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How Illogical Ideas Can Topple Nations: Flat Earths, Falling Moons and Hollow Doctrines

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” the old saying goes; but it may also be true that “uncertain times foster uncertainty,” even towards long-held ideas and once-cherished beliefs. As an anomalist I confess to holding mixed feelings about that, because whereas I welcome the healthy questioning of dogmas defended by academicians out of stubborn tradition who refuse to look at new evidence (e.g. the work of Schoch, Hancock and Bauval to name but a few ‘modern heretics’), I consider the refusal to accept anything that is supported by the status quo just as equally stubborn, and gives me cause for concern –as it should you, too.

When does one stop being a free thinker and starts becoming a contrarian? When does one’s fascination with alternative ideas turn into an obsession? When does one’s seemingly harmless interest in conspiracy theories transform into toxic thinking that poisons our entire view of the world? When does one paint a line inside the rabbit hole and decide “this is as far as I go”?

I think about that a lot, especially when I see heated discussions like the one extracted from the famous The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, in which long-time friend of Joe’s Eddie Bravo refuses to accept the (seemingly) simplest of notions: that the Earth is round.

As fantastical as it may seem to think there are people in the XXIst century who seriously give credence to the Mother of all outdated cosmological notions, perhaps you yourself already had similar conversations in your personal life, dear Coppertop reader –with a friend, a co-worker or a family relative. And if that is the case, you probably didn’t have better luck than poor Joe in trying to convince his buddy Eddie that to even consider ALL the astronomers in the world since the age of Eratosthenes have either got it all terribly wrong, or (even worse) have ALL been in cahoots in order to keep us deluded about the real shape of our planet and the true nature of the Universe, is not even something that deserves to be called a ‘conspiracy’. It is complete lunacy.

And yet it would be a mistake to conclude that people like Eddie are just plain dumb, because I actually think it takes a good measure of intelligence to delude yourself in such a complete way, with arguments that only possess the thin veneer of plausibility –something every fan of alternative theories should be mindful of, if they want to keep playing the Fortean game and retain their sanity…

Yes, a return to a Flat Earth model was probably the last thing Charles Fort envisioned when he penned his seminal The Book of the Damned, and inspired his readers to pay attention to phenomena overlooked by orthodox science and question academic authority; and yet a pair of authors who were also inspired by Fort and wrote another highly-influential book, might have recognized this modern trend as a continuation of something they studied intently; something which might have altered the course of history in ways we barely understand…

The highly-influential book I’m referring to is Morning of the Magicians by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier (a text I’m very fond of and which I have mentioned in previous articles). In the second part of this publication, the two French authors describe two cosmological doctrines that rose into prominence in Germany prior to the Second World War, which were just as nonsensical and irrational as the Flat Earth model, but which were nevertheless highly successful in attaining many adepts among the most influential members of the 3rd Reich –including Adolf Hitler himself:

The World Ice Doctrine of Hanns Hörbiger: Hörbiger was an Austrian engineer and inventor who had managed to become wealthy by selling some of his patents, but his rise to popularity came when he devised a pseudoscientific ‘theory’ which aimed to combine ancient myths, esoteric knowledge, the origin and future of the Universe, and the ultimate destiny of the human race, into one single confusing enchilada. Hörbiger claimed the ‘Welteislehre’ (or ‘Wel’ for short) came to him as a spark of inspiration in which he understood that the entire history of the Cosmos was nothing but the eternal struggle between Fire and Ice. All the planets, according to him, are nothing but chunks of cosmic ice created after the primordial sun (which was millions of times bigger than our current star) collided with a giant frozen planet. The Milky Way is actually a giant ring of sparkling ice at 3 times the distance from Neptune, and eventually all the planets will fall back into the Sun, creating another massive explosion which will bring a new cycle of creation.

Hanns Hörbiger

The Moon we see in the sky, according to Hörbiger, is actually the fourth one which our planet has captured. The three previous ones eventually spiraled down and crashed into the Earth, signaling the rise and fall of previous civilizations and extinct fauna. During their periods in which these ancient moons were closer, goes the doctrine, their gravitational pull gave rise not only to enormous creatures (like dinosaurs) but the mutations caused by cosmic rays also brought the birth of gigantic men with incredible physical and mental faculties; these were the titans mentioned by all the ancient myths, which became the teachers of humanity and the divine Kings of Atlantis and Lemuria.

Hörbiger’s ideas captured the imagination of the German public, pseudoscientific as they were, precisely because they were intentionally anti-intellectual and ran contrary to orthodox theories –“Judeo-Marxist science” as they were mocked by his many followers– not unlike how people in our time discard astronomical data because “it comes from NASA, the ones who faked the Moon landings.”

