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Why the World Didn't End Yesterday
December 22, 2012 2:19 PM   Subscribe

NASA explains Why the World Didn't End Yesterday

Most impressive, to Carson, was their expansive sense of time.

“The times Mayas used dwarf those currently used by modern astronomers,” he explains. “According to our science, the Big Bang occurred 13.7 billion years ago.

There are dates in Mayan ruins that stretch back a billion billion times farther than that.”

The Maya Long Count Calendar was designed to keep track of such long intervals.

“It is the most complex calendar system ever developed.”

Written using modern typography, the Long Count Calendar resembles the odometer in a car. Because the digits rotate, the calendar can ‘roll over’ and repeat itself; this repetition is key to the 2012 phenomenon.

According to Maya theology, the world was created 5125 years ago, on a date we would write ‘August 11, 3114 BC.’

At the time, the Maya calendar looked like this: 13.0.0.0.0. On Dec. 21, 2012, it is exactly the same: 13.0.0.0.0.

In the language of Maya scholars, ’13 Bak’tuns’ elapsed between the two dates. This was a significant interval in Maya theology, but, stresses Carlson, not a destructive one.
posted by jammy (56 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Or, perhaps because people who died out somewhere between 1200 and 400 years ago (depending on whether you consider "became obsolete" or "completely eradicated" as the transition point) didn't have some magical clue into the future state of the universe? Despite completely failing to predict their own extinction?

Seriously, I consider the whole "world will end on 12/21/2012" thing reasonably cute; but that NASA wasted time (and thus, tax dollars) explaining it to idiots who trust long-dead shamans over modern science? That bothers me. Send another probe anywhere - I don't care if you send it to Reno, Nevada - before you bother placating superstitious morons!
posted by pla at 2:38 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know; taking the mystic crap out of it and explaining the bits that are mathematically interesting seems like a good use of my tax dollars. I'll pay double my share and you can be off the hook.
posted by Wolfdog at 2:47 PM on December 22, 2012 [50 favorites]


According to Maya theology, the world was created 5125 years ago, on a date we would write ‘August 11, 3114 BC.’

“According to our science, the Big Bang occurred 13.7 billion years ago. There are dates in Mayan ruins that stretch back a billion billion times farther than that.”


So the had no damn clue. Period.
posted by Splunge at 2:49 PM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't really understand the anger over some innocent folk superstition. It's not like we now have to find something to do with all those altars and rivers of blood, no?
posted by deo rei at 2:52 PM on December 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


NASA educating the public seems perfectly normal to me.
posted by Chutzler at 2:53 PM on December 22, 2012 [26 favorites]


placating superstitious morons!

Around my neck of the woods we call replacing superstition with facts education.
posted by Pudhoho at 2:55 PM on December 22, 2012 [55 favorites]


The answer is: inertia.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:56 PM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


How do we know the world didn't end? Is there a test for the existence of existence?
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:14 PM on December 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


that NASA wasted time (and thus, tax dollars) explaining it to idiots who trust long-dead shamans over modern science? That bothers me.

NASA seems like a reasonably trustworthy source. I've basically ignored the whole 'end of the world' thing, but I clicked on this link because I figure, 'Well, if anyone's gonna talk sensibly about it, it'll probably be here.' If it's got topical and sensible educational content, it should be shared widely.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 3:19 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Maya never died out. “Today, the Maya and their descendants form sizable populations throughout the Maya area and maintain a distinctive set of traditions and beliefs that are the result of the merger of pre-Columbian and post-Conquest ideas and cultures. Millions of people speak Mayan languages today.”
posted by migurski at 3:21 PM on December 22, 2012 [41 favorites]


So the had no damn clue. Period.

So does anyone know how to reconcile this apparent cluelessness?

If (as the narrator says), 'According to Maya theology, the world was created 5125 years ago', why are there 'dates in Mayan ruins that stretch back a billion billion times farther' than our date for the Big Bang?

Is this a case of Mayans disagreeing with Mayans? Did the Mayan scientists disagree with the Mayan theologians on the age of the universe?
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 3:26 PM on December 22, 2012


Oh yeah, that's really going out on a limb releasing the video a day early. I'll take all sorts of bets if nobody will be around to prove me wrong.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:28 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks to 21/12/12 I have learnt:
The Maya never died out
They are called Maya and not Mayans.
That weird stone circle face isn't Mayan.
Mayan cosmology was really, really odd.

paleyellowwithorange - I wonder if the cosmos was created billions of years prior, but the gods only created heaven and Earth 5125 years ago.

