Be Reasonable continues to establish itself as one of my most looked-forward-to podcasts. It still only airs monthly, but I hope it sets the standard for some more similar content in the future.
This latest show was the first one where I was entirely unfamiliar with the fringe claim being examined. It’s about a particularly niche bit of folklore from 12th century England, and one man who’s almost entirely alone in thinking it a true tale of two extra-terrestrial human children visiting our planet. You should hear the full story.
One thing that’s fascinating to analyse, and hear the hosts attempt to unravel, is the way in which minor oddities and gaps in our knowledge are inflated and exaggerated, to make room for massive assumptions and leaps of imagination – while those same gaps and leaps are minimised, and outlandish fantasies are treated as if plausible, even necessary, conclusions from a paucity of evidence.
Here’s the kind of thing I mean: part of the mystery of the origins of these two children who turned up in Suffolk surrounds the language they spoke. It wasn’t recognised by the people in the town where they were brought, and the interviewee, Duncan Lunan, is convinced it was the language of an alien world. One mainstream hypothesis is that the children were speaking Flemish, which is possible given the circumstances, but Lunan dismisses the notion that Flemish wouldn’t have been recognisable to the people in the area at the time.
You can follow his logic, as far as it goes. He’s done his historical research, and it may well be that Flemish should have been familiar to at least some of the people who interacted with the children; it’s a curiosity, an anomaly, something odd, if it apparently wasn’t.
But to resolve this by postulating a far more improbable anomaly, such as human children living on another planet and beaming to Earth through a matter transporter which malfunctioned because of sunspots (as he later discusses), is no solution at all. It’s a perfect example of “Conclusion: Dinosaurs“, and if that’s not the formal name for the logical fallacy at play here then it should be.
I had planned to go into the faulty reasoning exhibited by the subjects of this podcast in more depth, but it’s not really necessary; the claims are so baseless that my rehashing the numerous and obvious refutations wouldn’t particularly add anything. But what’s worth noting is how easy it is to start to forget that fact, when listening to these people talk about things that interest them.
The show’s second guest was Michael Wilmore of the Flat Earth Society, a group dedicated to being about as fantastically and comprehensively wrong in a single field of study as it’s possible to be. The conversation was, on both sides, friendly, charming, informative, lucid, well informed, engaging, and educational.
Michael Wilmore and the others have conclusively demonstrated that, when it comes to examining how people arrive at beliefs so out of kilter with reality, and continue to maintain them in the face of all evidence for quite so long, “they’re crazy” is a wholly inadequate explanation.
The belief systems in question are utterly vacuous. They are based on hot air and undiluted piffle. But these are functioning human beings who’ve got there via an entirely human series of experiences and thought processes. Every bizarre rationalisation or illogical justification they need to use to prop up their tower of bullshit is something we’re all potentially capable of, and all call upon more often than we’d like to admit in the course of making it through another day.
It’s hard to always feel this way. Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know how agitated I get at people daring to have a differing opinion during a certain BBC1 Sunday morning programme. Those people are terrible at believing kooky things.
Or, it’s a format specifically tailored to encourage conflict and argument. And it’s nice to just hear people who believe completely different things, having a chat and trying to understand each other once in a while.