Why do we believe what we do?
Belief can be a mysterious thing. The way we are influenced and convinced is an intriguing aspect of human behaviour.
Last night I watched Myth Busters deal with the NASA Moon Landing. One of the better episodes I think – a lot of fun stuff happening. They were clearly relishing the whole experience. I was stunned to hear their claim that around 20% of Americans currently believe that the Moon Landing was a hoax. That is, no one has actually been to the moon – it was filmed somewhere in a studio etc etc. If that figure is correct– or even one of the lesser estimates – that’s a huge number. How does that happen?
This is not a review of the program per se but they did a very nice job of busting the claims they dealt with: shadows in the wrong places on pictures, astronaut glowing in the shade of the Lunar Module, flags waving in the lunar breeze, boot prints in lunar dust and few others.
I have been to some of the hoax sites on the web and vaguely remember seeing a TV documentary on the topic. But it never seemed an idea with much mileage to me. I’m old enough to remember seeing some of the footage on TV and grew up in a household engaged in things scientific. But I think the issue is more about common sense and and a bit of critical thinking.
Just stop for a moment. This was possibly the biggest single scientific achievements of last century. Do you think there were some scientists across the globe with some interest in whether or not it was possible in the first place? Just a few. The science has never been in question. It was a challenge and an amazing achievement but never an impossibility.
There were a huge number of people involved in this endeavour across the globe – not just in the USA. The conspiracy to deceive would have to be massive. Pulling off a hoax of that scale – and sustaining it – would have been (and still is) impossible in the circumstances. And to even consider it would have been the height of foolishness. The best minds on the planet were watching or making this thing happen.
And for what? You do all that stuff to pretend you’d been to the moon?! Knowing you’d be found out one day!
The science is fascinating, but it’s almost eclipsed by the dynamics driving a hoax theory like this. It is a massive social experiment and a commentary on Western culture. How many degrees of separation from an event does it take for the very existence of that event to be called into question?
Why do people believe things that fly in the face of clear thinking and evidence to the contrary?
Scientists have been bouncing lasers off the retroreflectors left on the moon by various Apollo missions for 35 years. You can go to places and get a demo. And that is just one demonstrable piece of evidence.
So we have a bunch of people who have been studying this stuff for years, living across the road from that person who is convinced it was all made up.
It raises all kinds of questions about contemporary culture, the information age, and the marketing of ideas.
Subsequent to the original date of this post, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has started sending back pictures of the Apollo landing sites, so one would think that will put an end to the hoax theories once and for all. Time will tell.
18.07.09 As part of the 40th anniversary, Nasa is releasing restored footage of the landings. Beautiful stuff.