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Amaryllis Fox
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Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Could South America be Atlantis?

Plato's fabled continent, as depicted by Kircher in the 17th century, looks a bit familiar... 

Irrespective of whether it’s entirely mythical or merely missing, the ‘lost’ island of Atlantis is one of the most sought after pieces of real estate in history. The oldest source for the stories of a once mighty land now vanished beneath the waves are two of Plato’s Dialogues (4th century BC). But while Timaeus and Critias place Atlantis beyond “the Pillars of Hercules” (i.e. the Strait of Gibraltar) in the Ocean that still bears its name, evidence of Atlantis has been proposed and presumed in places as far apart as Sardinia, Antarctica, Cuba and Indonesia.


These days, most serious scientists prefer one theory over all others; that the drowning of Atlantis is a folk memory of a catastrophic volcanic eruption on the island of Thera (present-day Santorini) some time around 1600 BC that caused a tsunami, wiping out the Minoan civilisation. Many pre-modern scientists held to Plato’s original thesis, that Atlantis was once lapped by the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. One of them was Athanasius Kircher, who produced this map in his book Mundus Subterraneus (‘The Underground World’, ca. 1665).

A biography published in 2004 dubbed Kircher (1601-1680) was titled The Last Man to Know Everything, and the German Jesuit’s interests and expertise were certainly wide and deep enough to rival Leonardo Da Vinci’s. Both would be close contenders for the title of Ultimate Renaissance Man. Kircher wrote 40 books, on subjects as diverse as geology, music theory, Coptic grammar and magnetism (typically for his syncretic style, both of the gravitational and amorous kind).

Like Da Vinci, Kircher was fascinated by the invention and perfection of mechanical contraptions. He designed what has been described as the world’s first megaphone, perfected a magnetic clock and invented a cat piano, whereby a pin would pierce the tails of the animals which would then yowl at specific pitches (it’s not clear whether Kircher ever realised this scheme, although Monty Python in one of their sketches adapted the idea to a ‘mouse organ’). He is also credited with inventing the magic lantern.

That Kircher’s international fame was eclipsed by Rationalism later in his life may be understood from some of his more outlandish theories. Although still considered one of the founding fathers of Egyptology, he believed that Egyptian was so ancient that it must have been the language of Adam and Eve. Centuries before the hieroglyphs were deciphered, Kircher convinced himself that he had cracked the code, producing volumes of nonsense translations. An equally early pioneer of Sinology, Kircher thought the Chinese descended from Ham, and Confucius identical to Moses. In Arca Noë, he discussed the logistics – including the feeding schedules – of Noah’s Ark voyage.

Mundus Subterraneus is a blend of vision and error typical of Kircher. He correctly postulates “fires” raging inside the earth, but links the tides to the interaction with an underground ocean. Included in the work is this map of Atlantis, placing the lost island (or rather mini-continent) between Spain and America. For some reason, the map is oriented upside down, with the south on top. The main island of Atlantis is accompanied by two smaller, unnamed ones to its right (west).

The Latin inscription reads: Location of the Island of Atlantis, long ago swallowed by the sea, according to Egyptian tales and the writings of Plato.

The story does not stop there, at least not if you're a true Atlanticist - seeking truth where others see none. Some have remarked on the similarities between the shape of Kircher's Atlantis and the geography of South America. Could it be that Plato was actually talking about that continent? 

These two maps compare South America as shown in Ortelius's Typus Orbis Terrarum (1592) with Kircher's Atlantis (now oriented with north on top). The similarities are striking, from the double-scalloped coast in the northwest of the continent (A,B) over the long, straight coast of the southwest (C) and the narrowing tip in the south (D) to the recessed coastline in the east (E,F).

Another map goes even further, putting a name to half a dozen geographic similarities, including three of the continent's major rivers (Amazon, Orinoco, Plata), two mountain ranges (Cordillera, Andes) and theorising that the smaller unnamed islands are actually the West Indies.

Looks and sounds plausible? Before you fall down the Atlantology rabbithole, check out this map comparison: Doesn't Greenland also look a bit like Atlantis? 

Oops... Too late! Bon voyage, fellow traveller!

Many thanks to Barry Ruderman for sending in the Kircher map. A larger-scale picture can be seen here on Mr. Ruderman's Rare Maps. The website has a special section detailing many other antique print curiosities, both cartographic and otherwise. The lettered comparison map found here at Atlantis Maps. The labelled one found here. The Greenland image found here.

Strange Maps #394

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

Live today! Unfiltered lessons of a female entrepreneur

Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, live at 1pm EDT today.

Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

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Two-thirds of parents say technology makes parenting harder

Parental anxieties stem from the complex relationship between technology, child development, and the internet's trove of unseemly content.

Sex & Relationships
  • Today's parents believe parenting is harder now than 20 years ago.
  • A Pew Research Center survey found this belief stems from the new challenges and worries brought by technology.
  • With some schools going remote next year, many parents will need to adjust expectations and re-learn that measured screen usage won't harm their children.

Parents and guardians have always endured a tough road. They are the providers of an entire human being's subsistence. They keep that person feed, clothed, and bathe; They help them learn and invest in their enrichment and experiences; They also help them navigate social life in their early years, and they do all this with limited time and resources, while simultaneously balancing their own lives and careers.

