Right. So. We’re talking about the future. Things which haven’t happened yet. This means that we don’t know. This is a fairly fundamental aspect of the universe that we haven’t dealt with wholly yet. There may be a way over the top, but we haven’t figured it out, so we’re stabbing in the dark.
But. Realistically. What you’re alluding to (the world will end in 2012, on the 21st December (winter solstice) and this is indicated by the end of the Mayan calendar) is probably not going to happen. And if it is, it’s a coincidence that the Mayan calendar does anything on that date.
Right. I’d recommend you get the details from here, but basically, the Mayan calendar is simultaneously awesome and insane. The main part of it is cyclical, but unlike our annually cyclical calendar (twelve boring months), their’s consists of two out of synch systems, one 260 days long, and one 365 days long (roughly a solar year) which means it loops every 52 years, like two phasing rhythms. Now. Given average lifespans at the time, this means that you’d never get the same day twice in your lifetime. The calendar was conveniently about a lifetime long.
Also cool, the calendar round (the cycle of 52 haabs, which are roughly equivalent to our years) was also supplemented by a cycle based on Venus and a cycle based on the moon. The Mayans generally knew what was going down.
Anyway. The Mayans needed a system for counting history, as having a cyclical calendar gets confusing without it. We have a similar system. It’s called ‘years’ and it is currently the ‘year’ 2011. It means we don’t get confused with all the other 22nd of Novembers that have ever been. It’s convenient.
The Mayan system was called the long count. And it was a bit odd, in that it each unit counted up to 20, apart from a couple which counted up to 18 (this meant that the year bit of it was closer to solar years though, which is again convenient). Basically. You could count the day, then twenty days, then 18 times 20 days, then 20 times 18 time 20 days, and so on.
Today, in Mayan long count is 126.96.36.199.5
The winter solstice next year is 188.8.131.52.0
This is not the ‘end’ of the calendar. It’s not even close. It’s just a new b’ak’tun. There is a new b’ak’tun every 144, 000 days, or every 394.52 years. The world has not ended every four hundred years. This is a proveable fact (as much as anything can be). Look around. Does the world look less than four hundred years old? Does the world look like it exists?
It’s roughly equivalent to the turn of the millenium. It’s the beginning of a new mathematical portion of time, according to one way of counting time. It’ll be about 5100 years since the Mayan creation, which is when the long count starts.
World’s don’t end. They just change. Constantly.
Drink in that fact and make something useful at it. Don’t stare at calendars fearfully.
It’s just counting.
Illustration by Jaime