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Swampman: This Monster is Not What You Think!

The swamp monster, often observed as an instance of strange archetypes that emerge out of the realm cryptozoology, are are a deceptively insidious element of modern folklore, particularly in the Americas. Comic portrayals of characters like “Swamp Thing” and “Man Thing” have brought an almost tragic element to the presence of the man-beast that exists within the bog.

Meanwhile, stories of Bigfoot-like creatures the likes of the Fouke Monster, which became something of a “star” following the success of Charles Pierce’s film The Legend of Boggy Creek, bring what some hold to be a real-life counterpart to the popular swamp beast of myth and popular culture.

Legends of “swamp beasts” seem to emanate from all corners of the globe, including notable instances such as the Australian creature known as the “bunyip,” as well as Africa’s mokele m’bembe, both of which are more likely considered among saurian monstrosities than man-monsters. But so far as swamp beasts of the anthropomorphic variety go, in addition to the folklore surrounding Arkansas’ Fouke Monster, South Carolina also boasted tales of a legendary “Lizard Man” that was said to haunt locales near Scape Ore Swamp, near the town of Bishopville, in the 1980s.


The link between the proposed Swamp Monster archetype and Forteana is indeed one that becomes clear and evident upon examination such as this; it even begs the question as to whether popular culture inspired such modern mysteries of Lizard Louts and Fouke Fiends that we now find in cryptozoological mythos. But relatively unbeknownst to the crypto-crowd is a very different kind of “swamp-man” that presents a bizarre and ponderous problem for philosophers and physicists alike; what if you were, in fact, such a swamp-man, and the “real you” had been replaced by such an entity, which had now carried forth with wandering around and representing you falsely, before all your friends, family, and co-workers?


The strange notion of the “swamp-man,” at least as far as philosophical anomalies go, dates back to 1987, when philosopher Donald Davidson wrote a piece called “Knowing One’s Own Mind,” which was featured in a collection titled Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association. What Davidson proposed, in essence, was a thought experiment where he supposed what might happen if he were to enter a swamp one day on a hike, and then tragically be struck and killed by lightning. Here’s where the bizarre enters the equation: upon being struck down by this stray bolt and being reduced to basic elements, a nearby tree is simultaneously transformed into a strange “clone” of Davidson, which the author called “swamp-man.” This strange-sounding thought experiment was expounded thusly by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which felt the talk it managed to generate had failed to be matched by the time Davidson himself spent elaborating on the idea:

Although the resulting ‘swamp-man’ behaves exactly like the original author… Davidson denies that the ‘swamp-man’ could properly be said to have thoughts or its words have meaning — and the reason is simply that the swamp-man would lack the sort of causal history that is required in order to establish the right connections between itself, others and the world that underpin the attribution of thought and meaning. For all its notoriety, however, the swamp-man example is not elaborated upon by Davidson, and the example has a very limited usefulness. In this respect, the attention swamp-man has generated is quite disproportionate to his extremely brief appearance in Davidson’s writing.

This is not the kind of hairy (or scaly), meat-and-potatoes “swamp creature” that most would append to the term with imagination alone… if anything, it has very little to do with cryptozoology. However, as a mere thought experiment, it manages to betray the mind’s hopeful pursuit of impossibilities in a way that the full-on physical approach of most cryptozoological studies would not typically render. This is worthy of consideration in juxtaposition against cryptozoological studies regardless, I think, because of the often quasi-physical nature of reports that are at times appended to the presence of beasts like Sasquatch, or even the Loch Ness Monster.


It is unpopular, especially among the crypto-circles, to get really “out there” with ideas involving presumed mystery beasts, and largely because pseudo-scientific speculation about their proposed quasi-physical existence does little in terms of helping their already diminished credibility among serious naturalists and the community of biological academia. However, it might be of merit to consider that different approaches in thought could assist, at very least, in relation to the interpretation of such presumed phenomenon, if not lending to the credible evidence for a cryptozoological beast’s actual existence. In short, there may be more to the interrelationship between human perception, and belief in these creatures, than a purely biological explanation for “sightings” could muster.

Rather than seeking a swamp ape, maybe we should instead ponder the swamp-man, and the innate questions of how and why the human mind and our physical perception filter belief and study of our natural world. The answers to these questions may indeed yield favorable results, and despite whether a Bigfoot, or similar creature, were to be any more likely to exist than Davidson’s swamp-man born of a lightning strike.


Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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