The claim that sometime in 2012 our planet is going to be creamed by the magical planet Nibiru is just one strand of the larger tapestry of quasi-New Age modern superstitions that I call 2012 apocalypticism, which are the general beliefs that some sort of terrific cataclysm or other civilization-altering event that will forever change humanity is preordained or prophesied to take place sometime in the year 2012.
Believers in the 2012 apocalypse have been duped by the dishonest or unqualified authors of expensive paperbacks into believing that Mayan calendars, magnetic fields, Sumerian gods, quantum consciousness, aliens, the ‘singularity,’ and a small number of other motifs that form the mainstay of the modern New Age all prophecy the demise of civilization in a few years. That none of these authors have anything even plausibly mistakable for evidence for their claims is irrelevant since the rhetoric is apparently so appealing to anyone who has bought into the general premises of the New Age.
In this sense, the 2012 apocalypse milieu is very similar to creationism- a small number of arguments repeated ad nauseum, authors who (shrewdly, necessarily) bypass peer review for the popular press, a general distrust of mainstream science, etc. And like creationism, 2012 apocalypticism has created a whole new, largely internet-based industry, with CDs, DVDs, books, pamphlets, and magazines dedicated to the “mysteries of 2012.” As always, the New Age proves highly incestuous- 2012 apocalyptic claims can be found on the same forums as quantum consciousness, in UFO cults/the abductee movement discussion boards, and general conspiracy rhetoric. And, of course, there are the Nibiru people.
One recent, highly comprehensive anthology on this subject, The Mystery of 2012, published by the hilariously appropriately-titled Sounds True Publishing, is a particularly credulous collection of essays by a diverse crowd of profoundly unskeptical promulgators of 2012 rhetoric. It is worth noting that Sounds True Publishing sells New Age books and CDs for as much as $100 a pop on its website, despite the clearly anti-materialism bent of several of its publications.
The keynote address of this collection is Gregg Braden’s essay Choice Point 2012, which provides a good, general survey of the core claims of 2012 apocalypticism. What follows is a point-by-point critical discussion of the inexcusably bad science, the flagrant falsehoods, and the New Age gobbledygook that this article flaunts. Hopefully, this discussion will entail an informed rebuttal of many of the most common arguments of the 2012 apocalypticists, since Braden deploys several of the favorite mainstay fallacies of the New Age arsenal in defending his vision of the 2012 apocalypse.
Braden helpfully includes a summary of the five points of the article (they are included in an online excerpt of this article), which is where I will begin, and then use material from the article to discuss where Braden has, erm, missed the boat on a number of important issues. These are his five main points:
- The end of the Mayan Great Cycle marks a rare alignment of our planet, our solar system and the center of our galaxy - one that will not occur again for another 26,000 years.
- On March 10, 2006, a cycle of solar storms ended and a new cycle began. It is predicted to peak in 2012, with an intensity of 30 to 50 percent greater than previous cycles.
- Scientists agree that Earth's magnetic fields are weakening quickly, and some suspect that we are in the early stage of a polar reversal.
- Correlations between the magnetic fields of the Earth and human experience suggest that it is easier for us to accept change and adapt to new ideas in weaker fields of magnetism.
- Recent validation of quantum principles proves that the way we perceive our world - our beliefs about our experience - strongly influences our physical reality.
These are all claims that are echoed across the spectrum of New Age rhetoric.
So then, right to it. Scarcely do we get a half-dozen words into Braden’s first point before the first, glaring, fatal error is exposed. Let us examine that error, since it is one of the most oft-repeated errors of the 2012 milieu:
The end of the Mayan Great Cycle…
Hold up. What Braden is referring to here is the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar, which is an incredibly complex calendar system developed by the Mayans that keeps track of several different means of reckoning time that overlap periodically, and the particularly profound overlaps (such as December 21, 2012, when several of these reckoning means will enter a new cycle on the same day) demark the “Great Cycles.” To be clear- Braden and his co-apocalypticists are correct when they point out that December 21st, 2012, is a day of significance in the Mayan calendar. Unfortunately, he gets pretty much everything else on this issue wrong.
One critical error is the statement that the Mayan calendar “ends” (a word he uses in this context more than once in the essay) or terminates on December 21st, 2012, which is simply untrue. On that day, the Mayan calendar will just chug on along into another cycle; it is the equivalent of saying that the world will end shortly after Christmas this year because the Gregorian calendar “ends” on December 31st. This is obviously ridiculous; the calendar doesn’t “end,” it simply starts another cycle. In fact, the Great Cycle has come to a conclusion several times in recorded history and catastrophe has not materialized. The last time a Great Cycle restarted was September 18th, 1618, and surprisingly, the world did not conclude. Nor did it on June 15th, 1224, or on March 13th, 830. There is no evidence anywhere in the archaeological record of Mayans who associated the restarting of the Great Cycle with cataclysm.
