Words by Elizabeth Narwastu Art by Bowen Shen
It’s incredible how in this modern age, surrounded by the technological advances that Nikola Tesla had predicted, some people wholeheartedly believe that the planet Earth is flat.
If we look back at history, great ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, China, Mesopotamia, and India shared a collective belief that the Earth is flat; whether it’s a flat disk or a flat square.
Pre-Socratic philosophers such as Thales believed that Earth is floating on water like a log. Fast forward from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, the Church assumed that the Earth is flat because in the scripture it mentions the ‘four corners of the world.’ They considered its shape a square and that the Earth must be the centre of the universe. This is why Copernicus had an argument with the Catholic Church when he discovered that the Sun was the centre of the universe. Three centuries later, Magellan sailed across the ocean to India, and after that, people started to believe the Earth is a sphere. Fast forward hundreds of centuries later: discovery of gravity, relativity theory, space expeditions, space stations – you name it.
The Flat Earth Society
Quoted from their website, the Flat Earth Society is ‘a group actively promoting the Flat Earth Movement worldwide. Descending from Samuel Shenton’s International Flat Earth Research Society, and the Universal Zetetic Society before it, we continue the age-old tradition of questioning the Round Earth doctrine and challenging authorities.’
For those of you who questioned this term just because it sounded like something from Star Trek, Zetetics is a method to make theories based on your own research or experiments instead of believing in the prior knowledge that is already there.
Flat earthers described the shape of the Earth as flat, and round shaped on the surface of the sea. They explained that instead of the Earth rotating around the Sun, it is the Sun that moves all around the surface of the Earth to provide the different time zones. The Sun on the Flat Earth is described to be closer to the surface of the Earth. They use a street lamp to explain that we can see the rays from the light because it is a much closer distance. They also deny any photographic evidence because they said photographs are easily altered, just like how there is a conspiracy theory that the first moonwalk was filmed on set.
It seems that from first glance, and from how the Internet reacted, flat earthers are a source of pure comedy. We judge them as honest believers that would be easily influenced on any sort of conspiracy theories. But, if we look at it from another perspective, some Ancient Greek philosophers used to question the shape of the world. They would come up with various theories, such as the continuous universe, meaning that space is very long.
Honest believers, or just challenging power?
The argument here is that while some flat earthers are honest believers, others conduct independent research or are just there to challenge the prior knowledge discovered by institutions who control how people think. Michel Foucault is a scholar who always challenges the notion that knowledge is used to claim power. For whatever these academic or research institutions are educating us, they have power over how we think and behave. Take the news media for example, they have the power to change your perceptions with the angle the present information.
Flat earthers who challenge the power just wanted to prove to people that they are doing their own independent research on what the Earth looks like, from the traditional plane disk or even a diamond or a frisbee or any kind of shape with a flat surface, but not a round spherical planet. Flat earther Mike Hughes, even went to the great lengths of launching himself up in a rocket, but was only propelled 600 meters into the California sky before parachuting back to the surface.
To me, flat earthers are fascinating. They reminded me of a show about a crew of scientists trying to prove or debunk any sort of conspiracy theories from legends like Bigfoot, to ghosts or the extraterrestrial. The Flat Earth Society motto is ‘In Veritate Victoria’, or ‘In Truth is Victory’, shows that the idealism of flat earthers is they just want to continue their own independent research to find the truth, getting closer to the truth and experiencing it from your own research feels like you gain your own power.
Do I believe that the Earth is flat? I wholeheartedly believe that the Earth is round and it rotates around the Sun and mankind will soon go on a space expedition to Mars. But, learning about how flat earthers romanticise the idea of independent research and knowledge inspired me to be more thorough and see things from a different perspective.