A rather nihilistic rumor — that all of humanity died in 2012, and that this is all either a shared hallucination or the afterlife — was not new in late July 2019, but the theory went viral on social media after Twitter user Nick Hinton (@nickhintonn) packaged it into a thread.
On July 25 2019, Hinton began with a “conspiracy thread,” asking “Did the World End in 2012?”
Hinton’s first tweet (and by association, the rest of the thread) racked up more than 100,000 “likes” and nearly 40,000 retweets. Google Trends reflected a spike in searches for “Nick Hinton” at the end of July and beginning of August 2019. Screenshots of the entire thread shared by the Facebook page Genius Only Gaming accrued nearly 100,000 shares.
Before we address the content of Hinton’s popular thread, it is worth mentioning that NASA took a firm stance on the question of whether the world ended in 2012. In a December 2012 post about then-circulating conspiracy theories, NASA held that the world did not end on December 21, 2012, as popular rumors at the time were proposing. But the 2019 Twitter thread and copies of it had to do with a completely different set of alleged circumstances, not a misreading of a Maya prophecy.
Hinton started by stating that the rumor the world ended in 2012 was not new, and that he had seen it numerous times in previous years. After adding that he was unable to locate any existing discussion of the rumor, he began by stating that 2012 was the year scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) discovered the Higgs Boson particle:
A conspiracy thread: Did the World End in 2012?
I’ve wanted to talk about this subject for a while now. The other day I had a random urge to look into it again and read some old stuff. You know, just for ‘fun’. Ever since then, I’ve noticed other people talking about it again.
But the strangest part is.. I can not find anything online about it anymore. Like I said, you can find people talking about it causally or joking about it.. but I can not find ANY of the in depth material I had read before.
This has actually been really frustrating for me because I have nothing to refresh my memory while writing this. I’ve found a few things here and there that are helping me piece the puzzle together again, but I know there used to be so much more out there.
I can’t even remember the first time I’ve heard this theory, but it’s become somewhat of a meme. I did find a video of Max Laughan, that ‘child genius’ from YouTube, touch on this theory, but I don’t think he’s the first to talk about it. I think originally it was some girl.
So did the world actually end in 2012? Well, it was the year scientists at CERN finally found the Higgs Boson, you know, the particle Stephen Hawking predicted could destroy the universe, or in his own words, cause the universe to “undergo a catastrophic vacuum decay.”
According to CERN, that is at least partly true:
A problem for many years has been that no experiment has observed the Higgs boson to confirm the theory. On 4 July 2012, the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider announced they had each observed a new particle in the mass region around 125 GeV. This particle is consistent with the Higgs boson but it will take further work to determine whether or not it is the Higgs boson predicted by the Standard Model. The Higgs boson, as proposed within the Standard Model, is the simplest manifestation of the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism. Other types of Higgs bosons are predicted by other theories that go beyond the Standard Model.
Hinton quoted Stephen Hawking theorizing that the Higgs Boson particle could cause the universe to “undergo a catastrophic vacuum decay.” And it is accurate to say that articles have suggested that is what Hawking said about the “God particle.” However, a 2014 Popular Mechanics piece more reasonably titled “What Stephen Hawking Really Said About Destroying the Universe” attempted to approach Hawking’s comments from a less-alarmist position.
In that article, a theoretical astrophysicist consulted by Popular Mechanics clarified the inaccurate paraphrasing which appeared in numerous reports:
In July 2012, when scientists at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider culminated decades of work with their discovery of the Higgs boson, most physicists celebrated. Stephen Hawking did not. The famed theorist expressed his disappointment that nothing more unusual was found, calling the discovery “a pity in a way.” But did he ever say the Higgs could destroy the universe?
That’s what many reports in the media said earlier this week [in September 2014], quoting a preface Hawking wrote to a book called Starmus. According to The Australian, the preface reads in part: “The Higgs potential has the worrisome feature that it might become metastable at energies above 100 [billion] gigaelectronvolts (GeV). This could mean that the universe could undergo catastrophic vacuum decay, with a bubble of the true vacuum expanding at the speed of light. This could happen at any time and we wouldn’t see it coming.”
What Hawking is talking about here is not the Higgs boson but what’s called the Higgs potential, which are “totally different concepts,” says Katie Mack, a theoretical astrophysicist at Melbourne University. The Higgs field permeates the entire universe, and the Higgs boson is an excitation of that field, just like an electron is an excitation of an electric field. In this analogy, the Higgs potential is like the voltage, determining the value of the field.
