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May 8, 2010 11:31 AM   Subscribe

"At the end of March 2010, I found out that I was apparently a central figure in a conspiracy theory regarding aliens and a government cover up." David Levine's Contact Project was an early web game (1995!) in which message forum members would collaborate to translate increasingly elaborate "extraterrestrial" messages. What Levine didn't expect was that, over the course of several years, a convoluted conspiracy theory would spring up around the Contact Project based on the notion that Levine actually received transmissions from Tau Ceti, and lied to cover it up! (via gameshelf)
posted by speicus (13 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is what he gets for not reading Foucault's Pendulum before starting the project.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:51 AM on May 8, 2010 [7 favorites]


I was totally with this guy until, "If you are in the minority opinion about something, there's a good chance you're wrong".
Still, really good post.
posted by DZack at 12:06 PM on May 8, 2010


I dunno, DZack. If you read the whole paragraph:

At any rate, I think if I were to summarize this experience, I'd say that it just shows how easy it can be to find meaning everywhere, whether or not meaning is actually there to be found. Be skeptical. If you are in the minority opinion about something, there's a good chance you're wrong, That's not always true, of course. But you should absolutely take that as your cue to objectively analyze your own methods of reaching that opinion (or better yet, have someone else do it).

it's a pretty basic standard of evaluating information. What's to object to there?
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:16 PM on May 8, 2010


I think that's abundantly true: the majority opinion is 'right' on most things, so there's a good chance that any random statement (of all possible statements) that runs contra the majority is 'wrong'. By no means all though of course.
posted by BaxterG4 at 12:19 PM on May 8, 2010


Fair enough, it is a much more reasonable quote in context. Still, I can't help but cringe a little bit when I read it. It seems to carry that tacit assumption that one should just follow the current of the majority in order to the arrive at the truth, an assumption that stops so many people from applying critical thought where it is necessary.
posted by DZack at 12:29 PM on May 8, 2010


one should just follow the current of the majority in order to the arrive at the truth

Well, yes. Except for two things.

First "just." There is no one surefire evaluation strategy that will work in all cases. You get a pile of evidence and put together the pieces. If you arrive at something outlandish and true successfully, it's usually by examining the ordinary but untrue (or insufficient) first. Dilettantes are very fond of skipping this step, because it involves lots and lots of hard labor and learning the field.

Second, "majority" does not mean "all the people." It means "all the people who are expert enough for their opinions to count." Lots of people believe in perpetual motion machines (or at least the possibilities). Not too many physicists do because they know the odds against it and the interplay of evidence that define those laws. Note: this does not mean "scientists are always right." Lord Kelvin notably got embroiled on the wrong side of a geology debate because a) he made some bad assumptions and b) as a physicist, he made a bad geologist.

More specifically, it is very unlikely that we are being visited or even contacted by alien intelligences. Therefore any one person (or small group of people) who claim otherwise should be rightly faced with extreme skepticism unless they can produce fairly significant evidence.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:30 PM on May 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Reminds me of a girl I knew in high school who swore up and down that Vampire: The Masquerade was a thinly fictionalized depiction of actual vampire society.
posted by Iridic at 1:39 PM on May 8, 2010


He can keep protesting, but we're on to him. We're on to him, and there is no way to silence the tru----
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:20 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


His closing paragraph is similar to my response to a FB poster who stated that Barack Obama's name, first changed to "Barq- O-Bama" translates in Hebrew to "messenger of the Antichrist."

I only see things like that when I join idiotic Facebook groups without thinking (Petition to remove facebook group praying for President Obama's death), and then wish I could crawl back in my hole, where I am not surrounded by sixteen-year-olds screaming about politics and religious/political nut jobs like the aforementioned poster.

A bit off topic. Sorry, folks.
posted by SixteenTons at 2:56 PM on May 8, 2010


Yeah, I got into the guy's page and was immediately reminded of one of my favorite Stanislav Lem novels, Memoirs Found in a Bathtub. It has been many years since I read it, but the basic premise is that anything (even pure randomness) can be decoded an infinite number of ways, and some will have meaning. But only the truly paranoid will be driven to do the decoding until the decoded message fits with their conspiracy theory.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:42 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seconding Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, and also His Master's Voice, for more on kind of the same topic.

This thing about "If you are in the minority opinion about something, there's a good chance you're wrong" makes sense if you think about it being on the other end of the stick from Occam's Razor. Or maybe two really nice weiners.
posted by sneebler at 7:08 PM on May 8, 2010


Reminds me of a girl I knew in high school who swore up and down that Vampire: The Masquerade was a thinly fictionalized depiction of actual vampire society.

So did I, only it was a guy. I'm beginning to think every nerd in the '90s went to high school with someone like that.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:39 PM on May 8, 2010


"the majority opinion is 'right' on most things"

Oh that t'were true. Only history disagrees.
posted by Twang at 1:12 PM on May 9, 2010


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