“When I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun”

 

Hanns Johst (Nazi playwright and philosopher)

So what if Hörbiger couldn’t stand any criticism and his concepts weren’t backed by any sort of mathematical model —“you trust in formulas but not in me?!” he used to shout to his detractors, “how much time will you need to understand that Mathematics are a lie with no value whatsoever?”—  since to the layperson the formulas confirming Relativism are inscrutable, and the concept of Gravity being able to bend Space AND Time sounds just as fantastic as the notion of icy moons and frozen planets?

Besides, those formulas were written by a Jew…

“Our national policies will not be revoked or modified, even for scientists. If the dismissal of Jewish scientists means the annihilation of contemporary German science, then we shall do without science for a few years.”


Adolf Hitler’s reply to Max Planck (President of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the Advancement of Science) when he tried to petition the Fuhrer to stop the dismissal of scientists on political grounds.

But there’s another reason why Hörbiger’s doctrine became a true social movement with thousands of followers, churning out countless pamphlets and magazines devoted to studying his theories after his death in 1931; and that is because not only it gave the German people a romanticized notion of their once-glorious past –a golden age in which their ancestors walked with the gods, just like in the Scandinavian Eddas— but it provided a convenient scaffold in which to place the ‘noble’ cause of National Socialism: What once was shall be again, and the cosmic mutations which gave rise to the giant kings of Old will bring about the rise of the New Man –the one who is in full awareness of his divine nature, and controls the forces of the cosmos– signaling the dawn of a new era.

The only thing standing in the way of the new golden age, according to Hörbiger’s devotees, was the elimination of the ‘inferior races’ which had risen during the Moon-less ages.

“Creation is not finished. Man is clearly approaching a phase of metamorphosis.
The earlier human species has already reached the stage of dying out….
All of the force of creation will be concentrated in a new species…
[which] will surpass infinitely modern man….
Do you understand now the profound meaning of our National Socialist movement?”

 

Adolf Hitler, quoted by Hermann Rauschning, “Hitler ma’a dit” [Hitler Speaks]

Hitler, according to Pauwels and Bergier’s Morning of the Magicians, was a fervent follower of Hörbiger, who was lauded among the inner circles of the Nazi party as “the Copernicus of the XXth century.” During the 12 years in which the 3rd Reich rose to power –before it came crumbling down thanks to the Allies’ convenient use of ‘Judeo-Marxist science’– the German people’s alienation from orthodox thinking turned them into a true alien nation, as was patently clear during the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals. German scientists were no longer brave enough to criticize Hörbiger in public –college professors received threats, and seminars were interrupted by agitators– and even critical military decisions had to take Hörbigerian theories into account: Crucial tests of the V2 weapon at Peenemünde were delayed to ensure the rockets would not create a ‘catastrophe’ in the icy heavens, and Hitler refused to listen to the advice of his generals during the planning of the invasion of Russia, because Hörbigerians –who claimed to be able to predict weather with great accuracy- had forecast “a tame winter”…

It seems that the only true opposition to anti-intellectualism can only stem from anti-intellectualism. And so there was only another cosmological doctrine popular enough in Germany to challenge the World Ice Theory’s position, which was…

The Hollow Earth Theory: Originally spawned in the United States by two different individuals during the XIXth century —John Cleves Symmes Jr. in 1818 and Cyrus Reed Teed in 1870– it was after the end of WWI when a young fighter pilot by the name of Peter Bender returns to Germany after being captured in France, with a few copies of Teed’s old newspaper The Flaming Sword. He becomes inspired by these ideas and expands upon them, founding the Hohlweltlehre movement with other authors in order to popularize the notion that –contrary to what our senses tell us everytime we look up to the sky– instead of inhabiting the surface of the planet, human beings live in the interior of a hollow sphere that is 60 kilometers in diameter. The crust of the Earth thus extends infinitely into every direction, and inside of this rocky ball the only celestial bodies hovering right at the center are the Sun and the Moon (only they are dramatically smaller than what those foolish astronomers have told us). What we call ‘stars’ are just glowing specks of ‘dust’ floating amid the blue gaseous atmosphere that, when  rotating in front of our ‘mini-sun’, turns night into day.

Hollow Earth Theory is so mind-bogglingly bonkers it almost makes Flat Earth advocates sound moderate in comparison (almost!) and yet what’s crazier is that the doctrine managed to gain a lot of advocates, even among high members of the German Military, including the Navy and the Air Force –apparently Air Minister Göring was quite fond of Bender due to his war hero status– to the point that some of these officers seriously considered the possible war advantages this ‘revolutionary theory’ could bring them. In April of 1942, when the Reich was fully invested in the European conflict and its army was suffering severe losses on the Russian front, a top secret mission is undertaken in which Doctor Heinz Fischer and a group of radar specialists were sent to the Baltic island of Rügen. The purpose of the mission: to use radar technology in order to put the Hollow Earth theory into practice, and attempt to locate the British fleet in Scapa Flow… by aiming their equipment 49 degrees into the sky.

