Saturday, September 10, 2011

Proponents of a feelgood 2012

As i mentioned in my previous post, various folk are pushing the 2012 so-called Maya prediction as a time of spiritual change. Here are some them:

John Major Jenkins
This chap has been pushing his version of 2012, very hard; even trying to hijack interviews at the 2012 movie premiere. At first glance, he seems like he knows what he's talking about; he's clearly very knowledgeable about the Maya. He has, however, been accused of misusing astronomical terms, and being vague about his contentions.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Alternative Interpretations for December 21st, 2012: Spiritual Change Part 1

On a lighter note...
Amongst the prophecies of disaster and ruin, Deceember 21, 2102 has also drawn some more positive, new age predictions. If i had to use one word to describe them, it would be millenarianist.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Doomsday Theory: Galactic Alignment

What is it?
This is one of the theories that have been tied to the December 21, 2012 date. The idea is this: at noon on 12/21/2012, the solstice sun will be seen to be in exact alignment with the Galactic Equator. Or the Dark Rift. Or the black hole in the center of the galaxy. Whoever said pseudoscience was accurate? As anyone who claims to be in-the-know will tell you, the Maya were avid astronomers, so this phenomenon must be related to their long count calendar cycle ending, right?

Wait, what are those things?
The Great Rift (otherwise known as the Dark Rift) is an area of blackness seen near the center of the Milky Way. Scientists know it to be clouds of gas that block visible light coming from the bulge at the center of our galaxy. Behind these clouds is believed to be a black hole.

The Galactic Equator is something that needs some explanation. It's a concept created by the IAU (International Astronomical Union), which is often confused with the H1 plane. As you see in the image below,  the H1 plane is a line that dissects our galaxy (which, by the way, the sun won't cross for another 30 million years or so). The "Reference plane" below represents the "equatorial plane of the galactic reference system", which is probably what is mistakenly referred to in 2012 literature as the Galactic Equator. This is a line that, by definition, passes through the sun and and the rotational center of the galaxy (Sgr A). That's right folks, the sun is ALWAYS on this line. A deeper explanation can be found here.


The sun is still going to cross through something, right?
Well guess what: the sun (as viewed on December solstice) will appear to cross through something or other - Dark Rift, Galactic Equator, etc. The thing is, any of these crossings will take about 36 years to complete. In fact, the mid point of the sun crossed the GE in 1998, so that means the sun will continue its crossing until 2016. What makes 2012 so important in this crossing? One argument is that the Maya didn't have our sophisticated measuring equipment, and the galactic equator was only defined in 1960. All the Maya saw was the Milky Way in the night sky. So perhaps their prediction isn't 100% accurate. Well, remember that, to start with, the Maya hadn't actually used their Long Count Calendar to predict anything. All we have here is the end of a cycle, and a galactic phenomenon that's been underway for the last 30 years or so. In fact, our millennium cycle ended even closer to the midpoint of the Galactic Alignment, and did anything happen then?

But alignment will happen?
Yes. The sun is going to appear to intersect with the midpoint of the Milky Way/Dark Rift. Just like it has done for the past few decades. You won't even be able to see it because, obviously, you can't see the sun and the Milky Way at the same time without some serious astronomy gear. Nothing scary is going to happen. These crossings are caused mostly by the earth's poles gradually changing orientation, a perfectly normal phenomenon called Precession. The tilt of the earth's rotation is what makes these alignments.

The theories
There are people out there who are making various claims about what this "Galactic Alignment" will do to us. I'll check them out in my following posts.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why December 21st, 2012?

It's a very specific date - where did it come from? December 21 will be the (northern hemisphere) winter solstice of 2012. Sounds significant, right?

But how did this come from the Maya, who had a completely different calendar system? The Maya calendar is translated to our current (Gregorian, to use its proper name) calendar using a system called "GMT calendar correlation". This is based on comparing recorded events from Mayan times between the 2 calendars. It sounds fairly straightforward, but a lot of people who know a LOT more about Maya history than you or i have been, or still are debating its accuracy.

According to some, this GMT correlation is totally 100% unquestionably correct. According to others, it may be as far as 60 days, or even 104 years out. The problem i have here is that many of the folks defending the GMT correlation have a personal or professional interest in maintaining its credibility. If it were to be disproved and modified, Maya history would have to be entirely re-dated. Also, the whole December 21, 2012 thing would lose a little of its appeal if it were to be suddenly changed to: DOOMSDAY: August 15th, 1982, or DOOMSDAY: SOMETIME AROUND LATE 2012 OR EARLY 2013.

