over facebook and such back in February. However, as you point out, they calendar didn’t need a leap year, since it already accounted for it by different methods.

    Here is the leap year stuff explained: http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/8329/have-leap-days-confused-the-calculated-date-for-the-end-of-the-mayan-calendar

  3. Frank

    I don’t care what the ancient Mayans did or didn’t predict — the important thing is, THEY COULDN’T SEE THE DAMN FUTURE.

  4. Will

    I didn’t realize that anyone really took it seriously. But still, sounds like a fun excuse for a party. I’ll bring my towel.

  5. Chris Turkel

    This is the easiest explanation of the Mayan long count I’ve ever seen. I’ll send people here from now one.

    The end of the long count just starts another. I’m sure the Mayans marked it in some way, like we do New Years, but just like New Years, the day after, life continues as it was.

  6. Tim F.

    Man, and here I was thinking I was a genius for filing an extension rather than paying my taxes in April.

  7. Wouldn’t that also mean that the Ancient Alien theorists (a.k.a. Crazy people) now have even less “evidence” that humans could in no way be responsible for something as advanced as the Mayan Calendar?

  8. Christopher Cooke

    Frank @3:

    I used to get that all the time, back when I was working in Edmonton’s planetarium. Someone would come up and mention how the Mayans could predict solar eclipses, and therefore were magic. I’d point out that we can predict solar eclipses too – I’d even show them the next upcoming solar eclipse on the planetarium dome (oh, how I do miss my star theatre!) – but I really don’t think anyone ever really understood what I was trying to tell/show them.

  9. Paulino

    I read on the internet that world ends 2 weeks earlier for those who disbelieve the Mayan Profecies…

  10. Kelli

    All that being said… ;)

    (No, I’m not about to contradict ANYTHING Phil says. So nyah.)

    …tornadoes and hurricanes and earthquakes and tsunami(s) [what is the proper plural of tsunami?] do happen, and even on rare occasions unpredicted eruptions from long-dormant volcanoes. To whatever extent you or anyone you know has built a storm shelter, repurposed an old 50s fallout shelter, and/or compiled a stockpile of survival supplies, don’t throw it out just because 2012 is not Doomsday; it’s very likely all or most of it would be useful in the event of an actual — if comparatively mundane and not at all earth-threatening — natural disaster. Even if you built or bought a small Ark because of that silly movie, that could still be useful if you live in a flood-prone area, and if you don’t, then it’s probably still great for recreational purposes!

  11. So, this is really more like the Mayan-equivalent of Y2K. We all know how much of a catastrophe that was…

  12. BJN

    The only proven and reliable “prophetic” discipline is science using mathematics. To the extent that the ancient Mayans used observation and math to work out astronomical cycles, they should get credit for being able to make essentially scientific predictions, so long ago. Why isn’t that interesting enough for so many people?

  13. Chris

    On the bright side in a little over 7 months this will all be over (one way or another!)

  14. BJN

    @ Kelli:

    Yeah, sure. There’s nothing like waterskiing behind your “ark” to make the best of a stupid investment.

  15. It is worth pointing out that by some accounts, 2012 doesn’t merely mark the end of a baktun as you said above. It marks the end of “the last” baktun before the baktuns cycle. It’s like watching the highest position on your odometer turn from 9 to 0…which is pretty darn cool. Most of the positions in the long count loop at 20 (except uinals which loop at 18 for the purpose of making a 360 day uinal-kin (month/day) pair to closely approximate a solar year)…but while kins, tuns, and katuns loop at 20, the baktun loop is tremendously uncertain. It either loops at 13 or 20 – evidence is convincing both ways. So the entire long count may in fact loop at the end of 2012, which is a very very rare event (every 5000 years or so).

    So, my point is, when you say this is merely another 400-year baktun turning over, that’s might not be sufficiently precise. 2012 may mark a far rarer event than a mere baktun.

