Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, passed away today. To many people he remains one of the symbols of the never-ending drive of technological progress. To me the Apollo 11 program always served as a reminder of the power of competition in engineering. The Russians sent Yuri Gagarin into space several years before, and the United States had to “respond”. That’s how our little civilization makes steps towards a greater understanding of the universe through science.
But more than anything else, to me, the Apollo 11 mission represents the absurdity of the human mind to gather evidence for any claim it fixes on. The first conspiracy theory I ever heard about was the one that claimed we never landed on moon. This was in middle school when I first moved to the United States. I remember being given an overwhelming amount of “evidence” for this, and being facinated by the idea that something so widely accepted could be completely faked.
My natural skeptic quickly caught on to see that most of the conspiracy theory evidence was not well grounded in any kind of science (but mere paranoid speculation). However, I do distinctly remember that it was fun considering the possibility that the government could fake this thing. Why was it “fun”? Well…
We live our life under thousands of basic assumptions. Everything from the idea that fruits and vegetables are good for you, to the idea that neither Zeus nor Poseidon are currently practicing Gods. And when one of these fundamental assumptions are questioned, the fabric of our existence feels unstable. In a certain sense that is very unsettling, but it’s also exciting on a philosophical level. I think that’s why a lot of people believe in these conspiracy theories. There are many. All it takes is someone to keep a blog or write a book, and the conspiracy theorists are sure to start jumping on board like ants around a new food source.
Anyway, in rememberance of Neil Armstrong, I’d like to celebrate our first steps into space and hope to see many more in the 21st century (despite the shrinking popularity of NASA in Congress and the general public).
PS: A good site for skeptical questions and answers is Skeptics.StackExchange.