Wall Street and the Mayan Apocalypse: Exercising Patterns in Randomness
Proposals that ancient Mayans somehow predicted an Apocalypse (or something dramatic) on December 21, 2012 rely heavily on their reputed astronomical insight. They also rely on unlikely coincidences-patterns that seem too compelling to be accidental.
This presentation considers how these factors contribute to the difficulty of interpreting the science of another culture. Here we find an unlikely ally in Donald MacKenzie’s work on the modeling of modern financial markets to reinterpret both the fantasies of 2012 prophecies and an astronomical development recovered from the hieroglyphic inscriptions of Palenque. Exploring these applied social sciences through MacKenzie's metaphor of 'engines, not cameras,'-that they drive behavior as opposed to generating accurate representations- the result is intended to shed light on both sides of the cultural comparison.
Gerardo Aldana is associate professor of Chicano Studies at University of California Santa Barbara, where he teaches Mayan archeology, astronomy, and art. He received his PhD in the history of science from Harvard University and is the author of The Apotheosis of Janaab Pakal: Science, History, and Religion at Classic Maya Palenque.