On The Allure of Flat Earth Debunking Videos

For a while now, I’ve really enjoyed watching SciManDan and others on Youtube debunking videos posted by flat eathers.  Based on the number of subscribers of these debunking video producers, I’m in good company.  SciManDan has over 300k subscribers, for example.

I also enjoy several other Youtube channels, including Numberphile, Fermilab, PBS Space Time, and many others.  Arguably, these are a far better use of my time.  I learn absolutely nothing by watching SciManDan, except that there are apparently people who believe there is a giant conspiracy pushing the “globe earth model” to apparently keep the population from believing in God.  Yet, I find myself looking forward to the next SciManDan video release, not the next Fermilab release.

I suspect there are two likely, not mutually exclusive, explanations:

First, there is little to no cognitive load in watching SciManDan videos.  They give me a faux satisfaction of having learned something, without all the taxing energy of learning something.  As someone who really does like to keep expanding the boundaries of my knowledge, this is a bit frustrating.  But only in hindsight – not while watching them.

Second, it makes me feel superior.  *I* would never think that the Earth is flat, and *I* feel better about myself because I know the Earth is spherical-ish.

This somewhat dovetails into concerns I have about letting myself “ease up” on working, reading, learning, planning, and thinking: certainly, it makes sense to take a break and engaged in mindless activities, but then I am putting a cap on what I am able to accomplish over the course of my relatively short life.  Now, there is much to be said about what I’ve come to think of as “strategic resting” leading to being more productive as a whole, but I perceive that some of the faux learning I engage in is not serving as part of that “strategic rest” – after all, I still want to play the occasional video game, meditate, take my dog for walks, and so on.

This has been weighing on me.  More than usual recently, in no small part because of the COVID lockdowns, where I have pointed out to my bored kids that, for the first time in human history, just about anyone can sit down and learn just about anything from the brightest minds in that field for free, on demand, 24 hour hours a day.

And here I am watching SciManDan.  (Who, by the way, seems to be a brilliant, funny, and kind person – no knock on him – this is all about me).


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