I can understand why primitive peoples would have thought the world was flat in the form of a plane or disk, not the least that — at first glance — it really does appear to be horizontally enhanced and spherically challenged. Not surprisingly, therefore, many ancient cultures subscribed to a flat Earth cosmography.
As an aside, I’m a huge fan of the Discworld comic fantasy book series that was gifted to us by the late, great Terry Pratchett (RIP). These tales are set on a flat planet balanced on the backs of four elephants, which — in turn — stand on the back of a giant space turtle (the turtle is swimming through a bubble of high magical concentration, so everything makes sense).
I’m also a devotee of The World of Tiers series by Philip José Farmer. These tales are set within a series of artificially constructed “pocket universes,” which are created and ruled by decadent beings who are genetically identical to humans and who are the inheritors of an advanced technology they no longer understand. The overall series title comes from the main pocket universe featured in the books, which consists of a single planet with a green sky, shaped in the form of a huge stepped pyramid on five stages, with each stage being a disk or squat cylinder.
I’ve spent countless hours reading these books and imagining myself on strange worlds. In reality, of course, people started postulating that the earth was spherical from around the 5th century BC, when this concept was first mentioned by ancient Greek philosophers. These clever folks also came up with the idea of fundamental building block particles they called atomos, meaning “indivisible” (the modern word “atom” is derived from this term).
As far back as the 3rd century BC, Hellenistic astronomers established the spherical shape of the Earth as a physical fact, and they also calculated the Earth’s circumference for good measure (they got within around 10% of the actual value, which was pretty amazing when you consider the tools and technologies with which they were working).
So, you can only imagine my surprise and despair to read an article on CNN.com titled, The flat-Earth conspiracy is spreading around the globe. Does it hide a darker core? (I do like the pun about the core.) I find just about every part of this article to be either sad or horrifying, including the part that says, “A YouGov survey of more than 8,000 American adults suggested last year that as many as one in six Americans are not entirely certain the world is round…”
I was also amazed to read that, “The flat-Earth community has its own celebrities, music, merchandise — and a weighty catalog of pseudo-scientific theories.” Well, I’m not too surprised by the pseudo-scientific theories, but the celebrities, music, and merchandise certainly gave me pause for thought.
The article quotes a follower of the flat Earth concept called David Weiss who says, “I don’t want to be a flat Earther. Would you wake up in the morning and want everyone to think you’re an idiot?” Well, I’m afraid that ship has already sailed if you listen to my wife (Gina the Gorgeous) or my mother, but — in general — I would have to say, “No, I don’t want everyone to think I’m an idiot.” One way to achieve this, of course, is to refrain from espousing idiotic theories, like saying the Earth is flat or that the Apollo program and the associated Moon landings were hoaxes that were staged by NASA (opinion polls have shown that between 6% and 20% of the Americans surveyed believe that the crewed landings were faked).
I can only sit here shaking my head in disbelief. Any reasonable thinking being knows that the Earth cannot possibly be flat — if it were, cats would have pushed everything off it by now!