During a late-night binge of TikTok videos, I was shown a video with six likes and limited views. This particular flat earth channel used popular hashtags on their videos in the hopes of getting views, likes, and comments. I scratched my head but I watched a few of their videos. I then discovered that the whole community of people is all connected to flat earth. This post is not to make fun, this post is to open all of our minds as to the real reason flat earth is a thing and growing. And, talk about a way forward, together.
“Flat earth is really about anti-science.”Hans Scharler
I am just going to start with my thesis. Science has left behind a huge part of the population. If you are bought in, then you are not one of them. But, science doesn’t work for everyone. Things have gotten really complicated in recent times. We have never been presented with so much information, connections, and possibilities. Our minds are breaking. Those who are all supportive of science and its method need to also appreciate what’s happening with the flat earth community. A divide is growing and it will not close with contempt and ridicule.
We need to understand each other: science people and anti-science people.
A large employer left the area where I grew up. This left a lot of people without middle-income jobs. The employer shut down a TV tube manufacturing plant because SCIENCE created tubeless TVs. I think we all love our flat and impossibly low-cost TVs hanging on our walls, but this shift in the 90s left a lot of families without a way to make a living. This resulted in a lot of the community moving to government subsidies to make ends meet. They didn’t get retrained, upskilled. They got left behind. My story here is only one anecdote. There are many, many others like it. And, this will keep happening. Some classes of jobs are going to vanish.
I now live in the Boston area. Admittedly this area skews towards science: STEM programs in school, high-tech companies, and some of the top engineering schools in the United States. The folks here don’t have any clue why people could ever be anti-science. It’s because here, science didn’t leave them behind. Technology provided jobs, careers, and a lifestyle that couldn’t be any more different than the one where I grew up.
Something has to change, though. We are pulling each other apart. Science people have to stop pushing forward without acknowledging the division. We have to connect our work to why give things meaning. Flat earthers have to stop and switch to what they are really about. I would have way more respect for their movement if they just admitted that they are anti-science instead of trying to debunk something using pseudo-scientific methods. It’s that they are really anti-science and anti-technology. They yearn for a time when things made sense and are intuitive. Simple. They want to work, have meaning, and have some semblance of understanding and control of their universe. We all share this to some degree. There’s more common ground than you might imagine.
“Machines will have no problem being autonomous. Humans will have a problem with autonomous machines.”Hans Scharler
The simple fact is that none of this world makes any sense. We are here for a brief time, and then we are not. All models of the universe that we have are wrong but some are useful for the time being. The scientific process is about building on things. Re-learning. Re-thinking. But, it’s about moving on by going to new areas to deepen our understanding, turning over new rocks. We are at a tipping point in a lot of sciences. Machine learning, computing power, storage, and energy are creating innovations that were thought to be decades away. Machines will have no problem being autonomous. Humans will have a problem with autonomous machines. Their autonomy will challenge fundamental freedoms like driving, earning a living wage, and not having our actions being judged on a 24/7 basis. It’s going to get weird in the next few years. There are going to be things discovered by machines and the machines will not be able to explain the discoveries to us. TO this point, we generally understand what the machines are doing to reason, but this is going to break down pretty quickly.
Learning is not fun.
The first phase of learning is exciting, but it gets really scary as you get into a subject or obtain a new skill. Experts may act as if they know it all, but deep inside they know practically nothing about their topic. They just continue the process of discovery and move forward. They are compelled and this eventually leads to fulfillment. Learning is frustrating. There is always something new and it takes a long time to have an understanding. The reason short-form videos on TikTok or Reels and Facebook memes work so well is that they hit that first part of learning really hard. New information is exciting and pleasurable. If you stop your learning process right there, then you don’t have to follow the high with an incredible low. I know folks in research who have spent a lifetime studying one topic. They are over $200,000 in debt and make $60,000 per year. Their curiosity moves them forward. They are indeed an expert in their domain and they also know what they don’t know.
I get a slight advantage of having a foot in both worlds. My perspective carries around knowing what can happen if you don’t get connected with science and if you do. My life is remarkably different because of math, science, and technology. But, I also understand the longing for a simpler time. I too want meaning, purpose, and to have some control over my life. One way that I have changed my behavior is to stop watching the news, entertainment news programs, and mindless YouTube video watching. I am deliberate about what I watch and read — I have a goal when I pick up my phone or out the TV on. Sometimes the time spent is to be entertained. But, I am making active choices. I don’t want to know a little about everything that’s going on in the world. I do want to know how I can make an impact on what’s around me. I want to be able to replace my own I am getting to know those around me more. I am learning more about my community and our challenges. For me, when things get complicated in my life, I break things down and go back to basics.
Nothing is pure. No one is perfect on a journey of scientific pursuit. There are always outside interests and MONEY. If you look at the content and comments of flat earth videos, you will see people talking about the money trail. The United States funds NASA. The 2021 budget of NASA is $23,000,000,000. This $23 billion dollar budget grew 3% YoY and was set in motion by the previous administration in 2020. NASA seems to be the focus of flat earth / anti-science people. NASA spends money in all 50 states and brings an economic return on investment.
Why did I start to talk about money? Well, money is the root of the debate. We are most motivated about money. I work hard to earn money to support my family and community. The representatives and senators lobby for money are doing so for their own locales and to keep getting elected. But, maybe it is also about pride. I often feel pride when I am connected to an initiative larger than myself. Imagine being on one of the teams that helped get humans to the moon. That feeling is probably like no other. But, what if I told you that money is also the basis for flat earth research. I spent a few hours in this space and came across branded merch, supplements, monetized videos, and ad revenue schemes. I don’t have an issue with making money off of content, but I keep imagining how much more could be made off other subject matters? I would support people trying to uncover truths and find new discoveries related to energy production or water purification or testing principles that are not true but are the best we have. We are wasting a lot of time debating areas that don’t need to be debated.
I keep imagining the breakthrough that has to come. We are going to unlock lots of energy and stop our reliance on fossil fuels. Oh, no, now we are bringing climate change into the conversation. It’s not about climate change. It’s about sustainability. Sustainability of the human race. If we keep expanding and growing, energy and water are going to have to be figured out. Every level up was met with a radically different way to produce and distribute energy. In this fictionalized golden era of a simpler time, we would have risen up together and wanted to figure it out together. And, imagine the JOBS. I understand why anti-science people are leery at this point. If we get alternative energy sources, the economic benefit is not likely to benefit them. They are not going to share its radical impact. The only way forward is for some people on both sides to change their way and model the way for others. Some scientific output and technology breakthroughs are just about to happen in food, water, and energy. Make sure they impact your local communities, get people jobs, and get them connected again to something meaningful. Maybe others will follow your lead.