Needless to say, the operation was a complete failure, and yet that didn’t completely finish with Bender’s influence, much to the dismay and contempt of Hörbinger’s advocates. They once asked the Fuhrer himself to emit judgement on which doctrine was the final truth: The Eternal Ice or the Hollowed Earth. Hitler’s response was as disappointing to them as it is telling to us:

“We don’t need at all a coherent conception of the world. Both can be right.”

This doublespeak mentality not only precedes the terrorific concepts George Orwell explored in his novel 1984, but it also indicates the type of cognitive dissonance found in people who adhere to the most radical side of conspiracy theories. 2 + 2 = 4 or 5 if it serves to push a particular agenda.

The rest, as they say, is History: The 3rd Reich was defeated, but their brief reign remains a cautionary tale of how easily a highly-educated and sophisticated nation can be thrown into the abyss when deranged mystics who refuse to abide to Reason are put in charge. Pauwels and Bergier calculated that Himmler’s Ahnenerbe wasted more money and precious resources in search of ancient and religious artifacts which could ‘prove’ racial theories like Hörbiger’s, than what the Americans spent in the Manhattan project. Two centuries ago German was the unofficial language of Science, but after the Second World War Doctor Fischer and many other German scientists and technicians, whose knowledge was squandered by Hitler’s irrational decisions, were put to better use in the US by helping NASA defeat the Russians during the race to the Moon. Which brings us full circle, because it’s clear that the seed by which the modern resurface of the Flat Earth theory managed to bloom in our time was watered by a deep distrust of NASA, particularly when it comes to the Moon landings.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, it seems Hörbiger’s ideas still managed to retain quite a lot of popularity even after the war. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if Hörbigerianism still had a pocket of believers here and there, or that it made a resurgence in the future.

What conclusions are we to make from all this? Do all great nations and empires spiral down into insanity when confronted with unexpected changes and social anxiety, sealing their inevitable doom?

No doubt there may be a few skeptics reading this who are eager to sarcastically denounce the apparent irony in this article. After all, am I not someone who has also spread irrational claims in websites such as this, or The Daily Grail? “Are you not part of the problem?” they might accuse.

A few years ago a journalist who was investigating the Electric Universe theory approached me, asking for an online interview –the Electric Universe (“EU” for short) for those who don’t know, is a theory proposed by Wallace Thornhill and David Talbott, which basically posits that most of the astronomical phenomena we observe is the result of electric currents flowing through the Cosmos– and even though I’m not particularly interested in the EU I accepted out of a sense of cordiality. Unfortunately her article ended up being something of a hit piece showing everyone who gave even the lightest credence to the EU in a very negative light. And even I, who from the beginning explained to the journalist that I didn’t believe the EU guys were right in most of their claims (yet some of their ideas might merit further scrutiny), didn’t come away from it unscathed:

“I believe history has showed us again and again that many novel ideas which were initially met with skepticism or angry rejection eventually gain more adherents and momentum until they end up as part of the orthodox corpus of scientific knowledge,” said Miguel, who encountered EU in his work as a contributor to the website The Daily Grail, which explores “the fringes of science and history.”



And, to some extent, he’s right. The idea that Earth goes around the Sun, and not the other way around, was once considered heretical. Before revolutionary ideas become revolutionary, they simply sound fringe.



But the problem is that most fringe ideas don’t turn out to be revolutionary. They just turn out to be wrong. And equating pseudoscience, or even just bad science, with solid science isn’t just unorthodox. It can be dangerous.



Climate change denial slows the cleanup of the planet. Anti-vaccination movements give kids measles. GMO hysteria makes it harder for starving kids to get nutrient-rich rice. The Electric Universe theory doesn’t seem to be hurting anyone at the moment, but wouldn’t it be better for the Thunderbolts to expend their energy understanding good science? Or at least be as suspicious of EU as they are of “the astronomy establishment.”

When I first read this, I felt unfairly attacked and that the writer was clearly exaggerating. But this article was published in early 2016, before the Flat Earth movement gained its current notoriety –and before the rise of Donald Trump, a president who has not only claimed Climate Change was invented by China, but has also openly linked vaccines with autism.

This is not a Mea Culpa. But now, in 2018, I have to begrudgingly admit the writer had a point in raising the alarm. And that as members of the Alternative/Fortean community, we do need to be more careful than most when it comes to try and discern worthless pseudoscience from potential revolutionary knowledge, and we also need to be very explicit when we enter into the realm of pure speculation; lest that in pursuing our passion for promoting ‘heretical’ ideas questioning the Status Quo, we don’t end up throwing the Reason baby with the dogmatic bathwater.

A word of caution then, dear Alice: Before you decide to explore the rabbit hole, tie your rope firmly in solid rock. For the passage is not only narrow and deep but also treacherous and slippery, due to all the rabbit shit you’ll find along the way.