Friday, December 21, 2012

Notes on Catastrophism

Fringe elements latch on to any suitable calendrical event to head for high places there to await the End Times or Doomsday. Today is such a day. The Mayan Long Count Calendar, this time, serves as the motivation. I’ve presented the background on that in some detail on Ghulf Genes. In summary, No, the Mayans themselves did not believe the world would end today. But then the people among them who made calendars were more akin in spirit to our scientists than any other subgroup of our current humanity.

Thinking about this—first of all ancient cultures’ great fascination with precise measurement of sky events, second the vast public fascination with end times, be they caused by divine command or cosmological accidents—I suspect that two quite different motivations are present, one for each, although, once upon a time, they coincided. To put this in plain words:

I think that once long ago—and perhaps repeatedly—humanity actually experienced genuine near-collisions with space objects, indeed in what might be called historical times. This or these caused enormous destruction. Therefore societies felt themselves obliged to observe changes out in space. They could not prevent recurrence, but at least they could know if something dreadful loomed ahead. Therefore we find “observatories” such as Stonehenge scattered over the ancient world. These are interpreted as religious sites. But if they were that, why the awesome precision in observation that they permitted. Similarly, there are astronomical observations anchored in calendars, similarly accurate. It’s telling that the Mayans produced extraordinarily accurate observations of the phases of Venus. For more on this I suggest the writings of the Immanuel Velikovsky; he is derided by orthodox science—but that, perhaps, adds justification for reading him. What we have here is a quite plausible link between accurate astronomy on the one hand and real sky-conveyed catastrophes on the other.

As for the popular fascination, that, I think, has its roots in our psychology. Doomsday, viewed as a concept, is in a real sense a projection onto the entire society, and on the world itself, of something that will happen to each of us individually. We shall all die—and as we do, everything, at least everything we’ve grown accustomed to, will disappear: people, culture, rocks, planet, and sun. Knowing nothing beyond that with certainty puts us in a scary place, if we think about it. This will all end. And when times are tough—and they are always tough—Doomsday also holds a faint little promise: when it comes, our troubles will all end. And then, to complete the picture, a small still voice within us also suggests that absolute disappearance is not our fate. Therefore what comes in Doomsday’s wake may be the longed for millennium.

To this I might add that we may not be naturally fashioned to live in a uni-directional time stream. And when we leave this dimension and enter another kind of time, then we shall be home again. Aldous Huxley captures the feel of that in his novel, Time Must Have a Stop. And that sentiment, buried deep within us, also plays a role. It causes us to resonate with widely publicized events signaling just that, time’s stop…with a kind of shivery feeling in which loss and gain are strongly mixed.

No comments:

Post a Comment