This video by CGP Grey about the Mayan Apocalypse made me rage. I watched it two weeks ago, well after the proposed Apocalypse came and went with no noticeable effect or end of life as we know it. The reason I got mad is I remembered, watching the video, all the beliefs I had kind of developed leading up to the event. It wasn’t perfectly clear what exactly I believed, but I believed that there was something significant coming on 21 December 2012, and the Mayans knew about it somehow and modern man forgot it or ignored it.
I liked the idea of the Galactic Year, this idea that our sun was doing it’s own rotation in the galaxy. Another idea I entertained the possibility of being significant was the transitioning to a new Zodiac symbol. I really wanted to believe that 2012 would be like a global turning point, where humans started loving one another and working together and all that. The idea I liked best was the 13,000 year cycle. We had been on the downward part of the cycle, and 2012 was the trough. After that, it (the whole wishy washy, human lovey feely thing) would start going back up for 6,000 years to a peak, then back down. I had these thoughts in my head, that these nuclear fusion creating balls of hydrogen were somehow going to affect the collective mood and demeanor of humans. Magnetic realignment of the earth, sacred geometry, crystals, chakras, all that stuff. I watched Ancient Aliens and told someone out loud that I liked it.
I got a tablet for Christmas, good thing the world didn’t end and the magnetic realignment of the planet didn’t destroy all electronics. I downloaded a book on critical thinking and started looking around at the things I believed. I browsed r/skeptic, and learned how Dr. Masaru Emoto’s famous water experiment was not properly done according to the professional opinions of many scientists. It sounds so wonderfully fuzzy and warm, to think that water, a substance without which life as we know it would not have formed, was capable of carrying something as fleeting as emotion. So, if water has feelings that can be affected with a kind word, and we’re made of mostly water, then the key to human happiness is to say kind words to all whom you encounter, starting with love for yourself nurtured by water to which you have said something nice before drinking. After consuming skeptical media and learning a few things about real science and scientific method, things like water memory just evaporated without much thought.
I’d spent hours watching videos about all these topics that I know understand to be pseudoscience. Hours that accumulated to weeks of my life that were in pursuit of “finding out the truth”. The truths I wanted to believe all involved things that were hidden in plain sight; regular things that people have one idea about, but in reality were quite different. Like water, crystals, magnets, constellations, corporations, ancient monuments, etc. I didn’t completely turn my brain off, in fact every so often something would set off cognitive dissonance and sow the seed of doubt. One example of this is when I was learning how to charge crystals and one method was let it sit in sunlight, and another was bury them in the earth. How do I know which one to do? I never was too sold on crystals anyway. I like to think I’m long past that and other forms of woo, but who knows, I could be susceptible to other fallacious ideas that just glamor me enough to not think clearly through the difficult part. When that happens, I’ll surely look back on it with some anger, much as I am now.
What made me truly angry when I saw the CGP Grey vid mentioned above was something that I felt no indication of at the time, and had not really occurred to me while I was learning about critical thinking and going away from woo. I felt duped. I felt like I had been ripped off. This was worse than being rolled. This was buying in to a belief about the world that was patently untrue. Not just the world, a belief about the nature of the laws of physics and the relationships between objects in the universe. My belief did not translate to major life decisions, large purchases, or huge lifestyle changes. That is the best aspect of this story. I didn’t continue teaching my son about these kinds of things. Funnily enough, he, being a kid, had the strange position of having the most to lose but being mostly unaware what hanged, and continues to hang, in the balance. Kids have nothing to compare things to, no litmus test for the value of truth claims. He didn’t get why I was angry at the nonexistent Mayan Apocalypse. For him, it was just incorrect information. It was like someone had told him that the sun was 97 million miles from our planet, rather than the approximately 93 million miles. Oops, that’s wrong, although the proportion of wrongness is a little off. That’s why we have erasers, right? It was not simply that for me. I had internalized the belief and created a world around it in my mind. Again, no major life decisions were made as a result of these beliefs. It was just the shock of realizing that I had been taken, and very simple investigative techniques would have revealed the nonsense for what it was. In fact, the more outrageous beliefs of the Mayan Apocalypse were easily refutable, like any idea predicting the end of the world. My personal thoughts about it was more along the lines of a subtle change in humanity, that if I really wanted to, I could go out and find “proof” for. The worrisome thought is that some of the 2012 predictions, and certainly all the postdictions (explaining something after the fact) are things that are not readily verifiable or even testable. However, here is one example of one that most people would like to be true. Tell me there aren’t more love vibrations in the aurosphere because of more minds being woken up. A susceptible person could believe that, especially if there were some real life statistical evidence that could be perverted to somehow support this claim.
The fact is, while believing in the Mayan Apocalypse might not cause any real bad consequences for me, it is factually inaccurate. That matters to me.