Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tales from Nibiru

Every so often, I think that I have plumbed the deepest recesses of human credulousness.  At those moments, all the sasquatches, hauntings, and ley lines, all of the accounts of telekinesis, clairvoyance, and demonic possession, seem to sound like twice-told tales.  I even find myself wondering if I am approaching the point of running out of subjects for my blog.  "I must," I muse to myself, "have finally reached the end of the litany of pseudoscientific nonsense that people will fall for."

I am always wrong.

On Fridays, my Critical Thinking classes are supposed to write about something they've found in popular media that illustrates one of the concepts we've studied.  I always look forward to these submissions -- my students, I've found, when armed with the tools of logic, are often better than I am at ferreting out outstanding examples of bullshit.  And today... one of my students found a piece of pseudoscience that not only had I not researched, but that I hadn't even heard of.

The subject of this young lady's dashing piece of investigative journalism was the planet Nibiru.  Ever heard of it?  I had always thought there were nine planets, at least until Pluto was downgraded (and I am not getting into that whole hot-button topic).  But no -- apparently there is a tenth planet, a mystical planet, which is either going to bring about great wonderment and change, or else is going to kill us all, depending on which version you believe.

The planet Nibiru is named after a character in a Sumerian creation myth.  Apparently the earth goddess Tiamat was separated from her male counterpart, the god Nibiru (also known as Marduk).  In most conventional interpretations, Nibiru/Marduk became the god of the heavens.  In a somewhat less-than-conventional interpretation, the separation of the two deities was a symbolic representation of an actual event, in which the earth was ripped in half, one half staying more or less where it was (Tiamat/Earth) and the other half somehow being propelled into a highly elliptical orbit (the planet Nibiru).

If you are saying to yourself, "what the hell?" (or some less PG-13 rated version, which I have to admit is what I said when I read about all this), wait, I've only just begun.  In my research on the topic, which has resulted in the untimely death of whole sectors of my brain, I have found that there's much more to the idea than that.  Apparently the whole Nibiru idea was cooked up by a woman named Nancy Lieder, who claims that she got the knowledge by channeling super-intelligent aliens from a planet around the star Zeta Reticuli.  I'm relieved, actually.  I was beginning to question the whole thing on the basis of its not having any credible source citations.

As a brief aside, I must quote a website (one of hundreds) I saw on the subject.  "Today, scientists accept the theory of plate tectonics," the author of the website says.  "There are articles and studies which show that at one time, all of Earth's continents were on one side of the planet.  What the studies don't explore is, if all the continents were on one side, what was on the other?"

The author concludes, with no apparent awareness of the breakage of a link in the logical chain, that since he can't conceive of what was on the other side of the earth, it must have been the emerging planet Nibiru.  My responses:  (1) you can't conceive of a great big ocean?  and (2) do you have the IQ of a prune?

However that may be, I'm sure what you're all thinking is, "what does the planet Nibiru mean to my life?"  The answer seems to be that either it will bring about global peace, love, and happiness, or unleash a storm of comets that will destroy all life on earth.  It's sort of like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" story, isn't it?  "If you want Nibiru to BRING ABOUT THE AGE OF AQUARIUS, go to page 73.  If you want Nibiru to MAKE EVERYONE DIE IN HORRIBLE AGONY, go to page 129."  Lieder's version is the happier one; she says that the aliens from Zeta Reticuli have told her that when Nibiru makes its reappearance, it will signal the "end of strife amongst humanity."  The less cheery Nibiru apologists believe that the planet's passage on its way to the inner solar system will, as it passes through the Oort Cloud (which, unlike most things I've mentioned in this post, actually exists) disturb the orbits of thousands of comets, which will plummet inward toward earth in the fashion of the interstellar mines homing in on Sarris' ship at the end of the movie "Galaxy Quest."  When they strike the earth, we will all be instantly deep fried to a crispy golden brown.

Of course, the unfortunate thing for the proponents of this theory is something that bedevils most of these sorts of things, which is that the hard evidence in its favor is pretty much nonexistent.  The source of my student's submission today was a blurry astronomical photograph of a faint point of light, which the accompanying video clip claimed "proved the existence of Nibiru."  My general feeling is that the photograph in question could have been damn near anything, up to and including a timed-exposure shot of a distant Motel 6 sign.

So, the good news is, you shouldn't fret about the possibility of our being vaporized by a Nibiru-triggered comet collision.  The bad news is, we're probably not going to see the end of strife on earth any time soon, either.  So I guess the outlook is mixed, but I suppose it always has been.

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