A few months ago, the Deadspin staff got into one of our dumber and more protracted debates (a true feat) about whether the ocean or space was scarier. Like every other drawn-out yelling match, it lasted for a long time and went nowhere, though this one surfaced again yesterday. Both sides refused to budge from their positions, and because we’d wasted plenty of time just typing the words “ASTEROIDS” and “DEVIL FISH FROM HELL,” Patrick Redford and Albert Burneko had to air this one out in a public forum.
You will never go to space. I will never go to space. Nobody you have ever met will go to space. The aspects of space that are scary—the emptiness, the inhospitability to life as we know it, the Unknown Void—are either purely theoretical or more acutely felt here on Planet Earth. Space is big and stupid and empty. I say this as an former Extreme Space Dumbass from college.
The ocean, on the other hand, will fuck you up. Not to do math on this here harrowingly stupid blog, but the infinite no-atmosphere-having, can’t-breathe-ass-feeling-ass climate of space is more or less canceled out by the vastness of our friend the ocean. Space is bigger, but on a human scale, the difference is essentially meaningless. It’s not as if you or I will ever see anything more than a tiny fraction of the ocean, and, hell, the human species has yet to explore more than like five percent of the global ocean.
Mechanically speaking, there’s no substantive difference between asphyxiating immediately once you pop into space and drowning after treading water for a few hours, except that if you were plopped in the middle of the ocean or even like 10 miles off shore, you’d have more time to contemplate your rapidly approaching death. Not to sound like some uncreative movie villain, but the essence of fear is anticipation.
And that’s before you even consider the very real monsters that swim among us. You know, of course, about sharks and giant squids, which, please imagine yourself in the ocean looking down and seeing this dark shape of indeterminate size moving below you somewhere. Those are fine and scary enough, though they’re not even what’s really scary about the ocean. It’s all the spectral sci-fi looking “fish” creatures that occasionally pop up to the surface. Look at these Lovecraftian horror mutants.
These nightmare fish are real, unlike the Crushing And Infinite Void Of Space That Freaks Me Out Because It’s So Crushing And Infinite. Much like Mars, neither of us will likely encounter the worst that the ocean has to offer, but it’s there, along with all manner of even more insidious shit that we’ll never see, right below us and right near us. The ocean is their turf, not ours, and to feel any comfort from this instead of fear about how little we actually know about how our world works, then you’d have to, I dunno, make some wheezy argument about how we descended from fish eons ago. Bitch, you don’t have gills.
I suppose you could fear space because, I dunno, “Space is what comes after everything, the dismal and most-known thing, the only permanent fact, that all of this was an accident with its own correction and cleanup and erasure written into the fabric of its physical being” or some shit, but I am perhaps not washed enough or high enough to talk myself into fearing entropy more than a hellshark with a serrated tail for a dick. A fear of space is a fear of existence itself, which is no way to live.
Neither of us will live long enough to deserve some grandiose fear like space. Get over it, man. - Patrick Redford
With all due respect to my very smart colleague, he is a very large middle-Californian carrot and can go to hell, along with anyone else who thinks the ocean is more frightening than space. Not only is the ocean less frightening than space, it isn’t frightening at all. It’s the most reassuring thing. It’s not scary, because space is.
The mistake, I think, is looking at the very ugly, stupid, theretofore-unknown hell-fish that the ocean occasionally barfs into some fisherman’s net and feeling fear, rather than a warm, familial reassurance. Well no, okay, that is one of the mistakes. The bigger mistake was when our ancient forebears slopped forth from the brine themselves in the first place, grew legs and lungs, and forgot that the ocean is not some unknowable terror but actually the most familiar and constant thing: the place life comes from, the safe shelter where otherwise dead cosmic crud, shielded from space, could alchemize into existence sloppy and needless processes the indifferent universe otherwise would do without. The ocean is the cradle of everyone and everything for which you feel any affinity. It’s where you come from.
For this reason Freud had it right, more or less: Fear of the ocean is fear of yourself, fear that your unexplored depths contain uncontrollable horrors—fear that what you don’t know about yourself is, and can only be, bad. Oh no, that stupid fish has human teeth! Bitch, you’re a fish with human teeth. The deep-sea angler is your cousin; it has more in common with you than you do with 99.999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999 percent of what humanity would ever find if it survived long enough to explore all the space we presently can detect with the cameras we keep lobbing up into orbit. Because it’s alive. Behold the gulper eel, ya dingus! And recognize your pal.
You can die in the ocean! Were you thinking you’d get a reprieve from that someplace else? If you are plopped into the middle of the ocean you’ll tread water for a little while and then die. Spoiler alert: If you are plopped into the middle of Nebraska, you will do no different. If you were looking for an experience that will save you from the futile and doomed effort to fend off death for a little while, and then despite all your flailing a last slide into the silent dark, buddy, you picked the wrong fucking universe.
A look up in the night sky should serve to remind you that the cosmos is—not mostly, but uniformly—a barren and frozen place, already pretty much entirely a post-entropic desert long before any living things evolved the ability to think or say or type something as insanely wrong as “The ocean is scarier than space”; all its processes, stood back from and observed over their timelines and not ours, favor and produce permanent irreversible cold and emptiness and—not quite death, a thing that can only happen where there ever was life—but un-life. Nothingness. At literally all times, in literally all directions, you spend every moment of your life surrounded by the blank and incontrovertible yawning nothingness of, well, pretty much everything. Nothing bucks this or subverts it. But sometimes your friend the ocean—the only friend shared by every single living thing anyone ever has so much as detected anywhere in the entire universe—brews up some ugly new life you didn’t know about. A tubeworm the size of a chimney. An octopus that can disassemble machinery. A crab that looks like an angry pile of gemstones. An absurdity in a cosmos in which absolutely anything that moves around and makes babies and likes this more than that and holds itself together rather than instantly blowing apart into scattering subatomic dust is an absurdity.
The ocean is what’s unknown. Thank God. What’s reassuring is that there remain unknown things, down there at least, where people haven’t yet found them and parsed them apart into nonsense, where the void can’t unspool them into nothing just yet; that against all sense and in the face of an indifference so large it’s essentially the only thing there is or ever has been, somewhere down in that big puddle are new irrational absurdities living, reproducing, making their dumb, doomed, fleeting rebellion against how it is around here.
Space is what comes after everything, the dismal and most-known thing, the only permanent fact, that all of this was an accident with its own correction and cleanup and erasure written into the fabric of its physical being. Space is the only scary thing.
I think I’m probably not supposed to have read my puke colleague’s entry in this before writing mine, but: “The essence of fear is anticipation,” he writes. He is righter than he knows. Space is what’s to come, whether humanity ever become an interstellar species or not. (Spoiler alert: Not.) It’s the end of every story and the only thing to anticipate. Blank and dim and devoid of mystery, in all directions and dimensions, forever. The nightmare fish will be gone in less than a billionth of a moment and memorialized nowhere. Which one of them is “real,” again? - Albert Burneko