This blog was inspired by one person and three books. The person is Daniel Dennett, the philosophy of science professor at Tufts. He’s a brilliant guy who noted in one of his books that there is a highly plausible theory of human evolution called “The Aquatic Theory” that would explain a great deal but which anthropologists ignore. He doesn’t understand why they ignore this interesting idea and whenever he meets an anthropologist at one of the many conferences he attends, he asks why.
Here’s what he said. “I have never heard a response worth repeating.”
That’s a shocking statement. He’s saying an entire community of scientists are irrational. And he’s right. The Aquatic Ape Theory should probably be called The Coastal Primate Theory because it posits that a coastal period in our evolution may have been crucial, leading to bipedalism, hairlessness, subcutaneous fat, and other characteristics that define humanity. Since coastal periods are common in mammalian evolution leading to both fully aquatic and semi-aquatic mammals, it’s a perfectly reasonable theory.
Highly plausible but not supported by hard evidence, the Coastal Primate Theory has been ignored since anthropologist Sir Alister Hardy proposed it in the 1960’s after sitting on it for thirty years for fear that the inevitable backlash would damage his career. One has to be careful not to be too thoughtful or too creative! That leads me to the first book: “The Aquatic Ape” by the late Elaine Morgan. Everyone should read it.
The second book is “The 100” by Michael Hart. He writes brief snippets about the 100 most influential people who ever lived according to some reasonable criteria he made up. Everyone would have their own ranking system of course, but his personal one is interesting and the book is a quick way to fill in gaps in your history knowledge.
When he did Shakespeare, I was stunned. I always thought the “Shakespeare was really a pseudonym” stories were nutcase conspiracy theories. So did Hart. But he admitted that after looking into it, he discovered the “nuts” were probably right and he and the mainstream were all wrong.
Shakespeare left a series of 126 personal letters apparently written to the young Earl of Southampton. They were eventually collected and published and today we know them as the sonnets, but, at the time of writing, they were first-person missives, kept private, brimming with specificity and detail as they discuss the boy’s/young man’s eventful life. Shakepeare addressed the young Earl as “O thou my lovely boy . . . ” and as “tender churl” and in other ways indicating great familiarity. He also overtly dedicated his two epic poems to him. The idea that the sonnets are about Southampton is not especially controverial: it is usually assumed the the commoner named Shakespeare somehow knew the Earl very well and that the Earl was his patron.
The bottom line is the sonnets give us a pretty good idea who Shakespeare was and it is virtually impossible to imagine the apparently illiterate guy named Shakespeare writing them: There’s no evidence he ever even met Southampton much less evidence that they had some kind of close relationship. The writer of the sonnets represents himself as a generation older than Southampton and as a fellow nobleman. If the sonnets are what they seem to be, personal letters to a young earl entering adulthood, Shakespeare either didn’t write them or was writing personal letters on behalf of someone else (which is possible, it must be said).
I found myself agreeing with Hart. And I was angry. How could mainstream historians be so blind? Yes, the theory is inherently implausible and unlikely. However, the Sonnets read as personal letter constitute very good evidence and the fact that Shakespeare’s detailed will didn’t mention a single book and the fact that his two children grew up illiterate is quite suspicious as is the dearth of records referring to Shakespeare as a writer.
Hart is far from the only person who I regard as credible who doubts Shakespeare: people from Mark Twain (also a pseudonym) to Antonin Scalia (late Supreme Court justice) to Sir Derek Jacobi (Shakespearean actor) all agree that Shakespeare may very well not have written Shakespeare.
So where’s the mainstream? Out to lunch, I guess. It’s one thing to say there’s no proof of this implausible theory (there isn’t and it is), but quite another to say the whole idea is nonsense when there is so much hard evidence. In a rational world, it would be studied in depth and regularly debated by scholars in public and in academic journals.
The final book in my list of three is “Nine Crazy Ideas in Science” by Robert Ehrlich. He has studied “crazy” ideas and has a rating system: four cuckoos means definitely nonsense; zero cuckoos means could be true. The crazy ideas are all discussed in detail and rated based on his personal, well informed opinion. One idea in particular was just as shocking the previous two.
