Apocalypse postponed

by Chris Bertram on December 18, 2012

Those of you who are worried that the world is going to end on Friday may be inclined to relax and party when it doesn’t. On the other hand, those of you who have put off buying Christmas presents because, you know, what’s the point? May yet be vindicated. Apparently there is no scholarly consensus on when the Mayan calendar runs out. Could be Friday, but Sunday or Christmas Eve are also possibilities (pdf), and, indeed, it is Christmas Eve that these guys incline to:

bq. Implicitly or explicitly, the majority of scholars have accepted Thompson’s leap-year argument (see, for instance, Bricker and Bricker 2011:91). That is why the idea has entered into the popular consciousness that the thirteenth Bak’tun will end on December 21, 2012, which is the date in the 584283 correlation, as opposed to December 23 in the 584285 correlation (or Christmas Eve, December 24, according to 584286).

From Simon Martin and Joel Skidmore and “Exploring the 584286 Correlation between the Maya and European Calendars”, The PARI Journal 13(2), 2012, pp. 3-16.

[All via Charles C. Mann ( @CharlesCMann) on twitter.]



Katherine 12.18.12 at 11:39 am

I’m thinking of just saying off Teh Internets on Friday, on account of how fricking annoying it’s going to be. Second only perhaps to 1 January 2001.


Patrick S. O'Donnell 12.18.12 at 2:14 pm

There’s not even a consensus on what the Mayan calendar is saying:

There have been predictions and rumors stemming around the end of days and the end of the Maya calendar. One local scholar* said the end of the world isn’t even a Mayan idea.

Professor Gerardo Aldana has studied the Maya culture and writing since 1995. He’s looked into the December 21, 2012 end of days prediction and said it just is not true but that it is a “perfect storm of misinformation.”

Maya dates are represented through heiroglyphics and for the past 17 years, Professor Aldana has studied them. He said the prediction people are talking about is a misunderstanding of the mythology, a misunderstanding of the calendar and he said December 21 isn’t even the right date.

“So for all those reasons we should really not have any investment that something that the Maya predicted is going to happen,” said Professor Aldana.

* This was from our local news station and Professor Aldana is an Anthropology and Chicano/Chicana Studies Professor: http://www.chicst.ucsb.edu/faculty/staff/aldana.shtml


ponce 12.18.12 at 2:52 pm

In related news, the LHC, one time potential world ender, shut down today after finding jack.

It will now be shut down for four years while “scientists” inject billions of taxpayer dollars into it.



Colin Danby 12.18.12 at 3:27 pm

Explains why those Mayans are always late.


ajay 12.18.12 at 3:49 pm

In related news, the LHC, one time potential world ender, shut down today after finding jack.

Gosh. Ignorance this pure, perfect and unashamed should be kept in a jar.

It will now be shut down for four years while “scientists” inject billions of taxpayer dollars into it.

No, it won’t. It was built by CERN, which is in a faraway land called Foreign where they speak a strange moon-language and – horrors – don’t use dollars as currency. Also, two years (reopening in late 2014).


ajay 12.18.12 at 3:50 pm

Incidentally, nice choice of username. Gives the rest of us fair warning.


Shelley 12.18.12 at 3:59 pm

As a writer, I offer as the essential Apocalypse poem, the master Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice,” which I’m sure folks here already know.


rea 12.18.12 at 4:14 pm

Ponce missed the event–the LHC did end the world yesterday–he must have overslept (and those goofy Mayans made a small miscalculation . . .).


ponce 12.18.12 at 4:15 pm


Ajay, as I’ve pointed out here before, Physics hasn’t had a major discovery in over 50 years. It has stood still, offering humanity nothing of benefit, while the rest of science has passed it by.

Though while the LHC is a crock, it pales in comparison to insane nonsense of String Theory.


Yeats’ The Second Coming gets my vote for Essential Apocalypse Poem:



Guido Nius 12.18.12 at 4:15 pm

If it is exactly at Christmas Eve, at least we will have a nice television show before we go. First Auckland, then Sydney, Mumbai, Dubai, Cairo, me, London, New York … At least it will be better television than the normal around the global New Year’s Eve tradition.


BJN 12.18.12 at 4:30 pm

@2 Actually, there is pretty good consensus that whatever the Mayan calendar is saying, it is definitely NOT saying the world will come to an end. Michael Coe made a speculation about one inscription many years ago while we were barely beginning to understand the language. Since then, we can see that the end of the 13th ba’ktun is one of many cycles that the Mayans thought would be part of the world, with astronomical predictions going through the 17th (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/05/120510-maya-2012-doomsday-calendar-end-of-world-science/). The long count calendar was probably originated by the Olmecs, and definitely predates the Maya anyway, so whatever they thought of it, it isn’t even their creation.

