Literary Misunderstandings – WIF Bookshelf

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Widely Misunderstood

Pieces of Writing

Literary critics have invented a host of phrases and concepts to separate artists from their art. By far the best known is “death of the author,” which comes from a 1967 essay by Roland Barthes. Essentially, the notion is to imagine that the author cannot be asked for their intent, or how their own life experiences shaped their writing, so the theorist’s interpretation is at least as valid as the author’s intention–provided said interpretation is reasonably derived from the text.  

While that’s a worthwhile literary exercise, there can be a problem that comes from many people knowing pieces of writing through cultural osmosis instead of actually reading the text. Indeed, sometimes there are aspects of the text that simply aren’t as haunting as the passages in stories that become touchstones. So interpretations of stories can be demonstrably incorrect. As is the case with…

10. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

When the 1995 Disney adaption of this movie came out, many critics and audience members were united in decrying the supposed borderline desecration of the original story. They pointed to the 1939 or 1920 versions of the story as proper adaptations, which properly portrayed the unsavory nature of Quasimodo, the tragic fate of the gypsy Esmeralda, clergyman Claude Frollo, and so on… and all in the shadow of one of the most celebrated buildings in French history.

It was a criticism completely undermined by how Victor Hugo wrote the original 1831 version of the story. As Lindsay Ellis explains in her highly recommended video essay, in the original novel, Quasimodo is a mere bit part and certainly not a sympathetic figure. There’s no tragic romance with the gypsy Esmeralda, who it turns out was actually a Caucasian abandoned as a child. In brief, Hugo didn’t write his novel as a tragedy, so much as a tribute to the cathedral itself, which at the time of writing was less a French institution than a wreck that had been vandalized numerous times over the centuries and neglected.

That Hugo’s sympathies were with the building over the people who lived in and around it is much less surprising to anyone who knows that the original title was “Notre-Dame de Paris” and that he did not approve of the English title change. Perhaps that theme would resonate with misanthropic architecture students, but it certainly wouldn’t have been the crowd-pleaser many subsequent adaptations have been

9. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Washington Irving’s 1820 story, set in a Dutch community in 1790s New York (loosely based on real events), as we all know is about a schoolteacher named Ichabod Crane, who gets chased by a headless horseman across a bridge. When the horseman can’t catch him, he throws a pumpkin at Crane. Those who read an abridged version in class might remember that it was heavily implied that Brom Bones was pretending to be the Headless Hessian Horseman to scare off Crane so that he could marry Katrina Van Tassel without any competition from superstitious schoolteachers. Considering Ichabod disappears and Bones gets what he wants through pretty underhanded and aggressive means, it seems like this slice of Americana should be a pretty dark, spooky tale where the villain wins in the end, be he ghost or local tough guy in disguise.

Readers have that impression because many of them lost track of how odious a person Irving wrote Ichabod Crane to be. Like many schoolteachers of the time, Crane is described as having romantic interest purely for financial reasons (Irving explicitly describes him as looking at her father’s fortune with “green eyes”). He’s also explicitly a mooch and a glutton, only getting away with it because he knows a lot of local ghost lore. The story also ends with a postscript noting there was talk in Sleepy Hollow that Crane was seen again later, having moved to another community and becoming a judge. However, the locals rejected that because his supposed disappearance made for a better story. If anything, Irving went overboard in assuring audiences not to worry about ol’ Ichabod.

8. Jabberwocky

Lewis Caroll’s titular monster, which was first introduced to readers in Alice Through the Looking Glass, has been portrayed as a serious beast in such adaptations as the 1985 movie. Even those who know better than to portray such serious versions of the monsters from the poem assume that “slivey toves” and “more raths” from the opening verse mean “unidentifiable beasts,” such as in the version done for The Muppet Show.

Jabberwocky’s origin was in 1855, in a magazine called Misch-Masch, which had a circulation of Lewis Carroll’s immediate family. It was not only meant as a parody of folk poems, but he actually handily explained what all the words meant, so those terms aren’t so much nonsense as coded. For example, “slivy toves” are actually cheese-eating badgers. “Mome Raths” are turtles. Bryllyg is said to be the early afternoon, as it refers to the time of broiling dinner. All things considered, the opening verse is much closer to a slightly offbeat version of Wind in the Willowsthan it is a surreal menagerie of cryptids.

7. Harrison Bergeron

In Kurt Vonnegut’s 1961 short story, equality is perverted so that every exceptional person is limited to be no better than the worst performing person, either by restraints that weigh them down or by zapping them if they think too much. This idea has been embraced by right wing publications like National Review. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia cited it in a ruling requiring tournament golfers to walk between shots.

What they don’t seem to notice is the portrayal of the eponymous character. As critics have more recently pointed out, Bergeron is a ridiculously overpowered human being who not only stands 7-feet tall at age 14, he is also literally capable of flying as he dances (once he removes his restraints that weigh hundreds of pounds). More revealingly, he proclaims himself “emperor,” which probably isn’t something Vonnegut would have a “heroic” character do.

He also makes this declaration and displays his powers on live television, which of course means that the Handicapper General Diana Moon Glampers would have no trouble hunting him down and shooting him, as she does seemingly effortlessly in the story. Clearly, Bergeron is a parody of the Howard Roark and John Gault-type supermen that are so perfect and so, so underappreciated in Ayn Rand’s novels. Considering Vonnegut’s left-wing views throughout his writing career, it’s objectivism that’s in his sights at least as much as socialism.

6. The Satanic Verses

When it was published in 1988, author Salman Rushdie struck free publicity gold when his book was interpreted as blasphemous and banned in India while the Ayatollah demanded his head. He surely didn’t celebrate this, as he had to go into hiding from very real threats. Several translators of the book were attacked—one fatally. Considering that the book is a formidable 600 pages long, it’s not so surprising that many people didn’t read the entire story and were content to go off a vague sense of what the novel was about, or a heavily abridged version.

The Satanic Verses tells the intertwined stories of two Southeast Asian Muslims, one born wealthy and the other poor. The pair both survive a plane crash, and the rich one becomes cursed (one way is he smells bad) while the other becomes angelic. Still, the rich one survives the novel while the other commits suicide while wanted for murder (he is unambiguously responsible for several deaths). The offending portions of the book are a secondary narrative of a few dozen pages about the rise of the prophet Mahound, written in an approximation of Koranic verse.

The “Satanic Verses” of the title are an allusion to a claim by the prophet that, for some contradictory statements he made, it must have been Satan pretending to be Allah. In a manner that paralleled a scene that offended many in The Last Temptation of Christ, Rushdie styled his parody of the prophet as a very elaborate dream sequence to give him plausible deniability that he was portraying an in-universe, fictional version. The version many Muslims were given, however, only showed the dream sequence without the larger context, and so inevitably it misled many on the intent of the book.

5. Valley of the Dolls

These days, this 1966 novel is better known for selling forty million copies than it is for its contents. Its story of three women who try to enter show business but run into such pitfalls as creative compromise, sexual exploitation, and drug addiction(the “dolls” of the title are upper/downer pills) was so salacious for its time that it couldn’t help but become one of, literally, the bestselling books of all-time. No wonder it got a couple film adaptations: a much derided smash hit in 1968, and a TV movie in 1981.

