Friday, November 18, 2016

Outside the Box

In a recent exchange on Twitter, a flat-Earther claimed that I only "believe" that the Earth is round because I'm not "thinking outside the box." The term immediately got my hackles up, not because it has any merit, but because it brands its user as a hack who's trying to impress someone with their creative thinking skills. I'm not the only one who feels that way; a poll from about eight years ago in Britain branded "thinking outside the box" as the most despised bit of business jargon.

The term seems to have originated with the "nine dot problem," wherein three rows of three dots must all be intersected with four straight lines drawn without lifting the pencil or pen. In order to solve the puzzle, you have to make the lines outside of the imaginary "box" defined by the nine dots. Every corporate creative consultant knows about this. But it's not such a great example of lateral thinking, after all.

I won't go into details, since it's somewhat off-topic, but here's a great article by a reformed corporate creative consultant about the problems with pegging too much on "thinking outside the box."

But let me add a couple of thoughts that I think relate specifically to flat-Earthers and other pseudoscientific types:

You're Not Thinking Outside the Box; You're Just Thinking Inside Another Box

I have been interacting with and reading and watching the works of flat-Earthers for about a year and a half now, and original thinking is extremely rare. And when there is something original, it's not really lateral thinking, approaching a problem from a unique angle to find a solution. It's just making stuff up.

Other than that, there hasn't been much original thinking in the flat-Earth world since Samuel Birley Rowbotham who, for all his faults, seems to have been a pretty creative guy. But Eric Dubay's material is mostly stolen from Rowbotham, and the vast majority of flat-Earthers on the Internet, especially YouTube and Twitter, are merely parroting what others have said, repeating the same poorly-designed experiments, and accusing anyone who disagrees with them of lying, or of being indoctrinated sheep.

Just Because Your Thinking Is Unconventional Doesn't Make It Worthwhile

Having something out of the mainstream to say doesn't mean that you have something important to add to the conversation. There has to be substance there; it can't be the first thing that pops into your head because you don't understand the world around you. You may think you're being profound and original, but more often than not (by far), you're just being annoying and wasting someone's time and energy with nonsense.

Before you say, or tweet, or vlog some amazing supposed fact you just found on the Internet, on Dubay's site or Mark Sargent's channel, or reposted for the thousandth time by someone who's just spamming anyway, stop and think: does this actually make sense?

If, for example, someone posts a video of the moon and the sun in the sky at the same time and says "this can't possibly happen on a globe," which makes more sense to do: repost it immediately with a nod of the head, or take a quick look at some sites on astronomy, by real astronomers, to see how the standard model of the solar system actually explains that situation?

I know what most flat-Earthers will do: a jerk of the knee, and another tweet adding to the pseudoscientific noise. You think you're bringing something new to the world. But I have news for you: ignorance is nothing new.

You Always Have To Come Back To the Box

Even in the nine dot problem, you can't ignore the box; the lines still have to connect with every single dot. If you draw four lines outside the box that never connect the dots, you haven't solved the problem.

Even if you do apply lateral thinking to a problem, you have to come back and make sure your creative thinking actually matches reality. Without excuses. You can't just say, for example, "sunsets are the result of perspective as the sun moves away from you at a fixed height above the Earth," unless you have some evidence that such a notion can possibly produce observations that nearly everyone on the planet makes every day as part of being alive on Earth.

Similarly, merely accusing all of mainstream science of lying and conspiracy is not creative thinking. It's out of the mainstream, to be sure, it's "outside the box," but you can't expect anyone to take you seriously if you can't produce real evidence (not just videos of things you don't understand, or reposts of heavily quote-mined documentaries) that someone is lying. And make no mistake: you are making an accusation, and a serious one at that; the burden of proof rests solely with you.

Just Stop

Stop using terms like "outside the box." And while you're at it, stop saying that your belief in a flat Earth is based on "first-hand observation," because you're lying. And since we're on the subject, stop using words like "indoctrinated" and "sheep" and "shill" as well, because they just make you look paranoid and foolish.

Which is not what you want, I think. Even if it's true.

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