Getting Around Flat Earth Theory

In a day and age where a wealth of scientific knowledge is constantly at our fingertips, one would think that extraordinary beliefs would have been on the decline long ago. However, in recent years more and more individuals have succumbed to these kinds of beliefs. Of all these that have risen in prevalence in the last few years, none stands out more than Flat Earth theory. According to livescience.com, Flat Earth theory is the belief that the Earth, rather than being a sphere, is actually a round, flat disc. The Arctic Circle lies at the center of this disk, and Antarctica is actually a 150-foot wall of ice that surrounds the outer edge. The sun and the moon are, in essence, celestial spotlights that rotate around the Earth, along with an invisible “antimoon” that accounts for lunar eclipses. Flat Earth theory also states that gravity is actually an illusion, and the reason why objects fall is because the Earth is being driven upward by so-called “dark energy” at a rate of 32 feet per second squared. Finally, those who believe in Flat Earth theory also believe that the idea of a round Earth is a conspiracy generated by NASA for some unknown purpose. Sounds like something that would be hard to believe, right? Except that this belief, while still only found in a small minority of people, is actually quite popular. According to People magazine, prominent celebrities such as rapper B.o.B. and NBA player Kyrie Irving are incredibly verbal about their belief in Flat Earth theory, with B.o.B. even going so far as to get into an argument with physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson over it on Twitter. Clearly, Flat Earth theory has taken the world by storm; but what does science have to say about this?

Proponents of Flat Earth theory have presented numerous pieces of “evidence” to explain why their theory is correct over the years. In a YouTube video posted by ODD Reality, they attempt to provide as much evidence for Flat Earth theory as possible, stating “facts” like “water always fills to a level surface” and “science disproving Flat Earth theory just uses workarounds, which isn’t real science”, when all of these are not actually facts at all. The facts that disprove Flat Earth theory, however, are both accurate and bountiful. In an article from popsci.com, they list ten different things that prove the Earth is round. One such fact is that you can’t see certain constellations from different parts of the world, (a fact that was discovered by Aristotle thousands of years ago), which would only be possible if the earth was round. The fact that the higher up you go, the further you can see, also disproves Flat Earth theory. Finally, and arguably most obviously, the fact that we have different time zones would only be possible if the Earth was round, meaning that the Earth being flat is completely impossible. Unlike the evidence that “proves” Flat Earth theory, the evidence that proves the Earth is round is specific, scientifically-backed, and in most cases incredibly obvious.

Despite the overwhelming amount of evidence that discredits Flat Earth theory, many people not only still adhere to this belief but will vehemently defend it as well. It is therefore important to ask the question: where did this belief start, and why has it not only remained prevalent but in fact grown in popularity? From a cognitive point of view, we can find several explanations for this phenomena. According to phys.org, the belief in a Flat Earth was held up until around the 3rd century BC, when it was first postulated that the Earth might be round. Mankind did not have a full grasp on scientific knowledge at this point, and as such they maintained a more egocentric of the world in which they lived. Many would watch their family and friends sail away on boats and disappear over the horizon, only to never return. The only explanation that they could come up with was that the Earth was flat, and these ships had simply fallen off the edge. By the 15th century, this belief largely fell to the wayside as the belief in a round Earth became more widely accepted, but there were those who held onto the old ways due to a psychological concept known as cognitive dissonance. This is a tension that one experiences when they are presented with evidence that contradicts with a previously held belief. Rather than dealing with it, many will ignore it and choose to ignore this new evidence. Others will come up with reasons why they are right after the fact, a process known as post-hoc theorizing. But these cognitive reasons can’t be the only explanation. Other forces must be at work.

The other force is the social aspect. We live in a day and age where everyone is connected through the internet, meaning more and more people have a shared space to spread their beliefs to other like-minded individuals. Not only that, but they are often able to get away with having no factual evidence to back up their beliefs, so long as their conviction is strong enough. According to phys.org, many individuals have begun to actively distrust expert opinion, choosing instead to trust the opinions of prominent figures in mainstream media, regardless of their credentials. This is because these people are often able to craft more interesting ways of telling their opinions than experts, who are restricted by the guidelines of scientific publishing. In an article on livescience.com, they call this phenomena the minority effect: the tendency to believe a minority opinion when the advocates of that opinion stay true to their beliefs. These social forces are powerful ones, and they all contribute to the longevity of this particular belief.

Flat Earth theory is an extraordinary belief that, through psychological forces, has stood this test of time and permeated itself into modern society. Despite the overwhelming evidence disproving the theory, there are many who still hold steadfast to their belief that the earth is flat. This comes from many factors, such as: an effort to reduce cognitive dissonance, the rising trend of distrusting expert opinion, and the minority effect. These things, combined with the age of internet and social media, create a climate that is ripe for a belief like this to take hold. By recognizing these causes, hopefully we can prevent the effects by bettering our education system, and give people the tools they need to evaluate information before they choose to believe it.

 

Works Cited

 

Natalie Wolchover and Live Science Staff. (2017, May 30). Are Flat-Earthers Being Serious? Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/24310-flat-earth-belief.html

Reality, O. (2016, August 29). Flat Earth in 5 Minutes ▶️️. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDKc6X8TXNE

Smarterthanthat. (2016, January 26). 10 easy ways you can tell for yourself that the Earth is not flat. Retrieved from https://www.popsci.com/10-ways-you-can-prove-earth-is-round#page-6

The Short List of Famous People Who Think the Earth Is Flat (Yes, Really). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://people.com/celebrity/flat-earth-celebrities-world-not-round/

Why do some people believe the Earth is flat? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://phys.org/news/2019-01-people-earth-flat.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the End of the World as We Know It: Examining Doomsday Cults

What would you do if someone told you the end was near? Apocalyptic cults have continually attempted to answer this question. Charles Manson became an infamous figure in American history after his loyal band of followers, deemed the Manson Family, carried out a series of gruesome murders in the summer of 1969. The gang massacred some of Hollywood’s most famous, including actress, Sharon Tate. Manson’s cult centered around the belief that he was the chosen Messiah that would lead his followers into surviving an impending nuclear attack and race war. However, they were also tasked with initiating this race war[i]. In 1978, the world was shocked to learn of the mass murder-suicide that took the lives of more than 900 individuals. Under the guidance of the charismatic Reverend Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple murdered a Congressman, journalists, and intentionally drank cyanide-laced juice. The extraordinary phenomenon of Doomsday cults repeatedly catches the public’s attention, as many wonder what could convince normal people to commit such gruesome acts.

Doomsday cults typically center around predictions of the apocalypse. What many of these groups also have in common is a leader who suggests his own messianic destiny. Several individuals have come forth throughout history holding these extraordinary beliefs and a select few garnering the enough attention to capture a crowd. Often, those who manage to attract a vast following do not actively recruit members or attempt to convince nonbelievers, rather they wait for the “chosen ones” to fall in line.[ii]Other times, leaders may utilize popular rhetoric, such as religion, spirituality or social justice, to attract their following.[iii]Another crucial component is a leader who possesses such charm and allure to captivate an audience and convince his followers to carry out their actions. Other hidden tools of recruiting include propaganda which aims at alienated or vulnerable individuals who may be highly susceptible to outside messages.[iv]Once trust is slowly gained, these followers become deeply entrenched in the message of their organization.

