The end of the world is predicted to coincide exactly with the time of the Winter Solstice. If we write out the time and date, it looks elegant and slightly mysterious:
Do you remember the other doomsday dates? They were 5.5.2000, 1.1.2000, 31.12.1999, 10.03.1982, the first second of Christmas morning in 1967 – along with innumerable other dates.
The day after one of these days, one usually wakes up with a slight degree of disappointment. So I really do need to get out of my warm bed. Oh damn!
The doomsday prophesies are rooted in a combination of many coincidences that occur on 21 December 2012:
If we gather all the catastrophes together, for instance from various websites, we see more than 100 different causes and effects, with each one being weirder than the other. One of my personal favourites is the one that says the Sun will be rising in the West on this date!
The truth is that not a single one of these claims should be taken seriously.
One of the most frequently mentioned occurrences in the predictions is the expiration of the calendar used by the Maya Indians. It expires on the date which they called the 13th baktun.
The Maya calendar (probably) started on 11 August 3114 BC. A baktun is equivalent to 144,000 days or just over 394 years, so it coincides neatly with 21 December 2012.
On some of the many Mayan stone pillars with date inscriptions, the 13th baktun certainly is the highest value, but other inscriptions look much further into the future.
Some of them mention the time indication one pictun = 20 baktuns, and one of the inscriptions predicts that we’ll be celebrating the anniversary of King Pacal of Palenque’s ascension to the throne when we get to 15 October 4772 AD.
There is no indication that the Mayans expected the world to come to an end in the year we call 2012. They would most likely just have started from scratch with a new 13-baktun-long count just like we do every year on 1 January when we throw away the old calendar and buy a new one, or like when the mileage recorder in our cars is ‘reset’ when we have done yet another 100,000 kilometres.
Moreover, the first catastrophe calculations based on the Mayan calendar mentioned that the world would be destroyed by earthquakes on 24 December 2011. So either this is a calculation error or it has already happened: time has become a loop and everything is happening all over again.
The other predictions can just as easily be dismissed – for instance in some of the ‘Related content’ stories below this article.
There are some remarkably odd examples of doomsday theories that just refuse to die. Since 1995, Nancy Lieder, an American woman who claims that as a girl she was contacted by grey extraterrestrials called Zetas, has published several books and set up her own website, Zetatalk, focusing on her experiences with aliens from space.
It all became linked with the famous UFO incident about Betty and Barney Hill, who claimed to have been abducted by aliens. Lieder initially predicted that Planet X would collide with the Earth in 2003, but as nothing happened then, all dates were pushed forward to 2012, and the books were republished with the new date.
The movie ’2012’ was marketed as if it contained the revelation of a great secret. But it turned out to be so bad that despite lots of nice effects it was quickly dropped from movie theatre schedules.
Fortunately, most people will probably just shrug off all this talk of doomsday, and some would probably be saying like one online commentator said: “How can the world end in 2012 if my peanut butter expires on 9 March 2013?”
It’s perhaps a bit of a consolation that some of the internet prophets subscribe to the opposing view – that the world as we know it may well end in December 2012, but that it will be replaced by a better one, and that all life that’s based on DNA (which probably covers most of it!) will be experiencing a leap forward in development.
But others will unfortunately be frightened, even here in Denmark, as there is no shortage of anxious enquiries coming to ScienceNordic and also to the Steno Museum in Aarhus.
Books that predict the apocalypse
Frank Waters: 'Mexico Mystique' (1975)
D. and T. McKenna: The Invisible Landscape' (1994)
Jose Arguelles: 'The Mayan Factor' (1987)
John Major Jenkins: 'Maya Cosmogenesis' (2012)
On 6 January 2011, for example, there were 3,870 Danish hits on Google on this matter, and this figure has seen a steady increase since then. It’s not illegal to lie on the internet! One Danish blog thoughtfully includes a list of objects that people should have on them when doomsday arrives. These include a tiny torch with a rechargeable battery and tooth extraction forceps.
There has been an abundance of articles and news stories about this topic, no matter how much fun we poke at it and regardless of how much we try to explain and inform in advance.
Obviously sensations and scary news items sell more newspapers than objective information ever can. Besides, the 2012 topic bears the mark of a conspiracy theory.
It’s implicit in the conspiracy theory that those who try to explain, inform and appeal to reason are automatically seen as parts of the conspiracy, being paid to do so by the powers behind it all: The Swiss Banks, the Jews, the Illuminati, the Freemasons and the people who do not return library books on time.
If there is anything to be learned from all this, it must be that even in the relatively well-informed Denmark, too many people have too little of a critical sense; they don’t know enough about science and they have forgotten how to use their common sense.
I myself am planning to take out some big bank loans well in advance and then spend the money – just to be on the safe side.
And then we can make a bet: if nothing happens, you give me an extra Christmas present, and I’ll give you one if the world goes under.