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Can a conspiracy theorist assert his claims without lying?

  1. Oct 26, 2009 #1
    I don't understand how a person can honestly assert a conspiracy theory.

    I'll use 9/11 conspiracy for an example.

    The numerous documentaries that are floating around the internet assert that the President of the United States pulled off the most flawlessly executed mass murder and international crime without so much as a hickup in his plans.

    The evidence they produce is circumstancial, and can in many cases make you wonder; but when you dig deeper you can usually explain away just about everything when you look for the context. You see that the conspiracy is only visible when you turn on your tunnel vision and only follow the events as laid out by the theorist.

    My question is whether or not a theorist can do this without actually knowing it. Can he or she construct the thoery in such a way that the story is appears viable without knowing that they are trying to form the facts to fit their theory?

    I'm not so much asking about the theories as much as the people who generate them.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 26, 2009 #2

    I'm thinking that it is possible, but very very unlikely.

    A regular theory works something like this; you gather observations, and you create a theory to explain the observations. By Occam's Razor, you will probably pick the theory that makes the most sense and does not try to insert any extrapolations about the events at hand.

    A conspiracy theory, on the other hand, seems to do the reverse. The conspiracy theorist creates a theory, then gathers up only the evidence that supports his/her theory.

    So, (if I understand your question) can someone use the first method (gather evidence, make a logical theory that makes sense) and arrive at the same conclusion as a conspiracy theorist? It is HIGHLY unlikely. In the context of 9/11, it was unusual that both buildings fell down from being hit by airplanes, but it is simply unscientific to say that this evidence screams "inside job".

    The reason I have never believed in conspiracies is because no government since the beginning of time has been able to keep a secret from the people. Conspiracy theorists consistently seem to attribute supernatural powers of non-disclosure to governments. They fail to realize that governments are run by humans.
  4. Oct 26, 2009 #3
    I have always felt the same way. I don't think that a massive conspiracy is possible. Especially one spanning several generations. Eventually, someone will let it all be known.

    Its like the moon landing conspiracy. If the United States had faked the landing, it would not be up to the US to debunk the theory. It was in the best interest of the Russians to debunk it. They would have given anything to find out that we had faked it.

    It amazes me that a conspiracy theorists can make assertions, and then make a documentary about it, and actually believe in what they are saying. They must purposefully present the information to hide any holes that would be obvious to the average person. Is the fact that they start research with the preconception that there is a conspiracy the reason that they ultimately conclude a conspiracy exists? I am just wondering if their are particular individuals who have a preset weakness to circular reasoning. If they found no evidence, would they conclude that the powers that be managed to hide it better than usual?
  5. Oct 26, 2009 #4


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    Imo, yes, many conspiracy theorists are delusional.
  6. Oct 26, 2009 #5
    The only question then is.. Will they be believed if they come out and say it? What if some of these conspiracy theories are true, and the people that have come out to say it know it and are trying to pass along the information, but they're taken as conspiracy theorists?

    It can be pretty complicated.

    (Just playing devil's advocate :) )
  7. Oct 27, 2009 #6
    These sentences are way too general. Certainly some conspiracy theories are true. We can't say that it has never occurred that two or more people have had a meeting to plan a crime or some other secret activity.
  8. Oct 27, 2009 #7


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    That's just a conspiracy, not a "conspiracy theory" in which you assert that a conspiracy was involved with some event rather than the most likely and obvious explanation, which was visible.
  9. Oct 27, 2009 #8


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    There was a pretty good show on debunking the 9/11 conspiracy theorists. The work was mostly put together by researchers at Popular Mechanics and backed up by a lot of experts. One of the really interesting parts dealt with the mind of a conspiracy theorist. Their conclusions were, to paraphrase, that the conspiracy theorist really does think they are doing the right thing and acting morally. They also have an intense psychological need to "put a pretty bow" type of answer on something as catastrophic as 9/11. It sounded like a type of coping mechanism. So it is this mechanism that clouds what they see and think.
  10. Oct 27, 2009 #9


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    The problem, in my opinion, is people do not know how to critically think in general. Add this to the fact that some conspiracy theorists GENUINELY believe something is "wrong". This creates people who really think their theories are realistic. Add that to some people's abilities to take some sort of mistrust they develop as a younger person against something and that just blossoms as they grow up. It's amazing how if you tell someone something as a kid, it's as if God himself made it so.
  11. Oct 27, 2009 #10


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    Ah yah, I remember that analysis! I believe they compared it to the Kennedy Assassination. In that case, people couldn't believe that one random person could damage millions of people's lives and shake an entire nation like that. I suppose people don't like believing their lives can be turned upside down and thrown off track so easily. I wasn't even close to being alive back then but from all I ever gather, it was like people were living in a fantasy world with Kennedy's presidency.
  12. Oct 28, 2009 #11
    Having had the unfortunate pleasure of talking to many rabid conspiracy theorists, ( I was involved the Ron Paul campaign, and while conspiracy theorists were not the majority, they were a significant element) I would argue that is not the fundamental psychological reason.

