In May I attended SpaceFest IV, a gathering of space enthusiasts, astronauts (who, I suppose, are legit space enthusiasts), astronomers, and more. It’s a lot of fun, and great to see old friends and meet new science geeks. I missed last year’s, unfortunately, but was happy to be able to go this year again.
While I was there I was interviewed about the Mayan apocalypse, Symphony of Science, and building a real Enterprise. It was an eclectic series of questions.
I hope there’ll be another SpaceFest next year! I had a lot of fun, and I bet a lot of you reading this would too.
A little while back, I was at Utah State University to give a public talk about the threat from asteroid impacts and what we can do to stop them (PLUG ALERT: if you want me to come talk at your venue, my agent would love to hear from you).
While I was there I was interviewed by Utah Public Radio, and that interview is online.
I was also chatted up by the local TV station, KSL. I think it went OK, and they put it online as well:
[You may have to refresh this page to get the video to load.]
While I rather wish I had stated succinctly that even the basis of the "Mayan 2012 doomsday" nonsense is itself a gross misinterpretation of Mayan history, culture, and calendar, I think I was pretty clear. I have to walk a fine line sometimes: debunking crap doomsday scenarios like 2012 while also warning of real dangers like asteroid impacts… while neither over- or understating that danger. It’s a delicate balance.
A balance, I’ll note, which is apparently completely lost on some of the commenters on the KSL website who are saying I’m totally wrong and that the doomsday is coming in December [Note: I checked just before posting this, and most of the really over-the-top comments have been deleted, and I thank the forum moderators for that]. The sheer blind eye some have toward reality is stunning.
I know some people have deep beliefs they hold true, and are willing to deny what’s right in front of their face if they have to. I also know it’s the Internet out there, where people don’t read past the first line or watch a video past the first few seconds. Still, the denial and — to be blunt — dickery is breathtaking. One person actually said they hoped the Universe kills me so they don’t have to listen to my "drivel" [that was one of the comments deleted, BTW].
Of course this isn’t the first time I’ve had someone wish me dead, or that I’d shut up. Duh. But what I find fascinating is the irony. One complaint I hear about critical thinking is that it takes away hope, takes away beauty, and replaces them with despair and the ugly nature of reality. And yet here we see people shredding their critical thinking to hold fast to a doomsday scenario that is as ugly as it is hopeless.
If they actually applied a bit of skepticism, they’d see the 2012 doomsday garbage for what it is. But they cleave unto it as fervently as a drowning man to a life preserver.
I don’t think I have anything particularly profound to add to this; I’m just shining a light on it for you to see. Be aware of this, and always remember people’s ability to be paradoxical and completely embrace a nonsensical danger while denying the real one.
– Re-cycled Mayan calendar nonsense
– My asteroid impact talk is now on TED!
– MSNBC interview: 2012, the year the Earth doesn’t end. Again.
– Betelgeuse and 2012
– Giant spaceships to attack December 2012?
– No, a pole shift won’t cause global superstorms
… 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.
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.
Charlie McDonnell — who is still adorable — does a bang-up job debunking the big claims of the 2012 doomsday predictions.
I know, he posted this back at New Year’s, but I’m a bit behind on watching videos. Sue me. I’m free on December 22.
Tip o’ the bomb shelter door to Tommy V.