But if we want to know what the Maya believe, maybe we should ask the actually, really existing Maya today rather than projecting whatever we want on some hieroglyphics. http://centralamericanpolitics.blogspot.com/2012/12/guatemalas-maya-population-facing-deep.html


Guido Nius 12.18.12 at 4:38 pm

Maybe the world’s ending all over again every once in a cosmical while. Let’s hope we will not be successful in extending human life indefinitely because it’d be stressful to have the gift of eternal life and then face the finiteness of the world.


ajay 12.18.12 at 4:47 pm

Ajay, as I’ve pointed out here before, Physics hasn’t had a major discovery in over 50 years.

Look, Ponce, you don’t even know what country the LHC is in. Why on earth do you think you know anything at all about physics? Is this some sort of Dunning-Kruger effect business?

(Quarks, the cosmic microwave background and dark energy are all pretty major.)


ponce 12.18.12 at 5:04 pm

To physicists, maybe.

Somehwere back in the 60s, Physics lost the ability to admit it was wrong and has been stumbling along as an emperor has no clothes freakshow ever since.

If you read the LHC data, four tests in ten trillion, if looked at just so, kinda point to maybe they almost saw something they think sorta looks like what a Higgs Boson looks like.

On the strength of that laughable result…Physics will plunge on blindly for another 10 years, producing nothing of value for humanity.


Sebastian H 12.18.12 at 5:27 pm

The world ended for the Mayans a lot earlier than sometime this week.


ajay 12.18.12 at 5:28 pm

Your mom produced nothing of value for humanity.


Bloix 12.18.12 at 5:59 pm

Ajay, how do you think the LHC is funded? Maybe by the Mayans?


phosphorious 12.18.12 at 6:47 pm

“. . . offering humanity nothing of benefit. . .”

“Understanding” does not qualify as a benefit, I suppose, while “NUKES NUKES NUKES” does.


Salient 12.18.12 at 6:51 pm

I guess there’s no harm in FTT a little, since we’re all gonna die in a few days…

If you read Edison’s data, four tests in ten trillion, if looked at just so, kinda point to maybe they almost saw something they think sorta looks like what an electric lightbulb looks like. :P


ponce 12.18.12 at 8:09 pm

Actually, Salient…Edison had got working lightbulb on his first try.

But it’s funny you had to reach back well over a hundred years to find a useful invention.



Watson Ladd 12.18.12 at 9:04 pm

I can’t speak for particle physics, but solid-state has the MRI machine, the transistor, microwave communications, etc. Much of this is very recent.


Wondering 12.18.12 at 9:19 pm

Ponce, I notice that you are using a computer to make your comment. Did semiconductors and integrated circuits spontaneously assemble? I think, perhaps, that a few physicists were involved in that creation event.


David Kornreich 12.18.12 at 9:22 pm

Actually everyone reading this on a tablet computer or IPhone is demonstrating the efficacy of theoretical physics. To design design specialised chips that small relativistic effects had to be taken into account.


ponce 12.18.12 at 9:58 pm


Transistors predate the Higgs boson snark hunt.


Substance McGravitas 12.18.12 at 10:39 pm

The World Wide Web was a handy spin-off of CERN’s work.


engels 12.18.12 at 11:13 pm

#24 So you are typing on a PC made out of transistors?


ponce 12.18.12 at 11:57 pm


Picturing the LHC somehow functioning as the beating heart of the internet made me smile.


I think you’re trying to credit Physics for the work of engineers.


Substance McGravitas 12.19.12 at 12:15 am

Why do you figger Intel hires physicists?


Peter T 12.19.12 at 12:23 am

You’re missing the point. Ponce is trying to get across to all the fact that the world ended 30 years ago (around the time Saint Ronnie was elected), and everything since is a virtual reality experiment. I mean, explain Eugene Volokh any other way. But if he says so directly, he’ll be deleted……ooops.


ponce 12.19.12 at 12:32 am


I see postions for engineers



“I mean, explain Eugene Volokh any other way.”

I figure some clever Soviet rulers pulled a Castro and dumped boatloads of criminals and halfwits on America and Israel back in the 60s.


Substance McGravitas 12.19.12 at 12:39 am

I see postions for engineers

All you have to do is look. Why do you figger Intel hires physicists?


ponce 12.19.12 at 12:43 am

Because no one else will?

Q: How do you get the physics major off your porch?
A: Pay him for the pizza.


Substance McGravitas 12.19.12 at 12:46 am

So then why would IBM hire physicists if Intel’s taking up the charitable slack?


ponce 12.19.12 at 12:52 am

I didn’t even know IBM was still around.

I had computers back in the 60s.

If Intel or IBM have come up with something new, they sure are keeping it a secret.


