Flat Earth Part II: Edge of the World


Over the last few days/weeks before the holidays I spent far too long on this Flat Earth “Theory.” I’ve added quotes because with each new tidbit of information gleaned it appears more and more like contrarian wishful thinking than any sort of cohesive speculation. It was a gripe I encountered early on in my discussions. I would ask a question and get a couple answers each claiming to be fact, each disagreeing with the next, and none of them having any basis in any form of science.

Before going into this, I told myself that I wasn’t going to ask any questions that I couldn’t answer about my own side of things. That is, I wasn’t going to ask the Flat Earth Group to explain magnetism, or gravitational lensing or any other advanced physics-type thing which I couldn’t explain myself. I did this for two reasons; first, if the question was turned on me, I’d lose credibility if I couldn’t answer. Second, I figure these folks get challenged on their views pretty often and I imagine they are regularly challenged with the bigger questions; in other words, I figured they already had answers prepared for the big stuff.

Now, what I expected to be a close knit community of theorists conducting thought experiments, or even actual science, in efforts to prove the reality of an idea which directly contradicted modern science turned out instead to be a circle-jerk of individuals hurling dubious articles and YouTube videos at me and stroking one another’s egos. One such article described an experiment which has come to be known as the Bedford Level.

The Bedford Level is an experiment by which a sighting scope is used to measure the curvature of the Earth over a distance of about six miles. The hypothesis being that if two markers are placed at the same level at opposite ends of a six mile stretch over a flat surface (ie: water) and a scope is mounted perfectly level at one end, peering through said scope would find it to be staring about 6-8 feet too high at the other end due to the curvature of the earth. In 1870 this experiment was conducted and was deemed unsuccessful (the sight was dead on) which lead to the conclusion that the earth must, in fact, be flat. There was much discussion and debate about these findings and errors in methodology were noted. Finally the experiment was conducted again about 30 years later by Henry Yule Oldham using three markers (one at each end and a third in the middle), a corrected methodology and a more precise measuring scope. These results found the middle maker to be off by the anticipated value and concluded the earth is, indeed, round. His results are considered the “definitive” version of this particular experiment.

The above is according to the Wikipedia entry. So, knowing that Wikipedia information can be less-than-accurate I figured I’d let the Flat Earth Theorists have their say on the issue and I checked out the Bedford Level on their Wiki page. To my surprise it was a pretty close cut/paste job of the Wikipedia entry but for one passage; that which described the results of that second experiment. On the Flat Earth Wiki, those results showed all three markers to be level and the world to be Flat.

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bedford_Level_experiment

Flat Earth Wiki: http://wiki.tfes.org/Bedford_Level_Experiment

This confused me. How could two different sources, both citing the same efforts by Oldham and both citing it as the “definitive experiment,” somehow arrive at opposite conclusions regarding his findings? Doing what I’d expect anyone to do in such a situation I used the internet for what the internet should be used for and located the original paper which can be read at this link which may well be longer than the very short article.

As one can see, Mr. Oldham states in no uncertain terms that “the middle mark was seen to stand up about six feet above the line of sight agreeing with the effect calculated to be produced by the curvature of the earth’s surface.” That’s pretty cut and dry to me. In fairness, Wikipedia listed the incorrect value of the difference, but at least cited the correct conclusion.

I can arrive at only two conclusions. Either the Flat Earth Crew never read their own “definitive experiment” or whoever wrote their wiki entry deliberately fabricated the results of said experiment.   Either way, it greatly undermined what little credibility this group had in my mind and pushed me to look deeper into a few other fancy names they throw around. See, what I’d come to realize is that rather than actually discuss my questions or concerns, I was more often than not headed off at the pass and told to reference some video on YouTube or read some book. I was never encouraged to actually think about anything; just to read, watch, accept. There were a couple other big experiments the Flat Earth Theorists touted as big victories for their cause and repeatedly pointed me toward the first being commonly known as Airy’s Failure, the second, the Mikelson-Moorley Experiment. I’d been making and effort to converse with the Flat Earthers directly rather than watch their videos and read their links, but after my findings with the Bedford Level I decided to dig into these two as well.