There was probably a war with the Great Old Ones in the gap.
posted by Mezentian at 3:31 PM on December 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


The American Calendar predicts the end of the world in 9999! They didn't plan for another digit!
posted by DU at 3:32 PM on December 22, 2012 [12 favorites]


I gotta admit, I was still holding out a little bit of hope for the Awakening.
posted by Caduceus at 3:33 PM on December 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Mezentian, that's what I was thinking - perhaps 'the world' was a more localized thing.

Also, oops! 'Maya', not 'Mayans'. Thanks for the clarification.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 3:34 PM on December 22, 2012


The overwhelming "HAHAH those primitive people were dumb" that's been going on the last few weeks is really quite unpleasant. 'Superstitious morons'? Really?
posted by xiw at 3:39 PM on December 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


I agree. We have a tendency to believe that our understanding of the world around us is - after all these generations - finally complete. As if future science will not correct our current understandings, only build upon them. We don't realize that the less considerate members of future generations will look back at us and think, 'HAHAH those primitive people were dumb.'
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 3:45 PM on December 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


How do we know the world didn't end? Is there a test for the existence of existence?

"There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened."
posted by normy at 3:50 PM on December 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


the world ends on 1 - 19 - 2038 - i thought everyone knew that
posted by pyramid termite at 3:53 PM on December 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


The overwhelming "HAHAH those primitive people were dumb" that's been going on the last few weeks is really quite unpleasant. 'Superstitious morons'? Really?

You read "Send another probe anywhere - I don't care if you send it to Reno, Nevada - before you bother placating superstitious morons!" and took it to mean that pla was upset because NASA was taking time out of their busy schedule to explain things to the ancient Maya?
posted by IAmUnaware at 3:55 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh wow, idiotic racism as the very first comment, who ever could possibly have predicted this. NOT ME CAUSE I'M JUST AN IGNORANT SAVAGE.
posted by elizardbits at 3:55 PM on December 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


Oh don't be ridiculous, everyone knows the world ended in the 2nd Century during the Apocalypse and the Rapture. All of us heathens got Left Behind and are enjoying life now that Jehovah decided to take his toys and go home.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:56 PM on December 22, 2012


paleyellowwithorange: As if future science will not correct our current understandings, only build upon them.

Actually, that might be closer to the truth than you think. I'm not aware of any really major scientific theories that have been replaced wholesale since the advent of quantum mechanics. And, even then, the old models still work; simple Newtonian physics is just fine for nearly everything we do, relativistic physics covers a huge chunk of what's left, and only when we get into the very, very small do we need to start worrying about quantum mechanics.

There is a huge hole in our understanding, still; we don't truly grasp gravity, although the possible Higgs sighting may move us closer to getting that.

It is entirely possible that, a million years hence, if humans still exist, they'll still be using the stuff we worked out in the 19th and 20th centuries. We may be close enough to the absolute truths that there won't be any more complete overthrows of the old methods, only a long, long era of refinement and adjustment.
posted by Malor at 4:11 PM on December 22, 2012


Oh, and:

elizardbits: Oh wow, idiotic racism as the very first comment,

Assuming that a comment hasn't disappeared, that pla's first reply is what you're referring to, I see zero racism there. It's simply an observation that if the Mayan magic wasn't good enough to foretell the end of Mayan civilization, why would we think it was good enough to correctly foretell the end of the whole world?

This isn't racist, this is pointing out that the local fortuneteller shouldn't be going out of business due to unforeseen circumstances.
posted by Malor at 4:17 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, no need to confuse boldly stated ignorance with racism.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:22 PM on December 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's simply an observation that if the Mayan magic wasn't good enough to foretell the end of Mayan civilization ....

It's not magic, it's a calendar. Modern idiots treat it like magic, but they probably feel the same way about the TV remote.

I'm not aware of any really major scientific theories that have been replaced wholesale since the advent of quantum mechanics.

The idea that we have no idea what some 95% of the universe is strikes me as a recent thing, and a big thing.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:30 PM on December 22, 2012


pla is wrong on two counts. First NASA is indeed educating. For example, this is a very accessible little video for kids who might have been hearing about all the hoopla and were wondering what the real truth is. Can you really not see this being shown to a grade six class? It would be an awesome conversations starter with 12 year olds. Perhaps it's beneath you as an adult, but not all of us in the world at this time are adults yet.

