Beyond Belief: Strange, True Mysteries of the Unknown – Part 3

So I’ve been exploring the book Beyond Belief: Strange, True Mysteries of the Unknown, by Brad Steiger (1991). Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here. Now onto Chapters 4 and 5 – Missing Civilizations and Vanishing Islands (note: chapter titles presented minus the excessive adjectiving). I’m sure this is the part of the book where he turns things around and critically examines the evidence for and against his claims.

Or not.

Chapter 4
What this chapter should have been called: “Random shit we found — Certainly such a primitive culture couldn’t have built that”. Like the chapter on ghost ships, many of these examples are not related to the topic. In this case the example of so-called “lost civilizations” are in fact simply examples of impressive feats accomplished by known civilizations. You know what? This guy is kinda making me tired, so how about I just list the topics all at once and just take them all at once.

Various “lost” civilizations include: Mayans (of course), “primitive” Peruvians (that’s actually what it says), Cherokee Indians, Incans, the people of Atlantis (of course – mentioned indirectly, which is ironic because this actually an alleged lost civilization), and Mexicans.

Various structures/things include: roads, buildings, coins, stone patterns, monoliths, mines, astronomy, and mummies.

Various things that make no sense in this chapter at all: a seven foot female mummy, another 7 foot female skeleton, reptiles and pointy-nosed humanoids (wtf?) engraved in stones (read: interpretive art).

While these sites are historically and anthropologically interesting, why are they presented here in a chapter about lost civilizations? See non sequitur. Especially in the same context as such nonsense as Atlantis (even though it was mentioned indirectly, it was mentioned as if it’s understood that Atlantis was a real place). These are all artifacts of known civilizations. What is Beyond Belief, Strange, or Mysterious about any of that?

There are many relics and ruins around the world that are thousands of years old. Clearly people were capable of building such things, because there they are. The absurd mount of modern hubris involved in these types of stories just makes my blood boil. Certainly the noble savage was too primitive to conceive of such structures. Certainly without modern technology, building such things would have been impossible because there’s no such thing as slavery and hard work. Bullshit. Bullshit bullshit bullshit.

So either people used their brains, the math of the age, slaves, and motivation build things or, what, aliens built them instead? Just because one can’t conceive of a way that humans may have built something or what the intended use was when built, doesn’t mean there is anything odd going on. Interesting, sure. Beyond Belief, no. And, as usual, there are far more assumptions necessary to conclude that something weird is going on (see Occam’s Razor) than to simply acknowledge that ancient brown people may have known how to do stuff (see racism). But if he’s just being all “ooh interesting anthropology, check it out”, again why is any of this information in this book?

Chapter 5
What this chapter should have been called: “Navigation Fail.” It’s not that people simply couldn’t remember accurately where they had seen an island, it’s that it vanished. Not, say, sunk because of an earthquake, eroded from the elements, moved because of plate shifting, or was otherwise affected by volcanic activity. Not a mirage of some kind. Nope. VANISHED. Way sensible.

To his credit (for once) he does discuss plate tectonics and volcanoes briefly. Yay! The problem is he follows this up with a few stories of islands that supposedly disappeared and concludes “but where did they go?” Um, didn’t he just provide 2 explanations for that? Also, most of the stories are from the 1700s and 1800s — not exactly the pinnacle of mapping in modern civilization. Without satellites, GPS, and other tools to provide careful surveying data for map-making, it could be very difficult to map these little islands in the middle of the ocean.

Again mundane details wrapped in unnecessary mystery rather than just presenting the cool facts — such as more intricate detail of how the unstable Pacific ocean floor could contribute to lost islands there, discussions of how navigation at the time wasn’t the greatest back then, acknowledgement that this doesn’t apparently happen in modern times, and avoiding shit like this:

Amateur detectives and seasoned seamen have searched for a satisfactory explanation of the mysterious St. Juan de Lisboa. The possibility of human error has largely been dismissed as improbable in this case. Too many expeditions searched too hard and too unrelentingly for the island to have somehow been overlooked.

Also dismissed is the floating island “theory”. And what about all those other explanations, Brad? And honestly, “dismissed as improbable“? What? By amateur detectives and seamen (read: not surveyors).

The chapters were boring. They weren’t about what they said they were about, they did not provide any evidence for anything “beyond belief” happening, and they lacked appropriate intellectual analysis even for a youth reading level. Up next: Part 4: Chapter 6 – Falling Flesh and Flying Rocks and Chapter 7 – People Who Walk into the Past. Now we’re talking.


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