An aspect of the literary juggernaut that, for decades, was held up as the impetus for its success was the titillation of guessing which characters were modeled on which specific real people. For example, was the character that had a pill addiction Judy Garland? Was the over-the-hill singer who stands in the protagonist’s way based on Ethel Merman? According to Jacqueline Susann, the answer to all these guesses was “no” and that all of the characters were invented to fit a theme instead of to reveal the truth behind a real entertainer’s persona. She eventually said of the misconception, “Let them think that, it sells more of my books.”

4. Dracula

Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic isn’t just one of the two most influential horror novels of the 19th century (alongside Frankenstein). For many outside Central or Eastern Europe, it was the popularity of Dracula that led them to learn of 15th century Romanian ruler Vladislav III, better known as Vlad the Impaler. Deposed early in life, Vlad fought against both the Ottoman Empire and fellow Romanians and eventually died in battle, but not before leaving behind battlefields laden with impaled prisoners of war as an attempt to demoralize his enemies. Such a person seems tailor-made to inspire a monster in human shape.

Which completely misunderstands Stoker’s real writing process. It’s not so much that he didn’t carefully study Vlad Tepisch’s life for inspiration for his iconic character, as there’s no evidence that he even knew the bygone monarch had existed. In 1890 (the year he began working on it) he noted that he read a book on Westphalia and came across the word Dracula, but he misinterpreted it as being the local word for “evil.” While Vlad is from approximately the same area of Europe as Dracula, Vlad was certainly not much associated with Transylvania, which would have been a key connection to invoking the memory of the historical figure. In short, Stoker seemed to have more lucked into the historical echoes than anything else.

3. The Great Gatsby

Nearly 80 years after its initial disappointing release in 1925, F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age triumph sells roughly 500,000 copies a year. It’s resonated with readers enough to make its way to the silver screen in 1926, 1949, 1976, and 2013. Each release was greeted with a critical thrashing and to very mixed results at the box office.

But that’s not to say readers, who generally regard themselves as more astute than movie fans, don’t mistake Fitzgerald’s intention with Gatsby. As explained by Sarah Churchwell in The Guardian, most people misinterpret Gatsby as being a suave charmer. There are a few telling descriptions that undermine this: His pink suits (tacky even in the Roaring ’20s) and his bewilderment in the face of the high society that narrator Nick Carraway takes for granted. That’s why he overcompensates for his parties, doing such things as hire entire orchestras. Gatsby is a dreamer, pining for the fantasy version from his youth of his neighbor Daisy Buchanan, not a man with his feet on the ground in the present. Not that this dissonance is anything new: Fitzgerald wrote back in the day that, “Of all the reviews, even the most enthusiastic, not one has the slightest idea what the book was about.”

2. Don Quixote

It’s been just over 400 years since Miguel de Cervantes’s masterpiece was first published in English. Since then, the image of a nobleman putting a washing basin on his head, taking a nag for a noble steed and his trusty assistant Sancho Panza on a number of delusional, pointless quests in an attempt to restore chivalry to the land has only become more poignant. Don Quixote is both absurd and loveable, and many readers have mixed feelings about the ending where he regains his sanity enough to dictate in his will that his niece be disinherited if she marries a man who reads books of chivalry.

As recounted in the New York Times, the title character actually comes across as much less sympathetic when you really look at the text. While Quixote means well, Cervantes does not skimp on the details of the pain he causes. Not just to his assistant Sancho Panza (who gets beat up because Quixote doesn’t pay a hotel bill), but even mules that can’t drink from their water trough because Quixote insists the water is holy. It’s an aspect of the story that is understandably omitted from adaptations such as Man of La Mancha, which contributed to those interpretations being dismissed as “kitsch.”

1. Slaughterhouse Five

Well, when an author writes as many famous satirical, morally complex, and whimsical stories as Kurt Vonnegut did, it’s not surprising that he’d have multiple works end up on lists like this. So it is with his 1969 anti-war classic (that he self-deprecatingly called his “famous Dresden novel”) about a WWII veteran named Billy Pilgrim, whose subjective experience of his life jumps back and forward through time. Within the intro of the book, Vonnegut quotes an associate who asked authors writing anti-war books why they didn’t instead write an “anti-glacier book.” Meaning, of course, that the human tendency towards war is as implacable as glaciers.

A similar sentiment is expressed by the alien race called the Tralfamadorians, who consider their own atrocities and eventual destruction of the universe as utterly inevitable, because they can see the entirety of all the time they live, all at once. Hence many have viewed it as a pro-fatalism book as they wonder whether the events of the book are real or not.

The text makes explicit that the aliens don’t exist. Within the book, the aliens Billy Pilgrim meets, and the environment they place him in (specifically a zoo), are described as something he read in a novel by hack sci-fi author Kilgore Trout. Further, Pilgrim does not express anything to anyone else about the aliens until after a plane crash that leaves him unconscious (i.e., likely with brain damage and trauma). As Michael Carson of Wrath-BearingTree.com points out, when Pilgrim first discusses the lessons he supposedly learned about the inevitability of war and the atrocities that come from it, it’s with a war hawk named Rumfoord, who Vonnegut mocks. Pilgrim merely echoes Rumfoord and then says he learned all of what Rumfoord told him on Tralfamadore.

On the other hand, Vonnegut also makes it explicit that the Tralfamadorians believe they will eventually destroy the universe. Vonnegut’s message isn’t that war and atrocities are inevitable, but that to follow this fatalist philosophy (that could come from absurd aliens that are the result of head trauma) makes its adherents into puppets, and leads to disaster for everyone.


Literary Misunderstandings –

WIF Bookshelf

WIF Mind Games – Psychological Phenomena

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Psychological Phenomena

The human brain is a fascinating and complex organ. Beyond its ability to help us reason, function and think, it plays some crazy tricks on us. All throughout history, humans have experienced things called psychological phenomena – mind tricks that sometimes defy explanation but are experienced by most people. Here are 10 of them, with a description of the phenomenon itself (when it has one!) and an example of it in action with a real, live human being.

10. Cryptomnesia

Why did Brian Williams, noted NBC news anchor, say he was in a helicopter that was attacked in Iraq? Was he lying? Or, was there something deeper at work. For that matter, why did George Harrison write “My Sweet Lord” to sound just like the Chiffon’s hit 1962 song, “He’s So Fine?” Did he plagiarize, or did he not notice the similarity between his song and the other? An argument can be made for the latter in both instances, all because of something called cryptomnesia. The term was invented by doctors Alan Brown and Dana Murphy, after conducting three experiments at Southern Methodist University in 1989. They discovered that people will unknowingly “borrow” the ideas of others, rather than thinking of new ideas. Rather than consciously stealing a song, or making up a story out of thin air, the human brain is capable of taking a story, song or idea and transforming it. In the person’s mind, it becomes new. Original. When really, it’s just a memory.

Studies have shown this phenomenon is pretty common, but it’s pretty hard to tell the difference between it and a lie. So, it’s possible that Brian Williams simply thought he was on that helicopter, or he might have been lying. In the case of George Harrison, however, a judge decided that cryptomnesia really was the culprit, and Harrison was charged with “subconscious plagiarism.” It’s scary when you think about it. How many of our ideas are actually our own, and how many are really memories?

