Why Conspiracy Theories Fail

Today’s Lesson: If there are actual conspiracies out there, they are lame at best. Instead of believing in them, accept responsibility for learning how to think sharply and act with specific intent.

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Many of my friends love, love, love to believe there are incredibly evil and corrupt powers in the world, secretly invading our culture for nefarious purposes.

In my social circle, there are people who believe extraterrestrials are among us but have been hidden by the government. There are people who believe GMO food is essentially grown, harvested, and marketed by the devil. There are those who believe in ghosts, hidden backwards messages in live speeches, chemtrails, demonic possession, global warming is a myth, and any number of other popular but utterly unjustifiable, unproven, and unbelievable beliefs.

There might be real conspiracies somewhere, but it is highly unlikely any of the ones perpetuated in the media or by the public have any validity. I see three problems with believing in conspiracies:

1. Conspiracies give too much credit to the conspirators. 

It is fanciful thinking to believe a government could pull off a conspiracy like Roswell. (If you are unfamiliar, an extraterrestrial ship allegedly crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in the 1950’s and has been kept from the public ever since.)

The U.S. government, under constant, relentless scrutiny from the public and media, is unable to even hide a President getting a BJ. The nation’s leaders can not agree on a single principle, direction, or moral value. How is it possible these bumbling, bungling politicians are pulling off an incredibly ornate and long-lasting conspiracy to hide something from the public? Is it more believable the government, through decades of changing leadership, advisers, and staff have kept an impenetrable wall of secrecy for over 60 years–not one single person breaking their silence, not one reporter finding a single irrefutable clue tying the plot together… or is it more likely aliens never visited?

We do not have to be logicians to figure this one out. We simply have to sit and think beyond our Twitter feeds for a minute. The harsh truth is most people, even those with a lot of unchecked power, are not smart enough to mastermind the kinds of plots we see in movies.

2. Conspiracies rely on someone being illogically evil.

Wouldn’t it be convenient if Monsanto was an evil, secret corporation trying to poison our food and destroy our planet for nothing more than bigger profit margins (because, at this point, they still really need the money)?

One of the many problems with the “GMO is evil” bandwagon is the people who work at Monsanto also have to eat the same food, grown on the same Earth, as everyone else. Edgar Monsanto Queeny (the current president of Monsanto and the founder’s son), I very much doubt, wants his children, or his family, or his family’s legacy, to be tied to the willful destruction of the world (why start a family if your goal is for them to have no future?). I also find it tough to believe a company that employs literally thousands of people has somehow convinced most, if not all, of them to contribute to the company’s nefariously evil plan to destroy the world’s food supply.

You have had jobs. You have probably worked for good people, and not-so-good people but not one of your bosses, I am willing to bet, is a Joker “watch the world burn” level of evil. They are just people with families doing their best, and maybe they have some anger issues. I bet you do not know a single person carrying out a world-wide master plot of evil. Further, neither does anyone you know or have ever met.

There are definitely bad organizations in the world, run by bad people, but they are not elaborate conspiracies. They are blatant about their intentions–Al Qaeda, Hitler, North Korea, Fox News… the distinction of these groups is, despite worldwide criticism and rejection, they believe they are the good guys.

In other words, there is no inherent benefit for them to create a conspiracy.

If you are trying to take over the world, you need to recruit and have a powerful message to market to enroll others. A conspiracy, by definition, denies bringing attention to the conspirator’s plan. This is obviously illogical. How can the conspirator take credit for their work if they succeed?

Ego is probably the first barrier to conspiracy, which is how and why hackers are often caught. They leave a signature, a tell-tale sign of their work because they want to show it off. Conspiracy theories fall apart when there is no tell-tale sign of who is conspiring and what they have to gain. This is easy to spot because the language of conspiracies requires a vague “them”, “they”, “the government”, “Monsanto”, “The Media”, “Fox News”, etc. because there is no one to actually pinpoint (yes, it was on purpose). The reason there is no one to pinpoint is because there is likely no one master-minding a conspiracy.