    Also, while there are a few references to pictuns and such, it is still true that the vast vast VAST majority of Mayan long counts only record baktun/katun/tun/uinal/kin, in the same way that we generally write our years as four-digit numbers with utter disregard for the year 9999 and its implications (to say nothing of the dreaded Y2K bug which is the same issue of course). The few instances of higher place markers (pictuns and such) seem to be exceptions to the far more common rule that long counts stop at the baktuns.

    I have a Mayan long count on my wedding band btw (my wedding date naturally). You can see it at my website in the graphic art section if you’re curious.

    Cheers!

  16. Keith Hearn

    What the doomsayers will say:

    Ah, but this discovery is from several hundred years before the writings that prove that the world ends in 2012. So when this was written, the Mayans hadn’t learned about 2012 yet. Yeah, that’s it! That’s the ticket!

  17. truthspeaker

    BJN Says:
    May 11th, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    The only proven and reliable “prophetic” discipline is science using mathematics. To the extent that the ancient Mayans used observation and math to work out astronomical cycles, they should get credit for being able to make essentially scientific predictions, so long ago. Why isn’t that interesting enough for so many people?

    +1

    The fact that they watched the skies, observed, recorded, and made predictions about celestial events is impressive, and interesting, all on its own. No magic required.

  18. Wzrd1

    @Kelli, I keep supplies in the basement in a nice, large pantry.
    Not for any end of the world scenario, but for a bit of laziness in shopping (buy canned in bulk) and possible snowpocalypse types of events. Heaven forbid I run out of creamed corn or green beans for a few days! :)

    That said, the world WILL end! First, it’ll become uninhabitable, then, it’ll be burned to a crisp by red giant Sol. I’ll be first vacationing on Europa, while my new home on Titan is built. ;)

  19. Kelli

    @Wzrd1, you make several good points. :)

    @BJN #14, hey, come on, now, there are several other ways to enjoy a boat that don’t involve barreling down the waterways at high speeds!

  20. Of COURSE the world isn’t gonna end on December 21, 2012. It is scheduled to end May 27, 2012.

    Mind you, at least this doomsday “prophet” (profit?) is peddling his written wares for their true value: $0.00. Talk about something that will break your faith in reason. sigh.

    On the other hand, the info we’ve gained about the Mayans due to the recently reported find is awesome.

  21. kirk

    On a positive note — we see that any society that invests in science can do some amazing things without mystic revelations from Zeus, Jaguar Deities or Pasta. Where in the Bible or the Koran will you find working, practical astronomy? Make lemonade.

  22. GeneralMusings

    I don’t care… I’m still having my “OMGENDOFTHEWORLDWTFBBQ” party whether the world is ending or not. I mean, I’ve already sent out the invitations and everything. ;-)

  23. Mark

    I’m with #12’s comment. Amazing those people could do what they did so long ago. We like to think we are the smartest generation of humans, when in fact its built into our psyche to explore, to wonder, to observe

  24. Phil wrote:

    “There’s also one cycle that lasts for 63 million years! If you believe in the Mayan Apocalypse, I guess they knew about the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs, too.”

    Aha! I knew it! THE MAYANS WEREN’T PEOPLE, THEY WERE DINOSAURS!

  25. Brian Too

    The aggravating thing is that the doomsayers will do what they always do. Just like that elderly religious leader did a few months ago. After failing dismally at forcasting doom, they come out with something like the following:

    “Oh, it wasn’t an ‘apocalypse’, it was a ‘religious apocalypse’. Which I had written down prior to the event. No you cannot see that piece of paper, I, er, misplaced it! And I didn’t publish that paper because it was, um, religious and private! Yeah! I’m misunderstood in my time!!”

    Which is as completely lame and sheepish as it sounds.

  26. VinceRN

    It doesn’t matter in the least if the Mayan calender ends this year or goes on. It doesn’t matter in the least if they Mayans thought the world would end this year or ever.

