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I’m Not Heading To Montauk – If Anyone Begins To Wonder Where I Am

07/17/2012

Montauk is home to 4000 residents, Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind references and a radar dish that sparked conspiracies so extravagant that, if true, would alter our current understanding of physics. In the 1980s Montauk was a great location for a conspiracy: remote, small-town America but close enough to New York to potentially endanger a big population. These days it is a tourist destination that boasts of beautiful beaches and bustling bed & breakfasts. Hardly the location for a time-traveling, invisible, electromagnetic warship.

In 1943 the Philadelphia Experiment was rumoured to have taken place in Pennsylvania. The USS Eldridge and a full crew was to be made invisible to radar by taking advantage of an aspect of Einstein’s ‘Unified Field Theory’. Large, complex devices were fitted to the warship and activated to create an electromagnetic field around the USS Eldridge. Reports differ as to what actually happened. From invisibility to radar to actual invisibility and, on their reappearance, the crew experiencing mental disorders. Some reports have it that the crew actually fused with the steel hulls.

Conspiracies are normally retro-fitted to events, facts are cherry-picked to fit a narrative that will provide a worldview that the theorist wishes was true. 9/11 could only be orchestrated by our government because the military industrial complex wanted to build new war machines to fight a new enemy. If it was really just a ragtag band of radical Islamists it would mean that the US government isn’t all-powerful. That might mean that all of the other bad things in our lives are not because of a powerful government conspiracy; it probably means that we have to accept responsibility for some of the more disappointing elements in our life.

If experience has taught us anything it is that humans are flawed, selfish and forgetful, after all, I was supposed to be writing about Montauk. The organisation and commitment required to plan, develop and enact a conspiracy would be so grand that it would either fall apart immediately or someone would leak details to the press. When the head of MI:6 can’t keep holiday photos secret it seems unlikely he’d be involved in subterfuge with aliens. Unless they got him a good deal on a fly-drive to Corsica. Despite that, some surveys have it that 20% of people believe that aliens live amongst us. Even the clear progression of abduction stories (now aliens but used to be angels, then vampires, then witches and further back with other mythical beasts) over time show that humans have sought to find grand reasons for someone disappearing, never to return, or, even more mysteriously, to reappear with amnesia. It could be another human doing murders, it could be a human getting wasted and not wanting to admit to it. It’s probably a succubus.

As humans we seem predisposed to seek order and desire explanations. Why did the woman who normally orders a medium latte order an espresso today? Why did my boyfriend cheat on me? Why are soldiers returning from war with changed personalities? Despite simple explanations being the most likely they also seem to be the least fulfilling. Complexity convinces. It’s been proven that humans will rate a prediction as more likely to be fulfilled the more complex it is. Occam’s Razor would suggest that the woman was in a rush, your boyfriend didn’t love you enough and that war fucks you up. Another complicating factor is the belief that the more significant the event the more significant the causes must be. It could even seem as if the human brain is a purpose-built structure designed specifically to believe that things are more complex than they are and therefore need extraordinary explanations. This, at least, explains the success of the film Lost In Translation.

Conspiracies do occasionally occur, that shouldn’t be ignored. Clinton had to apologise for STD trials conducted on a poor black population in 1920s America. The truth is that the conspiracies that do succeed in remaining secretive are normally small-scale and in small towns. But because of a complexity bias in our psychology we choose to believe that the bigger the conspiracy, the more likely it is true. Conspiracies that involve treachery at the highest level of government, suppression of alien contact, widespread drugs trials and experiments that break the accepted laws of the universe are believed by a staggering number of people. News last year announced that some neutrinos were recorded as breaking the speed of light. This could have had enormous consequences for science and technology and yet it was in the news before confirmation research was conducted. The truth is out there, mainly in press releases.

Religion seems to operate on the same human tendencies. It explains an often cruel and random existence by telling you that someone is in charge. A higher power that we can’t see or experience but who is working in mysterious ways. It is an attempt to deflect from the depressing likelihood that we are complex collections of carbon that continually cause conflict and create confusion. Which then raises the fear that we truly are free to do whatever our subconscious tells us to do, that no-one is actually in charge and that we can only really blame ourselves. Because inherent in all conspiracies, religions, superstitions and “secrets to unlocking the perfect life” are attempts to imbue greater significance on a world that doesn’t deserve it. Except Montauk, because that is a beautiful seaside town, with nothing sinister going on.

Follow me on Twitter: @thisstuartlaws
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