Second, according to the link itself, the Mayans weren't predicting the end of the world either. It seems like they weren't the ones asking us to trust their predictions, because they weren't making predictions.

Also a calendar that expires isn't a bad way of saying "we're not going to be here forever, so why bother making a calendar for eternity?"

Also, there are still Mayans.
posted by salishsea at 4:32 PM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


The American Calendar predicts the end of the world in 9999! They didn't plan for another digit!

The Long Now Foundation (est. 01996) has got you covered:
The Long Now Foundation uses five-digit dates, the extra zero is to solve the deca-millennium bug which will come into effect in about 8,000 years.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:43 PM on December 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's simply an observation that if the Mayan magic wasn't good enough to foretell the end of Mayan civilization, why would we think it was good enough to correctly foretell the end of the whole world?

Despite thinking the whole "end of the world" thing was nonsense, this line of reasoning actually bugs me more. Assuming that they were making some sort of prediction (which they weren't) it wouldn't logically follow that they were also predicting every single thing that would ever happen. I can make a reasonable prediction of who's going to win the world series next year and get hit by a car tomorrow.

Or another way of looking at it, how do you know they didn't predict their own demise? Predicting and preventing are two different things. We live in a society that thinks nuclear weapons are a good idea. I'm sure some future society will deduce that nuclear missiles came from outer space, because any society smart enough to make nuclear weapons would also be smart enough to not point them at each other.
posted by billyfleetwood at 4:49 PM on December 22, 2012


How do we know the world didn't end? Is there a test for the existence of existence?

I think not.

ergo...
posted by ersatz at 5:01 PM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


elizardbits : Oh wow, idiotic racism as the very first comment, who ever could possibly have predicted this. NOT ME CAUSE I'M JUST AN IGNORANT SAVAGE.

Okay, 'splain it to me, Lucy... What the hell does the moronic belief in the end-of-days (currently getting mercilessly mocked as it pertains to white-trash American redneck culture in another MeFi thread, if you really want to bring something akin to "race" into this) have to do with "racism"? Do more blacks than whites believe in a total misinterpretation of an ancient civil goddamned calendar?


billyfleetwood : Or another way of looking at it, how do you know they didn't predict their own demise?

Because life on this planet didn't end, simple as that. If you know an asteroid will wipe out your capitol city on January 14th - You move it before then (or at least don't hang out in the town square, if you can't move it soon enough)! If you know the Conquistadors will land and wipe you one - You spread out and make it impossible to eradicate you entirely. If you know global warming will put your coastal cities under 10m of water... Well, okay, you might have a point on that one. ;)
posted by pla at 5:06 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


The 2038 Problem. “Y2^31”?
posted by migurski at 5:17 PM on December 22, 2012


To hopefully clarify, I don't believe pla was referring to the Maya as "superstitious morons" but rather those who were buying into the apocalyptic nonsense.

That said, this was obviously a very inexpensive video to produce and spun the superstition into actual interesting knowledge, so I'm happy with it.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:25 PM on December 22, 2012


I suspect elizardbits was referring to the description of a reasonably large and very much living culture as "obsolete" or "extinct" - not that pla is in any way the only person to propagate that bit of misinformation in the last couple of years, certainly. It isn't particularly awesome to describe an actually extinct ethnic group in the sort of mystical noble-savage terms that the Maya get saddled with, but worse that the 7 million or so of them still living (per wikipedia) get completely, utterly ignored.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:36 PM on December 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'll pay double my share and you can be off the hook.

Except it doesn't work that way.
posted by John Cohen at 5:39 PM on December 22, 2012


NASA Experts recently gathered in a Google Hangout to share their findings

Oooookaaayyy....
posted by neil pierce at 5:42 PM on December 22, 2012


Personally, I think NASA should have just had a big banner on their website saying 'Told You So'.
posted by ArkhanJG at 5:43 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


the aztecs invented the vacation!
posted by pyramid termite at 6:03 PM on December 22, 2012


The line "they couldn't even predict their own demise" doesn't deserve beanplating but …

You can predict a certain kinds of events with a significant amount of success and fail at other kinds. We have a pretty good model for understanding when our sun will die out but have no way to judge when our own civilization might do the same. They are completely different kinds of problems!
posted by wemayfreeze at 6:21 PM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Those moronic NASANS and their "science" got it all wrong again.
posted by Mezentian at 6:24 PM on December 22, 2012


Navelgazer : That said, this was obviously a very inexpensive video to produce and spun the superstition into actual interesting knowledge, so I'm happy with it.

