Friday, December 29, 2017

Examining Claims by Flat Earth Theorists

I was surprised to see on the news a couple months ago that a conference of people who believe the earth is flat was held in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Nov. 9-10, 2017.  It was a sold-out event, with about 400 people attending.  The image above is the shape of the earth as most of them see it.  The white band around the edge is the "ice wall" (known to everyone else as "Antarctica") that keeps people and the oceans from falling over the edge.

A little more research turned up news stories about the Flat Earth Conference.  Examples: "Inside the first ever 'Flat Earth conference' where conspiracy theorists promise to 'reveal Nasa space lies' and prove our planet isn't spherical," "Fanatics descend on sell out 'Flat Earth' conference promising to 'reveal NASA space lies'," "GLOBE NOTTERS: These oddballs are convinced the Earth is FLAT … and they’re out to ‘prove’ their theories are true," "Sellout flat-earth conference discusses NASA lies, fictional 9/11 and government mind control." 

I also found that there are many web sites run by Flat Earthers, and they also have many YouTube videos where they explain their beliefs.  One Flat Earther, Eric Dubay, has a 35 page "book" in which he presents "200 Proofs Earth is Not a Spinning Ball."  Four of his more interesting "proofs" are #44, #46, #47 and #48.   Here they are: 
 44) If Earth was a ball, and Antarctica was too cold to fly over, the only logical way to fly from Sydney to Santiago would be a straight shot over the Pacific staying in the Southern hemisphere the entire way. Re-fueling could be done in New Zealand or other Southern hemisphere destinations along the way if absolutely necessary. In actual fact, however, Santiago-Sydney flights go into the Northern hemisphere making stop-overs at LAX and other North American airports before continuing back down to the Southern hemisphere. Such ridiculously wayward detours make no sense on the globe but make perfect sense and form nearly straight lines when shown on a flat Earth map.
46) On a ball-Earth Cape Town, South Africa to Buenos Aries, Argentina should be a straight shot over the Atlantic following the same line of latitude across, but instead every flight goes to connecting locations in the Northern hemisphere first, stopping over anywhere from London to Turkey to Dubai. Once again these make absolutely no sense on the globe but are completely understandable options when mapped on a flat Earth.
47) On a ball-Earth Johannesburg, South Africa to Sao Paolo, Brazil should be a quick straight shot along the 25th Southern latitude, but instead nearly every flight makes a re-fueling stop at the 50th degree North latitude in London first! The only reason such a ridiculous stop-over works in reality is because the Earth is flat.
48) On a ball-Earth Santiago, Chile to Johannesburg, South Africa should be an easy flight all taking place below the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern hemisphere, yet every listed flight makes a curious re-fueling stop in Senegal near the Tropic of Cancer in the North hemisphere first! When mapped on a flat Earth the reason why is clear to see, however, Senegal is actually directly in a straight-line path half-way between the two.
They are all basically both the same argument.  They just use different locations.  I found a graphic that some Flat Earthers use to illustrate this argument.  Here it is:

Note that the routes were clearly chosen so that they would cross Antarctica, and they ignore shorter, actual airline routes that go to and from the places depicted and do not require flying over Antarctica.  Moreover, the route they show from San Paolo, Brazil, to Perth, Australia, which goes closest to the South Pole, would be a 9,240 mile trip, and the range of a Boeing 747-400 is just 8,380 miles.

I did a little research and found that, contrary to the claims in the illustration and in the "proofs," anyone who has the money can fly around the earth (and around Antarctica) on commercial flights.  And it can be done on just 4 hops:

1.  Sydney, Australia, to Santiago, Chile, via Qantas Airlines.
      Distance: 7,055 miles.
      Time: 12 hours, 20 minutes.  5 non-stop flights per week
      Cost: $1,920, one way.
2.  Santiago, Chile, to San Paulo, Brazil, via  LATAM. 

