Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Flat Earth: Behind the Curve: Members Around the Globe

I'm not sure where I saw it first or what it was that got me interested enough to watch it, but I did it. I watched the movie about the people claiming that Earth is flat. Behind the Curve is the name of the movie, now available on Netflix. So go watch it and chill.

So, what are the claims?
According to the Flat Earthers, the earth is a flatish disc that is a plain covered with a dome like a terrarium. The Flat Earthers claim that the entire story that Earth is spherical is a huge conspiracy perpetrated on We, the people, for some reason. I can't say that I know what that reason is. What is to gain from such a conspiracy? I have no idea. But the spherical earth, according to the main spokesperson in the movie, noted Flat Earther Mark Sargent, is like a sound stage, like The Truman Show, like a Hollywood set to confuse us.

Why we are being duped into believing in a spherical earth? 

I don't know, exactly, I don't think the WHY was explored on the film, but I could have missed it. The parties who are tricking us, though, according to Sargent and some of his compatriots may be the Jews, the Masons, Satanists, the Vatican, NASA, the CIA, or some other conspiracy group like that. Wink.

Is it true? Are there, truly, a growing number of Flat Earthers, a claim we often hear? The idea of a growing number of people rejecting science concerns me and, frankly, sounds like the beginning of some post-apocalyptic novels I have read. More importantly, why am I giving this film and these claims any air time at all? Why not ignore it? Especially when the Flat Earthers in the film carried out several experiments that they hoped would show the flatness of our earth, that they hoped would prove that we have all been fooled. Of course, those experiments unequivocally did not support their claims. 
Isn't that enough?

Sadly, it is not enough. Flat Earthers, conspiracy theorists of many kinds, and people who make supernatural claims are not convinced by facts or evidence. Isn't that interesting? Yet it also creates a unique problem: how can we engage with one of these people, address their claims, and bring them into the light of reason? How can we address the claim that our entire educational system and scientific community is out to perpetrate this huge hoax when a simple trip to the edge of the Earth would end the controversy? How can we move these people beyond their anti-science bent?

The truth is, we can't.

People believe strange things for a reason. They maintain their illogical beliefs through a series of specific mind tricks, denial, and sheer will. For many Flat Earthers and others, it is a decision to eschew scientific knowledge. Maybe this rejection of science is based on fear. Maybe it's based on the feeling that they can't understand advanced science. Maybe it's based on a need to sit outside of the circle. Maybe they are simply responding to the negativity they feel around them by moving closer to the fringe.

I think it's worth it to take a moment to understand why these people are willing to go out on this precarious limb, why they are willing and able to own the bizarre claims, and why their minds are not effected by evidence or reason. I think that Flat Earthers, various conspiracy theorists, and most people who hold supernatural world views make a choice in some moment to reject science. But why? And why do I think it's worth looking at the whys? Because every single person who embraces these claims is another person who could have been a scientist. Every one of these people is another person who could positively contribute to the planet, yet they do not.

Interestingly, the film itself is not a movie about Flat Earthers. Instead it is something better! It is about the WHY of Flat Earthers, about trying to understand why these people hold on to these misguided beliefs in the face of convincing and compelling evidence. I'm disappointed with myself for not getting the name and credentials of the mental health professional who appears in the movie and explains why people believe weird things. He was awesome and respectful and he explained the whys quite well. If I get back to the movie, I'll put his name HERE.

Here is a quick summary of the points he made through the film.

Intuition: These people tend to listen to their intuition over scientific, esoteric data. They can look long distances on Earth from high vantage points and not see a curvature of the planet, including when in an airplane at high altitudes.

Subjective Experiences: They are more likely to give more weight to their own experiences and senses than to scientific claims that are not obvious to their senses, including gravity, night and day, seasons, etc.

Dunning-Kruger Effect: According to Wikipedia, the DKE is a cognitive bias in which people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. (Now that you know this one, you're going to use it to explain alot more in the world, aren't you?)

Cult of Personality: People who join or support cult-like groups are often chasing the energy of a charismatic leader of sorts. I can't say that Mark Sargent is charismatic, but some of the other people appearing in Behind the Curve might be people who engender this type of follower.

Confirmation Bias: We skeptics understand this one, how people who believe in magic ignore the evidence and grasp onto anything that vaguely supports their claims, how they search for evidence that supports their belief. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.

Cherry Picking: Another bias where the believer seeks to confirm a particular position while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position.

All of these usual cognitive biases as well as issues like wanting to believe in a complicated/esoteric/mystical/ or magical idea, distrust of authority, being isolated and misinformed, the oddly welcoming community of the fringe, identification with the underdog protagonist, the propensity to feel special from being the center of existence, wanting to be unique, are all qualities that can strongly attract a certain type of person, a person who is not interested in science, logic. or reason.

Does this make sense?
GOOD, because the next step, now that we understand the attraction of the magic or woo, is to figure out how to engage these people...

Coming up, next.

Did you see the film?
What did you think?

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