“On being a Flat-Earther”, an edited excerpt from Chapter 10 of my book “Fresh Perspectives on Creativity”
A flat-earther is someone who insists that the earth is flat and who is likely to be derided for holding such a factually ignorant view. In this post, at the risk of being laughed at, I claim to be a flat-earther myself. A theme of this chapter is that any starting point, however far-fetched, can lead to creative outcomes, as is proved my the many artists who have painted masterpieces on the basis of crack-brain ideas. My purpose in this post is to emphasise two points, made throughout this chapter, namely that investigating alternative descriptions can unblock stagnant thought-processes and liberate creativity and that they can do it whether the alternatives are sensible or absurd. It is a thought-provoking idea, which is worth expanding on. So here goes:
Why I am a Flat-Earther
People seem surprised if I describe myself as a “flat-earther”. They think I must be joking, but nothing could be further from the mark. To make matters more confusing, I explain that I also believe that:
- The earth is a sphere.
- The sun goes round the earth.
- The earth goes round the sun.
- The sun is the centre of the universe and, at the same time, is involved in the long drawn out process of being blasted further and further away from the inconceivably far-distant site of the all-creating event which has been called the “Big Bang”.
How can it possible to hold so many incompatible views at the same time? No problem. When out walking or driving, the flat earth hypothesis never lets me down. Give or take a few hills and valleys, it is reliably predictive of all foreseeable eventualities (though, it must be admitted that a careful look at the horizon of the known-to-be-flat sea shows that it is clearly curved in a manner difficult to reconcile with dogmatic flat-earth beliefs).
The same applies to the geocentric hypothesis. Personal observation will never contradict our unvarying experience that, relative to any world-based viewpoint, the sun, the moon and the stars all, without exception, rise from the horizon, traverse the firmament in great arcs and set back down into the horizon.
Since the relevant memories are lost in the mists of my long ago history, it can only be assumed that my acceptance of the science-based notions that are at variance with personal observation came as a result of being taught by somebody (probably at school). Certainly it was at school that I learned why Christopher Columbus would never have discovered America if he had been a flat-earther. For him a round earth hypothesis provided the best arguments for raising the necessary funding. Similarly, astronomers found their job enormously simplified, first when they started to base their calculations on a solar centred conception and, later, when they realised that the sun was but one of many stars rushing headlong from a common starting place into outer space.
But, to give some perspective to the situation, I may ask, what proportion of people in the course of their daily lives, depend on predictions that involve understanding the latest discoveries of astronomers or, even, that the earth revolves around the sun? Evidently, an infinitesimal one. The only examples that come to mind are astronomers, space-rocket engineers and school children, wanting to pass exams.
For the remaining members of the human race, flat-earther and geocentric assumptions will serve their needs best. They will do so, even if they happen to be astronomers or space-rocket engineers outside the context of their work and dependent, for the time being, on interpreting the world around them from the perspective provided by their own sense data. Similarly, Euclidean geometry has met all the requirements of a flat-earth hypothesis for well over two thousand years and still works perfectly well if, by keeping to diagrams drawn on flat surfaces, multidimensional space is avoided. Nor is there any need to abandon the wave theory of light just because the particle theory explains phenomena that it cannot (or visa versa).
In short the creative process can benefit from a modicum of playful juggling with the idea of giving credence to alternative answers to the same question.