3. The conspiracy itself is unsustainable at the scale proposed.

This should be evident in the other two points but conspiracies are always massive and unbelievable because the obvious place to hide something so remarkable is in a morass of confusion.

Thousands of employees work for Monsanto. I challenge any person to find the employee that goes to work each day hoping to cause cancer, put farmers out of work, or kill his or her own family with secret, genetically-modified-by-the-devil, food. For what purpose, exactly, would a capitalist company want to end life as we know it or destroy natural food? It is hard to profit after you kill all your customers. Is it more likely Monsanto’s (or Cargill’s or whoever’s) intent is to leverage science to create a healthier, more sustainable planet or they are part of a secret cult trying to kill everyone including themselves?

By the same token, thousands of people over generations would be required to hide a secret alien ship buried in New Mexico. To what end?

By the way, if aliens possessed technology to warp space-time or exceed the speed of light to reach Earth, then there is absolutely no technology on Earth that could hide them and no reason for the aliens to care about human motives or political agendas. If they are advanced enough to get here, then once they arrived, we would be about as interesting and intelligent to them as amoeba are to us.

 

I get it, though. We all want to be healthy and wish to know what is true, reliable, and dependable in our lives. We want to stand on something and stand for something. We want to believe bad things happen for a reason–that evil, if evil exists, is not random and meaningless (because that makes the events of our lives random and meaningless). Sadly, those are the worst reasons to try to validate conspiracies. Conspiracies prey on your highest values. That is the shame of the conspiracies and of the so-called “theorists” who perpetuate such myths and poor thinking.

Before you believe without question the next study, story, or announcement from an organization, person, or group with a reputable sounding name, pause. Spend a moment to think about what they are purporting to be true. Play out the logical conclusions in your mind. Ask, “What is the motive here? Is this possibly biased? Is there an agenda? Where is the information coming from and what makes me think I can trust it? Is it because the source has a legitimate sounding name or because it was a massive double-blind experiment in controlled conditions with replicable proof by reputable non-biased scientists?”

Most (probably all) conspiracies do not exist but your brain does. Use it to do something more powerful than make people afraid of invisible men.

 

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When Will We Be Food Again?

Humans have not been hunted in more than a century. What would happen if we suddenly had to fend for our lives like herd animals again?

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Comedian Louis CK was referenced by The Reality Check (one of my favorite shows) for one of his bits about animal suffering. The show was paraphrasing what he said and I am too lazy to listen to all of Louis CK’s material to find the exact quote… but the gist of it is, “Humans have basically removed themselves from the food chain and isn’t that great? Can you imagine if, when you left home to go to your office each morning, you had to immediately start running for your life because there are animals out to get you?”

Humor aside, it is a fascinating and astounding achievement that we humans (who are not the strongest, fastest, or most aggressive creatures on the planet) have all but eliminated the worry of being eaten by other predators.

What if that does not remain the case, however? What if a civilization from another world arrived and suddenly we found ourselves back as a potential dinner plate item and no longer at the top of the food chain?

 

Today’s Lesson: A simple, cautionary tale… nothing lasts forever. 

 

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Time to Die, Part 4 (of 5)

Over time, I think humans will become essentially immortal.
Looking at current trends in technology, it is not a leap to consider humanity may be on the verge of an unprecedented leap forward. We may cure death within the next hundred years. In 300 years, we might even be challenged with what it means to be human when our physical bodies are no longer necessary (and might be a liability).

When that happens, we will be able to travel farther than we can imagine and with unlimited resources and lifespans to throw at the universe’s biggest problems, we could potentially solve issues like being able to travel faster than light. What would that look like? (Well… I suppose it would not look like anything because if we were moving faster than light, we would be unable to see what is ahead!)

If we can beat the barriers imposed by Relativity and move faster than light, we would also have access to purely science fiction technology like time travel.

Consider this: when we look into space, we look into the past. It takes time for the light of other objects to reach our eyes, even someone standing in front of you. Light travels so fast (about 186,000 miles per second!) it seems like you see people and things instantly. Of course, that is not true. It takes time for light to reach your eyes because light has to cross the space between the object you are looking at and you, the same way your body has to cross space to reach the other side of a room.

