Anti-globular convictions: Flat Earth belief explodes in popularity

I recently gave an overview of Spooky Geology concepts to my local geological society. I began the presentation by discussing the most absurd idea about the earth that still circulates – that it is a flat disk. People laughed; it’s normal to respond to such a claim with ridicule and marvel at how people can be so stupid. A highly circulated news story in mid-November, 2017 was the story of a “Mad” Mike Hughes who has built his own rocket to journey into the “atmosflat” supposedly to show that there is no curve and to photograph the flat disk. He doesn’t “believe” in science and wants to make a bang in life. He may die in his quest to “prove” his crazy cause. (If he does, I’ll update this post.)

The flat earth idea vies for the most alternative geological idea out there. But the spookiest part about the flat earth is that, according to proponents of it, is that the church, scientists, the government, the media, and private businesses are all conspiring to hide the truth from the rest of civilization – a very heady and horrifying claim. It’s no coincidence that Flat Earther popularity is resurging at this point in American history. I’m afraid it’s political and almost always has been. Therefore, I apologize in advance for this not being a geology-based article, however, it’s important to discuss the basic history of this notorious idea and provide a proper framework to understand the baffling reality that people really believe this stuff.

Strange lights and levitating rocks at Arkansas crystal mine

Springing from the spine of Arkansas’ Ouachita mountains are several commercial crystal mines open for public collecting of sizable quartz crystals. Only one such mine claims to be an area of bizarre paranormal activity occurring in association with special “crystal energy” at the site. The claims are so extraordinary the owners think it may not be safe for people to visit unaccompanied. The activity at the site has attracted the attention of UFO investigators and a crew from the Travel Channel’s Expedition Unknown series. Stories from the Board Camp Crystal Mine are a perfect example of Spooky Geology.

Devil’s Tower: UFO Bulls-eye

Devil’s Tower in Wyoming had historically served as a beacon to land travelers. In 1977, it was portrayed as the bullseye for extraterrestrial travelers in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (synopsis of the plot here). It wasn’t just another mountain. It expressed a sense of something mysteriously powerful and beyond humanity. Today, those narratives are merging as UFO enthusiasts meet at the site to reinforce their belief in the reality of alien visitation.

Misbehaving lakes: Three water bodies that exhale death gas

In August 1986, approximately 1800 people living in a 15-mile radius of Lake Nyos in Cameroon didn’t live to see the morning, dying by suffocation from toxic gas exhaled from the bottom of the lake. Some survivors awoke hours after falling unconscious. They reported they heard a strange and loud noise but when they awoke, they were in complete silence, without even insects buzzing around. People and livestock lay scattered, dead. The small lake (1.5 sq km) had changed color to reddish and murky. Later, chemical, isotopic, geologic, and medical evidence led to the conclusion that all died from carbon dioxide asphyxiation.

Lake Nyos after the eruption. Photo US Geological Survey.

Putrid pit of dinosaur corpses

Stop eating before you read this story. It’s a bit stomach-turning.

The Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry is a dense deposit of Jurassic-age theropod dinosaurs, mostly Allosaurus fragilis. What caused this mass death of 46 allosaurs (and some 25 other dinosaurs)? Why were there so few other kinds of typical fossils like crocodilian teeth or turtle shells? The bones were not scavenged. What happened here?

Hypotheses included that the place was a death trap where animals became mired in mud. Or, that the animals were killed by some toxin in the environment. A recent study suggests that the location was an ephemeral water body that was the final resting place for animals that died nearby.

The hammer entombed in rock

A tenet of geology is that rocks are old. Therefore, objects of human origin embedded in rock suggest that the rock formed after the object was created. However, there are several examples of these anomalies, which, upon first appearance, seem to set the geological time scale and assumptions topsy-turvy. One of these items is the London Hammer.

Haunted rocks: The Stone Tape theory

The “stone tape theory” is frequently used as a sciencey-sounding quasi-explanation to explain hauntings. Amateur paranormal investigators use the idea to account for appearances of images, sounds, and apparitions that do not interact directly with people. Instead, they play out like a movie or recording. This is most commonly termed “residual haunting” to suggest something was left behind in the past to account for the current effects perceived.

The premise of the stone tape concept is that crystalline rock (bedrock or building stone) captured emotional “energy” from a traumatic event. The preferred rock type is said to be quartz but limestone is mentioned nearly as frequently. The sound and visual representations of an event are “recorded” into the fabric of the rock media in a process analogous to a magnetic tape recording of data. At a much later date, a person sensitive to this “energy” can receive the “playback” or, the playback can be initiated by certain conditions. The recording/playback sequence has long been used as an explanation for apparition sightings and haunting. Thus, the stone tape idea is the ultimate example of “spooky geology”.

Giant dust devils with crystal blades

This is very cool news, although you would be wise to steer very clear of one of these awesome spectacles – flying blades of gypsum in tornadic hot winds.

Gypsum crystals coat the ground of the Atacama desert in Chile. In this picture from Kathleen Benison, you can see how large they are.

Geologist Kathleen Benison was working in the Atacama desert in Chile where the harsh environment creates large bladed-habit gypsum crystals due to evaporation. The crystals can also be found broken, heaped into piles or scattered around. How did this transport happen? The wind would have to be very strong, tornado force, to move the large crystals. And giant whirling dust devils are exactly what she saw.

Psychometry in geology

The geologist will meticulously measure and sample an outcrop to discern information about it. What if there was a much easier, speedier way to discern the history of a formation or a fossil or rock sample? In the mid-19th century, a few people thought the science of geology would be revolutionized by a technique called psychometry.

It’s a simple, elegant idea: the past is entombed in the present. That is, everything holds an essence or trace of influence or memory of its history. Certain skilled people are sensitive enough to touch the object and “see” this history. Psychometry – or measuring the soul – was an idea by Joseph Rodes Buchanan. He was sure that this concept would change humanity and the pursuit of scientific knowledge. William Denton was one of Buchanan’s disciples. A spiritualist, Denton had some radical ideas at the time. Along with his wife and sister, who had also been influenced by Buchanan, he conducted many experiments to show that psychometry for geology was genuine and useful. In his 1863 book, The Soul of Things, Denton blatantly states he has no doubts this technique works. In it, Denton says that, in nature, “each movement is infallibly registered for coming ages … Not a leaf waves, not an insect crawls, not a ripple moves, but each motion is recorded by a thousand faithful scribes in infallible and indelible scripture.”