|A Physicist's View.|
Professor Brian Cox OBE is a British particle physicist, a professor at the University of Manchester, and a member of the High Energy Physics group working on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.
He is also a popularizer of science, hosting the major documentary series "Wonders Of The Solar System". This was named best documentary series of 2010, and received the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in documentary film-making. He has received many other awards for his work in popularizing science, including the Institute of Physics Kelvin Prize, for communicating the appeal and excitement of physics to the general public. Some have called him "The New Carl Sagan".
He is an outspoken critic of all areas of pseudoscience, particularly Astrology, the Mayan 2012 doomsday, and the Moon landing conspiracy theories1. He is also dismissive (in a similar manner to Richard Feynman) of "philosophy of science" written by non-scientists; "to put it bluntly, vast amounts of drivel have been written about the subject by armies of postmodernist philosophers and journalists". His comment that Astrology is "a load of rubbish", made during one episode of Wonders Of The Solar System, provoked many complaints from Astrologers. His reply to this, in the Huw Wheldon Lecture, was: "I apologise to the astrology community for not making myself clear. I should have said that this New Age drivel is undermining the very fabric of our civilisation".2
While Cox uses academic channels for serious science and major projects such as the Large Hadron Collider, his comments regarding pseudoscience have generally been made through less official channels, such as his Twitter account and YouTube, where he often uses colorful language and slang. For example, on Twitter he said "the 2012 end of the world stuff is a steaming pile of turd, and if you believe it u r a nobber - that's my considered view".
His reputation for plain speaking was noted in this article in The Telegraph, entitled "Brian Cox: 'I'm not anti-religion. I'm anti-maniac':
"The Creationist belief that the world is 6,000 years old is dismissed as “b-ks”, anyone who believes the world is going to end next year because of the Mayan calendar is “a moron”. And people who believe CERN’s Large Hadron Collider will suck the universe into a black hole are “t—ts”."3
On the dangers of the Large Hadron Collider
Cox dismisses "doomsday" scenarios involving black holes or other products created by the LHC:
"according to Dr. Brian Cox at CERN, the universe conducts the equivalent of ten trillion lifetime runs of the LHC every second, and has been doing so for billions of years, with not a single observable consequence."4
What this refers to is the fact that the universe itself creates particles with similar and greater energies than the LHC. These naturally occuring particles have been colliding with bodies such as the Moon for billions of years, with no disastrous effects.5
Views on 2012 doomsday
Cox was rightly dismissive of 2012 doomsday scenarios. He talked about this in two videos, filmed informally while on a car journey :
The following is a transcript of the first video:6
The Maya had a long count, which was a calendar, it was basically base 20, Mayan calendars are always base 20, that's because you've got 10 fingers and 10 toes, so it's a HUMAN based calendar. And so the long count began - this current long count - began in 3 thousand 100 and 16 or 17 BC, I can't remember which, and if you add them all up, then the year 13 0 0 0 0 - which is the end of that long count - is 2012. And in the Mayan calendar then, a new long count begins, so the Mayans believed that the universe was created in three thousand whatever it is BC, and will end in 2012 because a new one's going to be created, a new cycle's going to be created - it's in the same sense that the day ends when the Sun is devoured in the East <corrects himself> in the West, and reappears again in the East."
The maya have a calendar which cycles around, and there are many, many, many, correspondents on the internet that believe that that's still going to be the case, that the universe is going to end in 2012."
What kind of MORON do you have to be? ….. to?" <pauses>
See the Maya had some elaborate system of counting, it all cycles around and their whole civilisation was built on it, so I have no quarrel at all with the Maya, I think they had a beautiful civilisation. [but] People on the internet today who …. the thing is, the calendar is based on the number of fingers and toes you've got, right. How can that have cosmic significance? 5 5 5 5. How can that have cosmic significance? It just depends entirely on what - on how many dextrous protrusions the organism that invented the civilisation's got. So ….." < shakes head, lost for words >
Interviewer: "So your opinion of people that think the world will end in 2012 because that's the end of the Mayan long count is? Your opinion is?"
I reckon that they might be statistically right, because you've got to be such a <expletive bleeped out> to believe it, that you might have a higher statistical chance of walking in front of a bus. So in that sense, they could be statistically correct. And it will be to the advantage of all of us, because the human race will progress in a more measured way, if the people who believe that are statistically removed in 2012."
The following is a transcript of the second of Cox's videos about 2012, in which he covers the same ground:7
Interviewer: "What do some people think's going to happen in 2012, and what do you think?"
What IS going to happen in 2012, is that the current Mayan long count is going to end, so it's going to go to 13 0 0 0 0. and then, as our experts on Mayan culture tell us today, it will go to 1 0 0 0 0, and carry on. But what the Maya believe is that the universe will be recreated at that point, because they believe that every long count cycle the universe begins, ends, and then restarts again. <laughs> However …."
Interviewer: "What do other people on the internet think will happen in 2012?"
The problem with the Mayan's view of history, as we now know, is that it's based on a base 20 counting system, right, base 20, so it's not base 10, it's base 20, and that's because you've got 5 fingers on that hand, 5 fingers on that hand, and 5 toes on each foot. So their calculation of when the universe will end, requires you to have 10 fingers and 10 toes. Hence, you would have to be a complete tw*t8 to think <laughs> that it has any bearing on Cosmology. Not if you're Maya, see the Maya believed that people influence time passing, people are required actually to keep time passing, so their view of the world was self-contained and sensible. If, at the turn of the 21st century, you still believe that that's the case <laughs> then you are a tw*t.
Interview with Jonathan Ross, January 7, 2012.9
Ross: "2012. ok. And some people are concerned because there is this thing floating around about this Mayan calendar, and their calendar ends in 2012 […] and some people are saying that means that's the end. Is there anything in that at all? Anything in physics that would bear that up?"
Cox: It's catastrophic drivel, of the worst possible kind. They had complex calendars, these interlocking cycles, and they were very good at maths, and so they had calendars that last ten thousand, twenty thousand years, and they just started one at some arbitrary date in the past, and it rolls over on December 21st 2012. But some people believe it, and I actually get quite a few e-mails from teachers saying "can you just tell my class .. they've stopped working" […] It's the worst kind of pseudoscientific $#!te. And that's the last I'll say about it."
Brian is married to Gia Milinovich, an American TV producer. Her blog includes a page entitled "Apocalympics 2012 – Mayan “Prophecy”, in which she berates 2012 doom-mongers. Here are some quotes from Gia's Blog:10
Some people – whacky New Agers and many people who should know better – have taken this to mean that the world will end. The fact that the end of the Mayan Long count ends on or near the Winter Solstice adds much more significance to people who seem to think there’s some kind of ‘supernatural magic’ in the revolution of the Earth around the Sun.
What I can’t understand is why people think the Maya had more of an ability to see into the future than any one else
I’m afraid that anyone who believes there is any deep significance in Mayan Prophecy is quite clearly incapable of finding joy and wonder in the real world and instead insists on creating stories which are based on fear, negativity, insecurity and self-loathing. Seriously, you can’t predict the end of the world *and* love Yourself, Humanity and the Universe, can you? Sad really.
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