Heh... Fair enough, and the cost doesn't really bother me. More the fact that they would feel the need to come out with something like that...


To hopefully clarify, I don't believe pla was referring to the Maya as "superstitious morons" but rather those who were buying into the apocalyptic nonsense.

...Much like that clarification. C'mon, seriously guys? You can't tell modern-elitists from racists-against-long-dead-cultures? Weak. Y'all need to turn in that discrimination card you keep trying to play, starting to look a little worn out lately.


/ OMGZombies
posted by pla at 7:40 PM on December 22, 2012


long-dead-cultures...
posted by hades at 8:56 PM on December 22, 2012


that NASA wasted time (and thus, tax dollars) explaining it to idiots who trust long-dead shamans over modern science?

NASA was receiving emails from folks who were taking this seriously enough to be suicidal over it. So in addition to educating the public, it was also an attempt to head off some negative outcomes as a result of the hype.
posted by never used baby shoes at 7:11 AM on December 23, 2012


So weird that these posts went to NASA -- I mean why would NASA know anything about the end of the world?
posted by forscience at 9:07 AM on December 23, 2012


Fair enough, and the cost doesn't really bother me. More the fact that they would feel the need to come out with something like that...

So, really, what you actually oppose isn't NASA, it's idiots. Unfortunately, they are among you.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:43 AM on December 23, 2012


They are not only among you. They are posting comments under your username.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 11:08 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is actually important because there were/are a lot of otherwise smart people - particularly in the Burning Man/rave and new-new age hipsters - who were believing in some form of this apocalyptic date and even trying to immanentize the eschaton by being weird and/or smoking too much DMT or something.

For those that are unaware - most of this new age doomsday horsehockey was popularized by Terrance McKenna's book The Archaic Revival, the earlier book The Invisible Landscape and his Fractal Timewave Zero "theory" where he basically gets high as fuck on mushrooms, DMT and/or Ayahuasca and talks a lot about tribalism, shamanism, self-transforming machine elves and the I-Ching hexagrams and, uh, time.

There's a whole lot of weirdness and smart sounding stuff in this area.

This book came out a bit after the tail end of the peak (heh) of rave and nootropic culture in the US and elsewhere in the world in 1992, just in time for the increased popularity of events like Burning Man and other gatherings where a lot of people were getting high on fuck on things and practicing weird forms of neo-tribalism and neo-shamanism.

Timewave Zero was basically McKenna messing around with something related computer generated I-Ching plots and poorly defined "novelty values" plotted over time. I can't remember the precise details of the book or "theory" but somehow this fractal timewave I-Ching plots ended up being pegged to the end of the Mayan calender because the novelty values sort of vaguely resembled moments in time of high and low novelty values.

Therefore - according to these plots - something very novel was/is supposed to happen around about, oh, yesterday.

Are you with me so far? Wait, don't hit your head on your desk so hard like that, you need your head. Hell, we need your head.

You can google any of the above keywords yourself if you want to peek into a weird segment of the internet. You can probably still download the Fractal Timewave software and plot your own dramatic looking I-Ching histogram-novelty plots or whatever.

So. I actually used to believe or want to believe some of this stuff, too. There's a lot of 35-50 year old ex ravers and/or burners out there who now have nice jobs as programmers, scientists, musicians or artists who used to believe or still believe this stuff.

Me? I don't remember when I really stopped believing this stuff. It was probably somewhere after 2001 and before 2008 or so. But basically I just developed my own ideas about apocalyptic and eschatological thinking and that these kinds of magical thinking were harmful to human progress.

Because it doesn't really matter if you believe in a bearded sky god or self-transforming machine elves of extradimensional or extraterrestrial origin.

It's still the same kind of end times thinking that allows someone to not feel responsible for the future. To be absolved of responsibility for long term thinking or planning, or confronting real potential existential threats like climate change. Or even simply large near earth objects like meteors or comets that could just wipe us off the face of the cosmos like a bug on a windscreen.