Nine 12.19.12 at 12:57 am

“I didn’t even know IBM was still around.”

Sweet Jeebus !
Definitive proof that IBM are still alive and well –


ponce 12.19.12 at 12:59 am



Substance McGravitas 12.19.12 at 12:59 am

Hmm. It is mysterious then that Samsung also hires physicists. Perhaps they are opening 50-year-old books.


ponce 12.19.12 at 1:05 am


If all physics can offer the world is tinier phones, I rest my case.


Substance McGravitas 12.19.12 at 1:08 am


Kenny 12.19.12 at 1:20 am

I would tell everyone not to feed the troll, but this one is entertaining.

Now I’m curious – have economics, history, sociology, philosophy, or any of the other professions of our blogging hosts produced more or less of value than physics, according to these metrics?


ponce 12.19.12 at 1:22 am


Substance McGravitas 12.19.12 at 1:34 am

And thus was born the menace of animated gifs.


ponce 12.19.12 at 1:45 am

Hey, I liked your dancing gif.

It’s better than anything Physics has come up with over the past 50 years.


UserGoogol 12.19.12 at 1:53 am

IBM left the relatively high-profile world of personal computing a while ago, (sold that division off to Lenovo) but they’re a fairly big name in supercomputing, as Six of the top ten fastest supercomputers in the world are manufactured by IBM. Their main moneymaker seems to be providing software and “business and IT services” to companies, which is in comparison boring, but IBM has always been kind of boring.


Ken 12.19.12 at 3:17 am

My understanding is that the Mayan apocalypse nonsense arose during the 1970s, when the decipherment of the Mayan writing system was limited to the numbers, dates, and a few astronomical tables. The date for the end of the 13th baktun appeared in a number of inscriptions, and lacking any understanding of the surrounding text, people just made stuff up.

The writing system has been essentially deciphered since the 1980s, and most of those inscriptions can be read now. They usually run something like “This temple was built by the great ruler (name), and the temple and his dynasty will still be around in” – sort of like “a reich that will last a thousand years,” or “look on my works and despair.” As is common for that type of boast, the inscriptions are often found just under the layer of charcoal from the sacking of the city.


js. 12.19.12 at 3:21 am

I didn’t even know IBM was still around.

Jesus, ponce, at least don’t admit this!


Kaveh 12.19.12 at 3:40 am

I heard this explanation of the “Mayan apocalypse” from my friend, a historian who works on early colonial-era Latin America: Mayan calendars often went thousands of years into the future, and inscriptions would ask for prayers at certain future dates (e.g. “please offer prayers for us on [3/6/1999]”). So how far into the future a calendar went had to do with (perhaps, among other things) resources available to the people commissioning it–how much stone they wanted to carve, how far they wanted to calculate, whatever… The calendar that goes until 21/12/2012 was from a smaller provincial city, and calendars in bigger settlements like, say, the capital, go much further than 2012 (100s or 1000s of years).


johne 12.19.12 at 4:30 am

“Explains why those Mayans are always late.”

Said tongue-in-cheek of course, but it does give an opening to mention that the modern Mayans, at least those in Belize, are quite time-conscious. Elders lay out village calendars every few months, and every household has a functioning clock, and often the carcasses of those that have stopped and been replaced. When an unexpected opportunity comes up — to earn some money, for example — people, however eager, will usually need at least a day to arrange their schedule.


Consumatopia 12.19.12 at 6:51 am

A thread like this, not only is there not anything wrong with FTT, there isn’t really anything wrong with T’ing in the first place–it’s all in the good fun. Go for it, ponce!

@44, UserGoogol, I wonder how they’ll look back on us a couple decades from now for thinking that supercomputers are boring but telephones are sexy.


Cotati Station Neighbor 12.19.12 at 7:31 am

After Friday, I’m going to get a new Mayan calendar, just like I’m buying a new calendar when my Gregorian calendar ends on 12/31.


Walt 12.19.12 at 8:13 am

ponce, your jokes are weird, though I’m fascinated that anyone thinks they’re anything other than weird jokes.


gulf advocates 12.19.12 at 8:56 am

well i guess after Friday, I should be going to get a new Mayan calendar, just like I’m buying a new calendar when my Gregorian calendar ends on 12/31 lol


UserGoogol 12.19.12 at 9:01 am

Consumatopia: I wasn’t saying supercomputers are boring, I was saying much of the rest of what IBM does is fairly bland and corporate.


ajay 12.19.12 at 9:34 am

Ajay, how do you think the LHC is funded? Maybe by the Mayans?

Almost as weird – by Europeans! A strange, little-known tribe of people living some 3,000 miles to the east of Cape Cod, the quaint Europeans have their own “currency” rather than using US dollars like normal people.


