Believing is seeing: Conspiracy theories debunked, part 1

Human brains are great at pattern recognition and, in fact, it’s one of the things that has helped us survive. At its most basic, pattern recognition is simply the brain’s ability to recognize bits and pieces of the whole as the thing, whether it’s a flash of color, a sound, scent, or something else.

This is how infants learn to recognize first their mothers, and then other people. It’s how early humans learned to spot predators and prey. And it’s how modern humans get into trouble or just wind up looking stupid when their pattern recognition turns into pareidolia, which is the phenomenon that makes people see ducks or camels in the clouds, or Jesus on toast.

This ability, however, can extend outside of just things that we see — and we’ve all seen “faces” in inanimate objects, although we’re usually aware that’s what they are, and that any pattern of two circles over some sort of vertical object, with or without another circle or arc or line below, all make us think “face.”

Some people go on to find patterns in things like information, actions, and data, and make connections that aren’t really there. Just like your bath-tub taps and faucet aren’t really two eyes and a nose, the connections these people pull out of their “research” really don’t exist. But don’t tell them that.

There’s one simple problem with all conspiracy theories, and Benjamin Franklin said it best. “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” This is especially true if it’s a really juicy secret, like a big conspiracy. Even if someone involved doesn’t run right to the authorities to confess, they’re still going to mention it to… somebody. We all have that one friend or family member that we would tell anything. Of course, it’s because we trust them to keep our secret.

But here’s a yardstick on how long true conspiracies last. Between the Watergate break-in and Nixon’s resignation was a span of two years, a month, and a couple of weeks. Any conspiracy is a leaky sieve, and we’re currently seeing examples of that in real time.

Yes, conspiracies do exist, but we also know the truth about quite a lot of them now since, by their very nature, they can never remain secret, and a lot of people know this. So there’s a nice hint — the older an unproven conspiracy theory is, the more likely it is to be completely false. So you can give up on the Illuminati, the Rothschilds, the worldwide Jewish conspiracy, etc. If they were real, we’d know it by now. If they were successful, they would have worked by now.

Or, as more than one friend of mine puts it, “If the Jews secretly control the world, why am I not rich?”

Oh, right. That’s the other part of why true conspiracies are so far and few. Not only can a large group of people not keep a secret, they can’t work very well together to pull something big like this off. If you work or go to school, look at the people around you, especially the ones who are supposed to be in charge. Now, ask yourself, “Would they be competent enough to run Conspiracy X?”

Guess what. People in government or high executive positions with major corporations are ten times less competent than the people you mentally looked at.

So here are a pair of wild conspiracies that just… aren’t.

The government controls the weather!

The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) was a real thing that ran from 1990 to 2014.  And really, U.S. government, you didn’t have the guts to call it HFAARP to make it sound funny? (Although, really, high-frequency should be hyphenated, so they’re more right than wrong.)

But this project was designed to study Earth’s ionosphere, which is a very important thing to know about if you’re, oh, I don’t know… about to commercialize GPS satellites for everyone, and the ionosphere could definitely have an effect on the information coming from them. That’s the difference between your grandma successfully getting to her bingo game on Sunday and up driving off of a cliff. This was also about the time that satellites became the primary means of transmitting television programs around the world.

And yet… the stupidest conspiracy theories sprang up around what was basically a giant transmitter and receiver way up in Alaska — because they were aiming at the aurora borealis, which happens up there as solar radiation hits the atmosphere. HAARP was basically doing this in reverse. Keep in mind, though, that while the Sun is a gigantic ball of fusion about 864,340 miles in diameter constantly shooting ionizing radiation down at us 24/7, HAARP was a simple array of 180 radio antennas over 33 acres. In comparison, the surface of the Sun is 1.5 quadrillion acres and even though we’re only facing half of that at one time, HAARP is still greatly outmatched in screwing up the atmosphere.

Or, really, doing anything except what it was designed to do. The utter stupidity of the conspiracy theories is staggering, including things like HAARP being designed to change the weather (warning: actual conspiracy theory link) or burn a hole in the atmosphere or even control minds just being laughable through the math in the paragraph above. If HAARP could do any of these things, then the Sun would have done all of them long ago. And even the radiation HAARP was sending up was nowhere near the full spectrum we get from the Sun.

So, no. The government was not controlling the weather or minds or creating earthquakes or any of the other bunch of stupid ideas to come out of misunderstanding what was basically a government and university funded space weather station.

Chemtrails

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No it’s… a super-secret government conspiracy to spray y’all with stuff and achieve (insert evil villain goal here.) And what are “chemtrails?” Simple. They’re contrails as seen by people who don’t do physics. Basically, they’re ice crystals from water vapor in engine exhaust that instantly freezes at high altitudes. If you live anywhere near an airport or under a flight path, you’ve seen them.

They start as two thin white parallel lines, one behind each outer edge of an airplane’s wings, and depending upon the weather below, they either stay fairly persistent or quickly fuzz out into a less defined pattern. If you happen to be near an airport, like I am, with frequent flights to particular destinations, then you’ll see repeated contrails going the same direction throughout the day if it’s cold enough up there. If you’re in flyover country between major airports in various cities, then you may see a sort of crisscross pattern of these lines going north-south and east-west — which conspiracy theorists absolutely see as a sign that they’re right, but they’re wrong.

What you’re not seeing is the government spraying chemicals on you and, again, it comes down to a total misunderstanding of science. Anything released that high up in the atmosphere — around seven miles — is not going to make it back down here. There are cold temperatures and strong air currents to contend with, both of which would wreak absolute havoc on any kind of chemical or biological weapon.

Not to mention the other little detail: Who would be putting these devices onto commercial planes and getting the crews to shut up about them? Because these are the only jets leaving trails in the sky. Still, people believe otherwise.

There was one recent issue of a commercial jet leaving chemtrails that had an immediate effect on people and it was very well-documented. However, it was a flight out of LAX that turned around to make an emergency landing and, per FAA protocol, dumped their excess fuel on the way in. Unfortunately, not according to protocol, they dumped over a long swath of the south side of the city, managing to hit half a dozen schools — and their students and staff — at the same time.

And… wow. I think I made it to the end, or at least way too much for y’all to read with only two stupid conspiracy theories, but I’ve got at least twice as many more. If you have any you want debunked, and/or if you want more of this, let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!

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