So there you go, December 21st: not even totally reliable. Having a precise date does help sell the various theories though, particularly the Galactic Solstice Alignment theory, which i'll go into in the next post.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Maya and December 21, 2012 Pt.1

What is it about?
The general idea that bad stuff is going to happen on December 21, 2012, comes from a Maya calendar. The Maya "Long Count" calendar uses various units of time to make up different cycles. Apparently the Mayas were big on cycles, as the excerpt from wikipedia (below) indicates.

"20 days made a uinal, 18 uinals (360 days) made a tun, 20 tuns made a k'atun, and 20 k'atuns (144,000 days or roughly 394 years) made up a b'ak'tun."
 - Wikipedia

Now, according to a Maya text called the Popol Vuh, the gods created 3 worlds before ours, all of which failed because the basic inhabitants lacked speech, soul or intellect (the first 3 worlds being centred around animals, mud men and wooden men, respectively). Anyway, the source of the whole Maya 2012 thing lies here: the world before ours (world #3) lasted 13 b'ak'tuns, or around 5,125 years, before being remade into our world (world #4). According to interpretations of the Maya calendar, 2012 marks the 13th b'ak'tunniversary of our world. So basically, because legend tells that the gods decided, after 5,125 years, that they'd rather have a world of cornmeal-dough men (yep, the myths say we were made out of corn meal) than their current world of wooden men, various people are concluding that this means we're about to reach the end of our earthly lease.

Recently, a lot of people have been jumping onto this date, usually claiming to back it up with science or other prophecies. But as a starting point, does this sound like a reasonable interpretation to you?

More to come...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Harold Camping and May 21st, 2011

The Story

Now this may be old news, but this is a classic, and recent, example of a doomsday prophecy. To recap this saga, it began with a man called Harold Camping. In 1992, Camping published a book titled "1994?". I'll be honest, i haven't read it myself, but according to all available sources, it contains a proclamation that Christ's return "might" be on September 6, 1994. This prediction is based on a numerological analysis using various numbers from the bible. Now don't let the "logical" in "numerological" fool you; it is not a science. In fact, it seems to rank up there with astrology on the "ancient divination systems used to rip people off" scale. When September 6 passed with no holy wrath, Camping, citing a mathematical error, rescheduled his prediction for May 21, 2011.

Anyway, of course, May 21 passed and no one seems to have been "raptured". The earthquakes that Camping foretold would ripple across the globe at 6pm in each timezone didn't show up. The only plague i noticed around that time was the plague of Camping/Rapture-related jokes sweeping the internet. And i'm sure the only hell on earth was experienced by the people who drank too much at Rapture parties, but only until they got some morning-after hangover food into their systems. Camping has since (after going into hiding for a few days) modified his prediction again, stating that May 21st was a "spiritual" rapture (ie. final submission date for your soul), and "realized" that a merciful god would spare humanity 5 months of hell on earth and, you know, just destroy it all at once on October 21st instead. I guess procrastination is pretty universal.


Now, maybe Camping made these prophecies out of faith, maybe he really felt he had found something that he had to share with his fellow Christians. The thing that makes this wrong is the damage it caused to those who blindly followed this prophecy. Many people quit work, donated their life savings or paid enterprising atheists take care of their pets after they were raptured. Interestingly, according to a member of staff at Family Radio, 80% of employees there didn't buy it, and business carried on as per usual.

This date worked out very well for Camping's radio station. A quick glance at the financials for Family Stations, inc. (the name under which Family Radio files) on watchdog website, reveals that revenues have been on the lean side lately. As the organization's revenues are mainly from donations, raising awareness can be very profitable, and this awareness was raised all over the english speaking world - mostly with their street campaigns and billboards, but also fueled by the media. A search for Camping's name or "Family Radio" in Google Trends reveals a huge spike in the run up to May 21st. It would be very interesting to see the income figures for Family Stations for this year. Interestingly, in Minnesota, they applied for an extension for the filing of their nonprofit paperwork, from July 15th to November 15th. A month after the end of the world?

Some other interesting points in their financials include their Total Assets declining from $152 million in 2007, to $117 million in 2008. As a company fueled by charitable donations, it's understandable that their assets would jump around a little: '05-'06, assets declined by $7m; '06-'07 assets declined by $11m; but a $35m decline from '07-'08 does seem quite large. Also, while Camping doesn't receive a salary for his position as CEO, he's listed on their '09 tax return as having an outstanding loan of $175, 000 from the company. 

So, it seems that this May 21st "prophecy" was a theory based on flakey numerology, embraced by Camping's core group of followers, but nobody else. His staff, his fellow Christians, and well, just about everybody else, rejected the idea. It's definitely good business for his company, but i do believe that this was the work of numerology and self delusion. And if he's any kind of a man, he'll make things right with those followers who gave up everything to spread his flawed word.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Will the world really end at XX/XX/20XX?

There are a lot of people out there warning of disaster. This blog will attempt to decipher and analyze these claims.