9. Deja Vu

Have you ever visited a new place, only to get the feeling that you’d been there before? That’s called a deja vu, and it happens to almost everybody. Art Markman, Ph.D., explains deja vu as a device our brains use to create a sense of familiarity in a particular situation using source memories as context clues. He says that humans are good at remembering objects, so if we see a person wearing the same t-shirt that we saw our friend wear last week, we don’t get confused that the stranger in the same shirt is our friend. However, we are not great at recalling memories based solely on how objects are arranged. So, if you see a stack of those t-shirts in one store, and then years later go to a completely different store in a completely different city, you might not remember that you saw an identical stack of shirts, but instead feel a sense of familiarity, of knowing, and not know why.

In one extreme case, French psychiatrist Francois-Leon Arnaud wrote about a guy named Louis who lived in the 19th century. Louis was a soldier who suffered from amnesia, then headaches, irritability and insomnia. And, he suffered from almost constant deja vu. Everything he experienced felt like something he’d experienced before. At the time, his doctors diagnosed him with “illusion deja vu,” but today it’s suggested that Louis may have had a memory disorder like recollective confabulation, where people routinely think that all new information is familiar. For us, the occasional deja vu is a creepy and otherworldly feeling, so much that some people think it’s really a memory from a past life.

8. Bystander Effect

The Bystander Effect is a psychological phenomenon that is social in nature. It’s characterized by the unlikeliness of a group of people (the bigger the group, the more likely the phenomenon) to help during an emergency. The most famous example of this is the 1964 murder of young Kitty Genovese, when allegedly she was murdered on the streets of New York and the 38 bystanders who witnessed the murder did nothing to help. A great example of the phenomenon, if true. However, Kitty’s brother, Bill, decided to get to the bottom of what really happened to his sister and it turns out that only a few people actually saw the attack, and one actually shouted for the murderer to stop. Two people claimed to have called the police, though there are no phone records. Bill says that regardless of whether or not people tried to help, his sister’s story is an important lesson to those who might do nothing when they see someone in trouble.

Another disturbing example of Bystander Effect is that of Topsy the Elephant. Topsy killed one man, but was accused of being a “serial man killer,” and was therefore sentenced to death. Originally believed to be one in a long streak of electrocutions in that “War of the Currents,” it’s likely that electrocution was chosen for Topsy because it was more humane than the original form execution, which was hanging. The electrocution of Topsy occurred on Coney Island, in front of Luna Park employees, Edison’s employees, and many other witnesses. Nobody lifted a finger. A gruesome account of the atrocity can be found in in Michael Daly’s book, Topsy.  An Edmund Burke quote comes to mind: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

7. Placebo Effect

If you’ve ever participated in a clinical study (or studied science, for that matter), you know what a placebo is. It’s a pill or other treatment that has no physical effect, but can produce a psychological benefit called the Placebo Effect. In essence, if someone takes a placebo and experiences some sort of benefit, there you have this particular psychological phenomenon. One example of this is the case of MK-869, an experimental antidepressant developed by Merck in 2002. The drug tested exceedingly well at first, and Merck had high hopes for domination in the marketplace. Imagine how disappointed shareholders and analysts were, however, when data showed that while those who took MK-869 did feel better, so did the same amount of people who took the placebo.

This is a pretty common occurrence in the world of pharmaceuticals. In fact, about 50% of developing drugs fail in the trial stage because it’s found that the placebo is just as effective. Some medical professionals even claim that some people react well even when they know they are receiving a placebo. That the ritual of taking medicine or doing something healthy can make the brain think that the body is healing. Maybe there is something to the old adage, “Heal thyself.”

6. McGurk Effect

The McGurk Effect, a crazy psychological phenomenon that has to do with your eyes and your ears (and how they get confused) when perceiving speech. It happens when your brain associates the hearing part of one sound and pairs it with the visual appearance of another sound being spoken, which leads to the brain perceiving a nonexistent third sound. Whoa, right?

It happens especially when you can’t hear the sound that well (like in a crowded room, or when a person is speaking very softly) but you can see the lips move, making you think you “hear” something else. Think about that kid in class who mouthed “elephant shoe” at you. The phenomenon was first explained in 1976 by, not surprisingly, a guy named McGurk who studied how infants perceive language as they develop. It’s best described in video format, and there are a lot of examples out there. Like this one or, obviously, the one embedded above.

 5. Baader-Meinhof

You just heard about a new director from your film nerd friend. Later that day, you look up a movie with your favorite actor in it on IMDd and BAM, it’s that director. Then, you pick up the newspaper and there’s a profile on the same director – the one you had never heard of before. All of a sudden, this guy is everywhere. Is he the next Scorsese, or did your film buff friend plant all these references for you? Neither! You’re experiencing the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.

Arnold Swicky, a linguistics professor at Stanford, named this phenomenon Frequency Illusion in 2006, because it was easier than calling it the “When you hear something one time and all of the sudden it’s everywhere syndrome.” He explained that it is caused by two psychological processes. In one, you learn a thing and then, without knowing it, you look for it other places. In the other, confirmation bias tells you that the thing is everywhere overnight, simply because you never noticed it before. The term Baader-Meinhof came about earlier than 2006, on a St. Paul Pioneer Press online forum, where a participant heard the name of the notorious terrorist group two times in the same day. The phrase got meme-ified and later Swicky gave it a medical name.

4. Cognitive Dissonance

You know that getting sunburned can cause skin cancer, but you skip the sunscreen anyway. Or you smoke, even when you know that smoking causes cancer. You’ve got yourself a great example of cognitive dissonance, a phenomenon that occurs when you experience a conflict of attitude, behavior, or belief. Your behavior (skipping the sunscreen) belies your cognition (the fact that you know that you could get skin cancer), creating a state of cognitive dissonance.

This was first studied by Leon Festinger in 1957, when a doomsday cult that believed a flood was going to end the world… well, they didn’t get destroyed by a flood (and neither did the world). He found that people who were on the fence about the flood felt pretty dumb for giving up their houses and jobs and chalked it up to a learning experience, while the devout cult members decided that it was their great faith and sacrifice that saved the world. There are also fun ways to explore this phenomenon, like this Prezi about the cognitive dissonance in Mean Girls.

3. Online Disinhibition Effect

Unless you avoid the internet altogether (and judging by the fact you’re reading this, that’s pretty definitively not the case), you’ve seen the Online Disinhibition Effect in action. It’s your sweet former teacher that turns into a hate-filled rage ball on a Facebook thread. It’s Roseanne tweeting herself into unemployment. It’s the internet user’s tendency to say (or type) things they wouldn’t usually say in real life. This is caused by a number of personality variables that cause a person to deviate from their “normal” behavior. Just like people who feel less shy when online, some people lose a lot more than shyness when they feel a sense of anonymity.

Even on social media, where your name and photo are attached to your profile, it’s possible to minimize authority, loosen your self-boundaries and pretend it’s all a game when nobody is responding to you in person. If only people could just do what we do and pretend their mother can see everything they post online. Hey, if it works, it works!

