Why Do People Still Believe The Earth is Flat?
I have spent hours of flat earth debates and what I’m seeing is this growing “anti-flat earther” movement. The movement is quite adamant about proving that the Earth is a globe. I second their motion; however, the “how” they go about the business of addressing this issue leaves much to be desired. They usually come from a logical positivism point of view, which is excellent for most assertions regarding the nature of our world, but it has inherent flaws and doesn’t acknowledge the real issue at hand with flat earthers. If empirical evidence were all that was needed to whisk away the pesky idea, then it wouldn’t exist, but yet this idea persists. Our knights in shining armor are heavily armed, but maybe a little too armed. The dynamic between flat earthers and anti-flat earthers is a mirror image of most political conflicts in our times.
Why Should We Care About Flat Earth?
There will always be conspiracy theorists as there will always be criminal. It’s the onlookers, the people on the fence and those who can’t tell you why the Earth is not flat or why vaccines are crucial that concern me. These ideas are dangerous in a democratic society because we depend on our neighbors to make informed decisions and help elect leaders that make informed decisions. The leaders in a democratic society are a direct representation of that society, not vice versa.
There are additional opportunity costs associated with leaving people behind as physicist Lamar Glover quoted during the Behind the Curve documentary: “The truthers, the flat-Earthers, the anti-vaxxers. When we leave people behind, we leave bright minds to mutate and stagnate. These folks are potential scientists who have gone completely wrong. Their natural inquisitiveness and rejection of norms could be beneficial to science if they were more scientifically literate.”
To take what Lamar said a little further, are those of us who have legitimate questions about science and are striving to critique and sharpen our understanding of our world. As with the political landscape, science with the advent of movements such as flat Earth and space denial has created an atmosphere rife with extremism and tribalism. Anyone asking a legitimate question such as “Is the Sun made out of plasma?” or “What is gravity?” are ostracized for being potential flat earthers and science deniers when the entire basis of modern science is falsification and the belief that our understanding of the world around us will continuously improve.
These developments not only stagnant scientific achievement but also give legitimacy to flat earther’s claim that “globe believers” believe what they are told without question. This dynamic goes further to isolate those who either didn’t receive the same education as most of those with potential groundbreaking ideas that challenge old paradigms or are inherently uncomfortable. There is a vast difference between a seemingly crackpot idea and a conspiracy theory.
Finally, this discussion matters because flat Earth at it’s very core strives to discredit humanities most celebrated achievements, integrity, ingenuity, and intelligence. It denies us the right to believe in ourselves, our fellow man, and our institutions. For a lot of flat earthers, only God can be responsible for positive qualities, attributes, and outcomes. For others, God and religion are thrown out with the bathwater as they are no more than human constructs hiding a greater truth. Ironically, belief in flat Earth turns out to be just another social construct, albeit a harmful one, that fulfills the same need.
The Problem With Pop Science
The onus is upon science to change course and reexamine the landscape in which scientific knowledge is consumed and more importantly, how it is communicated. The world has changed significantly over the past twenty years, and flat earthers aren’t the only people being left behind. We laughed and snickered when Trump announced his bid for president. How did that turn out? The political landscape wasn’t ready for Trump in much to same way industries weren’t prepared for Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and start-ups. These companies have changed our world forever. No part of our society is immune to change. You either evolve or perish.
As I’ve discussed in my blog Science Needs Marketers; the scientific community has taken it for granted that people will believe experts since they have spent years in school studying a topic or area of interest. The internet has given the power to anyone to acquire knowledge without context and acclimate that knowledge to their localized belief systems and paradigms. On the surface, this is a good thing. Knowledge empowers and helps to even the playing field for the disfranchised. But combine this newfound power with the inadequacies of our education system and a somewhat aloof, elitist, scientific community, and you’ll have what you have today. My sincere apologies to the scientist friends, but you know there is some truth to those words.
Social media exacerbates the problem. How many Facebook ads, videos, and posts have you seen today with “experts” vying for your attention online, promising to cure all of your pains and hardships? Naturally, people have become skeptical.
The way news is consumed and shared has an impact as well. News makes its round on social media, and people share it, meme it and tomorrow it’s gone. Does anyone know what a black hole is, or even how that picture was created? Knowledge and information are no longer monopolized by large textbooks, libraries, writers, professors, and universities. You can learn pretty much anything on YouTube, Coursera or Lynda. Information is cheap and flows freely, but understanding, insight, and wisdom are at an all-time low. We have an idea about what science is supposed to be, but we don’t understand the process or the “whys”. It’s similar to watching a football game. We see the action, but do we know the dynamics of play-calling, intricacies of a playbook, or the schemes of a position group?