    The people that believe and worry about the Mayan calender pointing to the end of the world think that people who still hadn’t found their way out of the stone age by the 16th century were able to predict the date the world would end because ancient aliens from another dimension taught them how.

    The Mayan calender really has nothing to do with this. It’s just a calender and means nothing more than any other calender used by humans since the first time we noticed that the river always floods shortly after that funny pattern of stars appears over the horizon.

    The problem here is people being so uneducated, confused or desperate for an explanation of the world that makes sense to them and doesn’t involve math, that they are willing to believe that aliens from another dimension visited stone age people and told them when the world would end.

    It seems to me that arguing that the Mayan calender doesn’t really say that is wrong. It gives credence to the idea that the Mayan calender even matters beyond being a means to study how ancient peoples kept track of time.

    I think the best way to handle such people is to explain that there neither were not could have been any ancient aliens that told the Mayans or anyone else anything. That the Mayan calender is just a calender and there is no way at all that it could have any bearing on the end of the world. That there is no particular reason to think the the world will end at all. Though I usually find it easier to just chuckle and walk away.

    I have asked a couple people that have talked to me about the Mayan calender and the end of the world why they haven’t quit their jobs and cashed in their 401ks if they are so sure the world is ending. For some reason I’ve never gotten a coherent response to that question.

    @12 BJN – The Mayans were certainly a fair hand at math and astronomy, but they didn’t do it all that long ago and it wasn’t all that uncommon a virtue in ancient cultures. Many cultures in Africa, the Middle East and East Asia did the same and better thousands of years earlier and also managed to find their way out of the stone age thousands of years before the Mayan civilization even began. As ancient civilizations go the Mayans were nothing special. Compared to the ancient civilizations of the east the Mayans seem seriously developmentally delayed.

  27. Erin

    “There’s also one cycle that lasts for 63 million years! If you believe in the Mayan Apocalypse, I guess they knew about the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs, too.”

    I’m curious what your opinion is on *why* such an ancient civilization would be interested in calculating and recording a 63 million year cycle, Phil.

  28. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ VinceRN : Yup indeed.

    The thing I like to point out is that the 2012=End of Worlders are getting their “science” from the same long-vanished civilisation that believed our Sun needed human sacrifices to rise. ;-)

    Of course Western European science – that has since become the global science we know – has surpassed all the others before it including even the ancient Greeks who laid our cultural foundations by predicting not just solar and lunar eclipses but also the regular return of comets such as Halley’s.

    Western science and civilisation has also been the first to put our existence into its broader temporal and spatial perspective and understand where we really came from, what the stars and “nebulae” (including galaxies – then) *really* are and how far apart and mind-bogglingly beyond big our cosmos is – thankyou, Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Swan-Leavitt and Charles Darwin among so many others. :-)

    @23. Mark :

    I’m with #12′s comment. Amazing those people could do what they did so long ago. We like to think we are the smartest generation of humans, when in fact its built into our psyche to explore, to wonder, to observe.

    Seconded and quoted for truth.

    Homo sapiens are homo sapiens. Times change but people are human, constant in paradoxical flaws and virtues, inhumanity and humanity ato each other, tendency to superstition and ability to think and feel, dream and act, compete and co-operate.

    We are no smarter than the Mayans, Vikings or Mongolians or indeed any other ancient group of people or generation in history.

    We are however, more and better informed and far more technologically capable because we are standing on the shoulders of the past giants and all their science, industry and learning.

    We are also so much better connected and able to access this knowledge via the internet, Television and so many more books and magazines that are so much more easily available than they ever were.

    Additionally, we are living so much lnger and have our lives made so much easier and more comfortable by technology that keeps us alive incomfortable unthinkable to previous generations – thankyou vaccinations, medical advances, sanitation and plumbing advances, labour-saving devices, unions and human rights activists such as Martin Luther King and the suffragettes and so much more.