That theoretical physicist, Dr. Katie Mack, used an analogy to describe the relationships referenced by Hawking, explaining:
“Imagine that somebody hands you a piece of paper and says, ‘This piece of paper has the potential to spontaneously combust,’ and so you might be worried,” Mack says. “But then they tell you 20 years ago it was in a furnace.” If it didn’t combust in the furnace, it’s not likely to combust sitting in your hand.
The first point made by Hinton is not necessarily without merit, nor was it drawn from an uninformed perspective. Nevertheless, the 2014 media reports on which the statement about Hawking’s purported prediction appeared were without context and therefore misleading. As Popular Mechanics went on to note, though, “there’s always the quantum world to consider, and that’s where things always get weirder.” Hinton’s thread had less to do with settled science, and more to do with metaphysics, a more philosophical and speculative view.
Following the tweet about CERN, Hawking’s prediction, and “catastrophic vacuum decay,” Hinton moved on and said:
Well, what would happen if we destroyed the universe? Would we know? Maybe CERN accidentally created a black hole that sucked us in without us even noticing, and we’ve just been living in it. Some physicists actually believe this is possible.
In those tweets, a screenshot appeared of a 2014 National Geographic headline: “Are We Living in a Black Hole?” That article did not explore the possibility that humanity had moved to a black hole in or after 2012. It just discussed “unconventional” theories proposing that — as the headline heavily implies — that our universe essentially exists inside a black hole:
Let’s rewind the clock. Before humans existed, before Earth formed, before the sun ignited, before galaxies arose, before light could even shine, there was the Big Bang. This happened 13.8 billion years ago.
But what about before that? Many physicists say there is no before that. Time began ticking, they insist, at the instant of the Big Bang, and pondering anything earlier isn’t in the realm of science. We’ll never understand what pre-Big Bang reality was like, or what it was formed of, or why it exploded to create our universe. Such notions are beyond human understanding.
But a few unconventional scientists disagree. These physicists theorize that, a moment before the Big Bang, all the mass and energy of the nascent universe was compacted into an incredibly dense—yet finite—speck. Let’s call it the seed of a new universe. (See also: “Origins of the Universe.”)
This seed is thought to have been almost unimaginably tiny, possibly trillions of times smaller than any particle humans have been able to observe. And yet it’s a particle that can spark the production of every other particle, not to mention every galaxy, solar system, planet, and person.
Hinton did not suggest that this article supported his “did the world end in 2012” theory, just that some scientists have proposed the “black hole” theory as just that, a theory. From that point, he describes claims that the world hasn’t “felt right” since around the year 2012, adding that “calamities” such as mass shootings have become common place. He then muses:
Did we all die and go to Hell? I don’t really believe that, but some people do. Maybe we’re in a similar situation to the characters in The Good Place.
The Good Place is an NBC sitcom about a so-called “hollow heaven,” or an afterlife that is not what it appears to be. From there, Hinton references the “simulation hypothesis” or “simulation theory,” the idea that life on Earth is part of a broader “base reality.” Although the idea sounds somewhat fringe, simulation theory is frequently reported upon and examined by credible scientists and outlets.
Widely credited in its modern form to British philosopher Nicholas Bostrom in 2003, other interpretations date the theory itself back to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. In 2016, Scientific American reported on comments made by astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson:
If you, me and every person and thing in the cosmos were actually characters in some giant computer game, we would not necessarily know it. The idea that the universe is a simulation sounds more like the plot of “The Matrix,” but it is also a legitimate scientific hypothesis. Researchers pondered the controversial notion [in April 2016] at the annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate here at the American Museum of Natural History.
Moderator Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the museum’s Hayden Planetarium, put the odds at 50-50 that our entire existence is a program on someone else’s hard drive. “I think the likelihood may be very high,” he said. He noted the gap between human and chimpanzee intelligence, despite the fact that we share more than 98 percent of our DNA. Somewhere out there could be a being whose intelligence is that much greater than our own. “We would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence,” he said. “If that’s the case, it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just a creation of some other entity for their entertainment.”
Dr. Tyson has famously placed odds humanity exists in a simulation at 50/50. Just as famously, Tesla and SpaceX chief executive officer Elon Musk has repeatedly espoused odds of “one in billions” that humanity does not exist within a simulation:
Musk strongly believes that, of Bostrom’s three possibilities, the first one [of simulation theory] is correct. He says that because we’re already creating simulations of everything—I mean, we have Ikea furniture assembly simulators for goodness sake—and computing power is ever-increasing, we’ll eventually have the ability to create simulated realities.