Yourspottedfriend 12.19.12 at 11:21 am

Dear Ponce,
So what about the achievements in medical physics? Do they mean nothing, whatsoever? PET Scanners, Pulse Oximetry, CAT Scanners, Radiography, Cancer Treatment et cetera, et cetera? How about nuclear physics? The possibility of free energy? And knowledge, in itself, always has application. Physics is the frontier in which we explore and understand the universe. I don’t quite know what could be much more important than that, to be quite honest.


Twilight Circus 12.19.12 at 1:25 pm

As a fun exercise, I created an epic dub concept album which is an eschatological voyage chronicling various calamities striking the Earth & the ultimate destruction of civilization… the perfect soundtrack for 22-12-12 … enjoy! :-)

It actually features some legends of reggae & dub music….


Glen Tomkins 12.19.12 at 2:03 pm

Myan calendar rules

It really is quite immaterial what this Mayan calendar might say. That goes for the youan calendar, and whatever hean, shean, and wean calendars you try to bring into the discussion.

The only calendar that counts is myan calendar, you know, the one tacked to the pegboard in the hallway just off the kitchen. It has a picture of a different animal every month, and it has these boxes for each day in which I scribble reminders of things I have to do that day.

The myan calendar ends 12/31/12, and I don’t have anything planned for after that day because there are no boxes available to scribble in, and lately scribbling in little boxes is the only way I can remember things. I have to assume from my resulting lack of plans for any day after 12/31/12, that that day is the last day of human existence. This seems to me the clear and indisputable result of immutable logic, except that I do have dim memories of past Decembers in which I had the same difficulty, but everything was set right Christmas Day when I found a new calendar with different animal pictures under the tree, and so time didn’t have to stop after all.

This is about the most complete and clear explanation of this whole Mayan calendar nonsense that I have yet heard. I could be wrong about that, though, with the memory failing and so forth.


belle le triste 12.19.12 at 2:17 pm

There is in fact an episode of the Goodies (UK 70s TV comedy of blessed memory) in which the slapstick trio realise the world is going to end precisely because the ordinary kitchen calendar just has a blank after a certain point. As a child I found this joke enormously funny and clever.

This is actually how the world ends.


Glen Tomkins 12.19.12 at 2:59 pm

sad belle,

You would only worry about time ending when the calendar runs out if you imagined that calendars create time, rather than the rough opposite, that calendars are created to help people deal with time. There probably is some profound insight to be garnered here about people only hallucinating this apocalypse around the Mayan calendar insofar as they suspect that the lives they live suffer from this curious inversion of the cause and effect relationship between reality and the theories we construct to help live within reality. But it’s hard to go on expounding such profound insights with a straight face when the focus of the existential crisis is that some effing calendar is running out. You’ld think people would at least pick some knottier crux over which to have their meltdown. Buck up, people, be more serious about your nonsense!

I could have been a really profound philosopher and sage, ready to help people resolve their deepest inner contradictions. But my times have failed me. I am surrounded by stooges straight out of Goodies who spend who so exhaust themselves spinning superficial non-existent crises out of nothing, that they lack the time and energy to develope deep inner contradictions.

We long to make music to melt the stars, but all we manage is to tap out crude rhythms for bears to dance to.


Steve LaBonne 12.19.12 at 8:00 pm

Eh, in the US we’re all going to die anyway from falling off the “fiscal cliff”. Or at least, that’s what you’d believe if you were foolish enough to pay attention to the prattling of our “news” media.


parsimon 12.19.12 at 9:12 pm

Guido at 12: Maybe the world’s ending all over again every once in a cosmical while.

I’m pretty sure that’s the idea with the Mayan calendar.


parsimon 12.19.12 at 9:16 pm

To be clear, it’s not that the world actually *ends*, it just morphs into a new stage.


Nemo 12.19.12 at 11:43 pm

I don’t care whether the world ends on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday just as long as it ends before Tuesday (Christmas) and I don’t suffer any embarassment from not having done any Christmas shopping this year.


David S. 12.20.12 at 9:20 pm

Ponce, physics has produced nothing of value in 50 years? Here’s 10 just from


David S. 12.20.12 at 9:31 pm


Substance McGravitas 12.20.12 at 9:52 pm

The link actually worked, you just need a scanning tunneling microscope to find it, which you can’t have because physics produces nothing.


PJW 12.20.12 at 10:37 pm

Mayan 1: Wanna go get a beer?
Mayan 2: Well, I’m working on this calendar but I don’t think it would be the end of the world if I didn’t finish it.


Salient 12.20.12 at 10:58 pm

Time-reversal violation has prevented us from suffering the devastation of the Mayan apocalypse! The last 50 years of Physics have saved us all!

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