Unfortunately some individuals take conspiracy theories to a disturbingly excessive extreme.
Ever been accused of being a government plant or paid off by “The Man”? Then you’ve never run into a hardcore conspiracy theorist. Be grateful, because such encounters are often as baffling as they are annoying.
That statement may ruffle the feathers of those who view such a comment as an attempt to make conspiracy theorists look “bonkers” (a favorite accusation of the more paranoid conspiracy theorists…).
However, at some point people need to be able to back up their arguments with facts and not the assertion that a total stranger is being paid to spread misinformation.
There is a big difference between indulging in the belief that things are being purposely hidden by individuals with nefarious purposes and the need to accuse everyone who doesn’t think like you of being on the inside of some master scheme.
It’s important to remember that unethical government and business practices are actually readily acknowledged by the average person as these events are often front page news.
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So when do conspiracy theories go off the rails?
1.) When they are developed based on unsubstantiated fear and bigotry rather than supporting evidence. At the heart of the more bizarre conspiracies is often the belief that the theorist is in danger.
Really, if what you knew was so dangerous, it’s logical to believe that you’d already be dead instead of living to blab all over Facebook and Reddit from a computer that’s more traceable than you think.
There’s actually no reason to be afraid because…
2.) You’re just not that special. Some people seek to uncover the truth in order to bring a very real wrong to the attention of the world. Others spend all day discussing their opinion on the internet because of a need to convince the world of how much smarter they are than everyone else.
It’s easy to guess which group is useful and proactive and which group is full of ridiculously entitled windbags.
At the end of the day, conspiracy theories are suppose to be centered around a mysterious event. When each discussion is brought around to you and your ego…you’ve lost the plot.
3.) You are not entitled to know everything. Imagine that you knew everything there is to know about the universe and all events from the beginning to the end of time.
Our world is full of things no one can explain, from mysterious ancient artifacts to really, really basic stuff we totally should have figured out by now. But once in a while, we do find an answer to one of these fascinating mysteries, and that answer is “just plain old stupid bullshit.” Here are four intriguing questions that should’ve remained unanswered (or just four unnecessarily elaborate cover-ups that prove the government has a sense of whimsy).
#4. “River of Blood” Turns Out to Be an Ink Spill
In late December, residents of the English village of Moulton were left somewhat confused and extremely creeped out when they woke up one morning and found that their local brook had been stained with the blood-red shades of murder. Or murders, because seriously, that’s a fuckload of red.
The villagers rushed to their laptops and informed various social media outlets of their running river of blood, some comparing it to a horror film and others quoting the Book of Revelations, fearing that it was the first sign of the apocalypse. So what was it? A bleeding whale? A serial killer convention? That creepy clown that recently showed up nearby? Nope, the red coloration was caused by nothing other than an ink spill. So the world won’t end, but the villagers may have to endure a red pen shortage for the next decade.
#3. Mysterious Crop Circle Is Just a Publicity Stunt
Another strange event at the end of 2013 that made people think the Mayans may have been off by a year was the mysterious crop circle that popped up in a farmer’s barley field in Chualar, California. The design was so intricately done that the farmer told CNN that he was “baffled” by its appearance.
Naturally, as soon as the story broke, crop circle experts all over the Internet wrote in-depth analyses that claimed to have decoded the secret alien message in the fields, with some of these Fox Mulders declaring that it meant a bright comet would appear this year (presumably foreshadowing some dragons). It was at this point that tech company Nvidia couldn’t contain its giggling any longer and revealed that the crop circle was actually a marketing stunt promoting their latest processing chip. It’s unclear if the farmer was in on the joke or if those dicks stomped his barley without telling him.
In a nutshell: Superstitions are beliefs about the power of things to bring about good or bad when there’s no logical or scientific evidence for the belief.
It seems that everybody is superstitious about something. Ask anyone if they would wear a sweater worn by somebody who has done the worst evil thing you can imagine. Even though there is no rational or logical reason for believing that an evil person’s sweater would feel any different from any other sweater, most people don’t want to even come near the sweater of someone they think is evil.
Even grownups who think they are not superstitious will get chills or a good feeling when they touch something that belonged to someone they greatly admire. There is no logical or scientific reason why anything touched by anyone you admire should have any special effect on you. Yet, people will go to great lengths to get an autograph or to visit the home where someone they think is great was born or used to live.
The world does not divide up into the ones who are superstitious and the ones who are not superstitious. We’re all superstitious, but not always about the same things. We might laugh when we read about people who used to beat their drums to make the moon give back the sun during an eclipse. But they’d probably laugh at us for trying to touch a rock star or for buying clothes with the name of some singer sewed into them.
Many superstitions start by observing some things that happen by coincidence. You forgot to wash your socks before a baseball game and then you hit a home run. From now on you don’t wash your socks before you play a game. You wore your blue sweater to school on the day you aced a test. Now the sweater is your “lucky sweater” and you wear it whenever you have a test. Instead of accepting that things happen by coincidence, we make one the cause of the other. If you stop to think about it, you know there’s no logical reason dirty socks should help a baseball player hit a baseball. Wearing a sweater can’t substitute for studying for a test.