The gist of Airy’s Failure, as it had been explained to me, is that a long time ago a sciencey gentleman named George Biddel Airy attempted to measure what is known as aether drag; which is very complicated and I readily admit I don’t understand. The great part here is that I don’t have to because it’s not important because Airy, like everyone before him and since failed to prove his hypothesis. This is seen as a great victory for geocentrist Flat Earthers because, to them, it somehow proves that the Earth is not in motion and therefore any motions observed in the heavens is evidence that the universe revolves around the Earth. This is idea is more readily accepted than the far more realistic idea that Airy failed to prove the Earth moved through the aether because the aether isn’t a thing. The important take away here, though, is that Airy’s Failure proves the earth is stationary and everything else moves with the aether creating what they call aether drag; remember this.

Incidentally, I tracked down Airy’s original paper was well and, as far as I can tell, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but I can say I didn’t see a single mention of the word aether anywhere and the mediums Mr. Airy seemed most concerned with are glass and water.

Now, the Michelson-Moorely Experiment is a little easier to understand. Basically it boils down to this; the prevailing opinion of the day was that light travelled through the aether. Rather, the aether was the medium by which light was carried. The question the Michelson and Moorley had was whether or not this aether moved in relation to the earth. The experiment was simple in principle, complicated in implementation… There was a lot of math involved. Basically it boiled down to this; Michelson and Moorley shined light in two perpendicular directions, the assumption being that since the luminiferous aether carried light, the light shining in the same direction as the aether is moving should move slightly faster than that light which is shining perpendicular to it since it’s, in effect, being carried by the current. I tracked down their paper as well and though there’s an awful lot of math and charts, their verbiage is more concise than Mr. Airy and they note a firm null value in their conclusions stating that there is no significant difference in the speed of light shined in either direction and that either both the earth and the aether are stationary, or that they both move in the same direction at the same speed.

Flat Eather’s look at this and say, “See, Earth doesn’t move, Michel-Moorely and George Biddel Airy both said so.” Problem is, no one I talked ever noticed the contradiction inherent in those results. That is, Airy’s failure “clearly” shows that the heavens are in motion and the earth stands still, while Michelson-Moorely shows that if the earth in stationary, so to, must be the heavens.

And this, I think, is at the heart of my frustrations with the Flat Earth Theorists.

A long time ago I used to be a big fan of the works of Ayn Rand. Nowadays, a little older, a little wiser, I can look back on that and cherry pick the good stuff and sort of ignore other bits. There was one particular bit she wrote which stuck with me and it pertained to the dangers of being “open-minded.” Rand really disliked that term and all it represented. She saw it as a sort of indiscriminant acceptance of all ideas as having equal value. I’d never really seen it action until now and I’m inclined to agree with her.

The Flat Earth Theorists I encountered each pride themselves as “free-thinkers;” people whose ideas are outside the mainstream, but no less valid. Sadly, they’re more like “un-thinkers.” These are people who, true, freely traded ideas and were open and friendly to one another’s views, but there was absolutely no integration of ideas. Like Airy and Michelson-Moorley above, no one was asking, “Do these ideas make sense when taken as a whole? Does this contradict that? If so, why?” It was just a whirlwind of baseless speculation bolstered by big words that most of the time weren’t even relevant. Questions were met with YouTube videos and links rather than explanation or conversation. Actual attempts to integrate ideas were shot down as “debunking” or “instigating.” At one point I was literally called a “government shill” for attempting to apply 7th grade geometry to a set of figures I was given.

Point of note: If you’re going to have an argument with me, don’t give me any hard numbers unless you’re 100% sure your math checks out, cause I’m going to check it.

Ultimately, my exploration of this little community was cut short because my primary source (that is, the only guy who was actually trying to talk to me) eventually got tired of my questions and “unFriended” me on Facebook over an unrelated discussion. I was informed that he and I are “on separate paths,” whatever that means.

All that considered, though, there is still this lingering desire to know more. To know if anyone actually can answer my simple questions in a way that makes sense. And if not, could I build a Flat Earth model which answered my simple questions? I’ve already started some diagrams which I’d used in my discussions. What I’d actually hoped to do, before I was unFriended was compile a list of notes and measurements and draw it up, to scale, just to see what it looked like.

Part of this is the world-builder in me looking for a challenge; it plays right into another idea I had had once for some fiction writing. But that’s stuff for another day.