11: Vanished Islands and Hidden Continents in the World’s Oceans: Last Thoughts
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Scientists are trained, at least in their professional lives, to think conservatively, to deduce only the deductible, and to express only that which is expressible given the information available. For such reasons the language of science often appears dry and detached to outsiders , who may therefore not wish to dig deep to find something that is personally relevant or enlightening. In contrast, for many people, the accessible and exciting writing of many pseudoscientists readily provides this, which is why their books sometimes sell in the millions . By selecting only those facts that appear to support their manifestly unsupportable models, by dealing cavalierly with topics that appear beyond the pale to many scientists, and by investing those topics with import far beyond rational judgment, they push the right buttons in many minds. Science cannot compete. Nor should science try to compete. Yet it should periodically respond. This book has sought to inform, analyze, and enlighten. It tackles well-known accounts of vanished islands and hidden continents but also presents information that is likely to be unfamiliar to many readers. It is clear that the Pacific (as well as the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean) has many stories of its own about vanished islands and hidden continents. These include not only those written in the language of science, and those gratuitously imposed on the people of the Pacific by pseudoscience and new-age theorists, but also those stories of Pacific peoples themselves. This last chapter describes some of the reasons why people are interested in vanished islands and hidden continents and then, as a coda, acknowledges the obvious dangers in writing a book such as this. Vanished Islands and Hidden Continents in the World’s Oceans last thoughts 11 196 Vanished Islands and Hidden Continents of the Pacific Reasons for Learning about Vanished Islands and Hidden Continents There is no shortage of good reasons for learning about vanished islands in the Pacific, or indeed elsewhere in the world. That islands have disappeared, both in whole and in part, in the past is beyond doubt; the collapse of unstable island flanks in the future poses a range of threats to coastal peoples throughout the region, of which hazard planners and others need to be better aware. That islands and fragments of continents once existed in the Pacific, long before people arrived there, and were instrumental in the dispersal of various biotas is likewise indisputable. But this entire field of scientific inquiry has been overwhelmed by a tidal wave of pseudoscience theorizing. This has become institutionalized, in stark defiance of a huge body of empirical data, into a series of belief systems ranging from theosophy to the new age. There are dangers in allowing antiscientific beliefs to dominate any field of legitimate scientific inquiry, and one of the principal goals of this book is to counter such beliefs as they apply to vanished islands and hidden continents. But again the argument is not quite so simple, or so neatly polarized. Anathemic as it may appear to many a conventional scientist, there are reasons why stories of vanished lands fulfill a range of human needs, discussed in the next paragraphs. In addition, for many continental dwellers, in particular, the image of islands is often quite different from that held by islanders, which is why, as also explained later in this section, islands are often the favored location for apparent mysterious happenings, uncommon cultural practices, and even parables for human futures. In the past 200 years or so, the process of lifestyle change for many people has been so rapid that much that has been lost is being sought anew. When it proves unobtainable, it may be substituted with something else, something invented. For some, this explains the rise of the popularity of fiction, but it also explains the rise of interest in other worlds, including vanished islands and hidden continents. Michael Crichton, himself the creator of many such lost worlds, said it well. Direct experience is the most valuable experience I can have. Western man is so surrounded by ideas, so bombarded with opinions, concepts, and information structures of all sorts, that it becomes difficult to experience anything without the intervening filter of these structures. And the natural world—our traditional source of direct insights—is rapidly disappearing. Modern city-dwellers cannot even see the stars at night.1 In a similar vein, according to Sprague de Camp, the story of Atlantis, that famous lost island-continent, last thoughts 197 strikes a responsive chord by...


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Subject Headings

  • Geographical myths -- Oceania.
  • Oceania -- Geography.
  • Lost continents -- History.
  • Geographical myths -- Pacific Ocean.
  • Pacific Ocean -- Geography.
  • Islands of the Pacific -- History.
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