What Nobody Asks About Prophecy
The end is nigh! The Mayans have predicted the exact date for the end of the world! Yea, not quite.
People have been predicting the end of the world since . . . . the beginning of the world. And how do these privileged few come by this precious information? Well, no one really bothers to ask this obvious question. Prophets get a pass on this little detail while all the focus is put on the predictions. The ability to portend future events is just accepted as a priori. Yet, there are only a limited number of possible mechanisms for predicting the future and none of them make any sense.
The most common way to obtain the knowledge of future events is the metaphysical route, i.e. via a divine message from one or more deities. This is a popular method used by many people in many religions to rally converts and the faithful and to indirectly “prove” the existence of their God or Gods by predicting the end of the world. It’s certainly an effective recruiting method though a rather curious one. It’s like getting a gym membership right before it goes out of business. Regardless, a metaphysical mechanism for prophecy is not provable but the real world results are measurable and so far these end of times prophets have an exactly 100% failure rate.
The next plausible method of predicting the future is the “Weather Service” method. It’s not really prophecy per se since it’s a utilization of scientific mechanisms to analyze repeatable patterns in the past to predict the future. The Maya certainly were accomplished astronomers so what if the they discovered something that we don’t yet know about? What if they discovered an asteroid or other object in the solar system and by careful observations have calculated exactly when it would impact the Earth and based their calendar on this date? What if it’s a near Earth object that has not yet been detected by modern astronomers? This is certainly not impossible. But there are two major problems with this theory.
The first is that despite being very advanced mathematicians for their day, there is no evidence that the Maya were able to perform the kind of complex orbital mechanics calculations that would be required to predict an impact hundreds of years into the future. But let’s assume that they were able to perform incredible calculations without the use of a computer or other automatic counting machine. They still could not get around the principle of Chaos Theory. This mathematical theory states that it is not possible to exactly predict outcomes in dynamic complex systems – such as the orbital motions of everything in our solar system. Patterns can be predicted but not the exact movements of individual elements within a complex system. Predicting a cataclysmic event on a specific day hundreds of years into the future is like the Weather Service being able to predict the course of a single snowflake in a single snowstorm for the next winter. Even with a supercomputer it is impossible. There are simply too many variables.
The only remaining possibility of gaining knowledge about future lottery numbers and such involves time travel. This does not even need to include people or objects being moved through time and space. It only needs to involve the transmission of information – in any form – from the future to the past. In fact, the essence of any prophecy is the transfer of information from the future to the past. This can be initiated at either end of a time continuum; from the past to future to retrieve information or from the future to past to send information.
However, time travel requires far more power and technological complexity than that provided by a Delorean or a hot tub. Almost all plausible proposed mechanisms for time travel into the past involve massive amounts of energy in order to warp space time to create a wormhole and allow the travel of people, objects, telephone booths, or information from the future to the past. The amounts of energy involved are massive and far beyond the ability of our current civilization to produce let alone the Maya. What about the reverse? What if advanced aliens or humans from a distant future – who somehow survived December 21th 2012 – sent back information to the Maya so that they could build their calendar? This is a logical assumption given the Mayan inability to build a real Delorean much less to develop a device to warp time and space.
If course this begs the question, why would future information about the end of the world only be sent to the Maya ? They were not the most advanced civilization at that time or in the history of the planet. Why provide them with no other specifics then the date? Why provide them with no other information such as the inevitable collapse of their own civilization? What’s the point in not providing specific information that could be of some survival benefit? Was the date for the end of the world the only part of the temporal email that survived the transmission to the Maya? These lapses in logic don’t seem to be actions that would come from a super advanced civilization that is capable of time travel.
But speculating about the incompetence of super future civilizations to warn ancient humans about the end of the world is moot since time travel to the past is likely to be impossible. Granted, no specific physics theory absolutely prohibits retro time travel but there has never been a plausible theory postulated with any sort of proof that gets around the problem of a causation paradox that is introduced in travel to the past. That is, transmission of any information to the past will change the timeline that could prevent the future transmission of the information in the first place. Take the famous grandfather paradox of time travel and apply it to the transmission of information. What if I send a message to an assassin in the past with instructions to kill my grandfather. If the task is completed then I would never have been born and could not have sent any message back to instruct the assassin to kill my grandfather. Hence, the paradox.
There are theories proposed that try to get around the causation paradox including the possibility of a multiverse in which an infinite number of universes and time lines exist so that changes in the past spawn new time lines that are different from the one where the information was sent to the past. However, this is so hypothetical that there is no proof of a multiverse and speculation that travel or communication between multiverses would not be possible. So future time travelers would never see the results of any information being sent into the past. So what’s the point?
What about using postselection in quantum entanglement? Without going into the technical details, this seems to imply that changes in particle quantum states in the future can change the states of particles in the past. However, this requires assumptions about the linear or non-linear nature of quantum mechanics and requires quantum entanglement of particles which itself requires part of the time travel mechanism to already exist in the past. No such device existed at the time of the Maya. The fact that we do not yet have the technology to create a time machine may help explain why we are not constantly visited by time travelers and messages from the future . . if travel into the past is possible.
Precognition is one of those abilities that everyone takes at face value without requiring any more of an explanation then that of a “gut feeling”. But as we have seen, the acquisition of future knowledge of exacting detail (such as a specific date) is a massively impressive feat. It is far more plausible for me to claim to be able to read minds, move objects through telekinesis, or sit through an entire episode of Gray’s Anatomy without nausea than it is for me to be able to predict the future. So the next time someone claims to be able to predict the future or references a prophecy or the predictions from the past, pepper him or her with questions about how this is supposed be to done and watch them quickly change the subject . . . . or un-friend you from Facebook.