2. Reverse Psychology

If you’re a parent, you’ve likely used reverse psychology to get your kids to do what you want. For instance, if they don’t want to eat their dinner, and then you tell them they’re not allowed to eat dinner, odds are they will. Reverse psychology relies on reactance, where a person responds negatively to persuasion, and instead responds to the thing that they’re persuaded not to do. Even if you’re not a parent, you’ve likely used it on family members, partners, or coworkers.

Reverse psychology dates back as far as human behavior, with a notable example in the 1700s. Apparently, Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, while imprisoned during the Seven Years’ War, ate a whole lot of potatoes. In France, potatoes were frowned on, and only fed to animals. French Parliament even outlawed potatoes in 1748, because they thought that they caused leprosy. When Antoine-Augustin got back to France in 1763 he started thinking about overcoming the bias against potatoes, because he knew they were very nutritious. One story says that he planted a potato patch and hired a guard to protect it, spreading the rumor that he was growing something special in there. Of course, people snuck in to steal the potatoes, and they decided they were a-ok.

1. Overview Effect

The last entry on our list is a psychological phenomenon most of us won’t experience. It’s the Overview Effect – the sensation that astronauts feel when they see the Earth as a whole. Six astronauts were interviewed by Inverse, and the experience of seeing Earth from space made them change how they saw their planet, and their relationship to it. The term Overview Effect was created by Frank White to describe the experience of seeing the Earth as part of something bigger. Makes sense, since when we live on the Earth the Earth is plenty big for us to consider. What would the world be like if everyone could look at the universe in a different way? Read those testimonials from the six astronauts interviewed and you’ll get an idea.

Our brains are strange and wonderful places, capable of greatness and atrocity. An understanding of how the brain works might help us avoid the latter, but it will surely help us strive to the former.


WIF Mind Games –

Psychological Phenomena

Caves and Water Beware! – WIF Geography

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Unearthly

Underwater

Cave Systems

Tourist Traps

Underwater caves are alluring, fascinating, and also a no-go zone for most explorers. While the subterranean zones known as caves capture our imagination, those that are underwater go a step further and significantly raise the danger factor. Not just flooded tunnels or inundated sea caves, many underwater cave systems extend for hundreds of miles, emerging in the middle of rain forest surrounded by land, but connecting to distant waterways. In this account, we discover the most spectacular and sometimes deadly subterranean aquascapes our world conceals.

10. Sac Actun Cave System

Mexico is known to harbor some of the most remarkable ruins, beaches and forests on the planet, but it is also a land of truly monumental Cuevas submarinas, underwater caves. Underwater cave systems in Mexico include watery labyrinths so large and extensive that they have yet to be fully explored. In one dramatic case, two cave systems were found to be an enourmous single system when a connetion was discovered.

Determined to be the largest cave system on the planet, the Sac Actun Cave System was discovered to be one giant cave system totaling 215 miles in passageway lengths when connections between a smaller existing cave system, the Dos Ojos and the larger Sac Actun system were discovered. The cave system known as a cenote is filled with large quantities of fresh water that flow and rise to the surface like a strange river below the surface. Such a vast and complex cave must be explored with extreme caution due to the difficulty in finding one’s way back to the entrance if disoriented.

9. Boesmansgat Sinkhole

One of the creepiest and most deadly underwater caves on Earth, a sinkhole in Africa turns a rugged farm landscape into a rather unexpected and out of place portal to a watery hell. Vertical in shape, about 889 feet deep and 328 feet across, the potentially lethal Boesmansgat Sinkhole is a greenish, eerie water filled cave that plunges straight down into the depths of eroded and dissolved dolomite rocks. Nested amongst craggy rocks, the entrance to the cave would appear just to be an awkwardly placed farm pond, but its moderate size holds horrific secrets.

Located on a farm in South Africa, the watery pit is often completely engulfed in pond plants, making its surface appear an alien green. The rocky sides of the sinkhole rise as cliffs well above the water line, standing out amongst the surrounding vegetation. And are some of the nutrients to grow the floating pod plants and algae provided by bodies remaining in the water? Possibly. Unfortunately, a number of grisly deaths have occurred as divers, some of them recognized as experts in the field, failed to return from the impossibly deep, stagnant water filled pit.

8. Ordinskaya Cave

Russia may be known as a land of taiga, icy roads and tundra, but the country is diverse and contains some remarkable underwater subterranean assets. And one of the most famous is characterized by not only crystal clear water, but actual crystal composition consisting of gypsum, together with an incredible underground extent. Located in Russia close to the Kungur River in the Perm region, Ordinskaya Cave is a popular cave diving destination and an All-Russia National Monument.

Stretching for over 3 miles, the mysterious, cold and dark cave is the most significant gypsum cave under the Earth, where water combines with tunnels of the Calcium Sulfate Di-hydrate crystals known as gypsum. In this cave, the waters are clear to the point where explorers can see up to 150 feet ahead. Enlarged by the eroding action of the water, the soft gypsum is fragile but mysterious and extraordinarily dramatic in appearance. Eroded chunks in crystalline shapes form blocks, pyramids and spires, coupled with the cold water, which may reach minus 9 degrees Fahrenheit at water depths of over 50 feet.

7. Bahamas Caves

The Bahamas may be seen as an idyllic getaway destination, but the Bahamas Caves actually represent one of the most dangerous submerged cave networks on the planet. Filled with sharp hazards, dark and disorienting and contaminated with toxic natural chemical deposits, the site demands great care. Sharp mineral deposits could deliver a puncturing injury, while hydrogen sulfide accumulations require a wary approach. Known as inland blue holes, the Bahamas Caves are hydro-geologically connected to the ocean.

Yet, tidal flow is sharply reduced, causing saltwater in the cave to be covered with a thin layer of freshwater. Tropical environments, combined with a lack of air circulation, accumulation of organic material and a highly limited level of water inflow and outflow creates the “perfect storm” of underwater, subterranean biochemical noxious hazards. In this stagnant and oxygen deprived environment, anaerobic activity causes the proliferation of bacteria. And these bacteria release the hydrogen sulfide that frequently sickens explorers of the caves and could kill a diver. Symptoms of disorientation from even moderate levels of exposure certainly go a long way to increasing the risk of getting lost in the underwater passages and drowning.

6. Plura

Norway is known for its breathtaking fjords, but a deadly, dramatic and strange underwater cave and waterway system that is lesser known but cold and convoluted also presents great intrigue in this Nordic country. In the centrally located Plurdalen Valley, a bizarre pond is located, known as the Plura. But it is actually not a normal pond, but the sudden exit of an underwater river. Diving into the pool takes you into a 1,640 foot passage that exits into a long cave with a water floor and airy ceiling.

After this point, a passage known as a sump, which is also considered to be the deepest sump cave on the planet appears in the cave, descending in a sharp U-shape until it is 443 feet below the surface. The sump rises up into Steinugleflaget cave, and then above Steinugleflaget, an exit is located in a cracked hillside 295 feet above the cave. Unfortunately, deaths have occurred due to the treacherous nature of the cold and lonely passages. In one case, a death sparked a highly dangerous yet ultimately successful body recovery effort in the most challenging sections of the cave system.

