March 1, 2010

Burdens of Proof

Great A'Tuin carrying the Discworld

My 5-year-old is a voracious "listener." What I mean by that is that although he reads constantly, he's much happier if I do the reading, tackling "grown-up" books that he can't yet read for himself.

My favorite author is Terry Pratchett, who writes biting satire in the guise of the fantasy genre. His Discworld series is all about witches, wizards, vampires, werewolves, trolls and Death himself, and their escapades around the "Discworld" - a flat planet carried on the backs of four giant elephants, themselves standing on the shell of a large turtle, who is swimming through space towards an unknown goal.

I recently started to read my son the first book in the series, editing out some of the more grownup words I don't feel like explaining just yet - for example, pillaging is fine, but its companion gets immediate parental redaction. The story begins with a lengthy description of the planet and its mode of transport through the galaxy, and my son immediately cuts me off.

"That doesn't make any sense."

Not only did he question the whole elephant/turtle scenario, but he challenged the notion of a flat planet. After all, "the Earth is round, otherwise airplane trips wouldn't work and boats would fall off the edge." He's five and he gets it.

Not so 33-year-old Daniel Shenton, the president of the Flat Earth Society. He believes that the Earth is indeed just as it looks on a classroom map - flat as a pancake. Gravity? A lie. Moon landings? A hoax. Shenton's point of view, as tells The Guardian, "I haven't taken this position just to be difficult. To look around, the world does appear to be flat, so I think it is ­incumbent on others to prove ­decisively that it isn't. And I don't think that burden of proof has been met yet."

Sigh. Yet another case of self-denial. What evidence exactly would convince someone like this that he is mistaken? All the pictures from space are - to him - fraudulent, since space travel itself is not a consistent part of his world view. and listen to this logic as to why he believes "round-Earthers" are the delusional ones.

"While flat-Earthers know that the ocean is really just a large bowl, (with great sheets of ice around the edges to hold the ocean back), and the atmosphere is contained by a large dome, the backwards 'round-Earth' way of thinking would have you believe that all those trillions of gallons of water and air just 'stick' to the planet's surface. Conventional thinking would suggest that the water would just run down the sides of the Earth and fall into outer space."

Kind of like my brain just started leaking out of my ears and onto the floor.

Don't get too close! You might fall off the Earth!

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