It never really bothered me that crude oil was considered a form of rotten fish. But, when you think about it, the idea of “fossil fuels” is something that should give us pause. Ehrlich tells us that there is a theory that oil isn’t actually rotten fish and that this theory is considered crazy while the original fossil fuel idea is considered to be proven. But when he got done explaining the alternative theory, I found myself thinking it should be the mainstream theory and “fossil fuels” should be regarded as highly speculative at best.
No one’s ever been able to demonstrate how organic matter could decay into oil. There isn’t even a good theory of exactly how it might happen, just an assumption that it did. Strike one.
If oil really was decayed organic matter, there would be a very limited supply. But peak oil, ever since its proposal in the 1920’s, has been proven wrong again and again as we find more and more of the stuff. (Note to PC nazis: Just because there may be a lot more of it than we imagine does NOT mean I advocate burning it with wanton disregard for the environment. In fact, humanity might well be better off if peak oil were are real phenomenon. But hoping peak oil true doesn’t make it so.). Strike two.
If oil really was a fossil fuel, then when you drill into one sedimentary bed and then go 3000 miles away and drill into another bed that was laid down in a different epoch under totally different conditions, you’d expect different oil. But that’s not what happens. All the oil in each region of the earth, even drilled thousands of miles apart, has the same chemical signature. Let me repeat that: all oil drilled in the Middle East, for example, can be identified as Middle Eastern oil indicating that it all comes from a single deep source. This is the case all over the world no matter what region you are drilling in. Strike three.
If it’s not a fossil fuel, where did it come from? There’s a shockingly simple answer. The hydrocarbons on earth came from the same place as the hydrocarbons that we’ve discovered all over the solar system: they are primordial, part of the solar system from the very beginning. On Titan, it literally rains hydrocarbons; there are methane lakes and dunes made of frozen methane and ethane. Also, frozen methane is what makes the entire planet of Uranus blueish.
There were no dinosaurs on Titan and Uranus as far as we know. However, there are quantities of primordial hydrocarbons on a planetary scale, dwarfing the tiny amouts we’ve found so far on Earth. Geologists now admit that some of the earthly methane may be primordial (they could hardly deny this) but inexplicably continue to maintain that the other hydrocarbons (crude oil) are absolutely, positively rotten fish and that a possible primordial, inorganic origin is not worth considering.
Thomas Gold, the physicist whose maverick theories had an astonishing track record of being proven right after all, made some very good arguments that the geologists have chosen to ignore and wrote a book. Before he died, he was involved in a Swedish project to drill into the crust of the earth, far below any fossil deposits, and look for oil. The Swedes drilled into the Siljan ring which had been shattered by a meteor a long time ago. The results of this project were astounding, but have not been followed up.
Again, it’s one thing to want solid evidence before embracing a new theory wholeheartedly. Of course we should be skeptical of the idea of inorganic oil. But ignoring the idea when we know for a fact that methane exists all over the solar system is irrational. The inorganic oil theory is both highly plausible and well supported by planetary amounts of evidence both here on Earth and in the Solar System. Ignoring it, in my little church of rationality, is a sin.
So that’s where I am. My (pen) name is Thor Klamet and I’m interested in irrationality. I’m interested in it as it applies to science and to jurisprudence and to politics. I’ve written a lot about the Amanda Knox case since in some ways this case is the Queen of all examples of mass irrational behavior. I’ve dug into Shakespeare pretty well, but have yet to write about the fossil fuel theory or the aquatic ape theory.
One thing that holds me back is the silence. It’s hard to write about a theory if you can’t find discussion on both sides. Since scientists often won’t even discuss the inorganic oil idea (all I can find are bizarre statement by professional scientists that the oil found by the Swedes was some sort of contamination, all 80 barrels of it, and also that since it was hard to pump up and commercialized therefore it doesn’t mean there was oil where none should be) or the idea that we are bunch of coastal chimpanzees (professional anthropologists, when they talk about the theory at all, often purposely mischaracterize it saying the theory is that we “lived in water” which it most certainly is not), it’s hard to write an article that covers it properly.
But I persist. Happy reading. Comments are welcome.