    The resources and conditions and expectations we have now are so much higher than in any other era – I think we often fail to really apprecaite and grasp by just how much.

    Wonder how Galileo would go with access to the Hubble space observatory or some of the figures in astronomical history would do with what the equipment and info we have today?

    I would love to travel in time out of sheer curiosity and to see what really happened to so many things – but I wouldn’t choose to live in any time before now. ;-)

    We are really so lucky merely from circumstances of where we’ve been born in the spacetime continuum.

    We should work to build upon this gift of circumstances and make our children even luckier..

  29. @Messier

    “We should work to build upon this gift of circumstances and make our children even luckier.”

    Amen brother.

  30. Messier Tidy Upper

    @MTU – May 11th, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    Additionally, we are living so much longer and have our lives made so much easier and freer of choices by technology that keeps us alive in comfort that would be unthinkable to previous generations – thankyou vaccinations, medical advances, sanitation and plumbing advances, labour-saving devices, unions and human rights activists such as Martin Luther King and the suffragettes and so much more.

    Corrected for clarity.

    In addition I think we should remember that anyone living in the Western world – lands like Australia, Canada and England – is far more fortunate and has far more opportunity and better context of life than the majority of the world’s population who do not.

    The vast majorities of people who live in hellhole nations in Africa such as Sudan and Zimbabwe and Libya or in Asian nations such as Afghanistan and Turkmenistan and Bangladesh and even in wider sense of American nations such as Cuba and Columbia and Haiti have things so very different that I think it is virtually impossible for us to imagine and understand their lives.

    I don’t think very many if any of us – myself included – truly know how lucky we are.

    What will we do with this lucky position we have and what shall our children and grandchildren if we have any* – stand upon from their position atop *our* shoulders in the vast human pyramid that is history?

    ++++++++

    * Paradoxically again, one way we can help our children is to have less of them in such an overcrowded, ecologically stressed world. I don’t have kids. My brother and his wife have a two year old girl. I wonder what her things her lifetime will see.

  31. Jack

    Still going to have an awesome, blowout party that night.

  32. Don

    Well I can guarantee that when it’s time to buy my new Mayan calendar in December, it won’t be the one with thousands of cute lol kitties.

  33. Mike Saunders

    Yeah, I’m with everyone else: still gonna have an awesome party. We had an end of the world party for that old dudes prediction and it was a blast!

  34. FMCH

    Well, since the “All Knowing Mayans”(tm) couldn’t foresee the arrival of the Spanish, I’m not worried at all. Guess this means I’ll still have to pay my taxes….

  35. I’ve analysed Wikipedia logs and found that the 2012 phenomenon is the most popular pseudoscientific topic there, and that it seems to owe its popularity to the movie:

    http://www.easytofool.org/a/2012

  36. Renee Marie Jones

    Ya. It is sad the way journalists are playing this up as some sort of “new” evidence. As far as I can tell, the quotes from the scientists seem calm and reasonable, but journalists love turning every story into some groundbreaking new discovery.

    I loved your quote about building a pyramid upside down. It reminds me of a cartoon I saw once in an archeology magazine. Two Egyptian engineers are standing on a hill overlooking a worksite with a big pyramid-shaped hole in the ground and workers scurrying about lowering blocks down into the hole. One engineer says to the other “Building them is easy, it’s digging them out and flipping them over that is hard.”

  37. 4thdimnsnal

    The end will come for all of us when ‘we in our own time’ pass through the veil of this world and enter another.

    The fear of the unknown is most disheartening for anyone who does not believe that something else lies beyond what is known. For you, I ask – where were you before this consciousness? You did exist but what was known then traveled through a veil at that time to the reality which you are currently existing.

    I am a believer of parallel realities. A full spectrum of unlimited be-ings with varying levels of intelligence and difference evolving into infinity.

