Now, let me just clear this out from the off: I’m not particularly superstitious, I know the science in the film 2012 is laughably bad (see Dara O’Briain’s rant on “the electrons are angry”), and any correlation between the Mayan Calendar and the end of the world is nothing less than luck on their part.
That out of the way, let’s now turn to the facts. The world appears to be falling apart. Earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand and Burma, civil unrest in the middle east (at least, more than usual), the economy is wankered, and the sun is entering a period of high activity that could see solar flares causing disruptions to communications and systems on Earth.
Now, the threat of a world-ending cataclysm, at first, seems pretty laughable. As I said earlier, if you’re going to use the ending of the Mayan calendar as an indication of the end of the world, you might as well use Microsoft’s inability to plan computer calendars past the year 1999 as a sign the world was going to end in the year 2000 (and don’t get me started on the Y2K scare; people seemed to think that computers would ‘think’ the year was 1900, not 2000, come to the conclusion that they didn’t exist yet, and fail to work – that, at least, is how one BBC reporter described it). But, when the number of natural disasters is actually increasing, if there is even a single superstitious cell in your body, you’ll start wondering if there isn’t something ominous going on.
There isn’t, of course. We just notice them a little more because 2012 is reasonably fresh in people’s minds and people keep drawing conclusions, because humanity is quite a superstitious lot. Who doesn’t have a good luck charm, routine, or belief in a higher power? I do (not the latter, of course). All but the most hardline scientists probably have some kind of at least partially superstitious belief of some kind. I filmed an hour’s lecture last year in which an academic attempted to outline his argument for marrying science and religion (I could go on a complete tangent about that on its own. Let’s just say, I’d make sure they sign a prenup).
As a result, I have no doubt that there’ll be many scientists around the world on December 21st 2012 keeping an extra close eye on their instruments, and breathing a quiet sigh of relief when the world ticks over into December 22nd.