And that's harmful bullshit. Because we need to be thinking and planning for these big things. It's not a matter of if we're going to get hit by a large rock or run out of cheap energy and food, but when.
posted by loquacious at 11:20 AM on December 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


loguatious: So. I actually used to believe or want to believe some of this stuff, too. There's a lot of 35-50 year old ex ravers and/or burners out there who now have nice jobs as programmers, scientists, musicians or artists who used to believe or still believe this stuff.

For a pre-cycle view of new-age boogerisms, I suggest Carlos Casteneda's series. People who don't buy their current mainstream paradigm look for suggestions. Back then they found them in shrooms and peyote. It's been going on for a while. I have to stipulate that all this nonesense doesn't mean that some supernatural notion of today won't turn out to be a key point of science tomorrow. I wish they would hurry up with that matter transmitter. My hotel suite on the rim of Valles Marinaris is waiting for me.

We get by on chain letters and angels until someone comes up with some low-brow area-51 kind of notion to keep us occupied. Most of us. I'm content with the Cosmic Muffin version, at least for now.

BTW: Mayan calendar is like an odometer--the odometer doesn't predict the end of the car. Or Detroit.

Good for NASA. They did all that educationalization without actually calling anybody a moron, or noticing that we'd know more about how the Maya looked at this if our civilized forebearers hadn't burned all those codexes.
posted by mule98J at 11:48 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


So weird that these posts went to NASA -- I mean why would NASA know anything about the end of the world?

Because one of the leading theories for how the world would have ended included a (non-existing) planet named Nibiru, and planets and stuff are kinda NASA's field of expertise.

(Not that it mattered what NASA said, since their denial about the planet's existence was just taken as part of a bigger conspiracy)
posted by ymgve at 2:50 PM on December 23, 2012


We don't realize that the less considerate members of future generations will look back at us and think, 'HAHAH those primitive people were dumb.'

If we're lucky.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:16 PM on December 23, 2012


The world might not have ended, but: Tourists who flocked to Guatemala for end-of-the-world parties have reportedly damaged an ancient Mayan stone temple.

(There were also Islamists in northern Mali smashing up temples.)
posted by Mezentian at 11:21 PM on December 23, 2012


So weird that these posts went to NASA -- I mean why would NASA know anything about the end of the world?

I also thought it odd that all the 2012pocalypse imagery on the net seemed to center around giant asteroids hitting Earth. Okay, Nibiru, sure, but how did that get associated with the Mayans? Wasn't it Babylonian/Zeta Reticulan originally?

Do we simply not have a cultural referent for the end of the world other than giant impacts any more? No skies rolling back like a scroll? No boiling seas or endless winter? No plagues or famines? No sun being eaten by a giant space goat? I am saddened.
posted by hattifattener at 2:28 AM on December 24, 2012


What's ridiculous is that this is probably one of the more practical things NASA can do.

I suspect elizardbits was referring to the description of a reasonably large and very much living culture as "obsolete" or "extinct" - not that pla is in any way the only person to propagate that bit of misinformation in the last couple of years, certainly. It isn't particularly awesome to describe an actually extinct ethnic group in the sort of mystical noble-savage terms that the Maya get saddled with, but worse that the 7 million or so of them still living (per wikipedia) get completely, utterly ignored.

The culture that produced the calendar is pretty much extinct. The reason we know about it is because it was reconstructed. Which gets to the second part. The reason it had to be reconstructed is because the Maya weren't completely, utterly ignored. That would have been an improvement. Instead, they've been aggressively exterminated to the point that their pre Columbian culture had to be reconstructed. The culture was dealt severe blows even before the arrival of Europeans. The culture that remains today owes at least as much to European conquest and modern preservation as to pre Columbian vestiges.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:49 PM on December 24, 2012


Do we simply not have a cultural referent for the end of the world other than giant impacts any more? No skies rolling back like a scroll? No boiling seas or endless winter? No plagues or famines? No sun being eaten by a giant space goat? I am saddened.

It's strange actually that we don't have the easy ones covered on a regular basis. There is far more of a real threat from nuclear weapons and global warming than an asteroid or a dark planet. We could actually do something these ones if we wanted to.
posted by salishsea at 7:41 PM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


salishsea: It's strange actually that we don't have the easy ones covered on a regular basis. There is far more of a real threat from nuclear weapons and global warming than an asteroid or a dark planet. We could actually do something these ones if we wanted to.

Hmm. Food for thought. Makes you wonder if those new cerebral lobes have any survival value after all.

Homo Sapiens, indeed.
posted by mule98J at 8:02 AM on December 27, 2012


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