5. Eagle’s Nest Spring

Florida is a land known for the Everglades, but the area contains much more than swampy surrounds stocked with prowling alligators. Florida is also a land that conceals water filled tunnels, naturally occurring and snaking their way below the surface of the Earth. Located in Florida, the caves of Eagle’s Nest Spring descend around 300 feet below the Earth’s surface, twisting into scarily narrow and dark passageways entirely filled with water. Despite its appeal, the exotic cave system has claimed lives due to its treacherous nature that still appeals to intrepid explorers willing to take the ultimate risk.

Since 1981, the snakelike maze that defines the layout of the underwater cave system of Eagle’s Nest has taken 10 lives to a watery grave. The sinkhole derived cave system has the shape of a kitchen sink pipe, descending down and up in a U-pattern. Alluring, the underwater cave system is concealed at its entrance by a deceptively normal looking pond, surrounded by dreamy looking trees, and a water body through which the cave must be accessed. However, the ability of the cave to disorient and entrap makes it a genuinely risky adventure, even to experienced divers.

4. Grotto Azzurra

While many of the most notorious caves described in this account are dungeon-like and known to be potential death traps, certain caves are less akin to demonic legends and more strongly associated with angelic accounts of folklore. An iconic sea cave, the Grotto Azzurra of Italy in the Capri area is beautiful, almost perfectly hidden yet absolutely spectacular once accessed.

The Grotto Azzurra is entered through a mere 3.2 foot entrance that is reached directly from the sea. Upon entry, the cave extends with an arcing roof and spectacular blue water, giving the cavern the appealing name. So spectacular is this location, which remained known to local fisherman but unknown to the rest of the world for centuries, that it served as a shrine to a sea nymph in Roman times. The cave system has been formed through focusing of the forces of erosion over time, giving rise to a mysterious yet iconic form that mixes the subterranean with the oceanic in its composition.

3. Chaudanne Spring Cave

Switzerland might be most famous for its towering mountains, but it is also a land of subterranean lakes and underwater cave systems. In Switzerland, a cave system plunges far below the ground into portions of the Earth’s crust in a lesser known valley. Located in the “Vaudoise” Alps, the Chaudanne Spring Cave is located close to the town of Rossinière and was first explored in 1960. The depth of the system has so far been measured to a depth of 525 feet.

Known to be the deepest cave in the entire country of Switzerland, the spring-fed waters of the cave conceal mysterious passageways that have been explored in some daring attempts making use of rather makeshift means. Homemade equipment was used by pioneering explorers, including Michael Walz, to dive to 160 meters in 2006, while an exploration group dedicated to further mapping and documentation of the cave is active and well organized to plumb new depths as the exploration of the system advances.

2. Caves of Nanumanga

Polynesia is not only a place of islands, but a location where noteworthy underwater cave systems exist to capture the imagination of explorers. Among the most mysterious caves on Earth are underwater labyrinths that combine history and Earth science into a mysterious fusion of archaeological intrigue with and ancient geological events defined by more than a small degree of oddity. Descending 121 and 151 feet below sea level, the Caves of Nanumanga are remote underwater caves located in Nanumanga in Tuvalu, western Polynesia.

While newly known, the history of the caves is some of the most ancient and puzzling. Recently discovered by divers exploring the area in which they are located in the year 1986, the caves may have been used by ancient inhabitants at a different time, as indicated by what looked like burn marks. While exceedingly unusual as an underwater discovery, the burn marks from ancient combustion in what are now submerged geological formations clearly indicate dramatic events, such as apparent sea level changes that now leaves the caves below the surface.

1. Daxing Spring

Karst is not unique to Germany, though the limestone forms of spectacular height and oddity define the Karst region, China is a world center of excellence when it comes to stunning Karst environments. Located in Du’an county, Guanxi Province, People’s Republic of China, the caves of Daxing Spring are formed out of the subterranean portions of the spectacular and exceptionally exotic Karst landscapes of eroded limestone that constitute the unusual geography of the region.

Amongst the eroded and pitted structures are caves descending under the Earth, many of them carved and expanded by flowing water. Water movement erodes limestone by pressure but also dissolves limestone chemically, increasing the size, length and depth of cave systems over time. Due to the amount of water in the porous subterranean landscapes, many of the caves are flooded, forming aquatic tunnels that can only be reached by divers. Diving in this spectacular, but potentially hazardous and geologically complex area requires careful safety measures include ample decompression due to the depths of the winding and watery cave system.


Caves and Water Beware! –

WIF Geography

Hope 4 Humanity – WIF Inventions

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Inventions That

Will Give You

Hope for Humanity

Some days, it can seem that the best minds on earth are all preoccupied with projects like developing robot soldierslaunching crypto-currencies, and designing slot machines. While those activities may (arguably) have some societal value, it’s hard to see their primary mission as unambiguously beneficial. But don’t lose all faith in humanity. Below are 10 examples of inventions that may not make a ton of money and may not make their creators famous, but do make the world a better place…

10. Prosthetic dolphin tail

Winter the dolphin did not have an easy start in life. At 3-months-old, she was found by a fisherman tangled in a crab trap line. Winter, named after the season in which she was found, was cut from the line by the fisherman, who then called in a rescue crew. Despite the best efforts of the marine hospital where she was taken, the line had cut off circulation to her tail fluke and it was lost, along with two vertebrae. Normally, this is a fatal injury for a dolphin, but, in her new aquarium home, Winter learned to swim using a shark-like side-to-side motion (instead of the usual up-and-down motion dolphins usually employ with their tails) and using her flippers for momentum. While this provided a temporary solution, the unnatural motion posed a long-term risk of scoliosis and Winter’s health was worsening.

Enter Kevin Carroll and Dan Strzempka, two prostheses with Hanger Orthopedic Group. Carroll heard Winter’s story on the radio, and convinced his colleague Strzempka, who also happened to be an amputee, that they could help. Carroll and Strzempka quickly volunteered to try to craft a prosthetic tail for Winter. While aquarium staff initially thought Carroll’s call was a prank, they quickly agreed to let the men, who offered their work pro-bono, work with a team of trainers and vets to try to find a solution. After several iterations, the team developed a viable prosthetic tail for Winter, as well as a gel that provides cushioning for the prosthesis. Not only was Winter able to swim normally again, her story, which spawned the movie Dolphin Taleprovided inspiration for people all over the world, including children with disabilities and wounded soldiers. Additionally, the gel that Carroll and Strzempka developed has also helped human amputees manage their prostheses.

9. An anti-tremor spoon

While working on his doctorate, engineer Anupam Pathak worked with the Army Research Lab, looking for ways to stabilize rifles for soldiers in combat. Pathak succeeded in identifying ways to make the hardware for motion cancellation very small and realized his innovation had the potential to help another group of people needing steady hands—those with Essential Tremor or Parkinson’s Disease.

One of the most salient impacts of those diseases comes when patients eat. Often, hand and arm tremors make it impossible for those experiencing them to feed themselves. However, Pathak worked to refine and commercialize his technology to make a spoon that would cancel out the tremors, giving patients back their autonomy over one of their daily functions. Using Pathak’s motion cancellation technology, the Liftware Steady spoon cancels out more than 70% of shaking, allowing many of those with hand tremors to feed themselves. The company was acquired by Google and has since reduced the price of its products, and introduced a second product—the Liftware Level, a spoon which assists those with limited hand and arm mobility by keeping the utensil level, even when the hand moves unpredictably. One user with Essential Tremor explained the impact of this device on her life, noting that the Liftware spoon made eating less embarrassing and gave her more confidence, making eating enjoyable again.

