2012

Are we all going to die?

Well, we didn't.

   

    So the NEXT TIME you hear someone jabbering like a chimp about the end of the world (and there WILL BE a next time), don't be a chump. Ignore them and read what's below...

Apocaly-porn

    It seems that for decades, people in the West have been obsessed with the end of the world.  David Morrison has dealt with many questions about 2012 recently, and he's noticed that people are changing their questions slightly and asking about what year the world will end,  Such people are convinced that even if it isn't 2012, it could only be a few years (or maybe decades) after that.  It's a colossal bit of arrogance to think that we are so important that it all has to end in our lifetimes.  Generations of people now dust thought exactly the same thing.  Yet Earth's still here.  Although it will eventually be destroyed by the Sun in 3 billion or 4 billion years, short of us doing it ourselves, Earth's going to remain for some time.  But there's no guarantee that humans will be around.

            Blasts from the past:  Prophets of doom rarely keep score of their predictions and there's good reason why.

The King of being taken out of context    False Profits This also applies to prophets of good things.

They are wrong almost all of the time.  These doomsters often don't care, as the author of the book titled 88 Reasons why the Rapture Will Be in 1988, went on to write The Final Shout: Rapture Report 1989 and 75% of the Bible is Future as of 21 November 1995 as well as The Complete Solution to the Book of Revelation (1996).  This author might have continued this indefinitely, but the world did end for him in 2001 in an author existence failure.  Clearly people like this are very much hoping you aren't keeping score.  Doomsters were obviously wrong about the end of the world, but they also make related predictions that are vague enough to appear plausible - or at least possible - to some.  For more information about failed past predictions (in a Christian context) look here.  Still, the world will end someday.  Even if our species avoids death by climate shift, suicide or industrial accident, the Sun will one day stop fusing hydrogen and move off the Main Sequence on its way to becoming a red giant star.  At that point the Earth will be inside it and be very unpleasant to all concerned.

        The Track Record:  The following is a list of individual end-of-the-world predictions from the past.  Given how incomplete our records are for ancient times, it is safe to assume that there were many more predictions of doom made back then that we now know nothing about.  Remember that all these predictions failed or you wouldn't be reading this.  Just for fun, see if your birth date is somewhere on this list.  Extra points if it's also the year you were born.  "But of that day and hour knoweth no man," indeed...

