When I was in high school a friend of mine was really into the Erich von Daniken books, some of you might remember the best-selling books on ancient aliens in his "Chariots of the Gods" series. They were very popular with the geeks of my generation in the 1970s and 1980s The people who followed von Däniken's theories usually followed the overall genre of UFOs and conspiracy theories. I read all the Chariots of the Gods books, the books on Project Blue Book and UFOs, and whatever else I could find on what I collectively called strange science.
In the late 1970s I had a radio show where I discussed Project Blue Book and UFOs. Project Blue Book was one of a series of studies of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) conducted by the United States Air Force. Its ceased operations in January 1970 with the conclusion that there was no evidence that any of the sightings were extraterrestrial vehicles. With thousands of reports to analyze and hundreds of expert witnesses, the stories and conspiracy theories went on long after Project Blue Book was shut down.
I was happy to find my stash of books from the 1970s, as shown in the photo attached to this article. One of the books you see in the photo is "Strangest of All" by Frank Edwards, an American writer and broadcaster. Frank Edwards was a pioneer radio broadcaster in the 1920s through the 1950s, and a writer of a series of popular books about UFOs and "Strange Science."
I would buy a new book every week or two, as well as read about inventors and inventions in magazines like Popular Science or Popular Mechanics. Other than to talk about these topics with my friend, and read a few magazines, I did not have any way to really explore these topics in more detail. Back in the dark ages of the 1970s we did not have the internet to share ideas. The stories have not changed since I first read them in the 1970s. What has changed is the new vehicle of the internet where myths and legends can take on a massive cult of followers.
Why believe in pseudosciences?
Many of the books on UFOs and ancient aliens are considered pseudoscience, meaning a false science, because they represent ideas and events that can not be validated by appropriate scientific methods. People imply that you are only intelligent if you believe in true science, and often make remarks that only an idiot would read a book classified as pseudoscience.
I can believe in the possibility of many ideas outside the realm of "conventional wisdom" without having to join the cult of a madman. I can believe there is the possibility of life on other planets without believing the information on the UFO websites telling me how aliens from other planets live among us. I can believe the government withholds key information from the public about world events without believing that every strange event is part of a government conspiracy. I spend a lot of time studying the lives of famous scientists and inventors, some of them have some pretty crazy ideas. An expression you will often see used is that there is a fine line between genius and insanity. There are times when we all walk along that line.
I am a believer in the statement made by Oliver Wendell Holmes, "Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions." There are many ideas which are considered pseudoscience that can be very interesting to study, and learning about them will definitely stretch your mind to a new dimension. That's why we are exploring myths and legends here at the World of Questy.
Spreading urban legends
Anytime someone sends me one of those amazing stories emails I often will research it. Before I tell a friend, post it to Facebook, or send it in an email, I like to know more about it. I love to hear about people doing cool things, especially something kind and generous. But if I want to hear about fictional crazy people and their wild adventures, I'll watch a Marvel comics movie. So many stores get passed off as factual, but no one ever does the simplest check of the facts.
Sometimes the answers, or the truth in the matter, is not clear cut. Sometimes a different story told from a different perspective can have a totally different look and feel to it. We can understand that. But some stories have nothing to validate them as being authentic, but for some reason they keep being told, simply because they are crazy or absurd.
Topics such as UFOs and conspiracy theories that were popular in various books and magazines in the 1970s and 1980s, are now generating a new wave of cult followers on the internet. Websites like YouTube can be an amazing place where you can learn a lot. People spend a lot of time creating great videos on how to do many things. On the other hand I have seen many videos on YouTube that were downright crazy in the amount of misinformation they were putting out. I can find thousands of YouTube videos on perpetual motion machines, 200 mpg carburetors, UFOs and aliens
Television shows like the X-files took topics like UFOs and conspiracy theories and carried them from themes followed by a few special interests into popular culture. We all now use the tagline "The Truth Is Out There", thanks to shows like the X-files.
The internet does not always record history, sometimes it creates it. Recently we added the page to Geekhistory.com, "Urban legend: I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." It is a topic I researched years ago as one of the many examples that gives merit to the point that the internet is a place that writes and recreates history based on public opinion, rather than just the facts. That is a major flaw in the artificial intelligence of search engines, specifically Google, who equate value with popularity. If thousands of websites tell us that IBM Chairman Thomas Watson said, "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers," in 1943, then it must be true. Doesn't it?
Learn the truth: "Urban legend: I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
Delusional inventors plagued by conspiracies
Over at the website GeekHistory we look at inventors and inventions, exploring when visions became reality. There are a few cases where the myths and legends go deep beyond the history technology become crazy stories of cult followers and bizarre claims. Here at the World of Questy we look at methods and the madmen that take a question where where people have some doubt and create a sermon to answer the question. We look at the many scammers and false prophets that run off and turn an idea into a cult.
Sometimes it is hard to separate the theories of delusional inventors from their fanatic cult of followers who often rationalize the failures of their heroes with various legends of some conspiracy against them. Sadly, I see many people in search of answers who become members of various cults, and don't even realize it. I shake my head while reading comments on an online forum, I ask "can you tell me the exact source of your information." The commenter replies back, "I read it on the Internet."
There is a category of hucksters and outright frauds who we call the snake oil salesmen. In our next article we we explore the scams and hoaxes common in the old west that gave birth to the phrase Snake Oil as an all purpose cure for any problem.