Add to that a barrage of advice and reminders that they can always spend more money, dedicate more time, or flat-out do better, and it's no wonder that psychologists worry about parental burnout.

But is parenting harder today than it was, say, 20 years ago? The Pew Research Center asked more than 3,600 parents this question, and a majority (66 percent) believe the answer is yes. While some classic complaints made the list—a lack of discipline, a disrespectful generation, and the changing moral landscape—the most common reason cited was the impact of digital technology and social media.

A mixed response to technology

children using desktop computer

Parents worry that their children spend too much time in front of screens while also recognizing technologies educational benefits.

(Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

This parental concern stems not only from the ubiquity of screens in children's lives, but the well-publicized relationship between screen time and child development. Headlines abound citing the pernicious effects screen time has on cognitive and language development. Professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, issue warnings that too much screen time can lead to sleep problems, lower grades, weight problems, mood problems, poor self-image, and the fear of missing out—to name a few!

According to Pew's research, parents—which Pew defines as an adult or guardian with at least one child under their care, though they may also have adult children—have taken these warnings to heart. While 84 percent of those surveyed are confident they know how much screen time is appropriate, 71 percent worry their child spends too much time in front of screens.

To counter this worry, most parents take the measured approach of setting limits on the length of time children can access screens. Others limit which technologies children have access to. A majority of parents (71 percent) view smartphones as potentially harmful to children. They believe the devices impair learning effective social skills, developing healthy friendships, or being creative. As a result, about the same percentage of parents believe children should be at least 12 years old before owning a smartphone or using social media.

But a deeper concern than screen time seems to be what content those screens can access. An overwhelming 98 percent of those surveyed say parents and guardians shouldered the responsibility of protecting children from inappropriate online content. Far less put the responsibility on tech companies (78 percent) or the government (65 percent).

Parents of young children say they check the websites and apps their children use and set parental controls to restrict access. A minority of parents admit to looking at call and text records, tracking their child's location with GPS, or following their child on social media.

Yet, parents also recognize the value of digital technology or, at least, have acquiesced to its omnipresence. The poster child for this dichotomy is YouTube, with its one billion hours played daily, many before children's eyes. Seventy-three percent of parents with young children are concerned that their child will encounter inappropriate content on the platform, and 46 percent say they already have. Yet, 80 percent still let their children watch videos, many letting them do so daily. Some reasons cited are that they can learn new things or be exposed to different cultures. The number one cited reason, however, is to keep children entertained.

For the Pew Research Center's complete report, check out "Parenting Children in the Age of Screens."

Screens, parents, and pandemics

Perhaps most troubling, Pew's survey was conducted in early March. That's before novel coronavirus spread wildly across the United States. Before shelter-in-place laws. Before schools shuttered their doors. Before desperate parents, who suddenly found themselves their child's only social and educational outlet, needed a digital lifeline to help them cope.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led many parents to rely on e-learning platforms and YouTube to supplement their children's education—or just let the kids enjoy their umpteenth viewing of "Moana" so they can eke out a bit more work. With that increase in screen time comes a corresponding increase in guilt, anxiety, and frustration.

But are these concerns overblown?

As Jenny Radesky, M.D., a pediatrician and expert on children and the media at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, told the New York Times, parents don't always need to view screen time as a negative. "Even the phrase 'screen time' itself is problematic. It reduces the debate to a black and white issue, when the reality is much more nuanced," Radesky said.

Radesky helped the American Academy of Pediatrics craft its statement about screen time use during the pandemic. While the AAP urges parents to preserve offline experiences and maintain limits, the organization acknowledges that children's media use will, by necessity, increase. To make it a supportive experience, the statement recommends parents make a plan with their children, be selective of the quality of media, and use social media to maintain connections together. It also encourages parents to adjust their expectations and notice their own technology use.

"We are trying to prevent parents from feeling like they are not meeting some sort of standard," Radesky said. "There is no science behind this right now. If you are looking for specific time limits, then I would say: Don't be on it all day."

This is good advice for parents, now and after the pandemic. While studies show that excessive screen time is deleterious, others show no harm from measured, metered use. For every fear that screens make our kids stupid, there's a study showing the kids are all right. If we maintain realistic standards and learn to weigh quality and quantity within those standards, maybe parenting in the digital age won't seem so darn difficult.

How meditation can change your life and mind

Reaching beyond the stereotypes of meditation and embracing the science of mindfulness.

Videos
  • There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to what mindfulness is and what meditation can do for those who practice it. In this video, professors, neuroscientists, psychologists, composers, authors, and a former Buddhist monk share their experiences, explain the science behind meditation, and discuss the benefits of learning to be in the moment.
  • "Mindfulness allows us to shift our relationship to our experience," explains psychologist Daniel Goleman. The science shows that long-term meditators have higher levels of gamma waves in their brains even when they are not meditating. The effect of this altered response is yet unknown, though it shows that there are lasting cognitive effects.
  • "I think we're looking at meditation as the next big public health revolution," says ABC News anchor Dan Harris. "Meditation is going to join the pantheon of no-brainers like exercise, brushing your teeth and taking the meds that your doctor prescribes to you." Closing out the video is a guided meditation experience led by author Damien Echols that can be practiced anywhere and repeated as many times as you'd like.
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