What Can We Learn About Human Psychology from Conspiracy Theories?

The internet is great for some things – reading the news, looking up a definition, and staying connected with friends. Its also wildly entertaining. Does it get better than those w-t-f moments of over-shared Instagram memes and videos?

Yet, by nature, the internet acts as somewhat of a living, breathing organism. Human knowledge has become digitized. On a small computer in our pocket, we have access to a magical portal (aka Google) that answers any question imaginable. The way we process information is a continually evolving phenomenon as well. The human species use of the internet formed out of the wild-west-like arena of the early 2000’s to what it is now: a quite imperfect yet effective place where we spend so much of our daily lives. If you search the far-flung corners of the web, you undoubtedly stumble upon questionable content. Diverse ideas, extreme opinions, rabbit holes of detail about the most niche and specific topics.

In this post, we’re going to examine conspiracy theories. Of course, the existence of conspiracy theories, is nothing new or novel. For as far back into my childhood as I can remember, the History Channel has publicized conspiracy theories about aliens, the moon landing, historical events, etc. Specifically, this post will examine the “Flat Earth Theory” that seems to have quite a buzz on the internet recently.

After repeatedly hearing about this common conspiracy theme, I decided to dig into a few articles, videos, podcasts, and eventually deep into the trenches of Reddit to understand what people were talking about. I’m not quite sure how long ago the Flat Earth theory became such a viral internet discussion, but it seems like it re-emerged in the last two or three years.

Does it surprise you that the shape of planet Earth is a topic of discussion and debate? We’re talking about the object on which every human being who ever existed lived out their lives. The shape of the place that Carl Sagan described at a lecture in 1994 as a “pale blue dot”.

After looking into it, I can say beyond the shadow of a doubt that proponents of the Flat Earth theory (called a ‘flat earther’) are not true internet trolls. For the most part, flat earthers are not intentionally trolling anything – they genuinely believe that the Earth, in all its beauty, with all the international issues, and all the culture and scenic locations, is shaped like a flat plane.

Before diving in, it would be valuable to understand a flat earther’s point of view and mannerisms which will tell us a bit about their psychology.

Before even attempting to prove that the earth is spherical to a flat earther, a few key considerations are required. The challenge is due to the fact that the beliefs come from somewhat of a faith in skepticism. They possess a desire to believe that we are being deceived, if not a slight paranoia. To reason with someone who promotes an idea that is not backed by science, you cannot simply use scientific techniques as evidence. The only hope is to let emotions, passion, and other tendencies do the trick. Either that, or detach from any hope of convincing a flat Earther to believe anything aside from what they choose.

To see a flat Earth discussion first hand, listen to the first few minutes of the following interview between Joe Rogan and his good friend Eddie Bravo.

We can use the above interview as an example of how flat earthers think, and then apply these ideas to consider proving them wrong.

A few points from the video about how a flat earther thinks:

  1. Eddie Bravo, the guy who believes the earth is flat, ALSO questions the validity of tools like Carbon Dating. When talking about the source of his information on the subject, his response is “I’m looking on YouTube. I’m getting my stuff from YouTube”.
  2. He follows by saying “I’m having fun, its entertaining”. All three people in the video have smiles on their faces.
  3. “Figuring out how we’re being bullshitted. I love that shit.”
  4. All three people in the video possess abnormally high amounts of charisma, and speak quite eloquently, despite how silly or funny they may sound.

Based on the above statements, what can be inferred about flat earthers:

  1. The source of information is inadequate.
  2. A flat earth believer actually enjoys the subject. They want to believe that the earth is flat because they like the idea. Similarly, people WANT to believe that their life is meaningful, because they like the way that sounds.
  3. Beyond simple enjoyment, the flat earther possesses a true passion and biased love for the idea which they promote.
  4. However outlandish the guys’ ideas may be, the way they say it and how they speak captivates an audience. Their tone of voice, pace of speech, and body language entices the listener to want to know more about whatever it is they are saying no matter how outlandish.

Going further: The phrase “the earth is flat” sounds SO FAR-OUT that it tends to really grab and hold people’s attention. People love arguing, conflict creates passion, and a question of whether or not the earth is flat is easy to disagree with. The YouTube video I pasted above has over 2 MILLION views. Attention sells, and it pays well. The internet platforms on which flat earth theories are discussed incentivise content that gets more views/likes/ etc.

Do you really want to know what it would take prove that the earth is shaped like a sphere and not flat?

If so, then ask yourself the following:

“What made me interested in the flat earth debate in the first place?”

If you really go deep, your answer to that question will tell you more about human psychology than you may initially realize.

Whether or not someone on the internet wonders if the earth is flat or round doesn’t truly matter much. They’re not stopping the important things from happening. Humans still send rovers to Mars, and rockets into outer space. If anything, thinking about these types of questions keep a person’s mind occupied, and gives them some sense of a purpose, however questionable it may be. Also, its entertaining.

What happens when you engage in a discussion with a flat earther?

Misinformation, inauthentic references, fake news. But more importantly, what else occurs? Laughter. Entertainment. maybe even Fun. Sometimes the debate itself is what people love doing. And maybe, just maybe, a flat earther knows that they will never be short of attention and an absurdly hilarious conversation if they maintain their belief that the Earth is flat.

Have you looked at the horizon lately?

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