But this is not even the most outlandishly erroneous statement that Braden makes about the Mayans. Anyone familiar with the rhetoric will recognize the obvious wink-and-nod to the Eric von Daaniken/Zecharia Sitchen types that goes on in this little gem of a paragraph on Mayan history from earlier in the essay:
Why did an advanced civilization suddenly appear over 1,500 years ago with the most sophisticated galactic clock known until modern times, build a massive civilization focused on expansive galactic cycles, and then disappear?
This is pure bunkum from tip to toe. Firstly, the Mayans did not “suddenly appear” as an “advanced civilization” 1,500 years ago- they developed gradually from coalitions of indigenous Mesoamericans, and we actually know quite a bit about this normal, gradual development. We have several artifacts dating from thousands of years prior to high urban Mayan civilization clearly indicating that the Mayans developed civilization in exactly the same way and general timescale as their Mesopotamian counterparts; the assertion that Mayan civilization appeared “suddenly” is simply rank falsehood.
They also did not just pop into existence (intelligent design, Sitchen-style?) with their calendar intact, the calendar system developed over a period of centuries. As far as we can tell, the Mayans probably did not invent this system wholesale- rather, it appears to have been agglomerated from several Mesoamerican cultures over many years of cultural diffusion. Again, Braden is simply hyperbolizing to give us the impression that there is some magic to Maya civilization that warrants a devotional attitude towards its calendar.
And as for “disappearing,” I imagine that what Mr. Braden is implying (that the Mayans suddenly vanished, a claim substantiated only by cranks and kooks for decades) would come as something of a shock to the continuous bloodlines of original Mayan stock that persevere to this day in Mesoamerica, with an unbroken cultural tradition far predating the Conquistador holocaust of the 15th-18th centuries. If Mr. Braden likes, he can actually contact these people at the link provided above; I imagine that they will be delighted to hear all about how they don’t exist and how their ancestors blinked out of existence century ago.
If Braden did not do even the minimal research necessary to establish these points, then he is incompetent and unqualified to speak on these issues. If he did do the research and reports the facts falsely anyway, then he is a fraud. There is no way to mince this point: Braden has overlooked some very basic facts about his own claims.
But, we have dwelled here long enough. As for the rest of his first argument, that bit about the “rare alignment of our planet, our solar system and the center of our galaxy,” I can only find this claim substantiated by the most meager of sources (Braden does not include a footnote). But even supposing it is true- so what? Braden provides no evidence that such a convergence will have any impact on our planet or on our civilization, and this claim not offer any insight into the future beyond the banal anomaly-hunting that appears endemic in 2012 mythmaking. See here for a great discussion of what harmonic convergences actually entail for humanity.
His second claim:
On March 10, 2006, a cycle of solar storms ended and a new cycle began. It is predicted to peak in 2012, with an intensity of 30 to 50 percent greater than previous cycles.
This claim is a trivial diddle to deal with because it is factually correct but wholly irrelevant. Sunspot activity peaks at fairly regular and indeed fairly brief intervals (the last such peak was around 2001). The worst that such peaks do is offer minor inconvenience for electronic telecommunication- nothing else. Furthermore, there is no evidence that this particular cycle will peak anywhere near the magic December 21st date, so as far as I am concerned Braden is just anomaly-hunting.
Furthermore, the claim that this upcoming sunspot cycle will be a particularly nasty one do not appear to be substantiated by NASA, which has predicted that the next cycle will probably be only slightly more intense than the previous one, by a degree of about 20 sunspots, which, for purposes of predicting disruption to telecommunication technology, is insignificant. This business about the sunspots reads to me as little more than a scare tactic designed to plant the unsubstantiated notion in the reader’s brain that there will be some kind of Y2K-style technological backfire in 2012. Needless to repeat, this assumption is wholly groundless.
The next two claims are very closely linked as a sort of modus ponens. They are also linked in that they are two of the most demonstrably false and outrageous claims in the entire essay:
Scientists agree that Earth's magnetic fields are weakening quickly, and some suspect that we are in the early stage of a polar reversal.
Correlations between the magnetic fields of the Earth and human experience suggest that it is easier for us to accept change and adapt to new ideas in weaker fields of magnetism.
First, to be clear, this first claim is a bit exaggerated (“weakening quickly” translates to a loss of about 10% of field strength in the last 160 years), but more or less true, and no one who knows what’s up is terribly put off by it.
