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.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gangnam Style, Nostradamus, and the end of the world

This morning I have a poem for you, Dear Readers.  See what you make of it.
From the calm morning,
the end will come;
when of the dancing horse,
the number of circles will be nine.
Well, what do you think?  Most especially, do you know where it's from, and what it means?

If you think you know the answer to the first half of the question, it's probably because of two things: (1) its characteristic style, laid out in four short phrases, with no obvious rhyme or rhythmic structure; and (2) its wacky, opaque imagery.  This by itself is probably enough for you to conclude that it must be one of the famous "quatrains of Nostradamus," the writings of renowned 16th century wingnut Michel de Nostredame (1503-1566), who, depending upon whom you believe, either was a prescient seer who has correctly predicted everything from the assassination of JFK to Hurricane Sandy, or a wacko crank who wrote down predictions that are so vague that they could be interpreted any way you want.

Guess which I believe.

Of course, probably most of you knew about Nostradamus already, and in any case the subject of his overall veracity has been beaten unto death in other venues.  Why, then, did I begin this post with one of his quatrains?

Two reasons, actually.  The first is that there is currently a claim zinging its way around the internet to the effect that this quatrain was referring to Psy's viral hit "Gangnam Style" (the "dancing horse"), which came out of Korea (the "land of the calm morning"), recently topped one billion hits (nine zeroes -- "nine circles"), and that this means that the world will end, undoubtedly a week from Friday, As Spoken In The Prophecy.

Add this to the fact that Nostradamus himself was born (according to his Wikipedia entry) either on December 14 or December 21, 1503, and I think we have here what the lawyers like to call "an airtight case."

Well, except for the second reason I posted all of this, which is: this isn't actually one of Nostradamus' quatrains.

The origin of the claim was someone who posted it on the phenomenally wacky site Godlike Productions (see the original post here), and interestingly, it almost instantly got called out as bullshit by people who (like I did) took the extra two minutes to see if the quote was actually from Nostradamus.  (If you want to spend a few hours turning your brain into cream of mushroom soup, all of Nostradamus' predictions are available here.  You won't, if you're wondering, find any mention of a "dancing horse" in any of them.)  Eventually the original poster admitted that he'd made it all up, but even with all of the screams of "Lies!  It's all lies!" and the original poster's confession, this still made it out into the web as a valid claim.  After that, it spiraled out of control, even making it onto mainstream media (I ran into it on The Examiner). 

So, what we have here is a repeat of the ridiculous "Rebecca Black's 'Friday' is about the JFK assassination" incident, but with the added twist that even the guy who made it up admits that it was a hoax.

And yet, still people believe it.  I have, to date, been asked three times by students if I'd "heard that Nostradamus said that 'Gangnam Style' was going to cause the Mayan apocalypse."

Now, don't get me wrong; it wouldn't surprise me if "Gangnam Style" triggered the End of the World.  In fact, I thought Rebecca Black's "Friday" was going to do the same thing, and for the same reason; both songs are so bad that when people hear them, they suddenly feel an urge to stick objects into their ears, even if those objects happen to be screwdrivers.  So I can see how either song, or (heaven forfend) both of them played one after the other, would cause massive mortality.

But as far as "Gangnam Style" having anything to do with Nostradamus, or the Mayan apocalypse, I'm afraid that the answer is "no."  The only people who believe it are those who don't know how to do a source search.  And the guy who originated the claim made the whole thing up.  Which, now that I come to think of it, is all Nostradamus himself did, so I suppose it's fitting, somehow.


  1. I think I need to make some apocalyptic predictions now... but I am too tired. I'll do it tomorrow, if the world doesn't end before then.