The Flat Earth Society was founded in the early 1800’s by an English inventor named Samuel Rowbotham, who wrote the book, Zetetic Astronomy: Earth Not a Globe. He and his followers believed that the Earth is a flat disk centered at the North Pole with boundaries at its edges made of enormous walls of ice, with the sun, moon, stars and planets a few hundred miles above us in the sky.
Of course over time, this school of thought has been dismissed, ridiculed, and forgotten. So it stands to reason that there are no genuine flat-earthers left right? There is no way that in today’s era of space exploration—where we have satellite photos of our clearly round planet from space and robots sending back information from Mars—no one can seriously still believe that the Earth is flat?
Oh—but people do. Meet John Davis of “The Flat Earth Society.” Flat earth believers still are out there in person and on social media challenging the “conspiracy” that the Earth is round. They say that “Experiment and experience has shown that the earth is decidedly flat. Time and time again through test, trial, and experiment, it has been shown that the earth is not a whirling globe of popular credulity, but an extended plane of times immaterial.”
We sat down with John Davis to get to the heart of why people still believe the earth is flat.
Let’s get right down it it. I know it may be hard to sum up briefly, but why do you believe the Earth is flat?
I could cite various physical phenomena and rational concrete reasons for why I believe the Earth is flat; quite likely I can do so better than the average round earther can justify his view. However, I think it’s far more telling to relate how, not why, I came to believe in a flat earth.
One day while walking in the woods as a young man I had a notable experience that lead me to question everything I’ve taken for granted as true over the years; all those things we simply accept without properly examining their logical and rational basis and foundations. One could say like many today that up to this point I was standing on the shoulders of giants, but I had a deaf ear to both what they had to say about the matter as well as what assumptions they had to take to lead them to their position. This lead me to a lengthy study into various ways we view the world, both orthodox and unorthodox, and their rational consequences and foundations. During this period of study and examination I came to some literature from the Flat Earth Society.
Something about it just resonated with me—not only on a personal level, but also on a strictly logical level.
On another level, it seemed to me that some of the method used by this supposedly ridiculous group was far closer to the method of the aforementioned giants than what we see today from science as a whole. I remember thinking, “These are people who truly value knowledge, and they do so at a real cost—social stigma.”
It is easy to believe the Earth is round—you just have to accept what everybody else is saying. It is much harder to get to the roots of why you believe what you believe and make an informed and conscious decision, especially when this decision is in discord with popular opinion; then hopefully you can grow. It’s about examining the question—well what if 2+2 equaled 5? If this were to be true, what does it say, and does it yield anything fruitful?
The architect Le Corbusier once said to his students “first to look and then to observe, and finally perhaps to discover.” It seemed that I was surrounded on all sides by those who have not even looked, let alone observed. How could they hope to discover? And here comes a group based on a methodology rooted deeply in looking. I have to say, it was a breath of fresh air!
Do you think that leaders who say the Earth is round are just misguided, or is it a conspiracy of sorts?
Many in our group would point to a planar conspiracy. They would cite the map the United Nations choice for their logo and various Cold War narratives to justify an Illuminati group is hiding the truth. Some even say I am a member of the illuminati, acting as controlled opposition.
To me this seems a bit misconceived, however I can hardly discount their view in whole as it must have some worth. In general, I’d rather assume error over malice. Even if there was a conspiracy, time and time again we have seen that you can’t really destroy a point of view. The worry of a group creating an alternate flat earth astronomy as Orwell warned us about is one I feel will be evened out by the tides of time. It is beyond our astronomers to create a dual astronomy—they are far too busy clutching onto their own for dear life.
We think we have the answers to almost everything. We have to do this on a very real psychological level to live our daily lives. We can’t go bumbling around the world in a state of confusion or we would find ourselves not making much progress both personally and as a society—it would be quite an unpleasant way to live. Perhaps this is why we have so many mythologies across all cultures—an honest and necessary urge to know where we stand so we can then walk.
All we really have though is one angle of looking at the larger picture. I’d like to think that the leaders are simply looking at reality from a different angle than I am. And that’s good. There is much use to the other angle. However, far greater use is to be found in recognizing that there are more angles. Take the early success of science by the Ancients due to the multitude of schools of thought. Even today we can note the persistence of the sacred in an age where information attempts to make everything mundane.
I am sure you are tired of this question, but if the Earth is flat, what might be on the other side?
