by Joy Pan
It is fairly common knowledge that the world is made up of mostly water and of all the oceans and bodies of water in the world, we have only been able to explore less than 5% of it. This fact has led many people from conspiracy theorists, normal people, and even scientists to believe in the existence of mermaids. Athough they may not believe that there are typical fairy tale mermaids with beautiful hair and long tail swimming around in the ocean, they do believe there is some sort of human-like creature that exists in the ocean. This belief was popular in the 70s and 80s with the rise of the “aquatic ape theory” and later died but recently, a lot of information about this belief can be widely found on the internet and there seems to have been an increase in popularity of “conspiracy videos” on YouTube and many YouTubers have touched on this subject. Animal Planet also has come out with a documentary recently that raised awareness to the possibility of the existence of mermaids called Mermaids: The Body Found and increased the popularity of this belief. This is considered an extraordinary belief because it contradicts our current belief that humans evolved from primates which are land animals and are not adapted to live in the sea so how could there be human-like creatures living in the ocean?
The most important piece of “evidence” for this belief in mermaids is a theory called the “aquatic ape theory” which essentially states that millions of years ago the primates that preceded humans were competing for food so some evolved to find food on land instead of trees which is why we walk on two legs, but even then there was too much competition and because the Earth is made up of so much water, some had to start finding food in the water. Those who started hunting in the water and eventually some of those humanoids adapted and evolved to live in the water, i.e. the mermaids. This theory seems to be supported by many of our characteristics on our bodies. For example, we have very little body hair which helps us swim faster, we can hold our breaths underwater longer than other land animals, we are pretty good swimmers, our fingers shrivel up in the water which makes it easier to grip things in water, and we seem to have a little bit of webbing in between our fingers and some people are even born with completely webbed hands. Also there are been many instances in which people have put their babies in pools or water and they instinctively know to hold their breaths and swim. While all these characteristics could support the theory, there are other explanations for them as well so they are not concrete evidence. Dogs are also born with the ability to swim and our fingers shriveling could just mean that in the past we had to fish with our bare hands and it made it easier for us to grab fish.
Despite the contradictions in the “evidence” those with this belief will still believe that mermaids exist. One factor that contributes to this is the idea of confirmation bias. Believers will only look for evidence that confirm their beliefs or interpret it in a way that goes with their beliefs even if there are other reasons for that evidence. Therefore, while they might not be misinformed, they could have done all the right research, but they could be misinterpreting evidence in a way that purposely confirms their beliefs. One reason for these believers to stick with their beliefs despite the lack of evidence is that this theory of mermaids existing is unfalsifiable. There is no way at this moment to be able to search every corner of the ocean looking for mermaids so there is no way to prove that mermaids don’t exist.
Believers of mermaids come from many backgrounds some big supporters of this are actually scientists who study evolution. Because these avid supporters are scientists it appeals to authority which causes more people to believe as well. Many see these people as experts in their fields, so they will use what they say regarding the existence of mermaids and the ape aquatic theory to further sustain their beliefs. Also those who never really put much thought into whether or not mermaids exist could be persuaded by these scientists because they are using peripheral messages because in this situation they are the “person of authority.” Their explanations also have an outward appearance of science since they are explaining it in terms of evolution which is a widely accepted scientific theory. Also with release of the Animal Planet “documentary” about mermaids many new people and potential believers are exposed to this belief.
Although most people would think someone was crazy for believing in mermaids there are actually many psychological explanations for why they believe in them and how they sustain those beliefs. There is some evidence that could support this belief there is no way to test it and therefore there is no way for the believers to be proved wrong which is why unfalsifiable claims are very appealing. Even with contradictions in the evidence confirmation bias further sustains their belief because they will ignore those contradictions and look for more evidence that confirms it. Also since many supporters are actual scientists they appeal to authority which creates more supporters and helps supporters confirm their belief. Because of these psychological reasons, it is very difficult to convince supporters of extraordinary beliefs that their beliefs could be wrong.