Now that the doubts of many, serious or not, have been settled, I think it is a good idea to review our most recent event that never took place: the so-called mayan “prophecy” of the end of the world. I think that by now most people know that the 21st was the en of an age, not of civilization as we know it.
But why all the hype around the topic of the end of the world, and why so many misinterpretations, even after mayan people and historians often clarified it was just a change? The problem lies within the way we perceive time.
By perceiving time I refer to how we connect past, present and future in our minds. This simple connection, which is a cultural phenomena, pretty much decides our attitude towards plans, projects and even life within a society. Social scientists today have concluded that three main perceptions of time, each with its own variants, existed throughout human history. In my terminology, I will just call them cyclic, finite linear and progressive.
- The cyclic time perception is a rural one. It bases itself on the observation of nature: seasons, day/night, moon phases, etc. This time proposes that there is no change in human existence and that all is the same. If a time ends, it is just to restart everything from the beginning. Usually this perception was used by the ancient civilizations, who really barely saw a change in their lives.
- The finite linear time stems mainly form the judeo-christian mythology. There, everything is predicted, but it has a clear beginning and a clear end. In other words, genesis-apocalypse. It is a straight line though, so there is a clear distinction between future and past and each event is singular.
- The progressive timeline is the timeline of the scientific age. This has technically no end (big bang to, oh I don’t know, big crush?) and it usually goes from the primitive to the more civilized. This timeline can be a bit tricky, since it talks about scientific progress and many studies and philosophers today doubt a lot of it being a good representation of time.
So once we have set the different times, we can analyze how we think. Usually, our modern society thinks in the progressive way, since many of us are believers that mankind is doing better and better as the ages pass. But at the same time, thanks to our christian heritage, we have this necessity of finding and end to everything. When confronted with a cyclic process, we always try to find the beginning and the end.
When the mayan decided to finish the calendar for today, they did it for a reason. It was the end of an age, and counting days in the 11th century beyond the year 2012 would have been excessive. Just imagine: you have to calculate without any electronic help, day after day and then carve it into stone. I already think that predicting for 1000 years was too much. There was thus no need to think further.
Christianity, since its beginnings, is a religion that looks forward to the last days of humanity. Mostly because of the enactment of justice that many feel is overdue, but also to end the suffering and to enter into paradise. There were many dates given: some around a big calendar-based event, like around the year 1000 and the 2000, others by some personality that proved to be bad to some population: kings, presidents, even clerics and other religions.
In today’s mentality, everything is an excuse to find an end of the world. Our last was somewhere in march. Now we had set the final on this friday and nothing happened. Now I am waiting for someone to find Newton’s calculations to set the next end of days in the 50’s of this millenia. Somehow for us it is incredibly attractive to imagine this all will end, even if it just a fantasy and it never happens when we predict. It is a fascination inherited to us by a very old tradition of just beyond the grave.
May they smile upon your way!