In defense of flat-earthers

In the last 150 years or so, physics has taken a turn away from the intuitive and toward the abstract. It’s not rolling balls and falling apples anymore; it’s quantum states and curved spacetime. (And let’s not even get into string theory, which might as well be an outsider theory itself for all the experimental evidence it has backing it up—i.e., none so far.) That turn has left some people—perhaps B.o.B included—extremely unsettled. Physics is supposed to be about understanding the world I live in, they think. But I don’t see any time dilation/entangled quarks/curvature of the Earth when I look around me. Why should I trust this math I can’t understand over what I see with my own eyes?

Most of us are content to passively swallow the harsh truth that the fundamental laws of the universe are too complicated to grasp without a graduate education in math. We trust that somewhere along the way, scientists smarter than we are actually did the calculations and got the right answers. The evidence is right there in our GPS satellites, our smart phones, our space station. I don’t need to check their work, we think. Not outsider physicists. They insist on figuring everything out for themselves, in ways they can understand. They are driven by the sense that their “own experience must be the starting point for [their] understanding of the world,” Wertheim wrote in her remarkably generous and empathetic book. So they come up with their own ideas, sometimes even designing and performing experiments to back them up.