Thursday, February 27, 2003

Popol Vuh:

Today's date is 4: by the Mayan Long Count. Or maybe it's 4:, depending on whom you believe...

This also means that we have fewer than 4,000 days left before the count begins again. Some people are working themselves into a froth over the fact, but I don't see any reason for the Maya to have any better insight into the date for end of the world than, say, Douglas Adams.

The more interesting part of this is that the Maya had a concept of deep time that is totally lacking in Western culture. We occasionally talk of centuries, but rarely of millennia. The Mayan cycle is composed, at the highest level, of an aeon that is 5,125 years long. On top of this, they felt that they lived in the third of these aeons. Now, admittedly, a zero date somewhere in 15,000 BC is nothing compared to today's geologic or astronomical timescales, but it's a darn sight better than Bishop Ussher's guess for the Origin of the Earth on October 22, 4004 BC, and better even than Newton's guess based on the uniform cooling of a sphere (the Earth) from the temperature of molten lava to the temperature of 15th century England.

The fact that the Maya dealt in such immense lengths of time very probably gave them a very different perspective on things. Unfortunately, whatever of this perspective that they passed on to the Aztecs did not survive the arrival of Cortez and his busy e-caravelle full of cell-phones, fax machines, and smallpox.

BTW, for the Hindu world, each incarnation, or Day of Brahma lasts 4.32 billion years. And it's an endless cycle.

Today is day 14,587 for me...