“Even if the rate [of technological advancement] drops by a thousand from right now—imagine it’s 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing in the evolutionary scale. So given we’re clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality and those games could be played on a set top box or on a PC or whatever and there would be billions of such computers or set top boxes, it would seem to follow the odds we’re in base reality is one in billions,” Musk said. “Tell me what’s wrong with that argument. Is there a flaw in that argument?”
“There’s a one in billions chance [we’re in] base reality,” he said. “I think it’s one in billions. We should hope that’s true because otherwise if civilization stops advancing, that could be due to some calamitous event that erases civilization, so maybe we should be hopeful this is a simulation. Otherwise, we will create simulations that are indistinguishable from reality or civilization will cease to exist. Those are the two options.”
Musk has in fact stated that so commonplace is discussion of that theory for him that he has banned its mention in hot tubs. So while the concept may seem bizarre, even a skeptical voice like Neil DeGrasse Tyson does not dismiss it entirely.
After pointing to simulation theory and its relevance to his overall proposition that humanity experienced a timeline shift in 2012, Hinton goes on to discuss the “Mandela effect” at length. Both a long-running conspiracy theory and a meme, the Mandela effect refers to a large number of “alternate memories” as described by internet users. Perhaps the most well-known Mandela effects is one involving the Berenstain Bears, which many report as always having been spelled Berenstein.
The concept is named for Nelson Mandela, who many “Mandela effect” experiencers recall having “died in prison” long before his actual death in December 2013. Skeptics of the idea attribute the confusion around the many “Mandela effects” to false memory; proponents argue that the same “false memories” are widespread and fairly consistent and should thus be regarded as something other than shared false memories. Hinton’s thread describes other examples, such as purportedly anomalous Google Maps images of the Statue of Liberty.
Hinton then references commentary on multiverse theory throughout several tweets, as well as internet rumors about purported CERN whistleblowers reiterating the theory that the world ended in 2012. He describes related theories about whether time itself is finite, before touching on another genre of urban legend and conspiracy — the Montauk Project. Hinton wrote:
[A] graph culminates in a singularity point of infinite complexity. To better understand this concept you can imagine a tape wrapped up in a spiral like you find inside a VHS tape. Time goes round and round in smaller and smaller loops until eventually, it runs out.
Is there another meaning to ‘the end of time’? Preston B. Nichols, a supposed whistleblower who wrote books detailing time travel experiments at the Montauk Air Force Base, claimed that they were never able to time travel past 2012 because they could find no future beyond it.
Very little information about Preston B. Nichols or his postulations exists outside of conspiracy-oriented websites. If Nichols ever claimed that purported time travelers were never able to time travel past 2012 “because they could find no future beyond it,” we were unable to locate where he said it or any context about that statement. A summary of some of Nichols’ claims on the Montauk Project appeared on an associated Wikipedia page.
Hinton concludes the lengthy Twitter thread, with speculation about the “philosophical” idea of the “end of history” — a conclusion of meaningful progress made by humans:
There’s also a theory floating around that we’ve reached the end of history. The ‘end of history’ is a philosophical idea that has been talked about by such notable figures as Hegel, Marx, and most recently Francis Fukuyama.
At the ‘end of history’ events still happen, but humanity has reached the end of it’s sociocultural evolution. This theory has nothing to do with time travel or simulations, but rather, the stagnation of human progress.
I just find it fitting that people think this is happening. It kind of fits the dream-like purgatory theme. It’s this theory I find most when trying to research the topic of the world having already ended.
If you think fourth dimensionally, or beyond linear time, we could say that the universe has already ended. The moment it began, the end was set in stone.
Perhaps the universe is in a constant cycle of expanding and contracting, the Big Bang and Big Crunch happening over and over, and our souls are just taking a ride on the Cosmic Ferris Wheel. Thanks for reading.
Regardless of its philosophical nature, Nick Hinton’s “Did the World End in 2012?” thread proved immensely popular on both Facebook and Reddit. That thread contained a mixture of speculative commentary about rumors and urban legends (such as the Montauk Project and the Mandela effect) and existing science-related material, such as “simulation theory” and the activities undertaken by researchers at CERN. If nothing else, the popularity of this theory serves a sociological purpose: it throws a bright light on the uncertainty that many felt in 2019, as formerly accepted conventional wisdom about politics, history, and culture shifted country by country beneath the world’s virtual feet.