Science & Tech

Did the world actually end in 2012?

Numerous reputable news sites and media personalities have spent the past couple of weeks alleging that the current year is “2022.” How can they be so sure?

Here at Neural we believe in science. And the presence of evidence isn’t necessarily evidence that we’re present. That’s why we’re not willing to concede that it’s 2022 yet.

What if the world really did end on 21 December 2012? The fact that you’re reading this makes it a bit hard to accept, but we think we can make a pretty strong argument.

Reality? No thanks

The first challenge we need to overcome is reality. We could take the philosophical view and point out that all of this could actually be a space turtle’s dream. Or, perhaps more believably, a computer simulation.

Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom’s simulation argument hypothesizes that we’re either in a simulation now, or people in the future aren’t capable of creating one.

Per his 2003 paper:

At least one of the following propositions is true:

  1. The human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage
  2. Any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof)
  3. We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation

But that’s too easy. If Bostrom’s been right all along, and we’re all just digital entities, then none of this really matters anyway. CTRL+ALT+DEL and restart the program, amirite?

Quantum echoes

The most widely accepted grand theory on our existence is the Big Bang theory. For whatever reason, about 14 billion years ago the universe exploded into existence from a single point.

When we think of an explosion we tend to imagine something out of a Michael Bay film. But the Big Bang was incomprehensibly big. Everything that was ever going to be in the entire universe was contained in the single point that emptied itself out to become the entire universe. That’s a lot of boom.

Scientists believe they’ve witnessed “quantum echoes” of the Big Bang by observing fluctuations in quantum fields.

Per a 2015 research paper by Blasco et al.:

Let us reflect for a second upon the comparison of these two outrageously different timescales: Plank time and the age of the Universe. Intuitively, one would think that any effect imprinted on the response of the detector in the early Universe would most likely have been already washed out, and hence there is little hope in finding any trace of early Universe physics in the response of the particle detector today.

Surprisingly this intuition is wrong.

It turns out that time functions fundamentally differently across the quantum and classical realms. Recent research demonstrates that both quantum gravity and general relativity could function in a paradigm where time itself exists as discrete chunks of “spacetime.”

In essence, this means you could zoom into the fabric of the universe so far that, like Ant Man in the MCU films, you reached a quantum bedrock made up of individually-measurable units of spacetime.

Roll credits

Physicists are trying to wrap their head around the Big Bang because it represents the only single point in our universe’s history where the same thing happened to everything at the same time.

Arguably, however, everything is happening to everything all the time. Scientists believe the universe is expanding at an increasing rate as as result of the Big Bang. And that means discrete chunks of spacetime would be either tearing, displacing, or stretching.

If spacetime is malleable and fluctuates depending on the configuration of the cosmic background environment, then that means our perception of time is almost certainly distorted in comparison to the edges and origin point of the universe.

Humans, standing on Earth, witnessing the end of the universe could theoretically see it coming for billions of years before they themselves were destroyed by whatever comes after the universe’s outward expansion.

It’s theoretically possible that every time we gaze up and see the light that’s traveled for millions or billions of years, we’re watching the credits roll at the end of the universe.

Fade to black?

But that’s still not very satisfying. If we’re just waiting for a tidal wave of nothingness to envelope us all, then again: there’s no point.

And, if there’s no point, then let’s use Occam’s Razor to make things as scientifically simple and plausible as possible.

What if we’re able to make observations despite the fact that we no longer exist? Remember the above line about spacetime being malleable?

If spacetime is malleable and fluctuates depending on the configuration of the cosmic background environment, then that means our perception of time is almost certainly distorted in comparison to the edges and origin point of the universe.

In a universe where time is made up of discrete chunks of malleable spacetime, the area of the universe where we live could be temporally displaced to such a degree that we’re watching the end of everything wash over us as spectators from the beyond.

Earth and the Sun and our entire galaxy could have been physically displaced (destroyed) by whatever’s ended the universe, while the wackiness of quantum physics could allow for the temporal displacement to simultaneously hold us in a sort of observation-friendly suspension independent of our own inexistence.

The simplest explanation is that the Big Bang only took up a micro-fraction of a second, but the displacement of every single discrete chunk of spacetime caused entire pockets of existence to erupt and observe, despite the fact that the overall consensus of discrete spacetime chunks would agree that the contents of those pockets don’t still exist.

One last mystery

All of this is interesting, but astute readers will notice that none of this explains why we’re claiming the universe ended in 2012.

Here’s what NASA had to say about that:

News flash: the world didn’t end on Dec. 21, 2012. You’ve probably already figured that out for yourself. Despite reports of an ancient Maya prophecy, a mysterious planet on a collision course with Earth, or a reverse in Earth’s rotation, we’re still here.

Interesting. NASA claims “the world didn’t end” but offers only anecdotal evidence. That sounds pretty suspicious.

Once again, at Neural we’re erring on the side of due diligence and Occam’s Razor.

It’s far easier to come up with a plausible theory on how the universe ended in 2012 than it is to explain what the hell’s been happening on Earth for the past decade.

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