Encyclopedia Ocelotica: Flat Earth
Some people say that The Earth is a globe – which is pretty amazing if you stop and think about it.
But even more amazing than that is that other people believe that The Earth is a flat disc.
And, get this, there are other people who believe in some form of a higher being working in mysterious ways – laying down rules in a series of seemingly contradicatory manuscripts.
As a species we are collectively insane aren’t we?
As far as the shape of the Earth goes, I’m pretty sure that that it’s globular, but then again who can be sure?
Yes there is a wealth of scientific evidence out there – basic experiments and observations that are easy to prove – even to children.
Very quickly then:
1) The moon casts a circular shadow during a lunar eclipse.
2) Ships when observed through a telescope appear to rise up out of the sea when on the horizon – caused by the object disappearing from view behind the horizon due to the curvature of the Earth.
3) Varying star constellations depending on where on the surface these stars are observed from – on a flat Earth surface, the same star patterns would always be visible in the night sky.
4) Placing a stick in the ground will produce a shadow. Another stick placed on a different spot on the globe at exactly the same time will produce different length of shadow because of the different angle of the sun.
5) The horizon of the Earth is curved – this is most obvious when observed from a height – for example on top of a mountain or a plane.
6) All other observed planets are globe shaped because of the way that they are pulled together due to gravity.
7) The existence of time zones – at any one time, the sun is in a different position depending where on the surface of the globe you happen to be.
8) Gravity is essentially the same wherever you happen to be on the surface of the Earth. But if the world was flat, we would be drawn sideways towards the centre of mass at the centre of the disc.
But what happens if you run up against someone who refutes the science or rather, the reliability of interpreting scientific observations?
Flat Earthers tend to fall back on the branch of Philosophy called Epistemology – the theory of knowledge. More specifically the sub category of Skepticism which questions whether knowledge is possible at all.
The argument goes like this: all evidence from scientific testing such as observing the curvature of the Earth from a high flying plane, comes to us through our limited senses. They point out that our human senses are imperfect and can be easily fooled – for example optical illusions. And they add that there is more going on out there than we can detect with our limited senses – wavelengths we can’t see, smells that we can’t pick up on, gravitational fields we can’t feel – so it follows that we cannot also trust scientific evidence as entirely foolproof.
And that if there is a small crack of doubt, then we cannot definitively say that the world is a globe, despite the huge weight of evidence showing that it is.
It’s a difficult one to argue against. But then, if you operate on that basis, you cannot definitively prove that stairs exist and you would never venture out of your bedroom for fear of falling through the non-existent stairs to your death as you hit the difficult-to-prove ground.
Pragmatism comes into play – we operate using rules and observations that see us though life 99.999 per cent of the time. We assume that the sun is going rise tomorrow, because up until now it has. It’s not a form of proof, but the evidence is overwhelming that it’s a safe bet.
I won the argument against the Flat Earthers in my head – but I wanted to speak to a real one. I contacted the Flat Earth Society press office but have yet to receive a reply. It’s possible that they have stopped believing in the existance of email or perhaps they are too busy trying to prove that their floorboards exist before attempting to climb out of bed. Either way, if anyone else wants to contact them, head over to www.theflatearthsociety.org – best of luck!