Sunday, July 26, 2009

Reflections on the Moon Landing (Hoax)

Monday marked the 40th anniversary of man's first steps on the moon and/or the greatest hoax ever pulled off. Either way, its a powerful story with an important message. If indeed the moon landings took place, it's an amazing feat of engineering and technology as well as a testament to collective achievement. If it was faked it is a triumph of stagecrafted perception over reality on a massive scale. Either way, the message of the moon landing is that anything is possible.

In the end, the goal of the moon landing and what is achieved by its faking are the same. There were no urgent, scientific reasons for a going to the moon. There was no Armageddon-like threat to the planet that the astronauts were saving the human race from. It was about bragging rights and being the first to do something that seemed impossible. The goal of the mission was the demonstration of scientific superiority. It was about creating and solidifying collective, cultural belief. It was about controlling minds.

I used to tell people that I didn't believe the moon landing was real, that I thought it was all faked. It started out as a thought experiment. A facetious, philosophical instigation. A way to get people riled up. An intellectual inquiry into the mechanics of "why" we believe what we believe. Given the fact that everything is spun on its axis in order to achieve some political and/or financial end, consciously considering what to believe as truth and what to reject as deception is a fundamental intellectual capacity required for consciously navigating one's way through life. Failure to do so renders one's self into an easily available resource available for domestication and harvesting by others.

Over the years these types of thought experiments have evolved into a theoretical perspective that I refer to as "quantum epistemology". In physics the concept of "superposition" refers to the collective combination of all possible states any given system might take. Subatomic particles are believed to occupy many simultaneous position at once (a superposition) and that it is the act of observation or measurement that collapses it in on a single position. Truth, to me, is often better thought of as a superposition of possibilities rather than a discoverable, stable, graspable possession. It is the act of belief collapses in on an isolated perspective and fixes it in the mind as truth.

A long view of scientific history makes it seem silly to take and defend a position on something such as the beginning of the universe or the origins of man. Science never quite gets to the bottom of anything. On the contrary, it is closer to a never ending process of revising what we though we already knew and pushing the number of things we don't know upward. The lesson of science is that everything is more complicated than we thought it was. Despite this, the most popular application of science if the forming of vehemently and aggressively defended certainties.

The cultural battles that rage over the issues like evolution and climate change aren't about truth, they're about control. History shows clearly two things. One, that people have a endless willingness and capacity to battle for control. Two, everyone who has ever lived has been wrong about almost everything that they believed. If time has a lesson it is that everyone is wrong.

So, do I believe that man has been to the moon? So many years entertaining both possibilities has completely "unfixed" any sort of position on the matter for me. There really isn't anything at stake or anything pressing me to decide either way. Someday, maybe something will happen happen, a super-powerful telescope will be invented that allows me to peer upon the surface of the moon and either see the flag and that little golf cart, or not. On that day it will be like opening the box and finding out where or not whether schrodinger's cat is alive or dead but until then I really don't know, not in any absolute, certain sense. And neither do you.


Bob Ichter said...

I've always used this as a litmus test for scientific illiteracy.
You either believe, or you don't believe. when you say you could go either way, you fail the test. You are the only, and I mean only intelligent person I have ever met who has any doubt that we landed on the moon. When I hear someone say that we didn't, I immediately know that they are an imbecile of the first order.
check out

Thomas Sherman said...

maybe I'm not that intelligent?

Or, maybe I'm confident enough not to have to be certain, and so open enough not to have the need to judge others against my puny insights into the workings of the universe

Scaramouch said...

Your fallacy here, Bob, is that you're confusing proof with belief. Beliefs - such as religious beliefs - require no facts, they just require a internally-consistent world view (God did it).

I would suggest if you want to apply a litmus test for scientific literacy, you take on creationism, which, I think, has even less proof that a moon hoax, and yet is accepted by a much larger proportion of the country as fact.

What the two of you are arguing over is the probability that proof of the moon landing is correct. And that probability is never going to be 100%. For Bob, it clearly approaches close enough to 100% for him to take the leap. For Tom, the alternate facts mean that his margin of error on the proof is wider. So for him to say he can go either way is not about failing any test. His position is actually a pretty smart one - he continues to question, and arrives at a conclusion based on that questioning rather than accept dogma.

Thomas Sherman said...

Scarmouch. Well said.

kathleen said...

Indeed, Scaramouch, well said.

As the daughter of a rocket scientist, I have all the proof I need that we did in fact make it, but Tom's right: it is Schroedinger's cat. The reason humans have belief is that if we waited for absolute proof, we'd never have come out of the caves/trees.

Faith/belief and creativity are as important as science, primarily because science is always late to every party. Without creativity, we would never have ideas to investigate, and without faith, we wouldn't be able to leap the chasms in our knowledge and remain on the path to a point where we have enough knowledge, skill and science to figure out if we were right.

There's a time to question and a time to believe. Tom has the luxury of the former because he doesn't have other work depending on it, like sending supplies to the space station or getting unmanned vehicles to Saturn.

Either way, NASA's work benefits us all:

Bob Ichter said...

I just posted a long comment that seems to have been lost in cyberspace, so I will recap.
I am not confusing proof with belief. there is plenty of proof that man landed on the moon. It is undeniable. Those who question it are scientifically illiterate or charlatans out to make a buck on the controversy.
Kathleen, my Dad was a rocket scientist as well, he designed parts of the LEM. certainly science needs creativity, but not faith [ as in religious faith ] only the kind of "faith" one has in consistency in the observable universe. I have " faith" that the relatively pure water I put in my freezer that is near sea level, will always freeze at 32 degrees...the thing is, I don't call it faith or just is

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