To many, the idea of an individual who can predict the end of the world seems completely outside the boundaries of logic and reasoning. Our society is based on the notion that without scientific evidence, novel claims cannot be held to be true. Hence, when apocalyptic cults lack concrete proof for their predictions of the end times, they are dubbed implausible. However, for the many people who come to join Doomsday cults, their leaders are exactly what they preach to be. Consider, for example, what may be considered the largest cult to persist in history: Christians. Christianity is the largest religious following in the world and has been for centuries. Millions of people read the Bible, attend mass and pray devotedly in honor of a Messiah who led others to salvation. In the minds of cult followers, their group is no less legitimate than Jesus and his disciples.

The cognitive contributions to Doomsday cult members maintaining their belief has been studied by many psychologists. One of the most popular studies was completed by Leon Festinger[v]. Through his observation of the Doomsday cult, The Seekers, he displayed that these groups are not just misinterpreting evidence, but changing the way they process information to configure to their beliefs. In a practice termed “cognitive dissonance,” Festinger noted the unpleasant state of tension when actions, thoughts, or beliefs are inconsistent. This discomfort then motivates individuals to either change their behavior or beliefs to return to a harmonious state. Festinger further identified certain conditions under which followers will not only maintain, but strengthen, their beliefs after they are disproven.

The notion behind Doomsday cults is not an outdated concept. The same recruiting and manipulation techniques have been related to those used by terrorist organizations today, such as ISIS. By utilizing the same religious rhetoric and appealing to susceptible populations, terrorist groups have convinced individuals to engage in violence and suicidal behavior. Social conditions also play a factor in the enhanced attraction of such manipulative groups. Typically, when individuals feel isolated from the community and long for something to believe in, they are more easily persuaded to join groups which instill a sense of belonging and a newfound purpose in life.[vi]

The irrational beliefs of Doomsday cults are perceived as rational in the mind of those who participate in them. Captivating leaders tout a messianic message to prophesize the end of the world and their grandiose role in its conclusion. Members are recruited from a pool that suits the mission of the leader by various techniques. By utilizing the examples already present in our society, such as religious organization, members are able to justify their involvement in a group endorsing ideas unverified by scientific evidence. Cognitive properties, such as cognitive dissonance, are also at work to increase the convictions of group members despite conflicting information. Further, apocalyptic cults may not be a passing trend, but are re-envisioned in terrorist organizations and other groups that prey on others to accomplish an evil mission. Despite our desire to believe that humans are rational and skeptical beings, history tells us there will always be somebody claiming to know when the end is nigh, and he is likely not alone.

[i]Charles Manson. (2019, January 09). Retrieved February 8, 2019, from https://www.biography.com/people/charles-manson-9397912

[ii]Festinger, L., Riecken, H. W., & Schachter, S. (1967). When prophecy fails: A social and psychological study of a modern group that predicted the destruction of the world. By Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken and Stanley Schachter. New York: Harper & Row.

[iii]Conroy, J. O. (2018, November 17). An apocalyptic cult, 900 dead: Remembering the Jonestown massacre, 40 years on. Retrieved February 8, 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/17/an-apocalyptic-cult-900-dead-remembering-the-jonestown-massacre-40-years-on

[iv]Haberman, C. (2017, November 05). What Doomsday Cults Can Teach Us About ISIS Today. Retrieved February 11, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/05/us/retro-cults-isis.html

[v]Festinger, L., Riecken, H. W., & Schachter, S. (1967). When prophecy fails: A social and psychological study of a modern group that predicted the destruction of the world. By Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken and Stanley Schachter. New York: Harper & Row.

[vi]Haberman, C. (2017, November 05). What Doomsday Cults Can Teach Us About ISIS Today. Retrieved February 11, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/05/us/retro-cults-isis.html

 

Dianetics – The Birthplace of Scientology

Dianetics is a set of ideas about the human mind and human behavior originating from science-fiction author Lafayette Ron Hubbard. The basic idea behind dianetics involves the mind being split into three parts. The analytical mind is fairly straightforward as it navigates us through the world with rational decision making. The reactive mind, however, hold memories in the form of images during unconsciousness. The somatic mind takes all the input from the other two parts in order to direct action in the physical world. Within the reactive mind, a sting of painful experiences called an engram can start to affect behavior. In order to rid the mind of these engrams to alleviate negative experiences in the real world, one must go through “auditing” which is when a “therapist” interviews a subject in order to isolate and confront these painful experiences. After various tests and sessions, the subject can be declared “clear” which will greatly improve their life in the physical world. Dianetics was first popular in around 1949-1950 when Hubbard published the book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. However, at this time, Hubbard was trying to portray his ideas as science. However, Hubbard was forced to abandon the name “Dianetics” due to bankruptcy, so he modified the ideas slightly with a different name: Scientology. While these ideas are not scientifically correct since the mind is much more complicated than that, the mixing of science with these extraordinary beliefs allows Scientology to be practiced by thousands including actor Tom Cruise and musician Beck. Scientology can also be attractive to certain people because it portrays itself as a way to rid negativity.

 

One of the ways Hubbard would support his theories was by running experiments done by the Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation. Hundreds of trained auditors would use their taught techniques on subjects whose physical and mental health would be compared before and after auditing. Unfortunately, experiments set up in this fashion are ripe conditions for vast amounts of confirmation bias. The “trained professionals” would only look for what they wanted to see. They would only report positive results. Also, the way Dianetics’ science is reported, it is almost impossible to replicate to get the positive results because the experimenter basically has to be a part of that society. This is the very reason Hubbard restructured Dianetics from being scientific to a more philosophical idea because it could not be proven scientifically. Another piece of evidence the Scientology community points to is the e-meter. The e-meter reads a person’s electrodermal activity (EDA). This is the machine used while auditing. One of the first critiques of this device is that it was invented by a man inspired by Hubbard and worked with Hubbard. Basically it was built purely just to have some sort of evidence for Hubbard’s theories.

 

One of the ways Scientology will keep their believers in their web is by playing on cognitive dissonance. It is much harder to pull someone away from their established beliefs if they’ve invested time or money in that belief system. Scientology’s first step involves purchasing a lot of their materials. Not only does that provide one side of the scientific debate since it does not provide the critiques of the scientific basis of their beliefs, it also makes the person put their money and time towards this belief. Another way they keep their believers in their circle is by the availability heuristic. They will only look at the positive results, that being someone’s life improving due to the practices of this belief, rather than the many times they do not work. If one were to bring up the negative results, it is always easy to respond with a claim that cannot be tested. They could always say there are more engrams within that negative result, and that they only need to go further into the belief system before the improvement can be seen. Of course this whole time confounding variables are not being considered as alternative explanations.