But first, what is this business about us being in the early stage of a “polar reversal,” you might wonder. A polar reversal sounds really scary- it’s when the magnetic field collapses and then the poles literally reverse as the geodynamo reboots- compasses would point towards the South Pole in the aftermath of such a reversal, for example. But what does this actually entail? This National Geographic article is extraordinarily even-handed on the issue, and listen to the veritable nightmare that is on the way for us:
Without our planet's magnetic field, Earth would be subjected to more cosmic radiation. The increase could knock out power grids, scramble the communications systems on spacecraft, temporarily widen atmospheric ozone holes, and generate more aurora activity.
Oh, the horror! In short, a pole reversal might give you some brownouts, and could genuinely ruin your day if you live on the space shuttle, but otherwise, it is nothing to worry about. Gary Glatzmaier, an expert on this question working out of UC Santa Cruz puts it nicely: "The field has reversed many times in the past, and life didn't stop."
So, even though Braden offers no evidence that such a collapse-and-reverse are on schedule for precisely 2012, certainly not for December 21st of that year, we can actually toss him a bone and suppose that such a thing could be true without being particularly dissuaded from planning for the future.
Here is a lesson plan designed for grade schoolers that Braden can read up on to maybe help explain to him why his is wrong. I offer it because he obviously is not too big on looking into the research on his own.
As an aside, this is one of those interesting confluences of conspiracy/New Age rhetoric, as the “pole shift” or “polar reversal” meme is abundant in the Atlantis crowd, many of whom make hand-waving references to pole shifts to explain what might have destroyed the totally unsubstantiated anachronism that is “Atlantis.” Needless to say, I hold more or less as much skepticism for that field of claim-making as I do for the 2012 apocalypticists.
So of course, this claim by itself is harmless. But view it in context of the third claim. Braden claims that weaknesses in the terrestrial magnetic shield could somehow actually spur human creativity. This, of course, is a doozy of a claim, and this is one of those times that it really becomes apparent why people like Braden bypass peer review for the popular press. But just wait until you see his “evidence.”
Looking earlier in the article for how this rather extravagant claim is substantiated, things quickly devolve into woo-land madness. Read this gem of a factoid from a few pages back in the article that attempts to give us some reason to expect mountains to move for a pole shift:
We know, for example, that magnetic fields have a profound influence on our nervous systems, our immune systems, and our perceptions of space, time, dreams, and even reality itself.
And there you have it. No footnote, no reference, no citation, just bare assertion. How Braden “knows” this is a complete mystery- presumably this is more cross-cultural diffusion among the credulous, since these wild claims abound in New Age literature, particularly (obviously) in bunkum like magnet therapy.
Even if we offer him the best possible evidence in favor of the faith-based proposition that magnetism alters “reality itself,” we get at best a few enticing tidbits about endocrinology. Dreams? Nervous systems? Please. Show me the evidence. If you are interested in a fun home experiment on the ability of magnetism to completely change your life, go get an MRI (MRIs basically bathe you in an intense magnetic field). I’ve had one. I was not transformed into a creative dynamo, nor has any kind of remotely reliable analysis shown that MRIs make Twains and Tolkiens of us all, nor does it do the opposite (whatever that would be exactly).
Again, we can (and I will) give Braden the best available scientific evidence for magnetism having funky effects on the nervous system freely because such evidence does not substantiate any part of his claims. The effect sizes are tiny, the results are minor, the claim is bunk. To say that there is some “profound influence” of magnetic fields on “our nervous systems” or “reality itself” is, put nicely, ridiculous.
Braden himself tries to gasp his way into evidence for this proposition, but it is so bad that I fear that mentioning it will make me look like I’m ad hominizing this clueless woo woo. He concocts an obscene pseudo-hypothesis he calls the “magnetic glue model,” which is built on the wholly unfounded foundational premise that magnetism plays some vital role in consciousness and that the amount of magnetism going on in your particular neighborhood on the planet has a marked effect on how creative you are. He figures that places with higher magnetic activity are less conducive to creativity than places with lower magnetic activity. And how does he substantiate this claim? Brace yourself; what follows is not a joke:
Our “magnetic glue” model suggests that places with stronger magnetic fields (more glue) are more deeply entrenched in tradition, beliefs, and existing ideas. In places where the fields are weaker, just the opposite is true. In these places, people seem compelled to create change… In our Middle East example, we see the struggle that can result from the attempt to preserve ancient tradition in a place that compels change [the Middle East has a magnetic gauss rating of 0]… A simultaneous zero magnetic contour line exists parallel to America’s West Coast… Central Russia, 150 mag gauss, historically, change comes over time. Once change begins in these areas, it carries a momentum that makes itself known in a way that cannot be missed.
And you see why I had to disclaim that this is not a joke.
