Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Flat Earth

I am confused by these people that say the earth is flat. There is a Flat Earth Society (with members all around the globe). There are conventions. It seems odd.

Now, let me say right away, I have no issue with fiction. There are groups of people that meet up, and create social organisations, all in support of some fiction, like a book or TV series or some such. One excellent example is Trekkies. These people go to conventions and clubs and have uniforms, and all sorts. It is amazing. It is, however, an escape from reality. We all like to get engrossed in a fiction of a book or a TV show or a film. All of the people involved in being Trekkies know it is "make believe". They do it, and it is fun, but it is not reality and they know it, even when dressing up as their favourite characters. I don't think a single one of them thinks there is actually a Starship Enterprise in orbit or that they are on the crew, or that they are actually a Klingon. They are a bit too much for me (and I like Star Trek), but they are not actually crazy - they have a fun hobby. They have a fun social group. Well done to them.

There are a lot of these fiction and fantasy type clubs and organisations - they create a common focus for a social group. We all want to be part of a group - and a liking and appreciation for some specific fantasy or fiction helps forge such groups and friendships. It is important. I rather like those that follow Terry Pratchett and discworld. That is a flat world too. It is not Earth!

But even those people will not think they actually live on discworld or have magical powers. They know it is fiction and "make believe" and fun.

It is quite amusing listening to my 4 year old grandson - he has a grasp of "pretend", and will sometimes "explain" to me that something is "pretend" if I play along too convincingly. Well done to him for understanding at such a young age. He still likes to pretend though. It is fun!

But this "flat earth" bunch seem different. Some will be "playing along" for fun, I am sure, but not all. Some seem to be sincere! They are people that somehow genuinely believe the world is flat? Yes, the world we live on! The one that we have pictures of from space. The one we can literally fly around on a plane for a small fee. With time zones and everything. The concept of a "flat earth" dates back a long time - and if you really lived your whole life in a mud hut communicating with a village of 100 people and no more you could believe it. But the concept was debunked millennia ago in so many ways, and today people have actually gone outside this earth and looked at it from space, from the moon even. We actually have satellite communications. People watch Sky TV beamed from a satellite that would only work if the world was what it is! They probably watch flat earth conspiracy bullshit via Sky TV even - how is that for irony?! There is no question whatsoever on this point.

So if the "flat earth" bunch were like Trekkies, playing a game, make believe, that would be fine. But it seems they are not. Either that or I am falling for a huge wind up. Am I?

If we accept the premise that there are actually people out there, and a lot of them, that actually believe the earth is flat - and even more - they believe that all of the evidence that proves otherwise is somehow part of a global conspiracy (to what end?), what does that mean?

Is it a problem if there are such people?

I think so. I think it is, at the very least, a clear symptom of something very wrong with society and the education system that such people could exist outside some sort of mental health facility.

Surely the most basic of education would cover this, and the basic science of the world in which we live. I bet I would have a hard time convincing my 4 year old grandson the world was flat - he has google earth on his iPad and loves it. He may be happy to "pretend" for a game, but he is not that daft so as to believe it.

To be clear, I have no issue with Trekkies or anything similar. They know it is make believe. They are "having some fun". We all like to escape from reality to some fiction. But when you start believing your fiction then you are mentally ill, sorry, plain and simple. If you actually thought you were Mr Spock from the Starship Enterprise, and persistently asserted that in real life, you stand a good chance of being locked up, and for good reason. Sorry, not "locked up", but "assigned to receive appropriate mental health treatment".

How is it that anyone asserting the earth is flat is not simply sectioned? Have a doctor go to a conference and literally sanction people and have them carted away? How is this not so?

To be fair, if you have absolutely zero scientific background, have never flown anywhere, or read about time zones (or read anything), and you are really poorly educated, you could fall for this. So explain to someone the reality of the world in which we live (the globe on which we live) and they understand, good. But if they won't understand then they are either educationally subnormal or mentally ill. How can it be anything else?