 

Just as important as the factors that keep someone within the belief system, the type of community that believe Dianetics is crucial to how they get started. Essentially, Dianetics allows Scientology to operate as self-help tactics. They state all the negativity in your life can disappear if the engrams are eliminated. Naturally then, many of the people that turn to Scientology are desperate to alleviate some serious negativity in their lives. This, first, sets the seeds of cognitive dissonance keeping them within the belief system. It also allows grassroots spreading to happen more easily. If someone who had their problems “cured” by Scientology (when in reality it may have been other forces), they may become devout and look to spread these methods to other desperate people. Those people may not have enough information to contradict the claims being made towards them and only sees the positive result in front of them. Due to the nature of the community in which Scientology reaches out, it allows the beliefs to be more easily maintained and spread. Also, many of the members of Scientology are probably surrounded by mostly other believers in Scientology. If this is the case, it does not allow for other competing or contradictory points to be made. Instead, the beliefs continually get reinforced by others who only affirm rather than challenge.

 

Scientology was created by a man who’s entire life was to envision and create compelling stories. In this case, he created compelling ideas which he presented under the facade of being scientific fact. People who are desperately trying to improve their lives are essentially preyed upon using people’s instinctive biases and heuristics in order to reel them in and keep them there. Since the claims cannot be definitively tested in a scientific way, there’s a great deal of uncertainty. Human beings inherently do not do well with uncertainty. The ones who already subscribe to that belief system that does produce uncertainty may come up with excuses to reduce the cognitive dissonance. The excuses may be seeing patterns in results from auditing, looking to only positive results, or referring back to faulty science such as engrams. They will use their own ideas in order to explain why non-believers act the way they do. It essentially allows a denial structure that is impenetrable by outside sources and can only crumble from disbelief within.

 

Sources:

 

Dianetic Processing: a Brief Survey of Research Projects and Preliminary Results, Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation, 1951, accessed: 10 Feb 2019.

 

Kent, Stephen. “The Creation of ‘Reliogious’ Scientology,” Universities of Alberta, 1992, accessed: 10 Feb 2019

 

Miller, Russell. “Bankrolling and Bankruptcy,” Bare-Faced Messiah, The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard. 1987. New York: Henry Holt & Co. pp. 305–306

“What is Dianetics?” scientology.org. accessed: 10 Feb 2019 (many of the other frequently asked questions about Dianetics on their official information on their perspective on Dianetics

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble – The Story of the Scottish Play Curse

By Trent Cash

Among members of the theatre community, there is a long-standing superstition that uttering the name “Macbeth” within the confines of a theater will curse both you and the entire production that is currently being performed (Sherman, 2015). But fear not, the curse can be reversed by walking out of the theater, spinning around three times, cursing, and spitting (French, 2016). This curse, often referred to as the Scottish Play Curse, originated in early 17th century England, though the exact date is unknown (Royal Shakespeare Company [RSC], 2019). What is known, however, is that the belief came into existence because Shakespeare’s contemporaries in the 17th century, including King John I of England, believed in the existence of witches, and feared that the witches who chant “Double, Double, Toil and Trouble” at the beginning of Macbeth were real witches attempting to curse the show for eternity (RSC, 2019). While genuine adherence to this belief has faded as the witch’s place in popular culture has diminished, many actors across the western hemisphere still refuse to say the name “Macbeth” in theaters – though the purpose of this superstition has transitioned from genuine fear to little more than tradition (RSC, 2019). While the Scottish Play Curse is no longer genuinely believed in the way it once was, many similar superstitions still exist today. As such, understanding the mechanisms behind these kinds of beliefs is important to developing knowledge of where superstitions come from, how they are propagated, and how they can impact the day-to-day behaviors of individuals from all walks of life. Furthermore, the Scottish Play Curse is clearly an extraordinary belief because science tells us that witchcraft is most definitely not real, so a curse of this sort – which, importantly, has no viable mechanism for occurrence – would truly undermine our understanding of many fields of science. Despite its status as an extraordinary belief, the Scottish Play Curse is so ingrained in theatrical culture that resources explaining its history and sharing stories about its manifestations are plentiful, with sources ranging from actors’ experiences and dramaturgical histories to podcasts and YouTube videos.

When it comes down to evidence for the Scottish Play Curse, pretty much every argument in favor of the curse’s existence is anecdotal or coincidental – a trend that has been true since the curse’s inception. The notion of the Scottish Play Curse began around 1606, when the first production of Macbeth was plagued by a series of accidents, including the death of the actor (not actress) playing Lady Macbeth (RSC, 2019). Critics, however, are quick to point out that we don’t even know when Macbeth was first performed, as record-keeping wasn’t exactly stellar back then. In fact, the first record we have of Macbeth being performed comes from the journal of astrologer Simon Forman, who notes that he saw it in 1611 (Sherman, 2015). While the death of the actor playing Lady Macbeth in the original production cannot be confirmed, many confirmed tragedies associated with productions of Macbeth have occurred since, keeping belief in the curse alive.

One of the most-frequently cited examples of the Scottish Play Curse is 1849’s Astor Place Riot, a New York City riot instigated by a competition between two Shakespearean actors, Edwin Forrest and William Macready, who, at the time of the riot that killed between 22 and 31 people, were both performing – you guessed it – Macbeth (Apmann, 2016). Following the Astor Place Riot, the next mainstream example of tragedy associated with Macbeth occurred in 1937 when superstar actor Laurence Olivier was almost crushed by a stage weight while playing the titular character (The Shakespeare Company, 2017). In the same vein as these historical examples of tragedies associated with Macbeth, many accounts of the Scottish Play Curse have crossed into the media as recently as last year (Faires, 2018). With stories that include actor suicides, characters sleep-walking of stage, stage daggers being replaced with real daggers, and so much more, who could resist the allure of the Scottish Play Curse (RSC, 2019)? Well, apparently the skeptics can, because there are plenty of theatre-community folks who are quick to debunk the Scottish Play Curse. While the primary argument made by skeptics is that witchcraft isn’t real, but rather a manmade notion used to explain the unexplainable (Sherman, 2015), other critics explain that the dark themes and dim lighting used in productions of Macbeth simply put the actors on edge and make the production more accident-prone (Olivero, 2018). Furthermore, Dr. Paul Menzer, a professor at Mary Baldwin College, asserts that many of the accidents associated with Macbeth are simply the result of poor technical design, and that because Macbeth is performed so frequently, accidents are bound to happen every once in a while (Witmore, 2016).

