The endurance of the legend of mermaids (one of the earliest known reference to mermaids was recorded around 800 B.C. in Homer’s epic, the Odyssey) is perhaps the most apt analogy to human’s capacity to stubbornly maintain beliefs and claims that suit their fancy and purposes despite the overwhelming facts and evidence against them. While many of us may have thought of mermaids as merely a fanciful fairy tale to lull a child to sleep, history records a long-held belief of the actual existence of these beautiful, voluptuous maidens with their luminescent scales and tails like fish that frolic in the ocean depths and lure many an unwary sailor to his doom.
“The day before, when the Admiral was going to the Rio del Oro, he said he saw three mermaids who came quite high out of the water but were not as pretty as they are depicted, for somehow in the face they look like men. He said that he saw some in Guinea on the coast of Manegueta.”
– From Diary of Christopher Columbus, Jan. 9, 1493
Had Homer and Columbus been aware of the scientific truths which eliminate even the slightest chance of the possibility of an actual mermaid species, would that have altered their fears or observations? As I am not familiar enough with the personalities and character of these men, I cannot say for certain, yet based upon an abundance of sociological and psychological research by others more knowledgeable than I (such as this, that & this one) it is quite likely that one of those men would have clung to their claims for dear life.
I am not talking here about religious faith or about optimistic beliefs in the face of all odds, as those I believe are an entirely different animal altogether and as such, topics for separate discussion. No, what I am getting at here is my being confounded by those who take such extreme positions that are not merely in conflict with every known fact and scrap of evidence, but which are often about events or details that would otherwise have little consequence in the vast tapestry of their lives. What kind of ego consciously chooses to insist, with a poker face, on the veracity of their statements even after they’ve been laid bare before all as vicious twists and lies? Whom do such people expect to believe them and on what basis do they portend others should accept their precarious views as truth? I am completely befuddled by such people, as I can see no purpose to their madness. To me, it is like a drowning man who insists he stands on dry land and thus refuses to take the hand of one who would raise him from the ocean to relative safety. While G-d himself warned against the evil of false-pride over five-thousands years ago and while self-preservation may be considered the most basic instinct of all living creatures going at least as far back as the dinosaurs, the fact is that dinosaurs are extinct. Apparently, this is still a lesson some people never learn.
Me? I prefer to keep life simple. Thus, the tale of beautiful, graceful ladies of the sea keeping our lonely sailors company remains a delightful prelude to sleep.
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