POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 21, 2012
Don't wait until tomorrow to read this column. If the Mayan calendar is correct, the world will end at 1:11 p.m. today, Hawaii time.
The Mayan calendar is remarkably accurate considering that it was in use from around 2000 B.C. to the 16th century. It is not the accuracy that has caused alarm among the superstitious of the world; it is the interpretation.
The Mayan calendar moves in cycles, with the last cycle ending today. From this fact, those with an astrological doomsday bent interpreted the impending end of the world.
The end of the Mayan calendar does not imply the end of the world any more than does our modern Gregorian calendar, which starts again every Jan. 1. This is only the end of the Mayan long-count period, a part of the Mayan calendar shaped like a wheel. When we reach the end of the wheel, it starts over again, like the odometer wheels in the car.
The long count was used to track what the Mayans called the "universal cycle." They believed that the universe was destroyed and re-created at the beginning of each universal cycle. Since the cycle is more than 7,000 years long, even the Mayans had no verification of its veracity.
The Mayans failed to predict on their calendar any of the many natural disasters that have occurred.
All of the possible world endings that have been publicized by the doomsday cultists have no merit from a scientific point of view; by that I mean having verifiable evidence rather than mere speculation.
No significant planetary alignments are due in the next few decades. Such alignments, when they do occur, exert only negligible effect on one another.
The polar shift hypothesis is totally impossible within the known laws of physics. Magnetic reversals do happen, but they take millions of years, not a few days.
The black hole in the constellation Sagittarius at the center of our galaxy is equally exposed every December solstice.
Doomsday prophecies are common throughout the world's cultures, and their predictions increase in times of economic turndown and political strife. The cartoon image of a man in the street with a sign proclaiming "The end of the world is nigh" was common during the Great Depression and the early years of the Cold War.
To the ancient masses who were ignorant of the larger world, it is understandable that a natural disaster that wipes out a significant portion of the population should seem like the entire world was at risk. It would appear the same way to anyone who has lost loved ones and property to a hurricane, flood, earthquake, tsunami or other disaster.
Impact by an asteroid or eruption of a supervolcano are real issues and have the potential to erase the human race. The former has no current candidates, and the latter is unpredictable. Both are not worth worrying about since if they occur, we are all goners anyway.
By the way, if there is a tomorrow after all, Dec. 23 is listed by some doomsayers as a secondary date just in case Dec. 21 is incorrect.
If the world ends today, I'll eat my words and apologize.
Richard Brill is a professor of science at Honolulu Community College. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.