Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mysticism vs Science: The tragic case of the eruption of Mount Merapi

Mount Merapi volcano
A massive eruption of Mount Merapi in Indonesia occured in October 2010. Seismologists detected the upcoming eruption early enough and asked people in the surrounding villages to evacuate.

Most people complied, but one group of people decided to stay - and died in the following volcanic eruption. Why did they refuse to evacuate? (See PBS video below)

A respected local man, named Marijan, who is considered the "gatekeeper" of the volcano, insisted that there was no danger and refused to leave. His words carried weight because he was the so-called gatekeeper of the volcano. In the world of Javanese mysticism, the gatekeeper protects the people of Yogyakarta by communicating with the spirit of the volcano, Grandfather Merapi. More than 300 people, including Marijan himself, died in the following eruption of the volcano.

Listening to the scientists' warning could have saved these people's lives, but science had a hard stand against the deeply rooted mystic beliefs. Some of the survivors now consider the chief seismologist the new gatekeeper of the volcano. Maybe that could save their lives when the next eruption warning arrives.

PBS report: Science, Mysticism Meld in Predicting Mount Merapi's Deadly Eruptions

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