OURS IS a time of science and surveillance, stripped of mystery by the ongoing march of human progress. And then there is Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a curiously welcome comeuppance to all of our certainties, one that suggests some things remain beyond our reckoning, that the earth still has room to surprise and astonish. We long for the extraordinary even as it becomes ever harder to find.
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When you don’t know the answer, the imagination can run rife. Anything can seem possible.
The Bermuda Triangle, loosely bounded by Miami, Puerto Rico, and Bermuda, is a supernatural killer of those who cross its waters. “Nessie,” perhaps a descendent of the dinosaurs, lives in Scotland’s vast and deep Loch Ness. The human-like Big Foot or Sasquatch roams the Pacific Northwest. The US government hides the remains of aliens recovered in Roswell, N.M.
There are many other such unknowns: America’s lost tribe, the Shroud of Turin, the Overtoun Bridge, the “Wow!” signal, Stonehenge, the Voynich Manuscript. All intrigue us because they provide glimpses of a something beyond the quotidian, a sense that there are ineffable forces at work.
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Indeed, even the few puzzles that remain are hardly unfathomable. Amelia Earhart’s flight likely was just a victim of poor navigation and spent fuel. There have been losses in the Bermuda Triangle, but many of the incidents have been exaggerated and those that occurred are better ascribed to meteorological phenomena. The famous photo of the Loch Ness monster was a fraud. Big Foot is an untenable myth, also bolstered by fakery. And the only thing that crashed in Roswell was a US Air Force surveillance balloon.
That’s not to say we know everything. There are still great mysteries: dark matter and dark energy, action at a distance by quantumly intertwined particles, multiverses, string theory. But this is esoteric stuff that seems to have very little to do with our daily lives.
But there is something particularly different about the shroud, something that makes the mystery seem enduringly unsolvable.