The End is Nigh! (or: 2012 Simplified)

You may remember Harold Camping’s prediction better than Harold Camping himself.  Camping was the minister and head of the Family Radio network that touted May 21, 2011 as when the rapture would happen.  Well, this day has since passed, and so has Camping.  Some of his followers still insist that May 21 was merely the date God silently judged all of humanity.   

Yep, it’s already been determined who’s going to hell and who’s going to heaven when the world actually ends on October 21, 2011.  Except, I guess, anyone who’s been born since May 21.  Oh, and I guess anyone who’s converted to or de-converted from Christianity in that time.  Well, I guess it’s complicated.

There have been many predictions about the devastation of the human race or the end of the world as we know it.  I can recall a few in my lifetime, including “some time in 1998” because, 1,998 divided by 3 is 666. 

 Nothing happened.

Then there was Y2K, which had less spiritual foundation, and more paranoia of technology behind it.  Power was supposed to go out world-wide, planes would drop out of the sky, and the entire world economy would be wiped clean because we foolishly programmed our computers everywhere to only use 2-digit dates.  Before computer programmers were concerned, even Prince sang how we should party like it was the end of the world.

 Nothing happened then either.

Perhaps the star of the show, thanks to History Channel documentaries and a Hollywood blockbuster, is the December 2012 prediction.  On December 22, 2012, the world is supposed to end.  Exactly why or how, nobody seems to agree.  Reasons from planetary alignments (which there aren’t any to happen on that date), to solar flares (largely unpredictable anyway) are deemed to be the cause.  Whatever actually is alleged to cause the destruction, the date has been picked because the ancient Mayans made a calendar that ends exactly on that date, and that somehow means that it’s also the end of the world.

Only, that’s not when the calendar ends, and if it was, what would that have to do with the end of the world?

credit: bizarro.com used without permission

The Mayan calendar goes in cycles.  Similar to how we have years, decades, and centuries, the Mayan calendar (or more accurately, the Mesoamerican calendar) has cycles called tun (360 days), k’atun (7,200 days), and b’ak’tun (114,000 days).  December 22, 2012 marks the end of the 13th b’ak’tun.  The next b’ak’tun will end another 394 years after, on March 26, 2407.  Hopefully we’ll be smart enough that far in the future to know that any paranoia over that date is also hype.

Now, this Long Count calendar is also a base 20 (vigesimal) calendar.  Today we usually count using base 10 -- that is we count from 0 to 9 and start over in the tens with 10 to 19, and so on (we call it decimal).
The b’ak’tun is the largest cycle of time on the calendar, but only goes up to 20, before starting over in a new cycle, which, I personally haven’t found the word for.  Regardless, if this was the end, the 20th b’ak’tun won’t happen until July 11, 4378.   
So if we want to assume the end of the calendar means the end of the world, we have plenty of time.  Of course, all that happens in July 4378 is the start of the 21st b’ak’tun… which doesn’t end until October 13, 4772.

In actuality, the truth is there is no “end” to the calendar at all.  It may be that’s the highest we’ve ever seen a Mayan artifact count the date, but that doesn’t mean anything.  You probably won’t be able to buy a 2013 Gregorian calendar (the one most of us use today except Muslims and some Jews) until fall of 2012. 

I suppose as long as we continue to print calendars each year, we’ll be okay.

Below are the Wikipedia articles explaining the Mayan/Mesoamerican calendar.

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