In line with the assertions made by Dr. Menzer, I think a host of cognitive distortions are at the root of the Scottish Play Curse. First and foremost, I believe that the curse arose from a misunderstanding of base rates and probabilities. For example, approximately 50 professional productions of Macbeth were put on from 2011-2016, and that doesn’t include the thousands of non-professional productions performed by school, local, and regional theatres (Kopf, 2016). Probabilistically speaking, with that many productions with many performances each, something is bound to go wrong eventually. The true problem, however, is that people only notice the handful of times that something does go wrong because it “proves” the curse, meanwhile they ignore all of the examples of when nothing goes wrong – a phenomenon associated with the confirmation bias (Heshmat, 2015). Beyond the probabilistic factors, I would argue that performers use the curse as an excuse for mistakes. For example, if an actor forgets his lines, it’s a lot easier to blame it on the curse than it is to blame himself – but if he does well, it’s because he’s a great actor. This tendency to blame external failures for bad outcomes, but attribute successes to internal factors, is an example of the self-serving bias (Fournier, 2018). Furthermore, blaming the curse can help reduce the cognitive dissonance an actor feels when he makes a mistake, but knows he’s a good actor. By blaming the curse, he can adjust the cognition from “I made a mistake” to “the curse messed me up,” a belief that is more consonant with his knowledge of his own skill (Mcleod, 2018). Finally, many actors report having adhered to the tradition of the curse simply because it’s better to be safe than sorry (French, 2016), an attitude that is common with superstitions, particularly when the cost of engaging in the curse-preventing behavior is low (Van Zandt, 2019).

Beyond the cognitive distortions associated with the Scottish Play Curse, there are, without a doubt, a variety of social factors at work. First and foremost, I think it’s important to realize that belief in the curse, because it is held by such a specific group of people (theatre people), can serve as a group identifier or status symbol. As with many things in life, this helps the performers to create an in-group vs. out-group scenario in which believing in the curse is an indicator that someone belongs in the in-group. This is a powerful factor because new members may start to believe in the curse (or at least say they do) so that they fit in better with the group because they want to be accepted by their peers and superiors (Whitbourne, 2010). Furthermore, I think it’s important to realize that, particularly at the highest level, the theatre industry is very competitive, and under the high levels of pressure, having an excuse for a bad performance could become even more essential than it is in lower-pressure environments (Mbe, 2016). As such, the curse could easily become a handy crutch for performers who constantly fear losing their careers. Finally, many actors claim that the key to getting into character is to allow the character to permeate all aspects of their life, and since the story of Macbeth is dependent on a belief in witchcraft, developing a belief in the veracity of the Scottish Play Curse could simply be a technique for developing the highest-quality performance (Ohikuare, 2014). As this technique is passed down from actor to actor, it could easily create a social environment that is more-open to extraordinary beliefs than most.

Ultimately, I believe that the Scottish Play Curse, despite the terrible tragedies with which it has been associated, is a rather light-hearted extraordinary belief that, over the course of time, has turned from a genuine fear into little more than an inside joke for actors across the western world. While many of these actors may still have that nagging voice inside their head telling them to avoid saying the name Macbeth, I believe that very few would tell you that they truly believe in the Scottish Play Curse or any other form of witchcraft. That said, many actors are perfectly open to using the curse as a tool to mitigate the impact of a mistake, but instead of depicting it as a genuine curse as they might have in the 17th century, today they use it to turn their mistake into something to laugh at – and having that knowledge of the curse helps them to become more ingrained in their theatre community. All things considered, I don’t think the Scottish Play Curse is much different than any other superstition. Have you ever knocked on wood, thrown salt over your shoulder, or worn a lucky pair of underwear for too many days just to be safe? These behaviors, in my humble opinion, are no different than the way that actors view the Scottish Play Curse – a charming antiquity that can’t hurt, but can most definitely make you feel attached to the people around you because they do it too.

References

Apmann, S. B. (2016, August 25). The Astor Place Riot. Retrieved from https://gvshp.org/blog/2016/08/25/the-astor-place-riot/

Faires, R. (2018, November 2). Macbeth’s Myriad of Misfortunes. The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved from https://www.austinchronicle.com/daily/arts/2018-11-02/macbeths-myriad-of-misfortunes/

Fournier, G. (2018, October 08). Self-Serving Bias. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/encyclopedia/self-serving-bias/

French, E. (2016, October 18). How to counteract the curse of Macbeth (er… The Scottish Play). Retrieved from https://shakespeareandbeyond.folger.edu/2016/10/18/macbeth-curse-scottish-play/

Heshmat, S. (2015, April 23). What Is Confirmation Bias? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-choice/201504/what-is-confirmation-bias

Kopf, D. (2016, September 22). What Is Shakespeare’s Most Popular Play? Retrieved from https://priceonomics.com/what-is-shakespeares-most-popular-play/

Mbe, V. S. (2016, May 25). Theatre, Performance and Society. Retrieved from https://thoughteconomics.com/theatre-performance-and-society/

Mcleod, S. (2018, February 05). Cognitive Dissonance. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/cognitive-dissonance.html

Ohikuare, J. (2014, March 10). How Actors Create Emotions: A Problematic Psychology. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/03/how-actors-create-emotions-a-problematic-psychology/284291/

Olivero, T. (2018, August 22). Macbeth: But, like, how cursed is it, really? Retrieved from https://www.shakespeare-machine.org/news/2018/8/4/but-like-how-cursed-is-it-really

Royal Shakespeare Company. (2019). The Curse of the Scottish Play | Macbeth. Retrieved from https://www.rsc.org.uk/macbeth/about-the-play/the-scottish-play

The Shakespeare Company. (2017, May 25). The Macbeth Curse: A History. Retrieved from https://www.shakespearecompany.com/about-us/blog/the-macbeth-curse-a-history/

Sherman, M. (2015, July 31). The Macbeth Curse: Myth or Reality? Retrieved from https://www.santacruzshakespeare.org/the-macbeth-curse-myth-or-reality/

Van Zandt, T. (2019, February 7). Learning and Superstition [Powerpoint slides]. Retrieved from https://osu.instructure.com/courses/50663/pages/superstition

Whitbourne, S. K. (2010, December 7). In-groups, out-groups, and the psychology of crowds. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201012/in-groups-out-groups-and-the-psychology-crowds

Witmore, M. (2016, September 20). Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 57 [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://www.folger.edu/shakespeare-unlimited/actor-anecdotes?_ga=2.178261092.1186305577.1550295116-565614297.1550295116

The Greatest Lie Ever Told: How Australia is Fake

One fascinating extraordinary belief that I have just recently come to know is the idea
that the country of Australia doesn’t exist. The theory holds that Australia is just an elaborate
cover up by the British government for a mass murder. People believe that when Australia was
founded as a penal colony that the prisoners were killed instead of sent to the nonexistent island,
but England couldn’t admit that outright. Now these people would argue that it has simply been
too long, so the British government maintains the conspiracy so as not to be viewed as lying and
monstrous. The main people that believe this are people who believe in the flat Earth theory,
thinking that to execute these prisoners they sailed them over the edge of the world. This belief
has found a recent resurgence in notability though its height of popularity was back somewhere
around 2006. This belief is important and extraordinary because it shows the depths to which
people may believe the most insane things, and how one extraordinary belief may stem from, or
feed off, another extraordinary belief.

