By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Have you seen this video yet?  A 24 acre-wide sinkhole in Louisiana is growing, and taking down everything in it’s path.  Watch as a clump of trees disappear into the murky water.

When I first saw this, I was mesmerized.  Immediately after the two minute video was over, I hit replay. On my second viewing, I realized that this video gives me the heebie-jeebies.   There is something inherently disturbing about this clip.  For me, and I am sure for millions of others, watching this event produces a eerie, nightmarish dread. This fear is primordial.

Here’s a radical idea we can all agree on: The earth should be stable.  It should not move, shake or fall away for no reason.  Humans want and need terrestrial stability, and so, when that stable illusion is shaken, or destroyed, it produces a gut anxiety.  I personally, though minimally, can speak to this truth.  About 5 years ago, I suffered a slight case of vertigo. It constantly felt like the room was spinning.  My footfalls were trepidatious. I felt powerless and anxious.  The vertigo would only be intensified by this anxiety.  As soon as I felt it coming on, my feelings of nervousness would automatically spike, causing in turn a more pronounced and intense vertigo sensation.  It was a truly vicious circle.

This video produces a similar vertiginous anxiety, mixed with a hint of the frightening supernatural.  Does it not seem that the earth is alive, and it hungers for the surrounding environs? The ground maw slowly expands, ‘eating’ trees. As I watch the trees go under, I have a hard time not imagining the underworld that lies beneath.  What is down there?  Where does it stop?  Does it keep going down into a hellish netherworld of unspeakable darkness? And, so, a third primordial fear is added: hell. It should not be surprising that so many religious cultures of the world place ‘hell’ under the earth. This expanding swamp in Louisiana seems like the River Styx on earth.



Of course, I know I have nothing to fear from this sinkhole.  So, why the dread? Perhaps these are universal nightmares; a collective consciousness of fear.  Perhaps they fit into a Jungian archetype of terror.striking-pose-maria-dryfhout   Or, perhaps Charles Darwin can provide us an answer as to why a video taken of a place 1000 miles away can inherently produce unreasonable fright. The naturalist, and Darwinian scholar E.O. Wilson believes such universal, arcane, irrational fears often come from our genes, and have an evolutionary basis.  Just look at our fear of snakes, which we share with our primate ancestors.  This fear makes complete evolutionary sense for monkeys and apes living among poisonous, tree-dwelling serpents.  But, why would modern urbanites still be so afraid of these slithery creatures?  Simply show a photo of a snake to many people, and they instinctively produce a guttural, gasping sound.  People jump back, turn away, and cover their eyes. In other words, they physically react in fear.  Most humans today have never seen a snake that is not behind glass, and yet, the fear seems inherent and unshakable for so many.  Is this based upon our history and culture where snakes always catch a raw deal?  From Medusa and her hair made of snakes, to the serpent in Eden; from Voldemort’s Slythrin House, to Samuel L. Jackson fighting “Snakes on a Plane,” these animals can always be counted on to freak people out.  Is this a Jungian archetype or Darwinian vestigiality? Perhaps a bit of both. Perhaps my fear of the sinkhole falls into the same categories.

I am as likely to fall into a sinkhole as to be bitten by a poisonous snake.  Rationally, I realize that the earth is not going to swallow me up.  This is simply a nightmarish vision, and like nightmares, it can’t really hurt me. But, no matter. I continually place myself in that tallest tree, waiting for the water’s to overtake me.

Happy Monday everyone.

  1. anonymous says:

    The world, when seen through a scientific lens, is full of surprises that are scarier than any magic. The most valuable way we could possibly spend our time on is understanding science.
    For example, what if all existence was wiped out by a passing black hole?

    Or what if your mind could be made artificially psychotic by a synthetic chemical?

  2. Louis Coleman says:

    This is amazing!!

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