So how’s your end of the world going? Unfortunately I have to put mine off until I get through this big pile of work. At least the gates of hell haven’t opened yet ,and frankly, I’m grateful for that. I don’t care for hot weather. November suits me just fine.
Various websites are shouting in all caps that this is the first time in 100 years that six 11s will align. Not only that, but the numbers are the same whether you read them forwards or backwards. Let me clarify. At 11:11:11 a.m. and for a second time at 11:11:11 p.m.- in case you missed the morning catastrophe – today, November 11, 2011, one of three things will happen:
A. The aforementioned world catastrophe
B. Your life will take on a new spiritual dimension.
C. You’ll be heating your lunch in the microwave and completely miss both.
Since the world didn’t end on November 11, 1911, we’ve been given another chance to see it unravel. Numbers still have a mystical fascination for many of us. We seek patterns in their ordering that some say predict the future. It’s all in our heads and for good reason. If you’ve ever looked up at a puffy cloud and seen strange things like Al Franken’s hair or a herd of elephants, you’re aware how easy it is to see patterns and shapes in random things in our environment.
Humans got this far in a chaotic world by learning to recognize patterns, to make sense out of the millions of sensory stimuli that ping us. Nature has painstakingly honed our ability to navigate the world, seeks companions and find food by wiring our brains to spot patterns and understand by analogy. One of the most influential ones at work in our heads is coincidence. Despite the fact that the world is rife with many unrelated simultaneous events, we’re easily led astray by coincidence. If you walk under a streetlight and it happens to goes out for a second, you might think that somehow you caused it, when it’s really a random outage. Not that all coincidences are meaningless. If we see tracks in the mud and our bird feeder missing, a bear comes to mind and rightly so.
Getting beyond coincidence and its big, bad brother superstition is one of the key accomplishments of science.When science works best, it probes beneath coincidence to find real connections … or not.
Six repeating digits in a row makes our brains light up. The mathematical symmetry is irresistible. Surely there must be something here. Add in a cup of imagination and a pinch of anxiety over the ever-perceived dire state of the planet and before long, you’ve cooked up a stew of patterns that aren’t.
But getting back to 11-11-11. One thing to remember about calendars is that all of them are made by people.The forces of nature don’t recognize dates on a sheet of paper. 11-11-11, 12-12-12 and 9-9-9 are meaningless when it comes to Earth’s magnetic pole wanderings or whether and when the sun releases a flare.
We get carried away, that’s all. Knowing this about ourselves, we should exercise skepticism in the face of every new number, planet, sun or comet alignment that’s trotted out every three weeks. If we don’t, our innate pattern recognizing abilities will be hijacked by hucksters.
Having said all that, this end of the world today is nothing to the one we’ll experience at 11:11 a.m. on November 11, 11,111 A.D. Trust me, that’s the one to end all. Sure wish I could be there.
For the Russians and Mars science in general, it must feel like the end of the world this week. With only a day or so left to rescue the mission, the Phobos-Grunt probe is still silently orbiting Earth out of communication with ground control. If mission controllers can’t fire the rockets to boot it on its way to the Red Planet, the spacecraft will slowly lose altitude and burn up in the atmosphere sometime around December 18. Satellite watchers have reported seeing both the tumbling rocket stage that launched the probe as well as the probe itself. The good news is that the craft appears to be steady and not spinning out of control.