Obviously, there are many things that one would think proves the existence of Australia,
but believers have ways to refute each. There isn’t much of any proof that Australia is fake, but if
they can show that the things that are used for the counterargument may be wrong, then the only
explanation for that is that there is some interest in keeping Australia, despite the lack of
evidence. One arguing that Australia does exist might point to its inclusion on maps as evidence.
One believing that it doesn’t exist would say that the British government has forced
cartographers to include it as part of the cover up. One might point to it’s being in satellite
imaging such as GPS, but again, that is just because of the meddling of the British government.
Surely meeting a person of seeing an animal native to Australia would prove its existence, but
maybe the people are just actors and the animals are from somewhere else in the world.
Ultimately, one can visit this place, which might indubitably
believers would respond that it is just a cover up, that if one attempts to travel there, they are just
taken to parts of South America or islands near the area of Australia. In this way, if one buys the
possibility of the cover up, then at least this would call into question the existence of Australia. It
is easier for people to believe in this to try to disprove the other side instead of proving their
own.

For this belief, people who believe it are severely misinformed, not only about
geography, but also about how arguments work. They leave it to people that would disagree with
them to prove them wrong. If they have a belief then the burden of proof for whether the belief is
true or not, lies with them, not with the other side. They seem to believe that simple doubt about
something’s existence is equivalent to that thing not existing, but if you look at that logic it
doesn’t really track well. They do not present anything that would work to force the conclusion
that Australia doesn’t exist. At very least most other conspiracies of this sort have proof, however
flimsy, that it really did happen that way. This one, however, just tries to ignore history,
geography, and a whole other culture. It would be quite an elaborate lie for the British
government to invent the Australian culture we know today, as well as the Aborigines that were
there before. Ultimately it seems like the believers in this theory are belligerently ignorant of
many facets of the world.

This belief is one that would theoretically fall out of favor quickly and completely, but
because there is a tight knit group of people that will believe any conspiracy, they can find solace
and support. It almost seems like there might exist some upping the ante in that conspiracy nuts
feed off one another, so even if they don’t believe in the same conspiracy they feel like they have
fellow “truth” seekers with which they can feel safe and can take their ideas to whatever end they
may desire. They see already established, outlandish theories, and so they feel like they can put
their whole heart into their own belief in their own way, trying to examine the most well hid
“truths” of society. It also helps to maintain this belief that there exist other such beliefs with
people positing that there are places that don’t exist such as Finland. Especially now, with the
prevalence of the internet it is so easy to connect with the small amount of people out there that
hold their extraordinary belief and so feel no embarrassment of saying anything they think when
most people would say they are crazy, or some other synonym.

In terms of psychology there are many logical fallacies and biases at work here. First,
there is circular reasoning evident in their argument. The logic seems to go that Australia doesn’t
exist, therefore the proof of those who say it does is just some conspiracy, therefore Australia
doesn’t exist. These people already hold an extraordinary belief in the flat earth theory, and then
they go even more extreme to claim that a large land mass doesn’t exist. These people seem to try
to set themselves apart, believing they are smarter than everyone else in knowing the earth is flat,
but that isn’t enough. They also want to set themselves apart from the other believers by
assuming another extraordinary belief. These are people who likely are very distrusting of
government; people who would question every piece of information pertaining to government
action. This almost seems like a belief that may have started as a joke or something of the sort
that wasn’t to be taken seriously, but then somehow gained traction in an already misinformed
demographic. These people in a way also take confirmation bias to the extreme so that they view
any proof as vague enough to interpret in their own way, finding ways to discount plain facts.
They also seem to engage in post hoc explanations by taking any piece of information and giving
a reason for it after the fact to show it false.

Further information can be found through a quick Google search or by checking out some
of these reports:
• https://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=12043583
• https://theculturetrip.com/pacific/australia/articles/some-people-think-australia-doesntexist-heres-why/
• https://www.express.co.uk/news/weird/953382/Flat-Earth-theory-Australia-not-realconspiracy/amp
• https://amp.theguardian.com/technology/shortcuts/2018/apr/15/australia-doesnt-existand-other-bizarre-geographic-conspiracies-that-wont-go-away

Behind the Belief: Lizard People

According to the lizard people theory, bloodthirsty reptilian aliens first arrived on earth in ancient times. Since then, these beings have been merging with humans through the manipulation of DNA, as well as interbreeding with the human population. The goal of this process was to gain control of the world by obtaining positions of power and influence: royalty, politicians, popular entertainers, etc. Approximately 4% of Americans believe in the lizard people theory, one of the most notable theorists being David Icke. Icke has written several books in which he provides evidence and further explanation. This theory seems to have been most popular in the early 2000s with a steady number of believers remaining to this day. If this theory were true, then the human race is being manipulated by an elite group of shapeshifting reptiles. Although fascinating, this claim seems rather impossible.

A simple way to prove the existence of lizard people is by recognizing the ones among us. Philip Bump’s article, “How to Spot the Reptilians Running the U.S. Government.”, provides a helpful summary of common characteristics: low blood pressure, random scars, a great love for space and science, an eye color of green, hazel, or blue (which may change at any time), and more. Further evidence exists in the form of video: slowing down or pausing can sometimes reveal a glimpse of individuals shapeshifting. However, the staff members of Inverse point out that this “shapeshifting” is really a glitch, or “compression artifact”: a common occurrence when using VHS tapes. Nonetheless, other evidence exists to support the theory. For example, the TopTenz channel discusses Icke’s findings of lizard people references within Bible passages: a serpent tricking Eve into eating the apple, the Nephilim interbreeding with humans, Satan’s characterization as a serpent or dragon-like being.

Icke’s interpretations of passages in the Bible seem to play a large role in this belief system. Given these phrases were rather ambiguous in the first place, it would be easy for Icke to connect them to his theory. With confirmation bias taking place in this form, it could be said that this is a misinterpretation of evidence. Therefore, followers of the theory who are exposed to this “evidence” are misinformed. Another example of a misinterpretation is the aforementioned video glitch that makes people look like they are “shapeshifting”.

This belief system is mainly supported by average Americans. Since they have no considerable control over the economy or government, it is easy to direct mistrust to those in power. This is especially true when individuals in charge make mistakes, or if the believers personally dislike them. Little opposition from society also encourages believers.  Given the popularity of conspiracy theories in general, it may feel acceptable for people to participate in the lizard people theory as well.

The lizard people theory is heavily reinforced by confirmation bias; Icke has been able to mold evidence in favor of his hypothesis. Furthermore, those who have become attached to Icke’s point of view have also developed the ability to interpret supporting information from vague sources. This belief system may also be connected to a desire for structure out of randomness. It is easier to explain how our world leaders managed to gain such positions of power by linking them to a specific group. This process possibly provides a sense of comfort to the believers; they can imagine having power over the leaders by “knowing” their true identities. It should be noted that the lizard people theory is not popular by comparison to other theories. Therefore, a number of Icke’s followers are likely motivated by a desire to feel unique. With these factors in mind, it is no wonder why many are captivated by the lizard people theory.

 

Sources

Bump, Philip. “How to Spot the Reptilians Running the U.S. Government.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 4 Oct. 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/10/how-spot-reptilians-runing-us-government/354496.