So, now Braden would have us believe that a religiously conservative tradition magically fell into the place despite being a homogenously creativity-driven population (since of course, everyone in the Middle East experiences a similar magnetic field density, which is obviously why all Middle Easterners are creative), and of course we have to believe that all of the geopolitical problems in the Middle East can be chalked up to an imaginary tension between magnetically-charged creative people and the religious tradition that apparently deviates from what should be the norm in the Middle East.
And of course we have to believe that the West Coast is full of creative people from top to bottom (looking at you on this one, Arizona). And those uncreative Russians, whose creativity-impoverished backwards culture has only yielded Dostoevsky, Shostakovich, Lenin, Tolstoy, Baryshnikov, Ayn Rand, Kasparov, so forth, and we know that change comes gradually to those slow-minded Russians because it took a whole year for an entire capitalist empire to be overthrown by the world’s first functioning communist government.
Here is a website designed for middle-schoolers explaining why the magnet-consciousness link is junk.
This “evidence” is ridiculous at best and insulting at worst. And it is how Braden attempts to substantiate one of the seminal claims of the work- that a pole shift-induced magnetic upheaval will have a dramatic effect on human consciousness. And we are supposed to believe it because everyone in the Middle East is creative and no one in Russia is creative.
Not only does he fail to offer any kind of remotely plausible mechanism for how this might be the case, the circumstantial evidence he offers in its favor isn’t even mistakable for accurate or convincing.
But he isn’t done yet. He gives himself a safety net against the obvious absurdity of the above claim with one that is borderline as absurd:
Even without such evidence, we know intuitively that we are affected by planetary magnetic forces. Any law enforcement officer or health-care practitioner will attest to the intense, and sometimes bizarre, behavior that is seen during a full moon…. Artists and musicians know this and often anticipate full-moon cycle as periods of great creativity.
And once again, that is it. No footnote, no reference, not so much as an anecdote or a quote from some luna-stricken hyper-creative “artist” or “musician,” no statistical evidence correlating emergency room visits or crime rates with the full moon.
It is probably good for Braden that he made not even a hand-waving effort to substantiate this claim with evidence, since if he did, he would probably found that the full moon does not correlate with antisocial behavior, violent behavior, geriatric mental function, prison violence, suicide or homicide, aggression, depression or anxiety, psychosis, or emergency room visits. In short, he is wrong and he is relying on less than anecdotal evidence to argue this point, By talking about “health-care practitioners” and “law enforcement officers” without offering either studies or even anecdotes, he is actually relying on an anecdote about an anecdote: firstly, we have to believe that the full moon positively correlates with violence and madness, and secondly, that every doctor and cop in the nation knows it. And he is wrong on both points.
And as for the bit about artists and musicians, I could find no evidence either way on that, but (and call me premature), I doubt that any appropriately-controlled study would yield much by way of results on that front.
Of course, if this claim falls, then every argument that follows from the worry about a pole shift also falls, since if we have no cause to worry about or expect some kind of global consciousness-changing from changes in the Earth’s magnetism (which we don’t), then we have no cause to think that even if a pole shift does occur in 2012 (there is no reason to believe that it will) that it will have any of the effects that Braden wants it to have. He has plunged headlong to an absurd conclusion based on no evidence (remember that he has no citation at this point in the article). Even when I give him the best available evidence, nothing he wants to capture with his argument synchs up with reality.
His final claim is a diddle to deal with:
- Recent validation of quantum principles proves that the way we perceive our world - our beliefs about our experience - strongly influences our physical reality.
This is just a lame, hand-waving reference at the most grossly misinformed pseudoscientists playing the game today, which are the quantum consciousness quackos. The Deepak Chopras and Rustem Roys of the world rely on the simple fact that the average person does not understand quantum physics in order to swindle them out of their money at the bookstore.
Read my lips: quantum effects do not manifest themselves in any system larger than an atom. None of the so-called “intention experiments,” or experiments set up to show that human consciousness can somehow magically alter the outcome of certain physical interactions, has yet shown any good results. Most of those studies are poorly-controlled, and some of them (like the “water memory” gobbledygook) are so poorly designed that no amount of controlling will rescue us from the fact that the quantum quacks either have no idea how to do good science, or they refuse to ever actually do good science for fear of hurting book sales.
It would be interesting to see what Braden has confused for “validation” of these misinterpretations of available experimental data, but, sadly, surprisingly… no footnote, no reference, no link, no nothing.
His claims about the Maya are simply false. His claims about the pole shift are unsubstantiated scare tactics. His claims about magnetism are false, absurd, ridiculous, simplistic, and insulting. His claims about quantum effects are simply exposés of his own gullibility, and are useful only as another good example of the kind of cross-cultural diffusion that sends bad ideas flying around like ping-pong balls in the 2012 community.
And there you have it.