Friday, 20 February 2009

What else could it be?

Via Neil Gaiman on Twitter, comes the news that not only has Plato been revived from the dead, not only is he now writing for The Sun, but his fabled lost city of Atlantis has been found. Quite the news day.

In typical Sun fashion, the article could hardly be more credulous; nothing is considered as alternative explanation for the find. But when the Telegraph article on the same subject follows suit, perhaps credulity is indeed the answer. Especially if Plato says it's true.

Here are but a few reasons to be sceptical (other than the very good reason of simply having this as a default position): the reported "city" is the size of Wales. Does anyone else think that maybe that's just a little on the large side, even for a fabled city of legend? There isn't the kind of detail you'd expect to see in the outline if this was indeed a city the size of a relatively small country. There are only ten or so "streets" in either plane, and no less distinct, narrower lines in between to indicate smaller streets or buildings of any normal size.

Secondly, Atlantis is generally accepted in scholoarly circles as being nothing more than a narrative, heuristic device by Plato to illustrate his points and tell a story. In this way it can be seen as any product of imagination as opposed to history: nothing of the Atlantis myth (aside from the sheer scale, a classic exaggeration of such tales) cannot be traced to something historical with which Plato would have been familiar; wars were certainly no stranger to the Athens of his lifetime, and even a city lost to the sea overnight would have been a familiar concept.

Finally, we have the problem of all the other discoveries of Atlantis over the years; as recently as 2004, sites have been found and claimed to be the fabled lost city because of some feature or other that matches with Plato's rhetorical account. What makes this one more likely than the others?

Now, I don't know enough about oceanography or indeed Google Ocean to postulate convincingly on what this picture might show - the possibilities as far as I can think are some kind of geological formation, or perhaps an artifact of the mapping process. I'd welcome any suggestions, but will take some considerable convincing that what this picture shows is a city our only source of knowledge for which is the probably-rhetorical account of a philosopher well known for talking out of his arse.


UPDATE: The Daily Mail, of all things, has "dashed hopes" that Atlantis had been found. Guess what it was. Yup, an artifact of the mapping process.

"Details for the ocean maps on Google Earth come from sonar measurements of the sea floor recorded by boats - and the area around the Canaries was mapped by boats travelling in a series of straight lines."

Well that explains that, then. Is the magic gone, now that the truth is known? Only in a literal sense; the explanation of how this illusion happened is still very interesting. Or maybe that's just me.

1 comment:

Asclepius said...

Its truly worrying that people jump to "IT MUST BE ATLANTIS!" before considering the possibility that someone or something is in error. I enjoy the occasional bout of optimism but thats no excuse for abandoning all your senses.

Whats even more worrying is these papers, the guides that tell the masses what to think are actually getting even more ridiculous.