Staff, Inverse. “The Bizarre ‘Lizard People’ Conspiracy Theory, Killed by HD Video.” Inverse, Inverse, www.inverse.com/article/45526-lizard-people-theory-debunked-by.

TopTenz. Top 10 Things You Should Know About the Reptilian Conspiracy Theory, YouTube, 27 Dec. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=awMdxKB5s1Y.

An Extraordinary Belief, An Extraordinary Monster: Nessie

The Loch Ness Monster, Nessie, is a mythical aquatic creature believed to live in the freshwater lake, Loch Ness, near inverness Scotland (1). The belief is commonly held in Scotland as part of Scottish Folklore. Information on the Loch Ness Monster can be found through History.com, the BBC, National Geographic, PBS, etc.…There is even an “Official Loch Ness Monster Site” with up to date information and sightings of Nessie. The belief reached its peak popularity in 1933 and is still popular to this day (1). People have traveled from all of the world to Loch Ness in hopes of sighting Nessie. No conclusive evidence has been able to prove Nessie’s existence and yet all the way up until 2017, sightings of Nessie have still taken place (3). The belief is extraordinary because the idea of a pre-historic water creature living in Loch Ness would contradict everything we know about the world. No animal can live over 1500 years.
The strongest evidence to suggest that Nessie exists came from a photo by a well-respected London Physician R. Kenneth Wilson. The picture looked like animal with a long neck rising from the surface (2). Very few people believed the doctor would try to deceive them which affirmed the belief that Nessie is real. Later, however, it came out that the photo had been falsified. The remaining evidence of Nessie comes from primarily anecdotal reports or eye-witness accounts. In an attempt to discover the Loch Ness Monster, there were expeditions launched by the BBC, Oxford, Cambridge, and University of Birmingham to explore the underwater domain, using sonar, in an attempt to find evidence of Nessie. No conclusive evidence was found (1). This was in 1953 and since then there is no empirical evidence to prove the Loch Ness monster was real.
The belief of the Loch Ness Monster is widely held popular belief rooted in the Scottish culture. Due to the convictions about the Loch Ness Monster being real, any disconfirming/disrupting evidence will likely cause cognitive dissonance and internal discomfort (2). People would become more likely to rationalize with ideas such as: “Nessie doesn’t want to be found” or “just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s real.” On the other hand, any so-called sightings or ambiguous evidence of Nessie will be seen as confirmation that their belief in the Loch Ness Monster is correct.
Since the Loch Ness monster is so rooted in Scottish folklore, it is a legend passed down from generation to generation. A four-year-old girl I babysat for told me the story about the Loch Ness monster the other day. She said her grandma, who was born and raised in Scotland, tells her the story at bed time. I asked her if she believed it and she said yes. I then talked to her grandma and asked if she thought it was real. She said she grew up all her life being told the story of Nessie and that is was real. She even agreed that there is no evidence proving the Loch Ness Monster is real, but she still held the belief the monster was real and said she, herself, would never go for a dive in Lake Loch Ness. The popularity of the belief along with the tradition of telling the story of the Loch Ness Monster, could be the reason the belief has been sustained for so long. It is a story significant to the culture of the Scottish Highlands.
Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, is an extraordinary belief held even in the face of disconfirming evidence. Scientists, expeditions, historians, have all failed to prove the existence of Nessie. With no scientific evidence to prove Nessie’s existence, it is a belief still carried around the world. It is engrained into the Scottish Highland culture and a legend that’s continued to pass itself down for over fifteen hundred years.

Sources:

The Legend of Loch Ness – https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/legend-loch-ness/
Loch Ness Monster – https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/legend-loch-ness/
2017 has been a ‘record year’ for sightings of the Loch Ness monster – http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/41997932/2017-has-been-a-record-year-for-sightings-of-the-loch-ness-monster

Who Ya Gonna Call? A Look at Ghosts and the Facts Around Them

Belief in the paranormal is one that has been argued for literal centuries, most specifically
belief in spectral beings. A ghost is defined in the dictionary as “an apparition of a dead person
which is believed to appear or become manifest to the living, typically as a nebulous image”.
Pliny, a Roman author in the first century A.D., is credited with documenting the first spectral
haunting. Writing that an elderly man was haunting his home. In 856 A.D. the first poltergeist
was reported in Germany. Reportedly the poltergeist threw rocks and ignited fires in an attempt
to harm the German family (History of Ghost Stories, History Network). These are two of the
earliest recordings of ghost encounters. The belief in ghosts is not an archaic one however, USA
Today reported on a YouGov poll of 1,000 people that found that 45% of polled individuals held
the belief that ghosts exist and can come back from the dead in certain situations (Ashley May,
USA Today).

Evidently, believing in ghosts is still a rather prevalent belief in the United States that is
most definitely extraordinary due to the fact that if ghosts were proven to be real the existence of
an afterlife would be confirmed. This proof would then move to reaffirm or deflate religious,
moral, and scientific arguments made around existence and death. It is important to note that
there is research arguing that religious and paranormal beliefs are different and that there is no
correlation between the two (Langston, Fehrman, Anderson, D’Archangel & Hubbard, 2018) and
that people, religious or not, hold the same affinity to believe in ghosts and paranormal activity.
Certain groups are noted as popularizing the investigation of ghosts, the most famous being The
Atlantic Paranormal Society, otherwise known as T. A. P. S. from the hit show Ghost Hunters.
They claimed to apply the scientific method to ghost hunting and it seemingly took hold in the
early 2000s. Even with the show very rarely finding a location haunted and often debunking
stories, the investigators continued to believe in what they were searching for. The question
becomes, why do people believe in ghosts?

The facts within the belief is extensive, which is expected given the span of time the
belief has been held. The website Ghosts and Gravestones describes the five most common types
of ghosts. First are the most commonly known type of ghost the “Interactive Personality”. This
type is often a deceased family member or historical person and are supposed to retain the
personality traits they had in life. The second type of ghost is the Ectoplasm, which is often seen
as mist or fog within pictures or photographs. The third type being orbs, another entity seen often
in photographs and videos. Funnel ghosts are the fourth and are associated with “cold spots” and
show themselves as a wisp of light in photographs. Finally, the most popular type, the poltergeist
is often referred to as the “noisy” ghost due to the tendency of the spirit to knock things over,
interact with the environment and generally getting our attention by making a ruckus. The point
can be raised, what evidence is there to support this type of thinking.

The easy answer is that there is no undeniable evidence in favor for the existence of
ghosts. Most believers point to personal experiences (Live Science) and anecdotal evidence.
These are most often situations where the individual is unable to confirm the happening was due
to a ghost, but they also are unable to dismiss. A scientific concept used to justify a belief in
ghosts is the First Law of Thermodynamics, which conceptually states that energy is not created
nor is it destroyed but rather it is transformed. Believers using this logic assert that energy from
our bodies will become a spirit when we die. The immediate rebuttal to this argument, as
articulated in a Live Science piece, is that our energy is dispersed to the organisms in the soil and
not through so supernatural energy. The existence of ghosts also relies on photographic evidence,
debatably the most convincing for skeptics on the fence. Photos have been taken for well over a
century that depict a ghostly presence. That may be through picture blurring, orbs (a common
form of ghost), or even full body apparitions. No matter the circumstance, most photos have been
debunked as either being staged, altered, or simply coincidence (BBC). Personal experiences are
also presented as objective evidence and, to be fair, the instances can never be entirely debunked
due to the personal nature of these events. Psychology can try to explain why we continue to
believe these extraordinary beliefs, despite the presence of skepticism.

