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Humankind seems to revel in its end-of-the-world theories. Never mind the huge list of predicted apocalypses that never happened, it seems a never-ending capacity for ignorance and stupidity constantly drives people to believe this or that will destroy the Earth.

This time it’s DA14, an asteroid that will be passing by Earth on the 15th of February 2013. The asteroid is about 45 metres across (150 feet) and will be closer to Earth than our satellites in geostationary orbit. As close a shave as this sounds, there’s no real danger.

DA14

 

Unfortunately, a lot of the failed Mayan doomsday supporters are quick to jump on the next apocalypse hoax, claiming that the asteroid will impact the Earth. It will not.

The sun’s gravitational pull on the asteroid will limit its distance to 3.2 Earth radii, about 20,406 km. By comparison, satellites in geosynchronous orbit circle at around 35,800 km.

NASA has assured that it will not impact Earth, but DA14 will be added to a list of objects to watch as it will potentially return in 2020.

A lot of comparison has been made to the Tunguska event in 1908 in which a meteoroid exploded above the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Siberia, flattening about 2,000 km^2 of forest. Amazing and frightening as that is, let me remind you that first of all, Earth has a long history of being hit by asteroids so there’s nothing close to an apocalypse there, and second of all, this one won’t even hit.

Anyway, my job here is just to combat ignorance so hopefully those of you who read this will be able to scoff the next time someone says we’re going to be wiped out by DA14. For those of you that are stargazers, this will be a very interesting event to watch.

With the Mayan doomsday myth over, I’m sure there are at least a few people around the world blankly wondering what happened. The fact that anyone believed in this at all points to a deeper problem, so let’s take a quick look into the sociological reason that this became a thing at all.

After trawling the internet (unfortunately none of my peers were believers so I had to pull examples from online), I consider there to be two categories.

Category 1: People who genuinely believed it was going to happen.

This ranges from those who were so sure they blew their family funds and strained their relationships to “prepare” to those who were outwardly sceptical but inwardly nervous when the day came. Let me assure you, I literally felt nothing at all. I almost forgot it was the 21st/22nd because it was so obvious that nothing was going to happen. This particular category points to a lack of education and information transmission.

Depending on the severity of this “condition”, people in this category were either absolutely scientifically illiterate or never even bothered to double check. Although I campaign for the elimination of the former (scientific illiteracy), I would say the latter is the worse option. It just means you’re flat out dumb. If you’re scientifically illiterate, you could have done badly in science and never developed an interest in it. If you start making life decisions based on rumours without even double checking the validity of these rumours you’re just dumb.

The other factor influencing people of this category relates to information transmission. It’s not just a problem of correct information not reaching peoples’ ears, it’s a problem of incorrect information being transmitted more frequently than correct information. People might wonder why I prattle on about things like this in a “preachy” manner, but think about it. If the majority of society talks about incorrect things, then being wrong becomes a standard. People like Dawkins, Tyson and Sagan spend (and spent) their lives talking about truth. Without them, there would be at least millions less people interested in science and truth. I’m just here adding to the noise, contributing however limitedly I can. Take Christmas for example. People are so used to thinking Jesus was born on Christmas that it has become a standard. I see it even in media that specialises in mocking beliefs (South Park, Family Guy, etc.), but it’s wrong. Jesus has nothing to do with Christmas. So what’s the problem here? At some point, even the more rational (those that outwardly didn’t believe in the apocalypse but inwardly felt nervous) can question their thought processes and logic when enough people start transmitting incorrect information.

To fix scientific illiteracy and education is a big problem that includes an increase in funding. It’s not something that can be quickly done, nor something that many people will willingly embrace. I consider these people too far to reach, at least for the moment. But those of you on the border, who were pretty sure it wouldn’t happen but couldn’t help questioning your reasons when the day approached, I think I can reach you. I encourage you to keep reading academic analyses of everything. It can be my blog or anything else – though if you read a news article make sure you find the original source and read that instead; the news tends to sensationalise stuff, which can lead to wrong impressions. The deeper you get into science and logic, the more certain of yourself you’ll become. You’ll discover the universe around you is both more mystifying and less confusing at the same time. You will have become an intellectual.

Category 2: People who believed in it because they wanted it to be true.

This is the sadder category, though not something I usually talk about. Unfortunately, it’s undeniable that a noticeable portion of the internet falls into this category. There’s not much to say – if you want an apocalyptic event to happen it means your life is very unfulfilling. However, you are also vain enough not to want to die alone, so the best solution is if everyone is destroyed together. To these people I can only say: get your shit together. Find a hobby, get a job, do something that will make you see life as an opportunity not a burden. If we are all born to die then what is life? It is a period of time given to you where you can do things to make yourself happy. Some people choose to capitalise on their happiness early on, and live harder lives in the future. Others invest their early years well and reap the benefits later on. Gamers should understand this concept easily – you macro first, get your economy going, and then you do the fun stuff. Regardless, the fact that people like this exist means that you really need to find something that interests you – and you’re not going to do that by sitting in front of an internet hoping for an apocalypse. Try getting into science. I kid you not, it’s interesting stuff. Learning about science on your own is much different from learning it in class. Otherwise, find something else.

I … I’m alive. It was horrible. Is anyone else out there? Did anybody else survive the terrible apocalypse?

Hah. I did mention in my previous post about everything wrong with the doomsday predictions that I would come make a post saying “told you so”. Well, here it is. Told you so.