    Life is an ever expanding yet revolving door leading into a room where there isn’t a norm, where the essence of the multiverse intervene deeply within the far reaches of consciousness. We create space to live in, crawl through, and then we brave its depths! Immerse yourself completely within it then awaken evolved into another known yet unknown reality.

  38. Erin (27): Beats me. You’d have to ask a Mayan scholar. :)

  39. PeteC

    @11 namuol – Yes, Y2K was definitely overhyped, but… it’s unfair to be too critical. A few years in advance people realised that there was an issue with a lot of old software, they spent a couple of years analysing the problems and recoding, replacing and patching the problems, and disasters didn’t happen.

    That was kind of the whole point. Would “Yes, we worked really hard making sure everything was ok, but it all went wrong” have been a better story? I do have one piece of equipment still – a telescope motor, ironically – that doesn’t allow you to enter a “today’s date” later than 1999.

    Sniggering when your neighbour’s roof doesn’t collapse in a storm because he wasted all that money patching it and replacing the rotten beams isn’t really clever. Maybe he would have gotten away with it – maybe not.

  40. MKS

    and indeed, some of the nonsense we make up aboot reality is vital and awesome, like justice, beauty, truth, countries, human rights; we are a powerful species…

  41. JB of Brisbane

    @Keith Hearn #16 – Don’t give them ideas!

  42. Andy

    Hang on… are you saying we know the world won’t end this year because the Mayan calendar didn’t actually predict it?

    I think the Mayan calendar nonsense is assisted by trying to debunk it with reference to the Mayans and their calendars. After all, with this new evidence, when do/did the Mayans predict the world will end – and should we start preparing for it?

  43. As if scaring people needlessly weren’t enough (and it is!), another thing that really pisses me off about these New Age hype-fests is the fact that the utterly fail to listen to members of the same culture that they’re exploiting claiming to be raising awareness of. In this case, there are modern Mayans who are on record stating to anyone who will listen that all this stuff is hogwash. Considering the money that can be made by anyone who convincingly claims to be able to forecast the future, I’m inclined to believe them. And yet these promulgators of the “2012 apocalypse” actively ignore these voices. I’ve even seen some essentially writing off the modern Mayan people as ignorant yokels who simply don’t have the mathematical sophistication of their ancestors. Because apparently, some white guy with dreamcatchers all over his walls who’s managed to sell a book or website about the Maya despite never having been south of Texas somehow knows more about a complex ancient culture then the people who struggle to actually preserve it. The arrogance involved is simply jaw-dropping.

  44. Infinite123Lifer

    Wait. What happens 63 million years from now? Or was it 63 million years from the beginning of time?

    Iam kidding.

    @4dimnsnal

    I too believe I came from somewhere, am part of existence itself and am merely (well fantastically) passing through to where I and everything will be. I have to ask myself, it is of my nature.

    MTU, VinceRn, you made my night, I can rest knowing some sensibility has been writ, and you sir Dr Plait, well we can just do this again in 63 million years.

  45. NowhereToBeFound

    Well now new stuff and conspiracy theories, change old ones. Debunk one, new one strikes. A popular one now is that NASA’s SOHO was withdrawn because clear NSO in the photo.

  46. flibbertigibbet

    @11 – Let’s be clear. This IS like Y2K in all the ridiculous hype about the situation by the media.
    This is NOT like Y2K in that with Y2K, there was an actual glitch in the computers that had to be fixed- which people went ahead and fixed- but originally there WAS a problem. The Mayan Calendar has never posed a problem.

  47. dan

    iirc the entire mayan civilization existed in the small area where salvia divinorum grows wild. Like, they only lived where it grew

  48. dan

    Also, its more about the alignment with the galactic center and so called prophecies for this baktun, saying a big change comes about when the suns path in the sky intersects exactly with the galactic center, aka the tree of life. It doesn’t mean anythings gonna happen and its all superstition, but we have a reason to celebrate! I, for one, want to leave behind light pollution and watch the milky way that night. Knowing that were at the half way mark of a thousands of years’ cycle

  49. Andrew

    I turn 34 this December, so that’s kind of like the world ending.