8. Railway tunnels for turtles

What happens when Japan’s high-speed trains meet its low speed turtles? In the past, it hasn’t been pretty for either party. Near Kobe, Japan (which is on the coast), turtles trying to cross the tracks sometimes fell in the space between them and couldn’t get up. They’d walk between the tracks until being run over by a passing train or until they got to a junction, at which point they’d get squished during signal switches. This wasn’t just a problem for the turtles, but also for the train and its passengers, with turtle-related incidents causing 13 service disruptions between 2002 and 2013.

To combat the turtle vs. train problem, West Japan Railway Co. partnered with the Suma Aqualife Park to find a solution. They came up with “turtle tunnels,” concrete ditches that pass under the tracks near switch points. If staff find any turtles in the tunnels during their track checks, they rescue them and send them to the aquarium. A train company spokesman noted that, “The system prevents turtles from getting into accidents and avoids causing trouble for our passengers. We hope to continue using it.”

7. Biodegradable 6-pack rings

Plastic packaging poses a threat to wildlife on land and in the sea. The Pacific Ocean has a “garbage patch” made up of almost 80,000 tons of discarded plastic, covering an area three times the size of France, posing a threat to the sea life it encounters, who can be entangled and killed in the floating trash pile. While plastic 6-pack rings (that hold cans of soda or beer) make up a tiny fraction of the discarded plastic, consumers have long been warned to cut them up before discarding them, because they can injure or kill animals that become trapped in them.

However, one company, E6PR, has come up with an even better way to ensure that animals don’t become victims. It has created an eco-friendly 6-pack ring, made from by-product waste (wheat and barley) and designed to be compostable. Even if it doesn’t end up in a compost facility, it will break down in weeks and, unlike plastic, won’t hurt animals if they happen to ingest it. The product had its commercial debut in early 2018 on cans of beer from Florida’s Saltwater Brewery. As of mid-2018, the company is working to refine the product and ramp up production to be able to supply the 6-pack to all the beverage manufacturers who want to offer it. That’s a development animals all over the world should want to toast.

6. PARO the robot seal

PARO, an interactive robot that resembles a baby seal, may be best known for its appearance on Aziz Ansari’s sitcom, Master of None. However, PARO, which was designed in Japan, does most of its work in nursing homes and hospitals—helping provide patients with the benefits of animal therapy. Like a trained therapy animal, PARO responds to users’ voice and movements with its own motions and vocalizations. However, unlike real animals, PARO doesn’t need food, breaks, or clean-up, doesn’t play favorites amongst patients, won’t trigger allergies and can be used with patients whose unpredictable behavior might pose a risk to a therapy animal.

In a study of nursing home residents, those who interacted with PARO for an hour twice a week over 12 weeks, showed significant declines in loneliness over the period of the study. For those who worry about the dehumanizing effect robotic therapy animals might have, research suggests that in addition to engaging with PARO, residents who did so were more social with other residents and staff. Another study of dementia patients found that sessions with PARO lessened anxiety, increased social interaction, and helped lethargic patients remain alert.

5. Pugedon recycling receptacle

The Pugedon recycling receptacle aims to address two problems at once—promoting recycling and feeding stray cats and dogs. The machine, which is about the size of a refrigerator, is placed on the street and powered by a solar cell. When someone throws in a recyclable bottle, the machine dispenses food for hungry strays. If users want to empty their water bottles before disposing of them, the machine also funnels that leftover water to a bowl that the strays can access. The profits garnered from the sale of the recyclables pay for the kibble dispensed by the unit. The machine was introduced in Istanbul, Turkey, which is home to more than 150,000 stray cats and dogs. Engin Gargin, the machine’s inventor, said he was inspired by the idea of giving residents a cost-free way to help strays, while improving Turkey’s recycling rates.

One of the concerns with the units was that they would attract hordes of hungry dogs, but according to one article, that has not transpired. In India, the machines were planned with a slightly different user in mind.  Pugedon units have been placed near areas where pet owners walk their dogs, in the hopes that the prospect of a free dinner for their canine companion may encourage residents to recycle.

4. The Upsee harness

Debby Elnatan, an Israeli mother of a son with cerebral palsy, was determined to see her son walk, despite doctors that counseled her that her 2-year-old, “didn’t know what his legs are and has no consciousness of them.” Elnatan worked with her son to build his walking skills, an arduous task. Elnatan says the idea of the Upsee, a harness that attaches a child to an adult, allowing the child to stand upright and to take steps with the support and motion of the adult, came from the “pain and desperation” she experienced while trying to find a way to help her son walk.

A group of 20 families with mobility-challenged children tested an early version of the product, and shared favorable results: the children enjoyed using the harness and the Upsee enabled families to undertake more activities together. The Upsee was put into mass production by Irish company Leckey, and is now improving the lives of children with mobility challenges around the world.

3. Embrace infant warmers

Complications from preterm births are responsible for approximately 1 million infant deaths a year. A major contributing factor to these deaths is the hypothermia many premature babies experience, as they lack the body fat needed to regulate their temperatures. In wealthier settings, where preemies can be placed in incubators in hospitals, they have much better outcomes than those preemies who are born in resource-poor settings, where hospitals may be distant, electricity may be intermittent, and incubators that can cost up to $20,000 just aren’t affordable.

Addressing this gap in care was the challenge faced by Jane Chen, Rahul Panicker, Linus Liang, and later, Naganand Murty, who first received the project in a Stanford class called “Design for Extreme Affordability.” Using design thinking and rapid prototyping the team developed the Embrace Infant Warmer, a sleeping-bag type warmer that relies on paraffin pouches for heat and costs hundreds of dollars, instead of thousands. The product has since helped more than 300,000 babies worldwide. In order to ensure the product’s sustainability, the company introduced a for-profit sleep sack, the sales of which support charitable distribution of the Embrace Warmers throughout the developing world.

2. Lifestraw water filter

The Lifestraw story begins with Guinea worm, a tropical parasite that incapacitates those who consume its larvae by drinking unclean water. In 1986, Guinea worm disease afflicted more than 3.5 million people in Africa and Asia. By 2017, the disease was nearly eradicated, with only about 30 reported cases. One of the factors driving down the incidence of the disease was a filter developed by Vestergaard, a Swiss-based company, which removes Guinea worm larvae from drinking water.

After its success with the Guinea worm filter, Vestergaard turned its attention to dealing with other water contaminants. In 2005, it introduced the LifeStraw, a personal straw-like filter, designed for use in emergency situations and in the developing world, where clean drinking water may not be easily accessible. Today, the company offers a range of products based around this idea, from water bottles for hikers to larger community-level water purification systems. For each product purchased, the company commits to providing clean water (via school-based systems) to a child in the developing world for a year. LifeStraw’s philanthropic efforts have provided clean water to more than 1 million children in the developing world.