      Distance: 1,604 miles
      Time: 4 hours, 10 minutes.  Many daily non-stop flights.
      Cost: $741, one way.
3.  San Paulo, Brazil, to Johannesburg, South Africa, via South African Airways

      Distance: 4,620 miles.
      Time: 10 hours 25 minutes.  1 - 2 non-stop flights per day.
      Cost: $1,982, one way.
4.  Johannesburg, South Africa, to Sydney, Australia, via Qantas. 

      Distance: 6,934 miles.
      Time:11 hours, 40 minutes.  1 non-stop flight per day.
      Cost: $1,270, one way. 

Total distance: 20,213 miles.
Total cost: $5,913

On a projected map with the South Pole in the center, the 4 hops look like this:

On the Flat Earth map, however, the 4 hops look like this:

And that is where the absurdity of the Flat Earth theory can be clearly seen.  To get from Sydney to Santiago, you have to fly across the flat earth world, passing over Los Angeles, California!  There doesn't seem to be any way to measure distances on the Flat Earth map, but on a globe, a flight from Sydney to Santiago that passes over Los Angeles would be 13,084 miles, much farther than directly from Sydney to Santiago on a globe, and far beyond the range of a Boeing 747-400.

And, of course, when flying on the flat earth from Johannesburg to Sydney, you would fly over Saudi Arabia and China.  On a globe, the flight is mostly over the Indian Ocean.

The question then becomes: When people take these flat earth flights, how is it they do not notice that they are flying over land when they should be flying over the ocean?  And how do they make it in one hop if the distance is greater than the distance the plane can fly without refueling?   Do the Flat Earthers believe all the passengers are hypnotized or drugged as soon as they get aboard?

Or maybe the Flat Earthers are just incapable of understanding simple logic.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

airplane on a conveyor belt

As I see it, the answer to the question is clearly "NO."  Some people agree.  But, it seems that many other people on the Internet strongly disagree.  And the TV show "Mythbusters" agreed with the naysayers.

This is an analysis of the dispute.  The question and illustration above are what Albert Einstein would have called a "gedanken," or a "thought experiment."  It is probably impractical or far too expensive to perform in real life, but there is nothing to stop the experiment from being performed in our imaginations.  You just need to have an imagination.

This is how the "thought experiment" works:

We have a 747 setting on a conveyor belt.  There is a wind sock or flag next to the conveyor belt which hangs limp, indicating there is no wind blowing.  Since "the conveyor belt is designed to exactly match the speed of the wheels, moving in the opposite direction," the flag pole can be used as a guide to assure this happens.  When the plane starts to move, the flag pole will get farther away unless the conveyor belt also moves to keep the plane in the same place.  So, we need some kind of device that makes sure the airplane always remains in the same spot.  That way, the conveyor belt will "exactly match the speed of the wheels, moving in the opposite direction."

The pilot of the plane can push his throttles full forward, and the conveyor belt will compensate to keep the plane in the same place, the speed of the wheels exactly matching the speed of the conveyor belt.

Can the plane take off?  Of course not.  It is basically just standing still.  It cannot get any lift.  There is no air rushing across the wings to create low pressure atop the wings to lift the plane.  That is what the "thought experiment" was designed to illustrate.

So, how can anyone possibly disagree with this?

Mostly they disagree because they misunderstand it.   Many disagree because they consider the "thought experiment" to be impossible, and they create a different experiment that they agree with.

The "thought experiment" might have been easier to understand if the pilot was in control of the experiment instead of the conveyor belt.  That way, the conveyor belt can be set to just run faster and faster until it reaches about 200 mph or beyond normal takeoff speed.

When the conveyor belt starts moving, the pilot will see the flag pole moving away from him, indicating that his plane is being hauled backwards.  He can then add power to his engines to compensate, keeping the flag at the same angle to the aircraft.  As the conveyor belt moves faster and faster, the pilot applies more and more power to the engines which generate more and more thrust.  But the weight of the plane on the conveyor belt remains the same.  No air moves across the wings, so the plane does not lift and cannot take off.  If the conveyor belt reaches 200 or 300 or 500 miles per hour, the plane will still be in the same spot.  All the engines are doing is preventing the the airplane from moving backwards.  The wheels will be flattened on the bottom just as if the plane was parked.

In reality, of course, the constant flexing of the rubber in the tires as they rotate under the full weight of the plane at high speeds would cause the tires to overheat and burst, and the engines would also overheat and either shut down or explode because they are designed to fly best in the cold air of higher altitudes.  But the plane would not take off.

What are the arguments from the naysayers?  The first argument (on a web site HERE) is "The wording of this quiz is wrong and makes it physically impossible," and "we can not design the conveyor belt to move at the same speed as wheels."   In effect, he admits that the plane cannot take off unless you reword the "thought experiment" to allow it.  He argues that the way the thought experiment is phrased does not allow for an imbalance of forces to move the plane forward.

So, he wants the experiment done the way it was done on Mythbusters.  And he includes a link to the Mythbusters episode about the thought experiment:

But the Mythbusters experiment did not have a conveyor belt.  They had a long canvas cloth laying on pavement.  And a truck pulling the cloth under the plane is supposed to simulate a conveyor belt.  But, it doesn't, because the weight of the plane is being held up by solid earth, not by the cloth and not by any conveyor belt.

When power is applied to the engine in the video, the plane can be seen to move almost normally relative to the traffic cones marking the side of the runway.  And the plane took off.  Why?  Because it wasn't the experiment in the original question.  The plane was moving across the stationary earth, not sitting on a moving conveyor belt.  The cloth was being pulled out from under the plane, but the cloth was very long and therefore flexible enough to have little effect on the movement of the plane.  That flexibility allowed the wheels to turn at the speed the plane moved relative to the earth.  And the plane is allowed to move forward, almost as if the cloth wasn't there.  They should have had high-speed cameras and marks on the tires to record the speed of the wheels versus the speed of the cloth and the speed of the ground.  That would have shown that the plane moved almost as if the cloth wasn't there, totally ignoring the experiment.

Another web page HERE also argues that the original question is not realistic, and it also argues that if the conveyor belt is moving fast enough it will drag air with it and give the airplane the lift it needs to take off.  That is highly doubtful, since the air being dragged will be very close to the earth and certainly won't be going OVER the wings, creating low pressure, which is what is needed to give the plane LIFT and allow it to take off. 

Another web page HERE also argues that the question is unrealistic.

A web page HERE says the plane cannot take off, and then he opens the question for debate, getting responses for and against.  There's another such page HERE.

There are more arguments HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.  And there is a New York Times article from 2006 HERE.

 As I see it, the question is HYPOTHETICAL.  It is a "gedanken" thought experiment.  As it is stated in the original question, the plane cannot take off.  If you change the question and add other conditions, then you aren't answering the question.  You are just arguing.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Trump thinks emotionally, NOT logically

I've been trying to restrain myself, but I keep thinking I need to write a comment about President Donald Trump's screwball claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama.  It's just one straw too many.  So, here's my comment. 

According to an article in Friday's Washington Post:

In the days since Trump’s tweets alleging the wiretapping were posted, the White House has called for a congressional investigation, declined to comment, dodged questions, pointed to media reports that don’t contain the information aides say they do and analyzed the president’s use of quotation marks — all while doubling down on his claim without providing any evidence.
While doing research, I found this cartoon: 

I keep thinking that President Trump simply cannot think logically, he only thinks emotionally.  Evidence obviously has no meaning to him.  Only his beliefs have meaning.  If there's no evidence of wire tapping, that just means the FBI hasn't looked hard enough to find the evidence that Trump believes must exist.

How can President Trump believe the evidence must exist?  Because some staffer comment or news article or email or idea convinced him to believe it.  And once he believed it, it becomes an emotional conclusion.  What he believes cannot be wrong, since that would mean he is not as smart as he thinks he is. 

There is no middle ground for those who think emotionally.  Those who think emotionally must be right, and the only acceptable alternative is that the world must be conspiring against them to maliciously argue something is wrong that must with absolute certainty be right.  If something they argued for turns out to be a failure, it is always the fault of those ignorant and malicious people who disagreed with them.

This topic has special meaning to me because I spent over a decade arguing with people who believed that Muslims sent the anthrax letters, even though all the evidence clearly said the letters were sent by an American scientist.   And those True Believers are still out there arguing the same things they argued ten years ago.  No facts or evidence will ever change their minds.  And, of course, they have no facts or evidence to support their beliefs.  As with Trump, they want the FBI to find the facts and evidence for them.  They are just absolutely certain that there is evidence out there somewhere that will confirm their unshakable beliefs.

It also seems that if these True Believers have one totally unsupported belief, they also have others.  And they are totally certain about all of them.  The absurd claims were probably never more absurd than when Trump argued that millions of people voted illegally in the election he won.   

From my observations, it appears that Trump was elected by people who think the way he does, people who think emotionally, not logically.  Were they driven by a hatred of foreigners, a fear of foreigners or a hatred of the government in general?  Maybe a bit of all three.   All that appears certain is that were "fed up" and wanted to elect a fast-talking game show host to straighten out the situation.  Trump told them what they wanted to hear, and they believed him. 

Another thing that Donald Trump has made very clear is that he had absolutely no idea how complicated politics can be.  He was probably the only person in America who thought that replacing "Obamacare" would be a simple task.

I'm reminded of a comment in Eric Hoffer's book "The True Believer" which said
the only way to change a True Believer's mind is to convert him to a different belief.  "He cannot be convinced, but only converted."

I have a paperback copy of Hoffer's book somewhere in my library, but I couldn't find it when I looked for it yesterday.  (It's probably behind some other book.)  But I quickly found a free pdf copy on the Internet.  Searching through it for the word "convert," I found this full quote:

The fanatic cannot be weaned away from his cause by an appeal to his reason or moral sense. He fears compromise and cannot be persuaded to qualify the certitude and righteousness of his holy cause. But he finds no difficulty in swinging suddenly and wildly from one holy cause to another. He cannot be convinced but only converted. His passionate attachment is more vital than the quality of the cause to which he is attached.
I also found this quote which seems very much to apply to President Trump:

Both by converting and antagonizing, he shapes the world in his own image.
And this quote also seems to apply to President Trump:

The proselytizing fanatic strengthens his own faith by converting others. The creed whose legitimacy is most easily challenged is likely to develop the strongest proselytizing impulse.
So, we can assume that as more and more of Trump's absurd beliefs get shot down and debunked by people citing facts and evidence, the more Trump will become convinced that he is right and the world is conspiring against him.

Doing a Google search for the words "Trump" and "impeach" I was provided with 16,900,000 results.  Among those results, I found a web site called "" which is looking for people to sign their petition to impeach President Trump (and to donate to their cause).  There are also a lot of other sites out there with petitions to impeach Trump.   I also found a Time Magazine article titled "Congress Can Remove Donald Trump From Office Without Impeaching Him."  And a article titled "Trump's Wiretap Tweets Raise Risk of Impeachment."  According to one source, Congressman Jerrold Nadler has already set in motion a plan to impeach Trump.

Of course, if Trump were to be impeached, that would mean that Vice President Mike Spence would become President.  Some consider that to be a worse situation: It's better to have an incompetent President than an evil President. 

Personally, I think it is more likely that Donald Trump will resign before the end of his four-year term than that he will be impeached.  If he doesn't find being President the "fun" and the boost to his ego that he thought it would be, and if he constantly suffers setbacks in his plans, he could just "throw in the towel" and say "The hell with it."  He'd blame others for his failures, of course.

On the other hand, if President Trump manages to start a war somewhere, that would mean all bets are off.   

I've been wanting to write a comment about Donald Trump for weeks, even though I try very hard to avoid thinking about him.  The problem is: He's on the TVs they have at the gym where I work out four times a week.  I seem to work out at the exact same time that Trump's spokesman Sean Spicer gives his daily news briefing.

When I get home, the evening news every night seems to have some story about Trump's latest screwball tweet.  And The Late Show with Stephen Colbert always has some hilarious comments about the Trump absurdities.

It's all very hilarious.. But, at the same time it isn't very funny at all.