People live in the real world, a world in which we were we hang out with friends, go to school and work, do things with our hands, hug each other, talk, eat and sleep. There is no context for a massive gas planet 72,367 miles wide that can float in your bath tube or a star being four “light-years” away, or 23,510,000,000,000 miles away, even the scientific notation to illustrate this astronomical number is foreign: 2.351e+13.
The situation is exacerbated when these “findings” are communicated through the lenses of absolutism, persuasion, and sensationalism. Brain Greene stood up before a TED talk audience and spoke of multiple universes, the string theory, and dark matter. Fascinating, but I don’t understand any of it. I can’t even begin to imagine what you are describing. Sounds little like a fairy tale if you ask me. Why are you telling me this? I didn’t read that in the Bible. Nothing in the world says this could be real. What does this have to do with me? Wait a minute, are you guys wasting taxpayers money? What are you guys up to? And so goes the thought process. A flat earther is in the making.
If you listened to that fantastic TED Talk, you would have no choice but to believe dark matter is real since it is the foundation for the multi-universe concept he described. Well, some of his colleagues disagree. The existence of dark matter is still going through the stages of falsifiability. Renowned physicist Erik Verlinde amongst others has come up with alternative concepts that would not only render dark matter obsolete but redefine how we think of. That’s heavy. That’s also the true nature of science in our age of critical rationalism. Things can be proven false and will be proven wrong. To present a lot of scientific concepts as fact is slightly disingenuous. Critical rationalism, while is the most advanced philosophy we have when it comes to science, has a few pitfalls as well.
We can see other pitfalls when it comes to advances in medical and social sciences since new concepts require rigorous peer review, sometimes taking years if not decades. This slows seemingly apparent advancements. Meanwhile, people lose faith and patience. This paradigm, along with the proliferation of the internet, has allowed alternative medicine outlets to grow and feed off a hungry populace. The internet has allowed people to customize their life, access information that was previously inaccessible, and buy almost anything from anywhere. The same logic is applied to our health. Weight loss has been one of the hottest niches in digital marketing circles for years. People are getting rich off eBooks and blogs speaking on “scientifically proven” weight loss methods. Unfortunately, this opens the question, “Why should I trust a doctor? That ad I saw last night spoke to me.” Furthermore, this opens the flood gates to other areas that affect us all, such as vaccinations.
The Real Reason People Believe the Earth is Flat
The thing that makes this belief so troubling is that we can with ease prove it false. I can’t determine either way that there is an afterlife, but I can show you the undeniable proof that the Earth is round. If a healthy human being can, in the face of mounting evidence of over thousands of years deny something so fundamental about our existence and dismiss entire segments of the population as liars and propagators of conspiracy, then there is no limit to the can of worms that could be opened. Only belief is required.
To say that the Earth is flat defies not only fundamental math and science but requires a person to believe that millions of people every day someone manage to go to work and do things that are fake and unreal. Space tech companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin are somehow lying to people are throwing billions of dollars to do so. Aerospace engineers spend years and years in college studying one thing, and that one thing is to lie to people and build technology worth millions of dollars to go to a place that doesn’t exist.
So why do people believe the Earth is Flat? The flat earth theory isn’t about the Earth being flat. It’s more about the rejection of society, society’s framework, paradigms, and the general establishment. The argument for the flat earth theory relies solely on the premise that society is brainwashed, most scientific advancements are a hoax and that a powerful group such as Free Masons are keeping this all hidden from humanity. That’s not science, that’s a conspiracy. Without that argument, it wouldn’t hold up, which is coincidentally unprovable. Because of how their paradigm is constructed, you will never be able to prove to a flat earther that the Earth is round using science. Just look at the Bedford Level Experiment and the experience of Alfred Russel Wallace entangling himself in a seamlessly harmless bet with a flat earther.
Their issue is a detachment from humanity in a superiority complex that gives one the onus of truth about our world. People naturally want to believe in something, and they want to believe their life has meaning with a higher purpose. Most of us fulfill this need with religion, philanthropy, or higher pursuits outside of ourselves. Then there are those among us who turn to the dark side and fall under the sway of fanaticism, cults and conspiracy theories. Usually, the dark side consists of some rejection and disenchantment of humanity because society fails to measure up to their expectations. This is no different than a lot of shared religious beliefs. However, religions usually operate in the metaphysical world, outside of our real world. Flat Earth is not something to be ignored. It’s instead a symptom of various ailments that exist in a society that needs further examination. These issues include our predisposition to tribalism, how information is disseminated, and how science is communicated.
Quincy Bingham is a native Mississippian, world traveler, and digital marketer. Quincy’s life’s work has been the Solar Republic brand, which embodies his values of kaizen, personal development, and lifestyle design. He has learned through experience that change is the only constant in life; trust is the single real currency, and consistency is the only vehicle that gets you to where you want to be in life.
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