1. Be My Eyes App

The idea for this app, which helps people who are visually impaired by crowdsourcing volunteer assistance with short, simple tasks, came from founder Hans Wiberg’s own experiences as a visually impaired individual. Wiberg’s blind friends shared that they often relied on FaceTime or other video phone apps to ask for help from family and friends for help with everyday problems like reading the expiration date on a milk carton or the departure board at a train station, though many of them worried that they were burdening their loved ones with a plethora of micro-tasks.

Wiberg saw an opportunity to connect the visually impaired with a network of volunteers who could help with things like identifying the contents of cans, or reading the amount of an electric bill. After pitching his idea at 2012’s Startup Weekend in Aarhus, Denmark, Wiberg quickly connected with a team that helped turn the idea into a reality, and the free mobile app was launched for iOS in 2015 and Android in 2017. Since the app’s launch, more than 80,000 blind and visually impaired individuals have been helped by more than 1.3 million sighted volunteers. There are so many volunteers that they have to be quick to the draw to be able to help; as of late 2017, the app’s response time averaged 20 seconds, meaning that most users were able to get help almost as soon as they needed it.


Hope 4 Humanity –

WIF Inventions

The NULL Solution = Episode 145

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The NULL Solution = Episode 145

…Rick Stanley digs deep for a way to frame his description about really happened on Mars…

Good Morning Mission Control’s current purpose is to direct attention to the recent homecoming of two heroes of space and their incredible story of riding the plume of a volcano to break free from Martian gravity.

“We didn’t have enough fuel achieve escape velocity,” is Rick Stanley’s explanation.

“Not if we wanted to get back home,” adds Gus to this already flawed storyline. “We came back with 2 tons worth of samples; vegetation, soil, water, you know, for our boys in the Lab. They wouldn’t let us land if we came back empty handed.”

“That’s right Commander McKinney! We needed the heat thermals to get our butts out of the atmosphere.”

“And yet you didn’t bring any pictures back to share?” RG II goes off-script to ask the question most viewers would ask if they had the chance.

“We were so busy doing the calculations required for liftoff that I guess we forgot.” Stanley is the most convincing of the pair.

“Then could you describe the Martian landscape to our viewers?  We are receiving that very question from a million people across the world.”

Rick Stanley digs deep for a way to frame his description.

“In one of my favorite author Robert Heinlein’s book Farnham’s Freehold, a family already in their bomb shelter, is bombed into the future. Not to a different spot, but one where there are no roads or buildings near where their house once stood. Only the hills and trees and rivers are there, barely recognizable to the keenest observer. The rest of the book is about pretty graphic social interaction, so I won’t bother you with that.

“In our case, Commander McKinney had us land on the other side of Mars… from that structure… not sure it is manmade or not. We managed to traverse the full ½ of the planet circumference…

“…and back.”

“Good thing, right Gus? We weaved and climbed and dodged our way on some of the same ground covered by Spirit and Opportunity, except back then the rivers were dry and we’re not sure anything was ever green and growing. So are maps were mostly Image result for tap dance gifuseless.”

“And not a single hydrogen station to stop and ask directions from.”

“We could only travel by day, even though Solution was equipped with a virtual star map.”

“Just like the ancient mariners we were!” Gus tries to keep things light. The public has seen nothing but press releases and publicity photos ever since the 1st SOL test flights. All that served to do was enhance his legendary family’s space lore. “If I can interrupt, my favorite moment was when we drove Solution into a river. What a kick to see how she handles underwater!”


The NULL Solution =

Episode 145


page 143

Horrific Sea Creatures – Action Video!

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Terrifying

Sea Creatures

That Need

Their Own

Horror Movie

The surface of the Earth is 71% water, that water is home to some amazing and terrifying creatures. Some of these aquatic animals are rarely seen by humans and live in the murky depths of the ocean, while the others live near the surface and are quite dangerous to us. What they all have in common is that they are the stuff of nightmares.

 10. Gulper Eel

Eurypharynx pelecanoides, commonly known as Gulper Eels, are found in tropical and temperate waters around the earthat depths ranging from 165 feet to 1.8 miles. The eels have large mouths, which is where it gets its other name – Pelican Eels. Their large mouth allows the eels to swallow other animals, mostly crustaceans, even if the animal is bigger than the eel itself. The eels aren’t some small creature, either. They are usually about 30 inches long.

While they look pretty intimidating, they aren’t something you should ever worry about encountering because human sightings of them are pretty rare.

9. Dragonfish

Stomiidae is a family of fish that are better known as Dragonfish. There are 290 species, many of which look terrifying. For example, the Black Dragonfish has a striking resemblance to the Xenomorphs in the Alien franchise.

Dragonfish are found in oceans throughout the world, and one of their most notable features, which is found on most species, is its large mouth that’s lined with large fangs. The good news is that the Dragonfish have fairly weak jaws that close slowly. Their fangs are used to hold large prey in place while the jaw closes.

Some Dragonfish have bioluminescent photophores, which are organs that glow, so they are often found in extremely deep water where light doesn’t reach. So basically, don’t worry about encountering one if you’re taking a dip in the ocean. If you do, you have bigger problems to worry about, like the extreme cold and your lungs collapsing.

8. Anglerfish

National Geographic, who loves to show the beauty of the world, calls the Anglerfish “the ugliest animal in the world.” And we don’t disagree with their assessment, because Anglerfish are pretty hideous animals. There are over 200 species of them, and they generally live in the deep waters of the Atlantic and Antarctic oceans, sometimes at depths of up to a mile.

In some species, the males and females look and act drastically different from one another. The females have a dorsal spine that sticks out over their head like a fishing rod, which is where they get their name. At the tip of the spine is a luminous organ and this light lures prey close to their gigantic mouths. Their mouths are so big that they can swallow prey twice their size. Often, females are no bigger than a foot long, but some species are up to 3.3 feet long.

The males, on the other hand, are much smaller; they only grow to be a few inches long. You may be thinking that must make for some awkward mating, and you would be absolutely right. What happens is that the males bite the females. Over time, they fuse their faces to the female’s body and that is how he’ll live out the rest of his life. When the female releases her eggs, the male releases his sperm. So not only are Anglerfish ugly, but they’re also clingy. But we’re sure they have great personalities, just so funny, you guys. Give them a chance, you might like them.

7. Sarcastic Fringehead

Sarcastic Fringeheads live in a depth range from 10 to 240 feet off the coast of California. Usually, they live in rocky cervices and shells, and only their head is exposed. The Sarcastic Fringehead has two traits that would be horrifying in a neighbor or a roommate: they are very territorial, and can’t see very well. If an animal, or a human hand, gets too close to their home, the Fringehead will open its mouth really wide and expose it’s fangs, making it look a lot like the Predator. If this doesn’t scare away the potential predator, the Fringehead will attack. Since they don’t have good eyesight, they will attack anything they feel threatened by. This includes animals that are much bigger than them, including humans.

The Fringehead also has one of the most unusual ways in the animal kingdom to settle territorial disputes. If a Fringehead moves into an area where another Fringehead is living, they “mouth wrestle” for the area. This involves them pressing their open mouths against one another, and the fish with the bigger mouth wins the territory. So if you have had to go through some hassle while moving into a new home, you should just be thankful that real estate deals among humans aren’t done in the same way as the Fringeheads. Well, that is, unless you have a gigantic mouth and love kissing strangers aggressively. Man, no wonder Mick Jagger lives so luxuriously.

