Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Total eclipse of the brain

As most of you undoubtedly know, on Monday, April 8, there's going to be a total solar eclipse visible in much of North America.  I've been looking forward to this one for years, because as luck would have it the path of totality is really close to where I live; we have our eclipse glasses at the ready and are going to head up to the lovely town of Canandaigua, New York to see it.  Best of all, it looks like we should have decent weather, never a guarantee in our cloudy, rainy climate.

It's a rare and spectacular event -- rare, at least, from the perspective of being convenient without a great deal of travel.  There are two or three solar eclipses every year, but if the path of totality is in the middle of the Indian Ocean, most of us won't be able to see it.  So you'd think their frequency would convince people that as striking as the phenomenon is, it's perfectly natural and nothing to freak out about.

You would be wrong.

Conspiracy theories have been popping up like toadstools after a rainstorm, most of them dire predictions about what the eclipse means.  Which is, of course, different from simply what it means; what it means is no more mysterious than an object casting a shadow, albeit a really big one.

What is means, though?  Well...  *cue dramatic music* it could mean damn near anything.  And none of it good.

[Image licensed under the Creative Commons ESA/CESAR/Wouter van Reeven, CC BY-SA IGO 3.0, Total solar eclipse ESA425433, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO]

Let's start with the people who think it's significant that the path of totality for this eclipse crosses the path of totality for the 2017 solar eclipse, and where they cross is near New Madrid, Missouri.  Geology and/or history buffs probably recognize this place as the site of the massive 1811 earthquake that rang church bells as far away as Richmond, Virginia and changed the course of the Mississippi River.  Well, "X marks the spot," right?  Of course right.  When the shadow of the Moon crosses New Madrid, it's going to set off a superquake that will flatten everything for miles around.

Because apparently, that's how dangerous shadows are, especially when they cross where other shadows were seven years ago.

"This has never happened before, two eclipse paths crossing at a single point over one town," one commenter screeched, despite the fact that a quick look at a solar eclipse map should show him this is blatant nonsense.  It also illustrates that he didn't pay any attention in high school geometry class, because crossing at a single point is kind of what non-parallel lines always fucking do.

Then, there's the Twitter user (sorry, I refuse to call it "X" because it sounds idiotic) who posted the following, receiving tens of thousands of upvotes and thousands of retweets:

Elon Musk changes Twitter's name to X.  His baby's mother, Grimes, posted a strange image on instagram before covid that literally told us covid was going to happen, all the way down to the 3 injections.  In that same image, a few rows beneath the covid 'prediction' is a solar eclipse.  Under it, a flower between two dragons.  2024 is the year of the dragon.  The lotus flower begins blooming in China on April 8th.  The eclipse is happening on April 8th.  That is way too many coincidences for me to feel comfortable, along with the Deagel projection of a 225 Million person decrease in the US by 2025.  It would appear some massive sacrifice could possibly be in the works.

Right!  Sure!  What?

One TikToker made an entirely different claim -- this one that that eclipse isn't going to last for four minutes or so as we've been told, but for three to five days, and that during that time the entire Earth will be plunged into complete darkness.  "Photons and electromagnetic particles that travel at the speed of light and will act as a barrier or temporary shield around the Earth, preventing the light of the Sun or the stars from passing through it," the narrator tells us, because that's apparently how light works.  We're then told to avoid travel during that time, and that the astronomers aren't telling us the truth about the duration of the eclipse because "they don't want to cause mass panic."

And of course if there are conspiracies, you just know Alex Jones is going to get involved, and his contribution this time is noticing that the path of the eclipse passes near eight towns named Nineveh.  Because this is the name of a town in the Bible, it shows the eclipse is a sign from God.  (How an eclipse can be a sign from God meaning anything other than "Kepler and Newton were right," I have no idea.)  But Jones also believes that the Big Bad Government can't let this "biblical event" proceed as the Good Lord intended, and the Department of Homeland Security intends to "hijack the eclipse."

My expression while reading this

Then we have the people who think that the eclipse is a sign that the simulation we're all trapped in is breaking down, and therefore something something something biblical prophecies:

The computer simulation is ending, folks.  Say goodbye to the Matrix.  God says in the book of Luke that before he comes back, he will give us signs in the Sun and the Moon and the stars.  We also have the Moon that is turning to rust.  The Greek origin of that rust is hematite, which means blood.  He said the Moon will turn to blood before the terrible day of the war.  We have the Euphrates River drying up.  We have wars, we have rumors of wars, not to mention all the other biblical prophecies that have been fulfilled.  We are literally in the last seconds of the last days, y'all, and our God is so loving and kind he wants to warn us before he comes back...  This eclipse is not the Rapture, it is a direct warning from God...  We are watching a biblical prophecy play out.

Texas pastor Troy Brewer agrees, at least with the biblical part of it, but adds a nice ultranationalist christofascist spin on the whole thing:

Any time God Almighty speaks a word through the Sun, he’s talking to the nations.  Any time that the Lord would speak a word through the Moon, he is speaking to his covenant people prophetically.  That would either be Israel or it would be the bride of Christ.  Or any time that God Almighty is speaking through the stars, he is prophetically speaking to his children of inheritance...  Why would we call it the Great American Eclipse?  Because it's the first time since 1776 that an eclipse has only touched America.  Can anybody think of what happened in 1776?  Oh, I know.  It was the birth of our nation.  So this was definitely an American word from God.  And it was a word about the great nation of America...  The eclipse of 1776 was a one hour and 33 minute event from the second the shadow touched the United States to the second it left...  What is that?  Psalm 133.  "Oh, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity."  It’s a call of unity for the body of Christ, whereas I want to tell you the warning of the second one is a call of civil war.  And then you have brother against brother in the second one.

Which conveniently ignores that (1) Monday's eclipse will also cross through Mexico and Canada; (2) there have been fifteen total solar eclipses on record that mostly affected the United States, most recently in 2017; and (3) how long the 1776 eclipse (or any solar eclipse) lasts depends on where you are relative to its path, so the whole Psalm 133 thing is idiotic.  But facts and reality just don't matter to these people, do they?  It's my considered opinion that Troy Brewer and his ilk have experienced a total eclipse of the brain, but one where the shadow is showing no sign of passing.

Anyhow, you get the picture.  Any time we have an interesting and uncommon astronomical event, it brings all the wackos yapping from the corners where they usually hide.  What never fails to astonish me, however, is that after the event is over, and nothing untoward takes place, it never discourages either them or their followers.  Doesn't that strike you as bizarre?  You make this grand and dire prediction, preach sermons about it or post it on Twitter or make TikTok videos (or whatever your preferred mode of communication to your devotees is), and then the big day comes, and... nothing happens.

If this was you, wouldn't you think, "Maybe I need to revise my worldview?"  I know I would.  But the weird thing is how that almost never happens.  I can damn near guarantee that Alex Jones and Troy Brewer and the TikTok anti-Matrix biblical apocalypse woman and the rest will not shift their opinions one iota when Monday comes and goes and there are no mass human sacrifices or Christian nationalist civil wars or megaquakes or three days of pitch darkness or computer simulation breakdowns or, heaven forbid, Moon rust.  They'll quiet down for a little, until we have another astronomical event, and then it'll be back to the yapping.

This time!  This is it!  We really mean it this time, you'll see!

Anyway, if you're able to get to the path of totality, I hope you enjoy the sky show.  Don't forget to wear proper eye protection (sunglasses are not enough).  Don't worry about the prophecies from the wingnuts.  We've made it through hundreds of ends-of-the-world already, we'll survive this one.


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