I don't know about you, but I'm extremely skeptical when it comes to doomsday predictions.
After all, people have been predicting the end of the world since the dawn of recorded history. Now, I'm not talking about large-scale, gradual catastrophes like the looming threat of environmental damage or the consequences of overpopulation. I'm talking about the supernatural, near-instant stuff: Those old-school, the End is Nigh, Age of Aquarius predictions. These prophecies often share a few common factors. First, there's the idea that, for one reason or another, this apocalypse will occur within our lifetimes. In the case of doomsday cults, we can equate this with the 'hard sell' tactics of telemarketers. "Act now," the message goes, "or you'll regret it soon."
Second, there's the idea that taking certain actions -- whether joining a cult or stockpiling ammunition -- will put you in a better position post-apocalypse. In cults, these preparations can include some real doozies, such as giving away all your worldly possessions or abandoning family members. Once someone's taken these actions, their beliefs tend to strengthen in a sort of retroactive rationalization.
"Surely I'm doing the right thing," says the newest member of the Manson family, "I mean, otherwise I'd be crazy."
But what about apocalyptic predictions that don't rely on this manipulative 1-2 punch? They can take a very different path. In the age of the internet, they can even go viral. That's what happened with the Mayan calendar. For years various people have claimed that it predicts the end of the world as we know it.
Here's the gist: Based on our modern understanding of the Mayan calendar, loads and loads of people believe the world will either end or undergo a profound change on December 21st, 2012. Why? Because A) the Mayan calendar is a complex system, B) people often mistake complexity for accuracy, and C) that's when the Mayan calendar ends: December 21st, 2012. Call your exes and apologize now, folks, because time is running out.
Or is it?
Not according to the Mayans. In 2010 a team of archaeologists from Boston University found a mural holding the oldest known example of the Mayan calendar. The experts agree that this thing looks legit. It also extends far past the now-infamous month of December, 2012. So the verdict is in: The Mayan calendar does not end on December of this year. How do we know? It all goes back to the b'ak'tuns.
A b'ak'tun is a time period comprised of 144,000 days, and the end of each b'ak'tun marks a significant turning point. Think of it more like the next chapter in a novel, rather than the end of the story. Most Mayan calendars have a 13 b'ak'tun span. This newly-discovered calendar goes up to 17. If you were planning a Mayan-themed 'End of the World' party, you may want to rethink the theme -- but don't trash your post-apocalyptic plans just yet: There are several other doomsday predictions for 2012, including fears of coronal mass ejections or the return of a mysterious hidden planet. Check out our video below to learn more about 2012's doomsday scenarios: