Alternate Reality in the Post-Enlightenment Era

Is scientific censorship leading us back to the Dark Ages?

Flying over Antarctica’s ice wilderness.

I’m all for challenging orthodoxy, especially when powerful forces seek to enforce their narrow interpretation of observable reality to protect their vested interests and drive hidden agendas. I’ve long argued that intellectual freedom is the best way to let good science, grounded in verifiable reality, win over bad ideological science. It’s the ultimate form of democratic peer-review. Yet at the dawn of the artificial intelligence revolution, many opinion leaders would have us believe only a select group of authorised experts may decide on the key scientific questions that affect our everyday lives as free-thinking autonomous human beings. Once we lose the right to challenge authority over matters such as healthcare, farming or town-planning, our technocratic masters hold the power of life or death over us. This foreboding sense of helplessness leads critical thinkers to distrust all official information.

I fear the more trend-setting influencers push alternate realities at variance with our first-hand experiences, the more a growing minority of confused malcontents will begin to question the very foundations of the scientific enlightenment that enabled modern civilisation to thrive. If new schoolbooks redefine basic human biology by teaching impressionable young children gender is merely assigned at birth rather than being an immutable trait embedded in every cell of our bodies, why should we believe mainstream cosmology? When science becomes dogma, enforced by an army of censors, fact checkers and skewed statistics, some will fall prey to deceptive but superficially appealing counternarratives that serve only to bewilder us.

It should hardly surprise us that just as gender theory goes mainstream with primary school children exposed to drag queen story time, flat-earthism and young-earth creationism have made big comebacks on social media, especially among devout Christians, and perhaps in an ironic twist of fate, among many strict Muslims too.

In a make-believe world where men can become pregnant, why should we not fantasise the boundless opportunities of a flat disc extending infinitely beyond an ice wall that globalist geographers have apparently mislabelled Antarctica? With the advent of AI-enhanced interactive virtual reality, almost anything is possible. Tartan army foot soldiers might want to relive the 1978 World Cup with Scotland beating Iran and Peru to qualify for the second round and then to go on to beat Argentina in the final. Such a fantasy might also feature the Winter Olympics in the majestic snow-capped Cairngorms with 4000-metre peaks and state-of-the-art cable cars outclassing the best the Swiss Alps may offer. Indeed, why bother spending a small fortune to experience the natural wonders of remote Pacific atolls, the Amazonian rainforests or idyllic Tibetan villages, when we could explore idealised three-dimensional simulations of these locales via VR-goggles and haptic suits. Modern technology can easily simulate weather and terrain too, but I anticipate brain implants may do away with the need for complex machinery altogether and send haptic feedback signals straight to our cerebrum as if we were walking, running, swimming, kissing or even making passionate love with an erotic deity. We could, with new superhuman powers, climb Mount Everest, dive deep into the Great Barrier Reef and enjoy an exquisite feast of freshly caught lobsters washed down with champagne aboard our private yacht from the safety of our bedroom, with our atrophied flesh-and-blood body reduced to a life-support system for our online activities. Future transhumans could re-enact almost any alternate reality with radical revisions of history and geophysics to suit our cultural predilections and belief systems.

You may wonder why I bother debating with pseudo-intellectual flat earth theorists. For all I know, they could be either AI bots or digital agent provocateurs sowing the seeds of confusion in an age of heightened media manipulation. A few may be genuine biblical literalists or victims of subterfuge. Yet I feel strongly anyone concerned with objective truth amid so much deceit should call out both official and unofficial pseudoscience.

In my brief online exchanges, random flat earthers have questioned why passenger aeroplanes do not fly over Antarctica. The real reason is the only viable commercial route to cross the Southern polar region, from Sydney in Australia to Santiago of Chile, follows a natural path that skirts around the unforgiving ice-clad continent with much higher survival rates at sea in the event of an emergency landing. However, for a mere $100,000 (USD) you can buy a chartered flight to the South Pole and stay at the Amundsen-Scott Station. If you stay long enough to the start of long polar night, you may observe in an extreme cold of -60ºC at 2835m above sea level the night sky with its aurora rotate at 24 hour intervals.

While observations of sunrises, sunsets and lunar phases at different latitudes and longitudes led ancient astronomers to adopt the Round Earth model long before the development of modern navigation instruments, flat earthers persisted with their literal interpretations of sacred manuscripts, with heaven above us and hell below us. It is simply a myth that medieval scholars believed sailors would fall off the edge of the Earth if they ventured into unchartered territory. Ancient maps often portrayed the known world as a disc or segment of a larger sphere. In the second century BC, Ptolemy argued that the Earth is a stationary ball surrounded by a larger celestial sphere revolving uniformly around it along with the stars, planets, Sun, and Moon, thus explaining their daily risings and settings. Indian and Chinese astronomers visualised a dome rotating above a flat earth floating in a larger ocean. The worldview of earlier civilisations centred on a small portion of a surface that seafarers would later chart onto a sphere with amazing precision by the late 16th century.

The modern technology we take for granted relies on detailed knowledge of our geophysical and biological environments that has taken us thousands of years to acquire. We may yearn to expand our horizons to new undiscovered continents lying beyond a mythical outer ice shelf, but we have to make do with the 149 million square kilometres of land and 361 million km² of sea we have within the Earth’s atmosphere. The oceans below a depth of a few hundred metres remain largely unexplored as does the earth’s outer mantle. While new discoveries have called into question previous orthodoxies, such as the Big Bang or mathematical abstractions behind the hyper-dimensions of string theory, we can be pretty certain our home planet has a spheroidal shape and orbits our nearest star, the Sun.