Many athletes are superstitious. They’ll wear twisted ropes around their necks or rubber bands with holograms around their wrists. Why? Not because they think they look good in them, but because they think the ropes and rubber bands can improve their playing. Not likely, you might think. But, if the player really believes his necklace or bracelet helps him, it might relax him and put him in a good mood. Maybe he plays better when he’s relaxed and in a good mood. So, magic jewelry might help some people sometimes, but only because of their superstition!
Some superstitions are due to magical thinking. Believing that something evil stays in the sweater of an evil person is type of magical thinking. Thinking that things that look alike share some sort of magical connection is also magical thinking. Just because a plant looks like a kidney doesn’t mean it will be good medicine for kidney problems.
Some people think that if they make a doll to stand for some person they can help or hurt the person by helping or hurting the doll. Some people think you can help a person by doing acupuncture on a doll that stands in for the person. Some think that you can make a person feel it if you stick a pin in a doll that stands in for the person. These are examples of more magical thinking.
Magical thinking seems to be based on a belief that there is some sort of energy or essence that things can magically transfer to other things.
In a nutshell: Clever Hans was a horse that some people thought could do math in his head and understand German. One group of people tested him and found these claims were true. Another scientist tested Hans and found the claims weren’t true.
Clever Hans (German: Kluge Hans) was a German horse who seemed to be able to do math problems in his head, tell time, name people, and answer questions by tapping his hoof. When asked to add 3 + 2, Hans would tap his hoof five times. If asked my name, Hans would have tapped twice for ‘B’, paused, tapped 15 times for ‘O’, paused, and then tapped twice again.
Hans could even answer hard written questions. Was he really able to read?
“If the eighth day of the month comes on a Tuesday, what is the date of the following Friday?” Hans could figure that out. He answered by tapping his hoof eleven times. This was one smart horse!
Hans’s owner, Wilhelm von Osten, began showing his clever horse to the public in 1891. He did so for about twenty years. Many people, including some scientists, were sure that Hans was really doing some heavy duty thinking. They were certain that his hoof tapping was not a trick. Clever Hans became famous.
The German board of education sent a group of people (the Hans Commission) to study Hans. Carl Stumpf, a philosopher and psychologist, led the commission. A few school teachers, a veterinarian, a director of the Berlin zoo, and a few others joined Stumpf.
The Hans Commission listed some possible explanations for what Hans could do. Maybe he could really understand both spoken and written language. Maybe he could do math in his head. Maybe he was acting on cues his owner was giving.
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a skeptical scientist tests Hans again
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Oskar Pfungst (1847-1933), a biologist and psychologist, tested Hans again. He found that the Hans Commission had not done a very good job. Pfungst proved that Hans was responding to very slight movements of those watching him. Hans was especially sensitive to small head movements by his owner. Pfungst also found that the movements by those watching Hans were not done on purpose to cue the horse. If asked to add 3 + 2, for example, the horse would start tapping. When he got to five taps, von Osten (or others watching Hans) would lean forward very slightly and that was the cue for the horse to stop tapping.
How did Pfungst figure this out?
He set up a test where the horse could be asked questions but could not see von Osten or others who were watching. He put blinders on Hans. When the horse couldn’t see anyone, he didn’t respond. In another test, the horse didn’t respond when the one asking the question didn’t know the answer to it. But the horse did give the right response when the one asking the question did know the answer to it, even if von Osten was not present. That last test ruled out the hypothesis that von Osten knew he was signaling Hans. He wasn’t cheating. He really believed his horse was doing math and reading letters. The evidence collected by Pfungst led the scientific community to hold that Hans was responding to slight movements rather than understanding written and spoken words. Von Osten, however, kept on believing that his horse could read, do math, and understand German. He was making a little bit of money showing off Hans and he kept on with his pony show.
One of the beautiful things about science is how one discovery leads to another. One of the things Pfungst found is the ideomotor effect: making slight movements without being aware of making them. (See the entries on dowsing and the Ouija board for other cases of the ideomotor effect.)
While testing Hans, Pfungst discovered that animals respond to movements around them that can barely be seen. He also found that people aren’t always aware that they are moving and giving cues to animals (or other persons). We now know that humans also respond to movements or sounds without being aware of it. We call this giving of signals without awareness unconscious signaling. This discovery has had a major effect on how experiments should be done when they involve either people or animals.
We now know that humans are unconsciously aware of many things right before their eyes. A botanist might see a rare flower out of the corner of his eye and not be conscious of having seen it. Later, he finds himself thinking of that rare flower. Then, he sees the flower and says “wow, I was just thinking of that flower.” Isn’t that amazing? Yes. Scientists call it “sensing without seeing.”