    ~2800 bce, 634 bce, 389 bce, ~1st century bce, 70ce, ~2nd century ce, 247 ce, 365, 380, ~400, 500, 4/6 793, 800, 806, 848, 3/25 970, 992, 995, 1000 (The big one!), 1033, 1184, 9/23 1186, 1260, 1284, 1290, 1306, 1335, 1367, 1370, 1378, 2/14 1420, 1496, ~1504, 2/1 1524, 2/20 1524, 1525, 1528, 5/27 1528, 1532, 1533, 10/19 1533, 4/5 1534, 1537, 1544, ~1555, 7/2 1556, 4/28 1583, 1584, 1588, 1600, 1603, 1623,  2/1 1624, 1648, 1654, 1656, 1657, 1658, 1660 (a busy decade), 1666, 1673, 1688, 1689, 1694, Fall 1694, 1688, 1689, 1694, Fall 1694, 1697, 1700, 1705, 1706, 1708, 1716, 4/5 1719, 1734, 1736, 10/13 1736, 1757, 4/5 1761, 2/28 1763, 5/19, 1780, 1789 (French Revolution), 1790, 1792, 1794, 1795, 11/19 1795, 1801, 1805, 1814, 12/25 1814, 10/14 1820, 1832, 1836, 1843, 4/28 1843, 12/31 1843, 3/21 1844, 10/22 1844 (The Great Disappointment), 1845, 1846, 1847, 8/7 1847, 1849, 1851, 1856, 1862, 1863, 1867, 1868, 1869, 6/28 1870, 1872, 1874, 1878, 1880, 1881, 1890, 1891, 1895, 1896, 1899, 1900, 11/13 1900, 1901, 4/23 1908, 10-1908, 1910 (Halley's Comet), 5/18 1910, 1911, 10/1 1914, 1915, 1918, 12/17 1919, 1925, 2/13 1925, Spring 1928, 1934, 9-1935, 1936, 1938, 1941, 1943, 9/21 1945, 1947, 1950, 1952, 1/9 1953, 8-1953, 12/21 1954, 4/23 1957, 1958, 4/22 1959, 1960, 2/4 1962, 1966, 1967, 8/20 1967 (The little-known Hippie Apocalypse), 12/25 1967, 8/9 1969, 11/22 1969, 1972, 1973, 1-1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, ~1980s, 1980, 4/1 1980, 4/29 1980, 1981, 6/28 1981, 8/7 1981, 1982, 3/10 1982 (Jupiter Effect planetary line-up), 6/25 1982, Fall 1982, 1983, 10/2 1984, 1985, 3/25 1985, 8-1985, 1986, 4/29 1987, 1987, 8/17 1987, 1988, 9/13 1988, 9/15 1988, 10/3 1988, 1989, 9/30 1989, 1990, 4/23 1990, 1991, 3/31 1991, 1992, 4/26 1992, 4/29 1992, 9/28 1992, 10/28 1992, 1993, 11/14 1993, 12/9 1993, 1994, 5/2 1994, 6/9 1994,  6/9 1994, 7/25 1994, 9/23 1994, 9/27 1994, 9/29 1994, 10/2 1994, 1995, 3/31 1995, 1996, 9-1996, 11-1996, 12/13 1996, 12/17 1996, 1997, 3/23 1997, 3/26 1997 (Heaven's Gate suicides), 5/5 1997, 10-1997, 10/11 1997, 10/23 1997, 11/27 1997, 1998, 1/8 1998, 3/8 1998, 3/31 1998, 5/31 1998, 6/6 1998, 6/7 1998, 6/14 1998, 6/21 1998, 7/5 1998, 9/20 1998 (Two-fer), 10/10 1998, 11-1998, 12/12 1998, 1999, 3/25 1999, 4/3 1999, 5/8 1999, 5/22 1999, 5/30 1999, 6/20 1999, 6/30 1999, 7-1999, 7/4 1999, 7/5 1999, 7/7 1999, 7/24 1999, 7/28 1999, 8-1999, 8/6 1999, 8/11 1999, 8/14 1999, 8/18 1999, 8/19 1999, 8/24 1999, 9-1999, 9/3 1999, 9/9 1999, 9/11 1999, 9/23 1999, 10-1999, 10/12 1999, 11-1999, 11/4 1999, 11/7 1999, 11/29, 1999, 12-1999, 12/21 1999, 12/25 1999, 12/31 1999, 2000 (The second big one!), 1/1/00, 1/16/00, 2/11/00, 2/29/00. 3-2000, 4-2000, 4/4/00, 4/5/00, 4/6/00, 5/5/00, 5/9/00, 5/17/00, 6-2000, 6/1/00, 6/10/00, 7/5/00, 8/20/00, 9-2000, 9/17/00, 9/19/00. 9/21/00, 9/29/00, 10-2000, 10/9/00, 10/14/00, 11/17/00, 12/31/00, 2001, 1/20/01, 3-2001, 4/16/01, 5/5/01, 5/28/01, 7-2001, 9/11/01 (Postdiction actually, with fake Nostradamus quatrains), 9/18/01, 11/3/01, 12/8/01, 12/19/01,  2002, 4/14/02, 5/19/02, 7/19/02, 2003, 4/22/03, 5/5/03, 5/13/03, 5/15/03, 11/29/03, 2004, 4/25/05, 10/4/05, 10/15/05, 10/17/05, 10/18/05, 11/11/05, 2006, 2/12/06, 2007, 4/29/07, 8-2007, 9/13/07, 3/12/08, 4/6/08, 2009, 2010, 2011, 5/11/11, 5/21/11, 5/29/11, 10/21/11, 12/31/11.

            Why?  The more important question is why this obsession over the end of the world continues in spite of centuries of false alarms?  A related question is why historians break up history by wars:  The inter-war period (1919-1939), the post-war period (1945 - Now), the antebellum period (Before 1861).  Perhaps simply because it's exciting and fun.  The end of things is big, dramatic and also personal.  A recent example would be the collapse of the Soviet Union.  For those who live in the margins of society, likely feeling powerless to change the world or even their lives, The End is a time when everyone will go down regardless of wealth, power or privilege.  This can give a bit of schadenfreude to those unhappy about their own lives.  For others, thinking about The End gives them a sense of control or access to secret "insider information."  For still another group of people, it could just be the desire for attention or the wish to participate in (or lead) a new order of things.  If the world truly ended, of course, there would be no new order.  Yet few doomsters claim the utter annihilation of all life or all humanity.   Who would then buy their books?  Selling books should also be considered as a big reason for some authors to flog doom.   Some 2012 books have been bestsellers.

            Real threats:  We live in an age where our destruction is a very real possibility, but haven't we always?  The difference today is that destruction can be self-inflicted.  Nuclear war, biological weapons, economic collapse, the list is long and depressing.  There is another thing that is new in these forms of doom.  Humans have power over them.  To stop (or mitigate) climate change, don't have a Bigfoot-sized carbon footprint.  Economic collapse?  Stop using credit and stay out of debt, including mortgages.  A new plague?  Move out into the country and get self-sufficient.  The forms of doom that are self-inflicted can be prevented or at least softened.  Not easily, but if the alternative is death then it's no choice at all.

        The never ending end:  A safe prediction that can be made is that people will be predicting doom after 2012.  Prophecy is an unsinkable rubber duck, in James Randi's memorable phrase, that keeps popping up again and again after every failure.  Whether the years 2060 and 2076 (religion-based) or 2025 (technology/gray goo/nanotech based), new dates will be set, new books will be written and sold.  New prophets of doom will also surely arise to proclaim that this time is really it!

 

Questions?  Contact me (Liam McDaid, SCC Astronomy Coordinator)

Return to SCC Physics Department

Thanks for visiting!