Bigger spaces require more time for light to cross. When we look at the nearest galaxy to our own (the Andromeda galaxy), we are seeing it as it was about 2 million years ago. The space between our own Milky Way galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy is so great it took the light, traveling 186,000 miles per second, about 2 million years to reach our telescopes! That means they also see our galaxy as it was 2 million years ago. If someone in the Andromeda galaxy today could see Earth, they would see dinosaurs roaming the planet now. You and I have not even been born!

You do not have to travel to another galaxy to grasp this concept, though. Just think of how we have other time zones on our planet. Some of us appear to be either 3 hours in the future or 3 hours in the past from others. It is not the same, of course, but it is an easier scale to understand.

Because you and I reflect light, too, we can think of our lives as channels on television being broadcast forever, until it reaches the edge of space. We are the ultimate reality TV shows for the universe! That means if you can race faster than the signal (light) of your own life, then theoretically you could be in front of it to be there when it reaches you and you could watch your life again!

If we want to travel backward in time, the trick will be to out race light. This raises more questions than I can possibly explore in a series of posts (or even in a hundred years of blogging about it) but it is a fun thought experiment, and in a few hundred years, it may not be an experiment at all. We may be dealing with the results of that experiment (or we may already be dealing with it!).

Here is the core of today’s lesson: when you think about it… really, truly, quite literally… anything is possible.

 

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Time to Die, Part 3 (of 5)

How long before we become more than human?

 

Think about this: as technology progresses, we will soon be able to upload the human consciousness. Death itself will be something poorly described in old history books.

At first, I think our nigh-immortality will be a result of clever technology, like a combination of WiFi, cloning, and 3-D printing. When you die or your body wears out, you will be downloaded into a new body and can pick up right where you left off.

That may happen while your grandchildren or their grandchildren are still living. I think the last generation of humans who will die (as we know it) are alive on earth now. Within a hundred years, death may be as curable as the measles or polio.

What about three to five hundred years from now, though? What if science continues marching on, with unlimited resources and no loss of knowledge or talent (because death has become a thing of fiction)? How much faster could we free ourselves from the boundaries of earth and colonize other planets, ensuring our survival as a species?

Imagine what space travel could look like when we have the ability to upload our consciousness to a computer? We could travel farther than we have ever perceived. We could upload an astronaut’s conscience and genetic data, send him or her a thousand (or million!) years out of the solar system, and download the genetic and biological information into a freshly created body when he or she arrives at the destination.

Indeed, when we are able to live in cyberspace, why hold onto the relic of the human body at all? How far away are we from living only as energy?

If technology increased to let us ascended our fleshy packaging and live as energy, we could travel the universe at the speed of light. Light is so mysterious. We are only beginning to grasp what it is. For example, one of the great conundrums of light is that it exists as both a particle (stationary) and a wave (in motion) based on whether we are observing it directly. Another mysterious property of  light is nothing is able to outrun it. The speed of light is the hard speed limit set by the universe .

What if light itself is a form of life? What if light is the ultimate result of intelligence, technology, and exploration? Our destiny as creatures of energy may already be in front of us, all the time, everywhere.

If extraterrestrial aliens created technology to reach earth, even from the next nearest solar system, they would be so advanced to us that we would not even recognize them as living things. Just to get here, they would have to figure out the challenge of moving beyond Physics and Flesh. They would have to figure out how to survive for thousands or millions of years while traveling and figure out how to meet or beat the hard speed limit set by the universe.
Here is today’s lesson: maybe one day we will be the aliens… think about that the next time you enjoy a sunny day or turn on a light. Maybe some of that light is not coming from the stars. Maybe it’s them. Or us.

 

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Where Is The Other Intelligent Life?

 

I like thinking about the universe and Humanity’s place in the scope of Everything.

My friends sometimes ask my opinion on big outer-space questions–maybe the most common question I hear is, “do you think there are aliens?” Of course, my friends mean, do I think there is other intelligent life in the universe?

