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Truth, with strings attached

Why would anyone want to find a proof that the Earth is flat? Why the effort?

Christos Tombras
25 May 2020
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In the last three months, a number of mobile telecommunication masts were destroyed in various fire incidents around the UK. It seemed clear that it was arson; yet no-one seemed to know exactly why. Social media spoke of a possible link with the coronavirus pandemic, but the connections were less than evident. Then we heard about a former Scots drugs baron who was offering “rewards” for anyone attacking 5G masts. He too made the connection with the virus. What was happening?

Apparently, there is a conspiracy theory going around that links 5G technology with the spread of coronavirus. It is difficult to say how. Is it that the 5G frequencies present a fertile ground for the proliferation and survival of SARS-CoV-2? Or perhaps that symptoms of Covid-19 are exacerbated by 5G radiation? Or maybe there was no SARS-CoV-2 virus at all, all observed symptoms having been the results of indirect exposure to 5G radiation?

Details don’t really matter here. What matters is that theories linking 5G with the coronavirus abound. They are endlessly more creative than the most detailed efforts to debunk them. As far as truth is concerned, it is a lost game. People who have decided to believe that such a link exists will just not change their minds. Evidence to the opposite is of no consequence, no matter how detailed and compelling it might be. It appears as if they need the link to be there, and they will have it there whatever the cost. Instead of looking at the facts, they bring up alternative facts.

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Mike “Mad” Hughes was an American limousine owner and a dangerous driving records holder. He also had a special interest in steam rockets. Mad Mike was building them himself and using them to perform increasingly dangerous stunts. With his first one, in January 2014, he was able to fly for less than a minute over a distance of almost 500 meters. He then had to spend more than two weeks with a walker to recover. It didn’t matter. Because of his hobby he was becoming famous. In 2017 there was even a documentary about him, bearing the quite appropriate title “Rocketman”.

Mike’s second hobby was more intellectual, so to speak. He was a flat-Earther. Earthers claim “that the Earth is flat, and that Round Earth doctrine is little more than an elaborate hoax”. Mike wanted to use a rocket in order to reach outer space and take a picture that would show that Earth is flat. His fame helped him with fundraising and publicity.

Mike was not able to fulfil this dream. He died in a tragic accident on February 22 this year. During the launch of his latest rocket, the parachute detached early. With nothing to ease its return to Earth, Mike’s rocket crashed, killing him instantly.

Mike’s flat-Earth beliefs might have been a PR stunt, as his publicist claimed after his death. For many of his admirers, however, it was not. At least some of them did indeed hope that Mike’s rocket would provide them with the definite proof that they needed.

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Why would anyone want to find a proof that the Earth is flat? Why the effort? A cursory glance at the evidence would be enough to show that the Earth cannot be flat. Or, to return to what we said earlier, why do some people seek to establish a link between 5G and the coronavirus? In the first place, why is it so difficult for them to see the absurdity of the question? Is it ignorance? Is it because of sloppy reasoning?

Early psychoanalysts have spoken of an “epistemophilic instinct ”. In some general sense, it would help explain that “unique” human trait, the desire for knowledge and truth. It would provide us with an understanding of the motive force behind all higher human achievements – philosophy, science, technology, in short, civilization. A comforting hypothesis, to be sure. It gives us some hope for the future. For, if our desire (or need) for knowledge is the product of some instinct, epistemophilic or other, then our quest for truth will never cease. There might be ups and downs, of course, but we will be getting ever so nearer to the truth.

Things are, of course, much more complicated. Take the 5G-coronavirus conspiracy believers for example. Or the flat-Earthers. Or other conspiracy theory fans. They all contend they are searching for truth, but on closer inspection one sees that what they call truth comes always with strings attached. A truth will only be accepted as long as it conforms with a set of prior hypotheses or beliefs. If facts cannot help, they will be ignored, and alternative facts will be sought out.

It’s not because of an instinct then. In fact, it’s not even about truth. It’s rarely ­– if ever – the case that truth matters; rather, it is upholding a set of pre-accepted beliefs – a paradigm, as Kuhn would have described it.

Which makes one wonder.

This piece was originally published in the May edition of Splinters.

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