6. Stargazer

Do you know someone in your life who doesn’t like to wade into the water at a beach because they can’t see the bottom, and don’t want to touch any marine life? Well, do not tell them about the Stargazer fish.

There are 51 species of Stargazers, and their most recognizable feature is that they have eyes on the top of their head. Another unique feature is that they bury themselves in the sand of the ocean floor, and wait to ambush prey. Some species also have traits that trick prey into getting closer. This includes gills that discharge water, which stirs up the sand. The Stargazer’s prey will think that it’s a smaller creature that they eat Then, once it moves in, the Stargazer sucks in the prey.

If the prospect of finding a grotesque face on the floor of the ocean staring up at you wasn’t frightening enough, the Stargazer also has venomous spines near its gills that can generate electric shocks that are about 50 volts. That means if you come across one, do not try to pick it up or step on it. The good news is that you probably won’t come across one, because they usually live in deep parts of the ocean. However, some have been seen in ankle deep water in Virginia Beach.

5. Alligator Gar

There are seven known species of Gar in the world, and the biggest is the Alligator Gar. They are scaly fish that are six feet long and weigh up to 300 pounds. They have a long, flat mouth, similar to an alligator (hence the name), which is full of incredibly sharp teeth. They are found in lakes, bayous, and bays in North and Central America.

While they look vicious and are as big as a large man, there are no confirmed incidents of Alligator Gar attacking humans. However, they do pose another risk to humans besides biting. Their eggs are poisonous if they are ingested. So if someone offers some Alligator Gar caviar at a party, you may want to pass.

4. Great Barracuda

Great Barracudas are found in tropical waters throughout the world, and are large fish that can be over five feet long and weigh over 100 pounds. They have two rows of razor sharp teeth that they use to rip apart larger prey. Another notable trait that makes them frightening is that they move pretty fast: they can reach speeds over 35 miles per hour. For some perspective, the fastest human swimmer, Michael Phelps, only reaches speeds of about 4.4 miles per hour.

Humans being attacked by Great Barracudas are incredibly rare, but it has been known to happen. They are responsible for at least two deaths in the United States, one in 1947 and another in 1957. There was another attack in 1960, where a diver was bit twice and needed 31 stitches to close the wounds. However, beyond that, barracudas generally leave humans alone. We can only assume it’s because they really appreciate Heart recording a bitchin’ song about them.

3. Reef Stonefish

Reef Stonefish live in the Indo-Pacific Ocean, and they get their name because they have camouflage skin that makes them look like reefs or rocks. Often they are just over a foot long, but there are reports of monster ones, about 20 inches long, being found in the wild.

Why the Reef Stonefish appears so high on this list is because they are considered the most poisonous fish in the world. The venom is transmitted by 13 spines in the dorsal fin, so people are usually stung when they accidentally step on one. Before the arrival of Europeans in Australia, there were several deaths caused by the fish. An antivenom was developed in 1959, so no deaths have occurred since then. However, a dozen people are stung every year and the stings are quite painful. The venom has both cardiovascular and neuromuscular toxins, meaning it will affect your muscle and cardiovascular system. Supposedly, the pain is immediate and intense. Some people have asked for limbs to be amputated because the pain got to be so bad. One victim said:

“I got spiked on the finger by a Stonefish in Australia. Never mind a bee sting; Imagine having each knuckle, then the wrist, elbow and shoulder being hit in turn with a sledgehammer over the course of about an hour. Then about an hour later imagine taking a real kicking to both kidneys for about 45 minutes so that you couldn’t stand or straighten up. I was late 20s, pretty fit physically and this was the tiniest of nicks. Got sensation back in my finger after a few days but had recurrent kidney pains periodically for several years afterwards.”

In case that story didn’t make it clear, if you’re in the waters or reefs of Australia, watch where you step.

2. Goliath Tigerfish

With a name that contains the words “Goliath” and “Tiger” you have to know that theGoliath Tigerfish is a sea creature that you don’t want to mess with. The fish is found in several rivers in Africa, and according to locals, they are the only fish that aren’t afraid of crocodiles. Supposedly, they even take bites out of them.

The biggest one ever found was 5 feet long and 154 pounds, but it’s believed that there are larger ones out in the wild. They have 32 jagged, razor-sharp teeth that are up to an inch long and when they bite, they can cut cleanly through prey. They also move quickly and are one of the fastest fish in the rivers.

Besides their speed, they have other senses that help make them fierce hunters. They can sense vibrations in the water, and they have excellent eye sight. They find prey in turbulent waters and since they are strong swimmers, they simply eat the weaker fish that are struggling with the current. Encountering one Goliath Tigerfish sounds terrifyingenough, but it’s even worse because they travel in packs (yeah, we know fish travel in schools, but that’s not as intimidating, OK?).

There are several stories of people being attacked by Goliath Tigerfish, leaving peoplewithout fingers, and in one case, a woman’s Achilles was cut. Another story involves people disappearing after falling off a riverboat. However, none of the attacks have ever been confirmed.

1. Geographic Cone Snail

Geographic Cone Snails are probably the least intimidating looking sea creature on this list, but they are probably the most dangerous. They are found in the reefs of the Indo-Pacific and sport six inch shells that have an intricate brown-and-white pattern.

The snails have teeth, which they fire off like harpoons and are full of a powerful venom called Conotoxin. Once a fish is hit, it becomes instantly paralyzed. The venom is also quite harmful to humans and there is no antivenom. What happens is that the venom spreads, paralyzing the body, including the diaphragm, which stops the person’s breathing. The only treatment for someone stung by a Geographic Cone Snail is to keep them alive and wait for the venom to leave their body. Sometimes this can take several hours… or it can take several weeks. Unfortunately, not everyone lasts that long. In fact, Geographic Cone Snails are responsible for dozens of deaths over the past century.

What’s interesting about the venom is that it’s a unique combination of compounds, and there are proteins in it that may be incredibly effective in pain-killing drugs. Studies have shown that it can be 10,000 times more potent than morphine and doesn’t have any of morphine’s side-effects.


Horrific Sea Creatures

– Action Video!

Natural Disaster Handbook – WIF HOF

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Biggest Natural Disasters

in Earth’s History

Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect principle simply states that, given enough time, whatever event, no matter how small, can and will have tremendous reverberations into the future. And when talking about past disasters, natural or otherwise, we always have to keep in mind that, even though devastating, they are part of what brought us here in the first place. Without them the world and everything in it would have taken a totally different turn, ending up completely different than it is today. The further back in time any particular event takes place, the more indirect influence it has on the present and future, altering them beyond recognition.

We may try to speculate on how things would have turned out if any particular disaster from our past didn’t happen, but the variables are so small and infinitely numerous, that we may never know the right answer. Similar to weather prediction (which is looking into the future, by the way), we can only make our best guess with the limited information we have. With this being said, let’s take a look at 10 natural disasters from our past, and maybe later imagine how the world would have looked like without them.


Natural Disaster Handbook

– WIF HOF