Not at all. While it might be fun to speculate about the other side, I tend not to guess without sufficient reason. Unfortunately, all I can say is that I don’t know. I haven’t been there. To go further than that would be to attempt to stretch a very small tarp over a very large area with the hopes that it would not tear. You would either fail, or perhaps worse, ruin your tarp.
This is somewhat similar to what I feel many are doing in modern physics in regards to the Big Bang. Not satisfied with what they have, scientists have now taken one more step towards being a religion with the creation of their own Genesis. While it’s fine to say “this is what looks like happened”, it’s also quite silly to hold the Big Bang as something that is “true.” A scientist has the obligation to point out the obvious (and not so obvious) flaws in his argument as well as why he believes it. If he does not do that, he’s just an academic pushing a precarious point of view—essentially a used car salesman. One has to recognize that we believe in is a constant falsehood so that we can reach towards a truth that may not be attainable formally or within one system.
One thing I do agree with you on, is that people will basically believe anything that they are told. How are you planning on getting the word out? Do you have a lot of members at this point?
I’m just finishing up my book on the flat earth and it should be available by the end of the year. In it rather than attempting to change people’s minds through an account piece by piece of my model, I instead focus more on aspects that will lead one to find their own view of the world.
One of the topics I talk about is our unique ability as a people to take what we are given as true—even to the point that they change how they see the world. The examples of what I call conventional sight are amazing, and one can really see them for what they are from the flat earth perspective. Of course this is by far not the only thing one can see from our perspective. From where we stand, it’s hard not exclaim ‘Quantum Ab Hoc!’
For example, every so often I’m approached by an interested person claiming to have seen the curvature of Earth at the beach. Now note here, they are not talking about how ships recede below the horizon as they move away from us, but an actual curve to the natural horizon line itself. We can debunk this quite easily—Lynch for example in the December 2008 Applied Optics writes that pilots say they can’t even see curvature at altitudes of 35,000 miles.
One of our members who is a pilot confirms this and the math is fairly easy and available on sources like WolfRam and wikipedia. While we can then explain this particular example away with perhaps the curvature of the eye itself, or some other phenomena the far more likely explanation is that people are seeing what they want to see. This can be backed up quite easily using our current knowledge of the mind.
This should be a bit disturbing to us. It is important that we don’t take what we know as true; aside from affecting our behavior, it also affects how we see the world itself! We must be on constant guard against even our own eyes.
While our official member count is low, one can simply follow a hashtag on any social media network to see how much our point of view has grown. I suppose we don’t care much for joining societies and getting a certificate. Those aren’t really things to be valued, however they are things our society offers.
On the other hand, it is been a great disappointment to see how many have flocked to our cause based off a few celebrities agreeing with our view. That is not exactly what we like to see and it is in fact in contrast to our r’aison d’etre. We don’t want to convince people the Earth is Flat. We already know that for ourselves. We want to convince people to question, to think, and then hopefully to solve. If they land on the flat earth—great. If not, then we are still happy; the more angles we look at reality the better for us to understand where we are and where we are going.
Does it anger you at times, that the whole “Flat Earther” thing is basically used as an insult in our society?
I wouldn’t say it gets me angry—it is more of a disappointment. If we’d like to be a culture that truly values science and not just a reiteration of the dark ages (where a privileged class hands us down dogma), we need to get beyond this pigeon holed point of view where any non-coherent idea is labeled as “dangerous” by those like Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Many of the great advances of science come from ideas that seem to stand on shaky grounds at the time.
Revolutionary science looks like a flat earth. The rest is bookkeeping and puzzle solving. To deny this is what is truly dangerous. Denial might get us a microwave oven to cook our food faster, but it keeps us treading water in the river that is truth.
The time for herding and puzzle solving is over. We need to think for ourselves and take responsibility for what we believe. We have seen far too often the consequences of the opposite behavior.
Worldviews come about for a reason; their creation is based in the needs of the society around it. If there is a group around saying something that seems silly, it is saying it for a reason. It didn’t just spontaneously generate—it had a cause. We really should not be running after these groups with a pitchfork, but instead we need to be asking “Why are they here?” and then perhaps “How can we solve this?” Or put more simply, “What is its desired effect?”
If we don’t, we are more than likely going to persecute our age’s Galileo. It is the square pegs, the outsiders, the weird, the uncomfortable, and the bogus sciences that really change how we look at things. We need to stand with Niels Bohr when he said “Not crazy enough to be true!” instead of clinging to our fragile security blanket that is our view of the world. Take the red pill. Go down the rabbit hole. Peer beyond the veil. Look behind the curtain. You might solve something of use if you just question and then think for yourself.