The Supernatural – Another One Bites the Dust
Cow found near Lake Nyos,
killed by evil spirits suffocated from gases.
In northwestern Cameroon lies Lake Nyos. According to legend, a long time ago, the evil spirits in the lake became angry and killed everyone in the lake’s proximity (or so says neatorama). On August 21, 1986, the spirits struck again, killing around 1800 people and 3500 livestock. Was this proof of the supernatural?
Of course not. That would be silly. As it turns out, a magma chamber beneath the region is feeding the lake with CO2. Over time, the water becomes supersaturated, and events such as an earthquake can release large amounts of CO2. This is what happened. Up to a cubic kilometer CO2 was released, displacing the air and suffocating human and animal alike.
What is interesting is the local myth, likely the result of previous event(s). Once again, science has explained what folklore would have it is supernatural. It’s pretty obvious that people are hungry for explanations. It’s also pretty obvious, if you peek back in history, that humans have a tendency to attribute human qualities where there are none. Before the forced christening of Norway, my ancestors believed thunder was Thor riding over the sky in his cart pulled by some magical goats. In more recent times, people become emotionally attached to the responses they get when communicating with simplistic computer programs such as ELIZA, which are nothing but mechanical results that come from mechanically applying certain transformations on whatever you type in, with no emotions involved.
What’s even more interesting is when we move from what is culturally accepted as mythology, such as Thor with his hammer and magic goats, to what is culturally accepted as fact, or at least as an acceptable belief. What if we move from Thor to Yahweh, from Zeus to Allah? I’ll make no such move today; perhaps in later posts.
Another example of attributing human qualities to unexplained phenomena that may be very natural is UFO stories. UFOs are all unidentified flying objects, but they’ve become synonymous with flying saucers and extraterrestrial, intelligent lifeforms. When people see strange lights in the sky, they will attribute it to extraterrestrial beings, beings that we have never observed. Not much different from gods, perhaps, except that aliens are much more likely to exist, since we know that the conditions for intelligent life to appear exist in the universe and we know it does appear, since we are intelligent beings ourselves. Perhaps UFOs are aliens. Far more likely, in my view, is an unknown natural cause á la Lake Nyos.
Why is it that we attribute human or at least intelligent qualities to nature? What evolutionary advantage could the traits that lead to this have? I don’t know, but I do know it happens.