    12/21/12 is also the winter solstice, one of the traditional times of year that cultures have set as the end of the year (and why so many religions cluster their holy days and celebrations around that same period). It strikes me as beyond coincidence that the end of the world would happen to occur on New Years Eve.

    I’ve been developing the opinion over the last two years that people just cannot stand too much uncertainty in their reality, and that methods meant to predict the future (tarot cards, psychic hotlines, tax deferred savings accounts) are used to lend some sense of stability to a seemingly chaotic world. Even a negative prediction, such as the world is coming to an end, at least gives people something to plan for. Wasn’t it last year that all good Christians were supposed to be taken up into Heaven?

    What I think will be more interesting coming up is what people who may actually believe the world is ending are going to do on December 22nd after they wake up to find themselves still alive.

    Conveniently, December 21st is a Friday, which makes Mayan New Year’s Eve parties easier to plan.

  50. The Ridger

    xkcd “2012”: Guy: Well, it’s 2012. Girl: Yup. Only 354 days left until everybody abruptly stops talking about Mayans. Guy: Or thinking about Mayans. Or acknowledging that huge city-building ancient American civilizations existed at all. Girl: You know what they say: those who fail to learn from history can still manage a 3.0 if they ace their other subjects.

  51. Daffy

    Has anyone else noticed that as the date approaches, there seem to be fewer and fewer people claiming it’s true?

    Almost as if they already know that the whole thing is nonsense.

    Nah, couldn’t be that…

  52. Nigel Depledge

    Namuol (11) said:

    So, this is really more like the Mayan-equivalent of Y2K. We all know how much of a catastrophe that was…

    I cannot believe this old canard keeps coming back!

    Y2K was a non-event only because a great many people put in a lot of hard work to make it so.

  53. Nigel Depledge

    4th dimnsnal (37) said:

    The end will come for all of us when ‘we in our own time’ pass through the veil of this world and enter another.

    Not necessarily. No-one knows if anything awaits us after death, because no-one has ever come back and told us.

    Thus, all you have is speculation and wishful thinking.

    If you apply logic to the question, you end up with the Principle of parsimony driving you to the conclusion that nothing awaits us.

    The fear of the unknown is most disheartening for anyone who does not believe that something else lies beyond what is known.

    Wait, what?

    I know lots of people who don’t fear the unknown.

    Besides, on what do you base a belief in there being something beyond the known? Some random guess? How can you ever know (in advance) whether your guess is any better than anyone else’s?

    Obviously, you cannot. Therefore, your “belief” is an exercise in self-delusion.

    For you, I ask – where were you before this consciousness?

    This is a meaningless question. Before my consciousness existed, there was no “me”.

    You did exist but what was known then traveled through a veil at that time to the reality which you are currently existing.

    This is just random words thrown together with no meaning.

    How can a person exist before their present consciousness came into being?

    Do you have any evidence at all that such a pre-existence existence really happens? Or even any compelling reason why we should suppose it to? Or is wishful thinking and idle speculation all you have?

    I am a believer of parallel realities.

    This could be anything from vaguely meaningful to uselessly speculative, depending on exactly what you mean by your use of “realities”.

    A full spectrum of unlimited be-ings with varying levels of intelligence and difference evolving into infinity.

    This is just a meaningless word-salad.

    Life is an ever expanding yet revolving door leading into a room where there isn’t a norm, where the essence of the multiverse intervene deeply within the far reaches of consciousness. We create space to live in, crawl through, and then we brave its depths! Immerse yourself completely within it then awaken evolved into another known yet unknown reality.

    And so is this. Only more so.

    Please stop tossing if you want to have a meaningful discussion.

  54. Daffy

    “This is a meaningless question. Before my consciousness existed, there was no “me”.”