David Robson of the BBC reported in an article titled Psychology: The Truth About the
Paranormal that there are clear psychological explanations as to why individuals continue to
claim interactions with ghosts are real. The first being that illusions and perceptions of “shadow
people” or ghosts is tied to damage of the right-hemisphere which results in the perception of
beings that are not there (BBC). A less neurological explanation is that the belief in ghosts is not
falsifiable to many believers. While images, videos, experiences, and locations have been
debunked numerous times they belief still holds with the “yeah, but…” mentality. The
experience is inherently personal and anecdotal which lends itself perfectly to confirmation bias,
by simply seeking information that agrees with the mentality exhibited. Ghost stories are a
defining part of urban folklore, the stories are designed to seem plausible no matter the case, and
therefore they contribute greatly to the anecdotal telling and perception of extraordinary events.
It also makes sense because believing is also more comforting for people because that would
affirm that there is in fact an afterlife and therefore eliminates some uncertainty in life.

Ghost stories began with Pliny, moved to Shakespeare (with Macbeth), and still haunt us
through the “based on a true story” films like The Conjuring, The Exorcist, and Paranormal
Activity. Overall, believing in ghosts seems to be harmless with very little interpersonal
ramification. Around half of polled individuals believe in ghosts and that seems to make sense.
There is as much evidence to “prove” they do exist as there is convincing evidence that they do
not exist. This dichotomy is achieved through a non-falsifiable nature of argumentation which
will result in a never-ending cycle of skepticism. Personally, I think believing in ghosts is fun
and I also think attempting to debunk ghosts is fun. The potential for the existence is exciting and
I would be tempted to say that those “hunting” ghosts want them to be real as much as they want
them to not be.

Sources:
Editors, History.com. “History of Ghost Stories.” History.com, A&E Television
Networks, 29 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/halloween/historical-ghoststories

May, Ashley. “How Many People Believe in Ghosts or Dead Spirits?” USA Today,
Gannett Satellite Information Network, 25 Oct. 2017,
www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/10/25/how-many-peoplebelieve-ghosts-dead-spirits/794215001/

Ghosts & Gravestones. “Types Of Ghosts and Spirits.” Ghosts & Gravestones,
www.ghostsandgravestones.com/types-of-ghosts

Radford, Benjamin. “Are Ghosts Real? – Evidence Has Not Materialized.” LiveScience, Purch, 17 May 2017, www.livescience.com/26697-are-ghosts-real.html

Timberlake, Howard. “Future – The Intriguing History of Ghost Photography.” BBC
News, BBC, 30 June 2015, www.bbc.com/future/story/20150629-the-intriguinghistory-of-ghost-photography.

Suedeld, P. & Mocellin, J. S. P. (1987) The “sensed presence” in unusual environments.
Environment and Behavior. 19 (1); 33-52.

Langston, W., Fehrman, C., Anderson, K., & D’Archangel, M. (2018) Comparing
religious and paranormal believers. Peace and Conflict Journal of Peace
Psychology. 24(2): 236-239

Mothman: A West Virginia Folklore

Starting on November 15, 1966, the people of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, an otherwise quiet town along the Ohio River, began seeing something strange in there community. That night was the first widely reported sighting of a creature known as the Mothman, described as “flying man with 10 foot wings” and “seven feet tall with large eyes” (“Monster Bird”). In the sighting that started the town’s belief in the creature, two young couples were out for a drive late at night when they saw the creature. Terrified, they left the scene and reportedly were chased by it at speeds of “about 100 miles an hour” (“Couples See”). From here, many in the town began to report sightings of the Mothman, as well as other extraordinary phenomena, such as UFOs and even the men in black (Posey 2017). The belief in the Mothman became important to these people, as they began to blame bad happenings from disappearing dogs (“Eight People”) all the way up to the collapse of the Silver Bridge in 1967 on the creature. However, like Bigfoot and other cryptids, belief in the Mothman defies any animal we have ever documented, and the presence of some other precognitive and psionic abilities brings the creature even further from the reality we know.

To start, Roger and Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallette had their encounter on November 15, 1966. They reported their sighting immediately and even said that they wouldn’t report it alone, “ but there were four of us who saw it” (“Couple See”). From here, all evidence for the existence in mothman remains anecdotal and circumstantial, such as weird footprints or clouds of dust, though these sightings remained widespread in the community until the supposed sightings at the collapse of the Silver Bridge on December 15, 1967. Arguments against the belief typically state that the creature was actually simply a large bird, such as an owl, heron or even a sandhill crane. The sandhill crane is a bird that “stands almost as high as a man and has a wingspan of more than seven feet,” and even has “large circles of bare reddish flesh around the crane’s eyes” (“Monster Bird”), possibly explaining both the creatures stature and the red eyes, although the crane was not typically seen in the area during the time period of the sightings. Additionally, both couples reported that the eyes only glowed red “only when their lights shined on it,” (“Couples See”) a fact that strongly suggests the red eyes were simply a result of the “red eye effect” that is so common to flash photography.

Once the belief began, many cognitive errors could have come into play to reinforce it. While investigating the sighting, Deputy Millard Halstead found a cloud of dust the “could have been caused by the bird,” as well as finding strange footprints (“Couples See”). These would be examples of post hoc reasonings since they attribute the observed phenomena to a wholly cause that they hadn’t even directly observed. Confirmation bias may be present in the sandhill crane theory as well. The crane is likely the most plausible cause, but many would dismiss it since it wasn’t native to the region. They cherrypick that detail to dismiss the theory, and since no other good explanation exists, this dismissal strengthens their own belief in the creature. Third, because the sighting was so memorable and widely reported, the availability heuristic would come into play. People would began to just associate any “strange” occurences to the creature because it was much easier for them to remember. Additionally, many signs of a pseudoscientific belief are present here, such as the retreat to the supernatural, the abundance of anecdotal evidence, and even the appeal to authority caused by police actively investigating the sightings.

Of course, the society of Point Pleasant would lend itself to a folktale like this. Even today, Point Pleasant only has a population of slightly over 4,000 people, according to the 2010 census. It was a small city, and such an event was huge for the community at the time. Everyone knew the Scarburrys and Mallettes, so they would be more likely to believe them, and when weird things happened to others, the Mothman became an easy scapegoat. Jan Harold Brunvand noted that recountings state at least 100 people saw the Mothman, with many unreported sightings occurring as well. Basically, the size of the community allowed for everyone to either have a story or know someone with one, further reinforcing the belief the town had. This social support for the belief was probably what really drove the Mothman stories to become so famous.