Is this not like religion?

Well, good point! A point someone made when I tweeted this. Personally I don't understand how people fall for religion. However, religion is somewhat clever. It never asserts something that can be categorically disproved, well, usually not. It will assert something which cannot be disproved because proving a negative is generally not possible. So it leaves a window for doubt among the gullible. So I am not going as far as saying that religious people are nut cases, not quite.

But even a religious person that claims god spoke to them and told them to kill their son, and so they did it, will get locked up - it has happened. Obviously, if that had been a story from a bible, it would somehow not be a case of mental illness, but in reality and in the here and now it is seen as such.

In some ways, maybe religion falls in to the same category as Trekkies. Maybe not, as I suspect a lot of people do not realise religion is all "make believe" as well. I bet a lot do though, even though they "practice" religion. They must know it is all "make believe" just to feel better, surely?

It is, perhaps, telling that no religion (as far as I know) proclaims the earth to be flat! They are not that daft. Tell me if one does :-)


  1. Yeah. I came across the Flat Earth Society a few years back. At first I thought they were just having a kid-on, but the more I looked at it I thought, jesus, these nutters are for real!

  2. *buys popcorn and sits back to enjoy the coming flame war*

  3. I love that they claim gravity is the result of acceleration immediately upwards. Not sure how they explain satellites not crashing into the surface though.

  4. >> I think it is, at the very least, a clear symptom of something very wrong with society and the education system that such people could exist outside some sort of mental health facility.

    I know you touch on this in your last paragraph, but I feel this way about religion. I don't think humanity as a civilisation will really move forward until we forget these archaic delusions.

  5. >>they believe that all of the evidence that proves otherwise is somehow part of a global conspiracy<<
    If the earth is flat then how can you have a "global" conspiracy.
    Just saying........

  6. With regard to the question of "how can anyone believe this", I think you touched on the answer in your paragraph about religion being unfalsifiable. Elaborate conspiracy theories are also unfalsifiable, if you are prepared to continually expand the theory (as believers always are) to include anyone and everyone who might contradict it.

    For example, we have satellites and planes that prove the Earth is round? No we don't, planes just fly in a flat circle, and have you ever actually SEEN a satellite? NASA are just another part of the conspiracy, feeding us lies!

    Similarly, the hundreds of years of science? All speculative, and probably lies. Google Earth? It's just a fictional video game! And so on, and so on.

    As for forcing these people to undergo compulsory mental health "treatment", this seems like a very ugly route to go down. These people may be nutters, but they are rarely dangerous, and are still human beings with a basic right to believe what they want to believe. If they are physically endangering themselves or others, then there is an argument for (limited and temporary) intervention, but imposing mandatory re-education on people just because of their weird opinions is not something that happens in a free or civilised society.

  7. As a Christian, I do think that saying that religious people are gullible, or that we're only religious because we "don't realise it's all make believe" is a bit strong. Same for rtho782's comment declaring religions as "archaic delusions".

    However, as someone who was an atheist until a few years ago, I can also totally understand why one might think and say exactly what you have, because it's the exact viewpoint I used to have. So I don't take any offense to the statements.

    We're all different and personally I feel some of us need religion to live happily and others don't. Assuming this is the case, it's easy to see how someone in the latter category might not understand the concept at all and therefore regard it as nonsense. My own experiences would tell me I'm in the former category.

    As far as I'm concerned, I don't see a problem with people believing whatever they like, as long as it doesn't cause their actions to hurt others. So while I certainly don't believe the world is flat for a second, I don't think there's any need to go assigning Flat Earth believers to mental health schemes. Maybe there would be a case if one of them was in an important role where it would actually make a difference - someone overseeing NASA for instance, in which case they should just hire someone else for the job anyway - but certainly not in general.

    1. > As far as I'm concerned, I don't see a problem with
      > people believing whatever they like, as long as it
      > doesn't cause their actions to hurt others.