    Von Neumann’s Chain suggests there may never have been a time when there was no “you.” While I certainly don’t agree with most of what 4th dimnsnal posted, I do think the jury is still out on consciousness and how it hooks into matter. Or, if someone did solve it, I missed the press release. At least, I think asking the question is valid.

  55. I believe the most compelling evidence for the end of the world being nigh is that I have attended far more end of the world parties than ever in the past few years. If humans are so married to the idea of chariots in the sky and seeing the people they hate burned to a crisp, our planet-mates may feel compelled to manually bring on the end simply to not be deprived of the pleasure of witnessing the end ourselves!

  56. Christopher Cooke

    Daffy @54

    As far as I can tell, Von Neumann’s Chain suggests that consciousness is unphysical and outside the universe. The flies in the face of neuroscience.

    It’s turtles all the way down.

  57. Daffy

    Well, Christopher, until someone can tell me just how matter becomes aware of itself, I think taking it off the table is premature. Just my opinion.

  58. Christopher Cooke

    Daffy @57

    Until there’s a reason beyond your own incredulity to consider mind-body duality or the absurd notion that consciousness is unphysical or originates outside of the universe (whatever *that* means), there’s no reason for it to be ON the table.

    Otherwise, this isn’t so different from me saying “until someone can tell me just how something as tasty as bacon can exist, I think taking the idea that it’s a gift from Thor off the table is premature.”

    As I say, what you suggest flies in the face of well known neuroscience. If you want to understand how, I suggest finding yourself a neuroscientist. John von Neumann wasn’t one, and his wild, unsubstantiated ramblings about the nature of consciousness are even less rooted in and supported by evidence as Richard Hoagland’s ideas about Mars.

  59. Nigel Depledge

    Daffy (54) said:

    Von Neumann’s Chain suggests there may never have been a time when there was no “you.” While I certainly don’t agree with most of what 4th dimnsnal posted, I do think the jury is still out on consciousness and how it hooks into matter. Or, if someone did solve it, I missed the press release. At least, I think asking the question is valid.

    IIUC, the current leading idea is that human consciousness is an emergent property of our complex brains.

    However, more fundamentally, my objection to 4th dimnsnal’s question was around the meaning of the word “me” or (used in reference to me) “you”. Before I became self-aware, what could the word me possibly have meant? It certainly could not have the same meaning that it has now. Is it at all meaningful to discuss the concept of “me” having existed before I was aware of my existence? I don’t think it is. I’m pretty sure it’s not a fruitful discussion to have, but hey – someone prove me wrong.

  60. Nigel Depledge

    Christopher Cooke (58) said:

    Until there’s a reason beyond your own incredulity to consider mind-body duality or the absurd notion that consciousness is unphysical or originates outside of the universe (whatever *that* means), there’s no reason for it to be ON the table.

    Yes. This.

  61. Christopher Cooke

    Nigel Depledge @59:

    “IIUC, the current leading idea is that human consciousness is an emergent property of our complex brains.”

    There’s ample evidence of this, too. Changes in not just motor function, but personality in stroke victims, or in people who suffer other physical trauma of brain tissue. The fact that consciousness can be altered by introducing foreign chemicals into the brain, only to return to “normal” once those chemicals have been flushed. The fact that consciousness can be altered *permanently* as brain cells degrade due to disease.

    “We” are our brains. As our brains form, so do “we”, and as our brains break down, we follow in lock step. If our consciousness was truly outside of ourselves (as it would have to be, if it were outside of the *universe*), it really shouldn’t matter what we smoke, or drink, or what sort of degradation or trauma our brains suffer.

    But it does. Until there’s evidence to the contrary, ideas like those of John von Neumann don’t hold any more weight than those of Gandalf the Grey Wizard.

  62. Nigel Depledge

    Daffy (57) said:

    Well, Christopher, until someone can tell me just how matter becomes aware of itself, I think taking it off the table is premature. Just my opinion.

