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, February 15, 2019

The end of the world as we know it

Seems like it's been a while since the world ended, you know?

For a while, it seemed like the world was ending every couple of weeks or so.  But since Harold Camping died, apocalyptic prophecies have been a little thin.  So I'm glad to announce that once again, the world is ending, this time on December 28, 2019.

At least it's after Christmas.  I kind of like Christmas.

What's funniest about all of this is that there have been 89 serious prophecies of the End of Everything in the last hundred years, twelve of which came from the Jehovah's Witnesses.  That's not even counting all of the ones before that, when every religious sect in the world periodically threw a "Countdown to the Apocalypse" party.  And I don't know if you've noticed, but the world is still here, kind of loping along, without the appearance of Scarlet Whores of Babylon or Apocalyptic Horsepersons or Dragons with Seven Heads and Ten Crowns.

Which brings up the question of why a dragon would have ten crowns if it only has seven heads.  Do three of its heads get two crowns each?  If so, does he just kind of stack them up?  It seems like the sensible thing would be to have an equal number of heads and crowns, but maybe I'm just not thinking enough like a dragon.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Viktor Vasnetsov (1887) [Image is in the Public Domain]

In any case, this latest dire prediction comes from David Montaigne, whom, you may remember, has predicted the end before.  In fact, he said that the world would end in 2013 (since the December 2012 Mayan Apocalypse didn't happen), and when we got to January 1, 2014 with nothing untoward happening, he revised that to 2016.

Both times, you might want to know, were supposed to be caused by Barack Obama.

Since a flat 0% success rate is not nearly enough to discourage these people, Montaigne is at it again, this time aiming for the end of December of this year.  Apparently the cause this time is an astronomical alignment which will cause massive earthquakes and volcanoes.  Here's what he has to say about it:
On December 21, 2019, survivors will experience the first day of a pole shift – when the entire surface of the planet will shift out of position and move over the more fluid layers beneath the crust.  Over the next few days this will cause earthquakes and tidal waves and volcanic activity which will almost completely destroy what is left of our civilisation.  There is a mountain of evidence in historical, geological, and biological records showing such pole shifts have happened before.  Even the Bible describes them repeatedly.  I think that we will experience another pole shift for the week following December 21, 2019, getting worse each day until the natural disasters culminate on December 28 – Judgment Day.
Well, first of all, the "pole shift" he's apparently referring to is the flipping of the magnetic poles, and has nothing whatsoever to do with movements of the crust or (worse) the axis of the Earth.  Now, there's no doubt that this will wreak havoc on navigational systems; in fact, recently the North Magnetic Pole has been wandering around quite a lot, moving at a rate of 55 kilometers a year.  (If you want to see a map of the positions of the North and South Geomagnetic Poles, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a great one.)

None of this has a thing to do with earthquakes and volcanoes, however.  And it's unlikely that the Bible has anything to say about pole reversals one way or another, since the last one occurred 780,000 years ago, and according to people of Montaigne's stripe the Earth is only 6,000-odd years old.

So I'm perhaps to be excused if I'm not all that alarmed by this.  Yeah, if the poles flip it'll take a while for GPS and other systems to compensate, and I'll probably have to accustom myself to being lost even more than usual.  But other than that, I suspect that (1) Montaigne has no idea when the reversal is actually going to take place, because basically, neither do the scientists, and (2) he doesn't have the first clue what pole reversal actually means, and (3) we'll all make it to December 29 un-judged and still moseying on.  So if you were counting on being Raptured Up To Heaven and not having to work in 2020, you might want to reconsider your options.

Oh, and after Montaigne made his announcement, he wrote a wonderful post on his blog called "Are My Books Being Discredited Because I'm Actually Onto Something Important?"  Which requires us to invoke Betteridge's Law, that "any article with a headline in the form of a question can be summed up with the answer 'No.'"

There's a part of me that's kind of disappointed by this.  Some Trumpets and Seals and Bowls and Dens of Iniquity would kind of spice things up around here.  I live in rural upstate New York, which is -- and I say this with great affection -- kind of boring at times.  Especially in the middle of winter, when we're usually calf-deep in snow.  So if the Antichrist showed up, at least it would break the monotony.

Which probably means it won't happen.  Disappointing, that'll be.  But there's the consolation, global-disaster-wise, that we'll still be in the Donald Trump presidency (provided he's not impeached or otherwise run out of town before then), and they seem to be doing a good enough job of setting us up for Armageddon as-is.


A particularly disturbing field in biology is parasitology, because parasites are (let's face it) icky.  But it's not just the critters that get into you and try to eat you for dinner that are awful; because some parasites have evolved even more sinister tricks.

There's the jewel wasp, that turns parasitized cockroaches into zombies while their larvae eat the roach from the inside out.  There's the fungus that makes caterpillars go to the highest branch of a tree and then explode, showering their friends and relatives with spores.   Mice whose brains are parasitized by Toxoplasma gondii become completely unafraid, and actually attracted to the scent of cat pee -- making them more likely to be eaten and pass the microbe on to a feline host.

Not dinnertime reading, but fascinating nonetheless, is Matt Simon's investigation of such phenomena in his book Plight of the Living Dead.  It may make you reluctant to leave your house, but trust me, you will not be able to put it down.

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