Crop Circles / Culture / pseudoscience / Skepticism · August 22, 2005

Why can’t we all believe in the power of Humanity?

I listened to a lovely Podcast from Skepticality (see my link list to the right) about the Circlemakers.

Rob Irving was the guest of the evening – and I found it fascinating when he pointed out that if their group could prove that they had made a crop circle, the crop circle ‘experts’ would go to great lengths to show that the circles weren’t really circular, or the lines weren’t really straight.

But if the crop circle ‘experts’ believed a circle to be genuine, then no amount of “I did it” from the Circlemaker crew could convince them otherwise. The ‘experts’ would go through great lengths to show that the circle was ‘too perfect’ for mere humans to produce.

Why is it that believers in Aliens don’t believe in the abilities of humans? “The pyramids were too complicated for mere humans to make, so they must have had extra-terrestrial help!” “There is no way that a few guys with some string and boards could make something so perfect, so ET must have done it!” Sheesh!

I fully expect that some day, ‘true believers’ of the future will write book after book explaining why mere primitive humans of the 21st century couldn’t build skyscrapers – or something equally stupid.

Here – test your own belief in the abilities of humans – Einstein died in 1955. What year did humankind come up with a fairly decent measure of the speed of light? What year were humans able to exceed 1% accuracy of the speed of light? What year were humans able to find the speed of light at better than 0.01% accuracy?

Answers:

1726 – James Bradley measured the speed of light to within 3.4% accuracy.
1850 – Foucault measured to within 0.6% accuracy.
1902 – Rosa & Dorsey calculated the speed of light to within 0.0015% accuracy.

In 1850 Foucault was able to measure the speed of light very accurately without the use of electricity – he literally used an oil lamp and mirrors to do so. His measurements were good enough that he could determine that atmospheric refraction had an effect on the speed of light.

Honestly now – how many of you out there thought that ‘mere’ humans couldn’t measure the speed of light with any accuracy without the use of lasers and computers?