So a good friend of mine, who most would assume is an otherwise intelligent individual, brought up the flat earth thing to me a few weeks ago. It’s not that I was unaware of it, it’s just that I didn’t expect it coming from a friend. After a bit of teasing, I humored him and asked him why he thinks the world is flat.
As it turns out, he didn’t necessarily think that the world was flat, it was simply a fun exercise in challenging the widely held belief that the world is round.
He asked me how I knew the world is round. I told him that nobody falling off the edge was a good start. He said that if they had fallen off, they weren’t exactly in a position to tell everyone about it. Then I suggested using spatial reasoning to understand how someone could travel due east in a plane and end up at where they started. So he asked how I knew a compass would take me due east. I said by tracking the magnetic poles and letting you know where due north is. He suggested that with a flat earth, the north pole would be a center point and where we think we would be moving in a 3 dimension circle around the planet’s equator, we would be moving in a 2 dimensional circle around the north pole. Ok, but that would mean that someone couldn’t circle the globe by flying due south. Has anyone?
I don’t know any off the top of my head but that seems like something that someone would’ve done. He said that from what he’s read, apparently nobody does. Huh.
I was tempted to start digging for sources to see if that was true but we were at a dinner with others so I tried a different angle. What about satellites? He said he didn’t know enough about satellites to know either way. What about pictures from space? You can CGI just about anything these days. Huh.
So l asked us both to try and wrap our heads around how many people from all around the world would have to be in on this for evidence to have not leaked. Astronauts, government officials, physicists, pilots, military, Redbull, Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking… and the list goes on. Now consider how the scientific community has laughed this off while the flat earth community is absent of anyone with a PhD in physics. I told him that it all seemed very unlikely. He replied, “But it’s possible”. I agreed, and then asked, “have you ever thought that we might be in the matrix?”
I think poker should be taught in school simply for the purpose of teaching probability.
I had to concede that we might actually be on a flat earth, not because I thought we were, but because I didn’t have all the necessary information to confirm otherwise. What I did have though, was a strong enough understanding of other related factors which created a very strong case for a round earth. The probability of a flat earth being kept secret from the general public for decades, if not centuries, is an extremely unlikely scenario. If we hold the flat earth to be true, it literally undoes the laws of physics that we’ve come to understand.
I suppose that’s the beauty of it all though, it doesn’t matter how much you know, you can never truly confirm or deny anything. Even if you have all the evidence you think is necessary, you still have to concede that none of this may be real. Huh.
So if you can’t confirm or deny anything, if nothing is concrete, if everything is on a spectrum and nothing is entirely real, how do you proceed? Probability. Is the world round? Probably. Take one step forward.
What that conversation also highlighted for me was that most people probably believe the earth is round for the same reason that people used to believe the world was flat – because that’s what they were told and they assumed it to be true. If it’s in our nature to challenge our beliefs, why are we so surprised that we’re challenging the belief of a round earth?
From my research on the flat earth theory, there seem to be two camps. There’s the camp of people who genuinely believe that the earth is flat and aren’t interested in seeing evidence to the contrary. Then there’s the camp who are saying that things don’t add up, and are looking for alternative explanations. That’s legit. There are plenty of things that don’t add up in this world and history would suggest that governments aren’t always the most accurate sources of information. Alternative theories to explain events like 9/11, JFK or the moon landing are a healthy measure to keep people accountable to what they tell us. If we just blindly accepted what people told us, we’d all still believe the world was flat, or round, or in a VR simulation operated by advanced aliens.
I just wish that for the sake of conversation, we could reach a point where we could speak a little more honestly about this stuff. Is the earth flat? Probably not, but did you know that Antarctica is bigger than Canada and barely anyone flies over it? I wonder what kinda cool stuff has yet to be discovered there… wouldn’t that be the perfect location for a secret Hydra base?!