    It is a mostly a lack of critical thinking skills. The resoning goes something like this: I used to think everything the government said was true, but know I realize that isn't the case. Therefore, everything the government says is a lie.

    I personally connect the rise of the 9/11 conspiracy theories with the WMD argument invading into Iraq. You can see how for people who don't understand critical thinking, the falsehood of one motivation for going into Iraq would imply the falsehood of the other.

    There's also an element of grandiosity involved. Conspiracy theorists often seem to think they are wiser then all the "sheeple" who have been fooled. So their ego gets wrapped up in the theories they subscribe to as well. Furthermore (and this is important) THEY REALLY DO BELIEVE the nonsense they spout. If you really believed the government was complicit in 9/11, you would be trying to make people aware of it too.

    Another thing to understand is that people do label real things as conspiracy theories to discredit their criticism. The term itself for this reason isn't a good one, and provokes too automatic of a response. While 9/11 conspiracy theories are clearly absurd, conspiracies amongst the powerful do happen, and things that seem questionable are worth questioning.
  13. Oct 28, 2009 #12
    Can of worms..
  14. Nov 2, 2009 #13


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    I roll my eyes at conspiracy theories, but catch 22 - could this end up in a kind of 'boy cries wolf' scenario where the general public will ignore the ridiculous claims of tremendous treason that turns out to be true?
  15. Nov 3, 2009 #14


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    A very amusing question. And just from personal experience, I have seen abundant evidence that people really do believe.

    The question then is why?

    One sound reason would be that those in authority lie like hell when it suits them. So it is indeed rational to suspect the truth is other than what authority figures claim.

    Why did the Bush invade Iraq? To free the people or grab the oil? Why are troops still in afghanistan? To free the people or stop Pakistan being the next domino?

    [edit: whoops, seen that Galteeth already made this point...]

    But of course you are talking about obviously wrong beliefs, such as 9/11, moon landing, Kennedy.

    Is this then just a facet of US culture? Do other countries have so many florid examples?

    Well, people elsewhere have all sorts of superstitions and religions. Astrology, psi, christianity, etc.

    It is obviously easy to convince yourself of anything just about because a fertile mind can explain away difficult counter-facts.

    I love the old comment about catholic faith and how it requires the double miracle with communion - first the miracle that the wine really is turned into blood, and then the second miracle that the blood tastes exactly like wine.

    Same with psi. If psi exists, then Las Vegas would go bust in a week. But every good psi researcher has found ways to talk themselves out of such a conclusion.

    So the human mind just is very prone to finding patterns and making difficult facts fit. Even in science, we know that it is normal to believe the beautiful idea rather than worry too much about the contradictory evidence. Again, I see this everyday.

    A great example of a conspiracy theorist in science would be Stuart Hameroff with his QM consciousness theories. He really does believe what he says. And he attracts many followers.
  16. Nov 3, 2009 #15
    I think it is scary the kind of following a strong personality can attract to themselves.
  17. Nov 3, 2009 #16
    IMHO I think that most conspiracy theorist are delusional. There are a few that just 'want to be different' and get attention but maybe that falls under the delusional category too I'm not sure.
  18. Nov 3, 2009 #17
    Have yall ever seen the movie conspiracy theory? Imagine if there was one complete wacko out there who got everything completely right.
  19. Nov 3, 2009 #18
    Yes but then again how do you explain that one building falling without having been hit by one of the planes? It was just really poorly built I guess...

    I also like how none of the news shows had footage of it falling. Clearly they didnt have cameras looking in that direction at all.

    And nobody seems to remember that plane that went down right after 9/11 in the middle of NY that barely got reported about. Its interesting to know what buildings it hit.
  20. Nov 3, 2009 #19
    Yes... This really should push us to reconsider our discussion shouldn't it........

  21. Nov 3, 2009 #20
    No it shouldnt... Go back to sleep.
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