It is currently 12:07AM 21/12/12. I also mentioned the Mayans didn’t know about timezones, but since I come from the “future”, I can safely tell you guys that the world did not end.

And if you’re one of those people who spent their kids’ college fund and destroyed your family to prepare for this hoax … well I feel bad for you because you’re going to feel like an idiot. Or maybe you won’t. After all, ignorance is bliss.

To be honest, I was surprised when I found out that people were still taking this seriously. I’m not even kidding. This isn’t my sarcastic, mocking, borderline cynical humour. I really did have no idea that there were people out there who are so … under-informed, to put it nicely. Although, in hindsight, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Humans have a capacity for ignorance that seems boundless.

But let’s push away the nonplussed disbelief for a moment and look at this academically. Let’s pretend you’re not a scammer making money off the foolish; let’s just say you really do believe in the doomsday predictions. Here’s why you’d be wrong.

Stone of the Sun

 

Presenting the Mayan Calendar. Wait, no. That’s the Aztec Stone of the Sun! Hmm, so much for credibility. 

The Mayans never predicted a doomsday. So what is 2012 then? Well the Mayans used a few different calendars to mark different things; the “Calendar Round” was a 52 year calendar used to document the approximate lifetime of an individual, while the “Long Count” was a calendar for recording historical events over a long period of time. The Long Count has 5,126 years in it, and began in 3114 B.C. That makes 2012 the end of the first cycle of this particular calendar.

Cue unfounded doomsday predictions.

But what’s the end of a cycle? Think of it this way: our modern calendar consists of 12 months. At the end of our calendar, the 31st of December, we simply go back to January of the next cycle (the next year). Using the Long Count calendar to predict the end of the world is the equivalent of expecting Armageddon every 31st of December.

In fact, the Mayans continue to predict events far beyond 2012. They recorded time in cycles known as “baktuns”; new calendars were discovered recording a cycle of 17 baktuns, the equivalent of about 7,000 years (where 2012 is the end of the 13th baktun).

If that’s not enough to assuage your fears, let’s take a look at what exactly people think is going to happen.

Nibiru:

This doomsday hypothesis (and I say hypothesis instead of theory because there’s a big difference between the two) stipulates that a “Planet X” will collide with Earth. First of all, that’s just ridiculous because there’s no way a planet would be flying through space free of all gravitational pulls. Why do you think the Earth hasn’t floated out of our solar system and crashed into another planet? Because that’s not how gravity works.

Plus there are thousands of astronomers all over the world constantly watching the sky. At least one of them would have noticed a gigantic thing speeding towards us. The gravitational distortions of such a thing would have been sending warning signals for thousands of years.

Finally, what the hell are you doing believing in crap like this anyway? What possible reason could you have to believe something like this would happen? Let’s get something clear: the Nibiru  idea was first raised by Nancy Lieder, who describes herself as someone with the ability to receive messages from aliens via an implant in her brain. Does that sound like a reliable source? No. But there’s more; she predicted Nibiru would sweep through our solar system in 2003. Wrong. So why is it that people are bringing up this old garbage again?

Solar Flares:

This doomsday scenario claims that solar flares will erupt from the sun. Well, that’s true. But guess what? That’s completely normal and happens all the time. A solar storm hit on March 8th this year. Did you know that? Probably not because it doesn’t wipe out planets. It just messed with electronics on Earth.

Planetary Alignment:

So this scenario is the alignment of planets with the sun, causing catastrophic tidal effects. Well, unfortunately there is no alignment scheduled for December, and even if there were, there’d be practically no effect (Don Yeomans, 2012). The only two bodies in the solar system that can affect Earth’s tides are the moon (due to close proximity) and the sun (due to size and proximity). Incidentally, the moon and sun align quite frequently, yet we’re still here.

Magnetic Pole Shifts:

Again, a natural occurrence, though it takes around half a million years to happen and the process of actually shifting takes thousands of years. But even then, there’d be no problem if it happened, except that we’d have to recalibrate compasses and perhaps more beached whales, which would be sad. That’d be more a doomsday prediction that whales are worried about rather than humans though.

Conclusion:

If you’re one of the gullible that are fixated on the end of the world, don’t quit your jobs (if you have them) and definitely don’t start sending money to people that claim they’ll save you. You’ll just be falling prey to scammers. 21st Dec 2012 is just the end of one Mayan calendar. It’s their 31st of December. They predicted things far into the future and never made doomsday predictions.

All of the doomsday predictions put forth are false. They have absolutely no basis for existence.

That brings up an interesting point though; it’s probably the most disappointing one for me. Never mind the happy coincidence that the Mayan Long Count ends its first cycle this year, or that scammers are picking on those that don’t know any better. What really disappoints me is that this still demonstrates that people can’t grasp the concept that humans thousands of years ago did not know as much as we do today. You could apply this to a lot of things, including religion, but seriously, do you think the human race has been stagnant for two thousand years? That we’ve learned nothing during the transition from carving symbols into stone and having rockets that can send rovers to Mars?

The absolute scientific ignorance of society is shockingly highlighted every time some pseudoscience or garbage like this becomes widespread. I completely sympathise with people like Neil deGrasse Tyson whose life goals are to rekindle an interest in science, because without it, we just resemble a bunch of babbling idiots.

P.S. The Mayans didn’t know about timezones. Since I live in Australia, the 21st will come where I live before it gets to most of the rest of the world. I’ll be waiting at midnight to say “hah, told you so”.

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