      You need to look at:

      Of course no-one ever got hurt by religion whilst atheism continues to cause people to murder for their beliefs ... oh wait ...

    2. > As a Christian, I do think that saying that religious
      > people are gullible, or that we're only religious
      > because we "don't realise it's all make believe" is a
      > bit strong.

      > I feel some of us need religion to live happily and
      > others don't.

      Needing religion to live happily, and being gullible/deluded, are not mutually exclusive.

      Personally I agree with both statements.

  8. Ultimately things like flat-earth belief, and religious belief, all arise out of two things, each of which has been essential to the evolutionary journey that elevated homo sapiens from other hominid species, and from the apes in general.

    The first is that as children we believe what our parents tell us. This is what helps us not drown, not get mauled by a lion, not die from eating the poisonous berries etc. Young people who don't believe what elders tell them tend to get selected out of the gene pool. The inevitable outcome of this is that along with all the useful life-preserving knowledge a load of myths, legends, old wives tales, and all kinds of other nonsense inevitably proliferates from generation to generation.

    The second is that probably the single biggest evolutionary advantage that our species gained, and which enabled it to build communities, countries, empires, to cross the globe, is our ability to build, share, and maintain collective delusions.

    The United Kingdom is a collective delusion. Andrews & Arnold Limited is a collective delusion. The concept of money is a collective delusion. These are all things that objectively do not exist outside of the minds of human beings. The only reason that A&A Ltd exists is because sufficient people believe that a thing called Companies House exists, and that some writing on some pieces of paper stored there has a particular meaning, and that other pieces of paper that have stuff called 'Legislation' written on them have some meaning, and that if a person in a wig and fancy robe declares something then you have to obey them, and that if a person in a particular uniform comes to your house then they have some authority over you. These inter-subjective concepts are essential to create anything resembling a society since without them you can't possibly motivate more than a few hundred individuals in a village to all work towards a shared goal. Without these concepts you can't build cities, or create armies, or build sea ports, or establish trade, or go and conquer other lands.

    And we're so good at this collective delusion stuff that most people who just read the previous paragraph are probably thinking "hang on, no, of course the United Kingdom objectively exists, you're just using some silly examples and clever language to confuse me". And from there it's not very many steps at all to burning bushes, virgin births and even global conspiracies about the topography of the planet.

    Having an ability to absolutely and completely believe in something that's objectively false is probably our biggest strength as a species, but it also leads to a whole load of undesirable nonsense along the way.

    At the start of the twenty-first century are we finally approaching a point where we might be able to fix this, or at least to render it largely harmless? To some degree, yes. But don't expect it to happen in a hurry...

  9. You may be interested in the "Be Reasonable" podcast, specifically this one:

  10. Honestly you couldn't write this stuff:

  11. Have you ever met an old-school Baker Street Irregular?

    The joke is to claim that Sherlock Holmes was real and the stories substantively true, published under Doyle's name as "Watson" couldn't risk his practice; obviously details were changed to avoid libel suits.

    A vitally important part of the joke is to get very angry whenever someone claims it's a joke.

  12. "It never asserts something that can be categorically disproved" --> not quite. Religions are mainly full of shit that a fish will find hard to believe. Like, would a fish believe that prophet Mohammad peace upon him flew on a winged horse? or would the same fish believe that Jesus turned water into wine? and how about Jews who believe that the universe is 6000 years old, Judaism is the most retarded btw. So, these people who believe the earth is flat are far more advanced than ordinary religious people. I'd start with ranting about normal ordinary church Sunday attendees

  13. I remember once in a thological discussion discussing the fact that the bible is full of grey areas and even contradictions.

    My friend is a church of England vicar and he pointed out that God gave us all a brain and we should use it.

    It's a very good point. Just because your a Christian doesn't mean you shouldn't challenge things written in the bible or elsewhere. If anything for someone who believes that they were created in the image of God surely would recognise that we have free thought.

    Similarly I can think of many people I know who ate of no faith and yet seem incapable of engaging the brain in critical thought.