We’ll Never Find Atlantis. That’s Why We Keep Looking for It.

What's to come?
Sept. 16 2013 2:37 PM

We’ll Never Find Atlantis

That’s why we keep looking for it.

(Continued from Page 1)

Freund believes that, because Plato says that the city of Atlantis was located beyond the Pillars of Hercules (or what has long been known as the Straits of Gibraltar) and that it was destroyed by a natural disaster, it’s only reasonable to look for it in a marsh in southern Spain. This is also the only theory to which Rainer Kühne, who has written extensively on Atlantis, subscribes. Like Freund, Kühne, who has been interested in Atlantis since he first heard of it from a Donald Duck cartoon when he was a young boy, argues that Plato’s text directs us to look to southern Spain. He also believes that the catastrophe described by Plato was the one from history that took place 1,200 years before Plato’s writing. (When asked how he reconciles this with the fact that the text says that Atlantis existed 9,000 years ago, Kühne retorts that there were no calendars back then.)

Still others apply the Atlantis name to searches that have nothing to do with Plato’s story. Part of this is because, as professor Harold Tarrant of Australia’s University of Newcastle explains to me, “it’s the only name we’ve got” that works as such an appealing archaeological marketing technique—hence, “Brazil’s Atlantis,” which has nothing to do with the ancient legend and was discovered in May of this year. Nickell concurs that scientists are “willing to use a metaphor from fiction or fantasy” to popularize their findings and give them an air of mystery.

But part of it, Tarrant continues, is that other names are attached to specific geological places. They can be found exactly once. On the other hand, “ancient geography is sufficiently imprecise to make one suspect it could have been almost anywhere.”

Advertisement

Nickell says that those who look for Atlantis and encourage others to do the same are just stirring up mystery. Which is, for Atlantis-bound adventurers, the whole point: People love mysteries and the idea that they can be the ones to solve them. If Atlantis could be anywhere, that means it can be everywhere. If anyone could stumble upon the true Atlantis, then everyone can.

Tarrant doesn’t necessarily believe that’s such a bad thing. It gets people underwater, exploring. And anyway, myths were always supposed to be malleable, to be passed down and changed and shaped by whatever time in which they were told.

“There’s no harm,” Tarrant cheekily notes, “in doing a little perpetuating of the myth yourself.”

This article arises from Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, the New America Foundation, and Slate. Future Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture. To read more, visit the Future Tense blog and the Future Tense home page. You can also follow us on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
Over There
Sept. 23 2014 12:16 PM Another Intervention?    Anti-ISIS airstrikes aren’t about keeping Americans safe.  
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 23 2014 10:03 AM Watch Steve Jobs Tell Michael Dell, "We're Coming After You"
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 23 2014 11:33 AM High-Concept Stuff Designed to Remind People That They Don’t Need Stuff  
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 11:13 AM Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 11:48 AM Punky Brewster, the Feminist Punk Icon That Wasn’t
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 10:51 AM Is Apple Picking a Fight With the U.S. Government? Not exactly.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 23 2014 11:00 AM Google Exec: Climate Change Deniers Are “Just Literally Lying”
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.