Friday, May 6, 2011

Theories & The Flat Earth...

What is a "theory"? If you ask Webster, there are a number of definition variations. However, they all point to a central defined theme. "An ideal or hypothetical set of facts, principles, or circumstances." You will also find the words "conjecture", and "speculation" within the definitions.

There are different grades of theories. There are plenty of 'theories' that fall under that heading of 'theory' because they reside in the realm of research, and are destined to possibly or eventually become fact. Then you have theories that are just plain 'out there'. The subject of "conspiracy theories" is alive and well these days, and it seems that they are more prevalent and popular than ever. Of course, I am speaking of my observations over my generation. There could easily have always been the same number of "oddballs" during the lives of past generations. It just seems clear that in more modern times, the term "conspiracy theory" has taken on a more pejorative vibe.

Theories are not just seeded by the thought of something being possible. For those individuals who are in pursuit of making a theory a fact, there is "belief" at the core. Some of the most outlandish theories always have a fan base, a section of society that truly believes that a theory is real. They blindly go on, showing support for the existence of something they have not observed firsthand. I'm sure that if we all really examined our personal beliefs, we all have beliefs that we have no factual information to base them on. We simply support a theory because we want it to be real. However, there are some theories that people truly believe in that are just...well, as I said before...they're 'out there'.

There are two theories I've known about for a long time, but have lately done a bit of reading on. Mainly because I think the existence of the theories fascinating, and I find it even more fascinating that there are people in our modern society that actually believe them to be reality.

The first of the two is the Flat Earth Theory. The Flat Earth Society is alive and well. It doesn't have a wealth of members, but it does count musician Thomas Dolby as one. Actually, he holds the #1 position on their membership roster. There is also a Robert Smith, Belfast U.K. listed, but there's no way of knowing if it's the Robert Smith, lead singer of 'The Cure'...I did some luck. There are 263 listed in all, a large section listed as "Private". Now, I will say that I think the society probably has a number of members who joined with a 'nudge, nudge' and a 'wink,wink', if you catch my drift. Wanted to be a member in a tongue-in-cheek way. Do those members who want their names to remain 'Private' actually believe? Hmm, I dunno. Maybe.

How anyone could actually believe that the Earth is flat is beyond me. When did we humans realize that the Earth is indeed a sphere? Aristotle proposed the Earth was round around 330 B.C. By the Middle Ages, it was common knowledge. So what happened? How did a belief in the Earth being flat enter back into the mix?

Around 1838, an English inventor named Samuel Rowbotham, made some errors in interpreting the outcome of the Bedford Level Experiment. (He used a six-mile stretch of water to try to find the existence of a curvature in the earth...he said the findings proved there wasn't any, so he proved the Earth to be flat. Later attempts by others to reproduce his findings were unsuccessful, and the tests backed up the fact that the Earth is indeed a sphere.)

Rowbotham published a 16-page pamphlet called "Zetetic (seeking) Astronomy"outlining his bogus findings and his views about the "lay of the land". He actually believed that the Earth is a flat disc with the North Pole at it's center; a wall of ice along the southern edge, which would be Antarctica; with the Sun and Moon 3000 miles above the surface, and the "cosmos" at 3100 miles. Pretty imaginative, but rather implausible wouldn't you say? What is on the other side of the ice, anything? By Rowbotham's belief, I guess we will just fall off the edge and...what? Cease to exist? Did he even think it out that far? Couldn't really find anything on that aspect of things. After Rowbotham died, the wife of an explorer kind of took up the cause forming a Universal Zetetic Society, but over all interest started to fizzle after the first World War.

Then in 1956, a sign writer named Samuel Shenton, formed the Universal Flat Earth Society to take up where the Zetetic Society left off. When the first satellite was launched and we received pictures of the Earth from space, he still stuck to his guns. He is quoted as saying, "It's easy to see how a photograph like that could fool the untrained eye." Uhm...okay...

Another subject that is deeply rooted in the garden of "conspiracy theories" is the belief that the lunar landing was faked. Shenton and the Flat Earther's (among others who weren't members of the society) believed that the Apollo landing was staged and based on writings by Arthur C. Clarke. When Clarke heard about the over the top claims, he wrote a letter to NASA that is quoted to have said: "Dear Sir, on checking my records, I see that I have never received payment for this work. Could you please look into this matter with some urgency? Otherwise you will be hearing from my solicitors, Messrs Geldsnatch, Geldsnatch, and Blubberclutch." Pretty funny.

In 1971, after Shenton's death, Charles K. Johnson established the "International Flat Earth Research Society of America and Covenant People's Church". As president of the Society, and with his wife Marjory as Secretary, he built the membership to a few thousand. His more current version of the Earth map still has the Earth as a flat disc with the North Pole at it's center, but this one is completely encircled with a wall of ice 150-feet tall. Johnson used the symbol for the United Nations as proof because he said the design depicts his world map of the flat Earth to the 'T'. I did find an article-interview with Johnson that is quite interesting from the standpoint of what the man believed. As I read it, I kept thinking "is this guy for real?" He obviously believed everything he says in the interview. Originally printed in Science Digest in 1980, here's the will cover things better than I can.

This is a song by the band 'Bad Religion" about the Flat Earth Society...can you guess how they feel about them?

Flat Earth Society
by Bad Religion

Lie lie lie... the full moon is rising over dark water and the fools
Below are picking up sticks and the man in the gallows lies
Permanently waiting for the doctors to come back and tend to him, the
Flat earth society is meeting here today, singing happy little lies
And the bright ship humana is sent far away with grave
Determination... and no destination, lie lie lie... yeah, nothing
Feels better than a spray of clean water and the whistling wind on a
Calm summer night but you'd better believe that down in their quarters
The men are holding on for their dear lives, the flat earth society is
Somewhere far away, with their candlesticks and compasses and the
Bright ship humana is well on it's way with grave determination... and
No destination, lie lie lie ....

I'm going to wrap up this post about the Flat Earth by saying to each his own. I'm a big believer in the individuals right to believe whatever they want to believe. I think I've established that I think the thought of the Earth being flat is rubbish, but the theory itself is absolutely fascinating. It sounds like something one might read in a Jules Verne story, but he did write "Around the World in 80 Days", there you go. Guess we know where he stood on whether or not the world is flat.

I mentioned earlier in this post that there are two theories I've been reading about lately. I'll be writing about the second one in my next post...the "Hollow Earth Theory". By far, the more interesting of the two.

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