Monday, Oct. 12, 2009

Tales of 2012

Reviewing the Science and Superstition

By David Luhrssen
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Even Hollywood is getting in on the act. Director Roland Emmerich, whose preposterous disaster flick The DayAfter Tomorrow set back the cause of stopping climate change by making it seem ridiculous, has made a movie called 2012 based on the Mayan calendar doomsday prediction that has circulated with increasing velocity in chat rooms and among book publishers and History Channel producers alike.

One of the better documentaries, “2012: Science or Superstition” (out on DVD), had the benefit of drawing from a range of opinion, some of it well informed, some of it skeptical. Alexandra Bruce has written a companion book to the documentary. 2012: Science or Superstition (published by Disinformation) bills itself as “The Definitive Guide to the Doomsday Phenomenon.” Bruce covers a lot of ground and many doomsdays, from the Revelations of St. John to the Kali Yuga of the Hindus. Carl Jung would recognize an archetype beneath it all and he would be right, but is there actually a global disaster on the horizon and how would the ancient Mayans have gotten wind of it?

To the latter question, the Mayans were acute astronomers and there is a body of knowledge and speculation (albeit mostly on the fringe of science) about cycles of cosmic catastrophe. Maybe the meteor that killed the dinosaurs wasn’t entirely random but part of an astronomical pattern that periodically brings Earth into harm’s way of comets and other cosmic debris? Whether or not the Mayans attained such advanced insight into the universe, the 2012 idea has gained currency as a focal point of anxiety—a metaphor for the more sophisticated—of a convergence of difficult problems that will effect our ability to sustain the civilization we have developed. December 21, 2012? Although I’m betting the stars will still be in their places on the day after, I’m also worried that in the not-so-distant future, humanity will bring on Doomsday through its own selfishness and negligence.

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