Yesterday, while sitting on a park bench near Stony Brook station, I met a man almost twice my age with a large dog. We soon started chatting about dogs and other things. Naturally, the conversation turned cosmic in a matter of minutes. When he was younger and in college he used to show his friends the moon, planets, and even other galaxies with his telescope—just like I do with my friends and family. After some time he asked me what I thought about the Flat Earth theory. Assuming we were on the same page, I told him I thought it was no doubt bogus. We’ve known better since the 1500s, right?
Our conversation only grew more interesting when he went on to question the existence of gravity, the historical accuracy of the Apollo moon landings, the authenticity of any celestial images published by NASA (or any other space agency), and the true size and distance of both the sun and the moon. He didn’t claim to know anything for certain, but instead recommended that I follow a YouTube blogger whom he surely contracted these backwards ideas from.
This man was well spoken, super laid back, and as friendly as can be. We had a lot in common, but the one thing we consistently disagreed upon was reality. He seemed to have somehow been convinced by an anti-intellectual evangelist not only that the Earth may be flat, but also that we may be living in some sort of elaborate worldwide Truman Show.
Questioning everything with an open mind and interrogating nature is not only healthy for us as individuals but also necessary for the progress of our technological species. But common sense tells us next to nothing about our place in space, about the shape of our world, or about who we are or how we got here. Instead, we use the scientific method as a flashlight to reveal hidden and sometimes startling truths. No matter how uncomfortable these truths may be, we should never turn our eyes away from what we illuminate (or even worse—turn off our only reliable source of light altogether).
If I learned anything from this random encounter with a total stranger it’s that being a good, kindhearted person does in no way immune you from those trying to infect your mind with absurdities.
Be careful out there.