Friday, December 21, 2012

The Maya were close!

The Mayan calendar was created by a civilization whose dominance ended 1100 years ago. Many people have been fascinated by the apparent “prediction” of the end of the world on Dec 21, 2012 as their long count calendar came to an end, and of the approximate correlation in time of other ancient prophetic visionaries such as Nostradamus. And yet we all awoke this morning to find the earth still here and pretty much undisturbed from the night before. Were the Maya wrong? Not necessarily.

The Maya had an amazing grasp of astronomy and extremely detailed celestial calendars based on extremely long periods of time and ever-greater cycles. They knew something was up this year, and left us a clue in their calendar. But as advanced as they were, they had no advanced technology, including computers, with which to refine their predictions. However, there is a civilization that came to dominance after the Maya, and that has the tools available.

The current dominant civilization is not linked by a common government or religion, but rather by a common pursuit of knowledge. This civilization has produced computers, invented and expanded the internet, developed particle colliders that peer into the structure of matter, cloned animals, decoded DNA, built spaceships that have taken men to the moon and keep men in orbit around the earth, sent landers to Mars, sent probes to every planet in the solar system and even sent probes beyond the solar system. They have mapped the cosmos in space and time, created telescopes that see back in time to the early universe with clarity, created theories about the origin of the universe, and have built the most precise time keeping devices ever conceived, accurate to within billionths of a second over long periods of time. And, they have predicted an end date to the world only 10 days later than that proposed by the Maya.

On Feb 24, 1582, Pope Gregory XIII signed a decree implementing the most widely accepted civil calendar, one that is now referred to as the Gregorian calendar. Note that this calendar was implemented almost 700 years after the preeminence of the Maya in their region ended. The Gregorian calendar adds a day every 4 years to keep aligned with the solar equinoxes. A Gregorian year is actually 365.2425 days. The calendar has been modified slightly over the years since its introduction, but the concept on which it was based remains sound.

The technological civilization mentioned above has refined the calendar to include leap seconds that allow the calendar and time keeping devices to remain collated over extremely long periods, comparable to the Mayan long count calendar. And this civilization has predicted an end of the world on December 31, 2012!

In exactly the same way that the Mayan calendar ended on December 21, 2012, the Gregorian calendar ends only 10 days later on December 31, 2012. Had the Maya had at their disposal the same accurate technology as the current technological civilization, perhaps they would have modified their calendar accordingly. One can only assume that this more advanced civilization has more correctly predicted the end date.

As I write this, I have on my desk a copy of the current long-count Gregorian calendar. In addition to 12 pictures of very cute puppies, the long count begins on January 1, 2012 and – crucially –ends on December 31, 2012. There are no more entries after this date! Thus, only 10 days from the 1100 year old Maya prediction of apocalypse on December 21, 2012, the best minds of the 21st century have scheduled the same event.

As I began to write this, I was convinced that this new prediction was more accurate, and should therefore be heeded and revered. But I did a little research that has shaken this belief.

It turns out that every year since its inception in 1582, the Gregorian calendar has ended on December 31 of that year. In reading old news accounts, I could not find any evidence of widespread concern over the end of the world correlating to the end of the calendar, not even early on. In fact, some individuals even made a joke of the so-called calendar end, even making 2, 5 and 10-year calendars – mocking the very idea of a cataclysmic end. The single exception I did find was minor panic over the end of the calendar year denoted as 1999.  Even though the end of the year 999 did not produce similar concern. There is no real basis for interpreting this fear, though some people blamed it on the very computer equipment that allowed the predictions in the first place!

Clearly this year’s long-count Gregorian calendar end is more critical than those in times past, due to its correlation with the Maya and perhaps Nostradamus. I will prepare as well as I can – deferring bill payments till the first of the next year, for example. But, given the fact that the Gregorian calendar has incorrectly predicted the fall of civilization for 429 previous long count periods, I will not hold my breath, and I intend to sleep soundly on December 31st, not even waiting till midnight to watch the curtain fall.