Why we should take flat earthers seriously?
So, before I get into this I should probably make it clear that I strongly believe that the Earth is a sphere and the sun is at the centre of our solar system and basically, all of the science which we generally take for granted.
I do not believe that the Earth is flat, but the title is not just a piece of click bait, (well… maybe a little), I do believe that we should take flat-earthers seriously.
How do you know anything?
It seems the main sort of argument flat-earthers put forward for their beliefs is that we should only believe what we can collect directly with our own senses and not blindly trust whatever we are being told. Here is a quote from The Flat Earth Society website:
“The world looks flat, the bottoms of the clouds are flat, the movement of the sun; these are examples of your senses telling you that we do not live on a spherical heliocentric world. This is using what’s called an empirical approach, or an approach that relies on information from your senses.”
This sounds like a convincing argument and it is a problem because that convincing argument is like a virus which has spread throughout society in recent years leading to a lot of people succumbing to conspiracy theories. I shall attempt to provide some modest form of remedy in today’s post.
Firstly, we constantly have to trust in things we cannot know directly.
- If I run my tap and pour myself a glass of water, how do I know it is not poisoned or full of mind-altering drugs?
- If I buy some food from the shop, how I do know it is good for me and not going to make me ill?
- How do I know matter is really made out of atoms like my teacher tells me?
I have to go by what I have been told and use what we can evidence to decide on which possibility is most likely. Who would be poisoning my food and drink and for what purpose? How likely is it that people might do that? Might things seem different if our food and drink was being poisoned? How might things seem if it wasn’t? Looking at how things do in fact seem to us, which one is more likely?
Can we really trust our senses?
Furthermore, if we decide to only trust our senses, well how do we know we can really trust our senses? Have you seen the Matrix?
Maybe we are all in the Matrix right now!! Even if everything is as everybody claims it is, we know that we cannot entirely trust our senses anyway.
Our memories are not anywhere near as accurate as we think they are. This is why people have arguments so often about how they recollect things occurring in some past events. Lawyers, criminal investigators and judges have learnt that witness eye accounts are not really all that reliable. We frequently cannot find something we are looking for which is right in front of us. Let’s look at a brief illusion to remind us we cannot trust our senses.
These eggs are all the same colour. I’m not talking about vertical stripes which continue above and below the eggs. I am talking about the lighter colour which makes up the shape of the eggs. That colour is the same in each case. I know this, I’ve just proved it to myself (take a screenshot and play around on Paint for a bit…). But, my senses still tell me they are different even still. I cannot entirely trust my senses.
Direct evidence vs indirect evidence
The so called indirect evidence we get from books and people is not all that different from the so called direct evidence we get from our senses. When I look at my desk and see my hands and keyboard, I am actually applying concepts to what I see. I do not actually see hands and a keyboard. I see different colours and shapes. My brain uses what I have been told over the course of my life to give meaning to these colours and shapes.
So what do we do about it?
We have to realise nearly everything we ‘know’ is just our best guess, given our experience. We can by all means critique things people tell us, and it can certainly be fun and interesting to do your own experiments find out that the Earth is round, for example; but if we only trusted what we observe directly, we are essentially choosing to ignore and eradicate thousands of years of human understanding and knowledge.
Personally, I would rather build on what has been laid down by others, rather than start again.
A bit about the author, Paul H:
Paul is a qualified and experienced Physics, Maths, and Science teacher, now working as a full-time tutor, providing online tuition using a variety of hi-tech resources to provide engaging and interesting lessons. He covers Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Science from Prep and Key Stage 3 through to GCSE and IGCSE. He also teaches Physics, Maths, and Chemistry to A-Level across all the major Exam Boards.