Yes, is my answer. There almost certainly is other intelligent life, but the question actually implies an additional question. The implied part is “…And are they here?” That has a different answer, I think. The answer is no, and no we have not been visited before, and no, we almost certainly will never find other intelligent life in the universe.

Here is how I think about it: it’s a numbers game. The universe is infinite (or nigh-infinite, but close enough as far as we are concerned). There are hundreds of billions of galaxies out there with hundreds of billions of stars inside each one. As you approach a number like Infinity, it becomes evident every possibility has an increased chance of becoming true–maybe even millions or billions of times over.

Think about it in terms of winning the lottery. Your chances of winning the mega-millions jackpot (matching the numbers of 5 balls, each numbered between 0 and 56) is one in 175,711,536. Not impossible, but certainly not very good. The lottery jackpot is usually shared between one, or a few, states. What if we had everyone on Earth playing for the same jackpot? The chances of you winning become slimmer (because there are 7 billion of us on Earth–many more than the population of a few states), but the chances of someone winning increase. There are 7 billion chances instead of just a few million (the population of a few states).

If the jackpot we are playing for is finding other intelligent life, then again, the chances of us hitting the jackpot are unfortunately very small, but the chances of someone hitting the jackpot eventually are very good.

The likelihood that all the right combinations of ingredients to create life have occurred before and elsewhere are high. The universe could be teeming with life. But we will almost certainly never find it, and it might not be a good thing if it finds us first.

The reason we will likely never encounter life is simple: space. The distance to even the nearest star (Proxima Centauri) is 4.2 light years. That means if we had the technology to travel 186,000 miles per second (the speed of light) then it would take us more than 4 years to get there. We, of course, can not travel that fast and with the best technology we have, it would take us hundreds of years, if not thousands. That’s assuming there is life anywhere near Proxima Centauri, and that we could find it or that it could find us.

Here’s the more logical issue, though: if space aliens developed the technology required to get here (technology we can not imagine yet, even if they were in our own cosmic backyard), then we would be of almost no significance to them. If they can get here, they will seem so far advanced to us we would not even be able to communicate. It would be like us trying to talk to amoeba. Not to mention, if they can get here, they will already have had the technology to study us from afar and may not even need to come. It is only our vanity that makes us think they would care enough to probe us or want to sit down for a chat or engage in war.

The same is true in reverse. If we develop the technology required to defy Time and Space and travel the cosmos at any significant speed, whatever species we encounter would seem, well, retarded. In fact, chances are if we have the means to warp space or exceed the speed of light, we have evolved beyond anything you or I would recognize as human. We would more likely be, at that point, a race of energy beings, perhaps indistinguishable from light itself. Our fragile human bodies simply could not endure faster than light travel so we would need something new.

It is not difficult for me to imagine (even within the next 100 years) a technology that essentially allows us to “upload” a personality (via brain-mapping, and then transfer of information) onto the world wide web for storage and then download the same personality into a different body later. We could potentially travel this way, carrying in our spaceship only the separate ingredients of a human body, to be assembled molecule-by-molecule when we arrive at our destination. That might even be thinking too small. If such a scenario becomes reality in the near future, we might stop thinking about the human body as an ideal form anyway. Instead, we might download our personalities to specialized robot bodies specifically fitted for the task of, say, surviving an atmosphere like that of Mars.

 

This is a very simplified view, but the main take-away is there is almost certainly other intelligent life in the universe, though we will almost as certainly never find each other. If we did, it would look nothing like it does in the movies.

Space aliens would not be interested enough to want to steal our resources (or if they were, the war would not last but a few seconds–there would be no hand-to-hand combat–if they have the technology to get here, we have already lost), and space aliens would definitely have no interest in anally probing hillbillies. Arizona just needs to accept that.

I love thinking about space aliens and being part of an even more enriching universe. I love sci-fi films; I never miss a space movie–but I also recognize it is only hubris that compels us to buy into conspiracy theories and make fantastic the unexplained.

Sadly, the only space aliens we will likely ever see are the ones created by special effects and comic book artists.

 

But it’s still fun to imagine we are not alone.

 

 

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