We're a little crazy, about science!

The lonely cultist

Listen closely as I am going to divulge a secret from the universe. It will be so earth shattering that you will forever remember this movement. There will be an irrevocable before and after. It has taken me decades to uncover this secret and as the sole owner and guardian of it, I am trusting part of it to you. You can be a part of something larger than yourself, find secret truths, and if you are ready to receive them, find your own. There are secrets in this life hidden just beyond human sight and they are waiting for you to find them. They are calling out to you in the wind. Do you hear them? Are you ready?

We’re all a little lonely. Let’s be realistic we live on a speck of dust. An ordinary planet, orbiting an average. An afterthought of an indifferent universe full of… well nothing. There is more nothing in this universe than there is “stuff,” but quantum mechanics tells us that even in the emptiness “stuff” is popping in and out of existence like bubbles in boiling water, forming quickly only to disappear just as fast. Nothing is truly “empty” and we’ve measured this effect with surprising accuracy. The point being, the universe is more strange than we give it credit for and in some ways less strange than we imagine.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about today, but I got a comment on a post about the COVID vaccine and the topic bubbled to the surface after I promptly deleted the comment. I have little patience for pseudoscience in my little corner of the internet. I don’t know the person and I humored them once, but everyone gets one shot here. It wouldn’t be fair as someone who teaches to abandon someone like that. Still, there are whole forums and social media platforms dedicated to misinformation and conspiracy theories, which is the topic for the day. Hence the dramatic intro to todays post.

The question is why? Why are people drawn to cults, pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, or people promising the impossible? At the end of the day I firmly blame our brains. I don’t hold our intelligence level in high regard because our intelligence wasn’t born in a vacuum, it evolved and we still hold onto a lot of useless evolutionary baggage. Ever see a face in something? You can thank evolution, where once upon a time that face we see in shadows could in fact be a predator. Our ability to reason is often overcome by “simple” emotions, which are far from simple. They are actually incredibly strong reflex-like responses that we don’t really use anymore. Things that have become odd quarks of humans. Here’s another example, ever felt like something would attack your feet if you left them outside the covers? The feeling is so universal that there are comics making fun of it, but that’s just our evolutionary baggage that’s come along for the ride.

Then the existential crisis of the whole meaning of life. Which to me is a relatively new fear that is probably a combination of our new (in the cosmic timeline) intelligence and our evolutionary past. We’re really just a bunch of neurotic monkeys at the end of the day and people try to take advantage of that by trying to sell us the answers to questions to problems that exist only in our brains. Cults promise us knowledge and hidden truths, something to help our brains make sense of a senseless universe. We want to create order in the randomness, we want to believe the face in the shadows is more than just a survival mechanism, we want to be special, to be different, to belong.

At the heart of it we’re just lonely. It’s ironic that the internet has let us be more connected than ever. You and I would have never met if it weren’t for the internet. You are reading my thoughts as I put them to this page because of technology and yet for all you know I’m just a computer program living inside someone’s computer. A figment of our existence and our technological advances. In that lens it makes sense that we have anti-vax movements, COVID deniers, and yes even religion.

They all offer us secret truths. Yes, the world is a shitty place, but it’s because of the secret lizard people who infiltrated the government. They are trying to inject tracking mechanisms into us and control us with 5G. COVID is a conspiracy to keep us home and make us compliant by these secret forces and we have to do something to stop it because our immortal souls are at risk if we don’t.

Okay, I combined a bunch of conspiracy theories into one giant thread of a conspiracy, but the idea is simply that belief has been weaponized over the course of our existence. How many atrocities have been committed in the name of god? Now I’m not trying to start a religious fight, but the truth is religion has been used as an excuse to exclude demonize and segregate, minorities, women, other religions, the LBGTQ+, and just about every other group besides white men. Which is odd since if you are a follower of Catholicism, then Jesus was defiantly not white.

Yet the mainstream church used god as an excuse to exclude, for example black people, until scarily recently. Conspiracy theories, cults, religion, they all offer us a chance to be on the “inside” to know secrets that others miss or in some cases dismiss. It’s nice not feeling so alone and if this behavior was completely harmless than I wouldn’t be writing this.

Instead we have people killing themselves for these beliefs. We have people spreading misinformation about COVID, vaccines, things that people need to help others. We can’t stop COVID unless we all (or at least the bulk of us) work together and in our history on this planet, we’ve shown that doesn’t happen very regularly. The internet has made it easier for conspiracy theories to spread, groups to form, and people who are particularly vulnerable to believing in them being recruited. Technology is a double edged sword in that sense and our evolutionary “baggage” as I’ve been calling it has not been benefited this increasingly common way of communication.

Conspiracy theories tap into that “baggage” and give us what we really want, a sense of belonging. Were lonely, scared, and want to better than someone, anyone. Evolution gave us the ability to reason before it took away or at least diminished our fears of the irrational. We have the ability to build weapons we have no right to wield, but we also have the ability to create cures to things that 100 years ago we didn’t even realize existed. It’s a mixed bag and that worries me. Mostly because these conspiracy theories are keeping people from accessing those cures. The COVID vaccine was pure luck that the technology had progressed far enough to be used that way, but conspiracy theories are keeping people from getting it.

Yesterday I got a comment from someone who said that god would protect them from COVID. Well fine, I don’t like doing this, but let’s talk scripture. If your god created us, then your god also gave us the ability to reason. Which means god also gave us science to help us end our suffering. As someone raised catholic, I will refer you to the story about when the devil told Jesus to jump from a cliff and god would save him. He didn’t because he said the scriptures said not to test god. If you believe there is a god, then the vaccine literally only exists because god let it happen and god gave us the science to create it when we needed it the most. You shouldn’t test gods will to save you anymore than Jesus would jump from a cliff to make sure god would actually save him.

But enough about us, what about you?

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