Regardless of the social aspect, the dismissal of plausible explanations, the presence of supernatural abilities and even the little mental mistakes that made believing easier, the Mothman remains important to West Virginia folklore.

 

Works Cited

“Couples See Man-Sized Bird…Creature…Something.” Point Pleasant Register, 16 Nov. 1966.

Cryptid. “Mothman Sightings and the Point Pleasant Silver Bridge Collapse.” Exemplore, Exemplore, 2 Nov. 2018, exemplore.com/paranormal/Mothman-Sightings-and-the-Silver-Bridge-Collapse.

“Eight People Say They Saw the Creature.” Williamson Daily News, 18 Nov. 1966.

“Monster Bird with Red Eyes May Be Crane.” Gettysburg Times, 1 Dec. 1966.

“Mothman.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Feb. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mothman.

“Mothman Museum.” Mothmanmuseum.com, www.mothmanmuseum.com/mothman-museum.html.

Posey, Aaron. “50 Years Later: Point Pleasant, Silver Bridge Collapse and the Mothman.” 1428 Elm, FanSided, 28 Dec. 2017, 1428elm.com/2017/12/28/point-pleasant-silver-bridge-collapse-and-the-mothman-50-years-later/.

“Scarberry and Mallette’s Mothman Sighting.” TheMothMan Wikia, themothman.wikia.com/wiki/Scarberry_and_Mallette’s_Mothman_Sighting.

 

David Icke: Love and Lizard People

David Icke: Love and Lizard People

David Icke has been an icon of conspiratorial movements since he first declared himself the son of God in the early 1990s. His laying out of the foundations of the idea of a New World Order is what has maintained his popularity. Central to this belief is the concept of reptilian-human hybrids (otherwise known as “lizard people”) descended from a cross-breeding with interdimensional reptilian beings (known as Archons) that control Earth and its political machinations through manipulation (Icke). The Archons wish to manipulate humans because, by keeping them in a constant state of fear and hate, the Archons are able to feed off of negative energy that is given off. In fact, Icke believes that the entire universe is made up of vibrational energy and the manipulation of humans is what keeps them from realizing this (Icke). All of the components of this complicated system are contained in Icke’s books and lectures, with much of his direct linking between lizard people and important political figures in The Biggest Secret (1999). His beliefs are constantly evolving in popularity, and he is able to tour theaters across the world to lecture on his beliefs.

As Icke presents, the most significant evidence for his theory of lizard people and the Archons is his linking of the “reptilian bloodline” to a large number of U.S. presidents, celebrities, and other global figures (Barkun). He also cites political events such as the destabilization of the Middle East by Western powers as an intentional move to create fear and violence and social media as an experiment in surveillance and supplement to artificial intelligence (Oksman).  This is where many of Icke’s beliefs start to make sense in some capacity – there is objective accuracy to the initial aspects of many of his claims. Western governments have indeed destabilized Middle Eastern ones through the supply of arms and monetary support, and it is common knowledge that governments around the world use social media activity and pinging as part of their surveillance activities. He has also been “correct” about some very broad predictions about sociopolitical events, yet so were many pundits who made claims about military or political actions without an attached reptilian belief system. There is significantly less credible, fact-based evidence for his ensuing connections to the Archons and the reptilian bloodline. There are false links in the family trees that he has drawn, along with very clear inconsistencies in his more specific predictions (such as the world ending in earthquakes and flooding in the early 1990s).

Although Icke’s followers have sub-beliefs as broad as his own (for example, there are Facebook groups that seek to “reconcile” Icke’s reptilian ideas with the flat-earth movement), all of the beliefs, Icke’s included, seem to stem from a misinterpretation of evidence. They begin with widely-accepted events and their outcomes, but then justify those events post-hoc with the complexities of Icke’s reptilian beliefs. Because there is an initial element of truth, it could be that Icke and his followers are both informed and misinformed at the same time – a combination that contributes to their insistence on their belief systems.

Icke’s followers come from all sorts of social classes and, because he is the only prophet and arbiter of his beliefs, it is hard to pin down exactly who most often agrees with him. However, there is a not-insignificant overlap of Icke supporters and anti-Semites. This stems from Icke’s mentioning of a handful of famous, Jewish families as key members of the reptilian-human hybrids. As such, it does not seem uncommon to see members of the David Icke Facebook groups post anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and tropes. It should be noted that Icke himself insists he is not anti-Semitic (because of his belief that hate feeds the Archons) and that ultimate love is the only way to overcome the reptilian beings (VICE). As alluded to earlier, Icke’s beliefs are often used to complement other extraordinary beliefs, so perhaps people who believe in other, less broad beliefs run into Icke through their initial beliefs in things like the faking of the moon landing. Having online communities helps people sustain these beliefs, along with the fact that Icke maintains his own website with near-daily articles and updates. He is often the subject of documentaries, news specials, and regularly goes on tour to spread his beliefs, as well. All of this activity helps keep his supporters engaged in the beliefs.

In all, I think that the biggest contribution to Icke’s reptilian overlord belief system is his system’s intricacy and his own personal charisma. By adding on additional explanations as conflicting information arises (in a post-hoc fashion), Icke is able to “adapt” to challenges. He and his supporters can then scour the globe to find happenings that “prove” them correct (much like the justification of predictions from Nostradamus). The latter is a strong example of confirmation bias. Not only that, but the fact that so many of Icke’s ideas are founded on an initial understanding of global events may contribute to the resilience of he and his practitioners’ beliefs: they believe that, because they have that initial information threshold, they are “too smart to be fooled”. This goes hand-in-hand with the often seemingly-rational methods of explanation that Icke employs in his live talks. That is, there is an appearance of scientific reasoning and logic even though virtually no aspects of the scientific method have been employed. Perhaps most of all, Icke and his extraordinary beliefs are more easily accepted because the ultimate takeaway is largely positive: be kind to one another (Ward). His message that universal love of mankind is the only solution can certainly be appealing to many, and the lack of a violent call to action may be a boon to his cause.

 

References

“Culture of Conspiracy Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America.” Culture of Conspiracy Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America, by Michael Barkun, University of California Press, 2014, pp. 101–110.

Icke, David. The Biggest Secret. Bridge of Love Publications USA, 2001.

Oksman, Olga. “Conspiracy Craze: Why 12 Million Americans Believe Alien Lizards Rule Us.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 7 Apr. 2016, www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/apr/07/conspiracy-theory-paranoia-aliens-illuminati-beyonce-vaccines-cliven-bundy-jfk.

VICE, director. Magic Bullet: David Icke and the Lizard Apocalypse. Magic Bullet: David Icke and the Lizard Apocalypse, VICE, 2012, video.vice.com/en_us/video/magic-bullet-david-icke-and-the-lizard-apocalypse-vice-specials/57640f3191a3e54d645b90b1.

Ward, James. “Mocked Prophet: What Is David Icke’s Appeal?” New Humanist, 10 Dec. 2014.