    Well, that may be your opinion, but it is clearly in need of more thought.

    For example, irrespective of how matter becomes self-aware, we have the basic fact that – as far as anyone can tell – it patently is. We have nearly seven billion examples.

    OTOH, to propose that consciousness exists apart from our physiology is to not only fly in the face of the evidence (mentioned by Christopher in #61), but also to assume the existence of a phenomenon for which there is currently no evidence, no mechanism (for example, how could an “unphysical” consciousness interact with physical matter?) and no logical reasoning to support it.

    Additionally, there is evidence against an “unphysical” consciousness – for example:
    1. Why can I not disconnect my consciousness from my physical being and, for example, send it into a separate room?
    2. No-one has ever received communication from a dead person (except in the mundane way of a letter having been written while that person was alive, but arriving at its destination after they had died). Houdini famously recorded a secret message that he would attempt to impart to the living after his death, yet this did not happen.
    3. No-one has ever received communication from a living person without there being some tangible medium for that communication (e.g. speech, sign language, lip-reading, email, telephone etc.).
    4. “Out-f-body” experiences are noted for their inability to impart information to a person that they could not have known if their conscisousness remained attached to their physical body.

    If consciousness is genuinely separate from one’s physical self, these phenomena would all be expected to arise as a consequence of this separation. That they do not is fairly strong evidence that the consciousness is a part of one’s physical form.

  63. Christopher Cooke

    Indeed.

    The take-home message here, Daffy, is that just because we don’t fully understand how consciousness has come about does not mean any off-the-wall explanation is entitled to be taken seriously without evidence.

    I don’t know who built my apartment, but that doesn’t make it reasonable for me to suggest that Puff the Magic Dragon forged it from Unobtainium.

    Not knowing how something happened does not make any given explanation, no matter how mundane or insane, any more likely. Evidence is required up front for it to be worth any consideration, because consideration is not free. It involves an investment of time and energy, and often money, too.

  64. James

    At least the doomsday mongers didn’t kill anyone. At least, not like the anti-vaxxers kill people.

  65. Nigel Depledge

    @ James (64) –
    Well, not this time, and not so far. But there have been previous “end-of-the-world” prediction cults in which people have died.

    But there’s plenty of time yet for people to get really crazy about this.

  66. Christopher Cooke

    And let’s not forget how doomsayers have convinced, and continue to convince people to give up their livelihoods. They collect donations from, or sell books or supplies to their followers, bilking them out of their money before those followers, convinced that they’re going to suffer otherwise, run off to hide, leaving their friends, families, homes, and jobs.

    Just because they do not (usually) die from this does not mean they experience no harm. Often, their lives are irreparably harmed by it all.

  67. Matt B.

    It’s not evidence that the world won’t end either. It’s a calendar, and anyone can make one up and draw it out to any point in the future, and yet if the world did end, the calendar would go on. It takes an amazing lack of intelligence and imagination to believe that the number line has an end.

  68. Matt

    Ofcause people dont think its strange the world elite owned NatGeo was there as the guy was chipping the mud off the wall to reveal some equasions writen on the wall, since it was clearly that important at the time, they must of just caved the stone long count for no reason… Right? After all people first thought the world was flat… why did we revise that?… They had a very detailed knowledge of cycles… I call faul on the timely ‘discovery’… If you fear whats going to happen, you are clearly not ready, nor understanding of what ‘reality’ really is… after all we are only an energy influencing a bioelectric body…. right?

    Shame on you fear mongers… elevate your consciousness… everyone.

  69. I think #matt is high…

    and btw if the world does end, no one will be there to gloat. If it doesn’t, everyone who believed that gets to be condescending to everyone who did. I know what I believe.

    I have placed several bets with people saying that the world will not end

    If December 22nd 2012 comes I will be £20 richer, if not I have bigger things to worry about.

    Simple :)

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