It's true, aliens are among us

Please remain calm but I have some alarming news.

Even as you are reading this, aliens are invading our planet. They do not appear to be peaceful and have already caused significant devastation on an unsuspecting population.

The Government is aware but has chosen not to alarm the public. They (the aliens, not the Government) have disguised themselves in humanoid form and currently go by the name One Direction.

Chances are, many of you who have read the first few sentences would have just assumed I was being facetious.

"Aliens attacking? That's rich," you said to yourself. "Did they travel at the speed of light or discover technology required to make a wormhole through time and space fabric?"

But there is also a small group of you who now have your tin-foil hats on and have retreated to your panic room.

You know about those One Direction aliens. You tried to warn people but they wouldn't listen (to you, not One Direction).

I am writing about aliens and conspiracies today in light of a new poll conducted by CNN asking thousands of Americans what they think happened to the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

The poll is fascinating not just because it includes "aliens" as one possible explanation but also that about one in 10 people believe that beings from another planet or dimension had something to do with it.

As I read that finding, my first instinct was to roll my eyes at the people who backed the alien theory.

Can I also say I have always considered it strange that people who have been abducted by aliens claim that the beings conducted experiments on them via the back door.

Why would a superior being do this? Do they not have an X-ray machine?

But then I decided to pause in my mockery for a moment to think about why so many people seem to believe the unbelievable.

I mean, the story of aliens and MH370 is by no means the only far-fetched story backed by sincere, intelligent people. There are conspiracy theories about a whole range of unsolved mysteries.

Some believe that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were a ploy by the US government to justify an invasion of Iraq; Elvis is still alive; Paul McCartney is dead; the original moon landing was all special effects; and that Nasa occasionally kidnaps people and convinces them they were abducted by aliens so that they can continue to get funding for space research.

There is good evidence available to show that none of this is true but people still believe it.

Why? My guess is that this willingness to believe anything stems from an unwillingness to believe everything.

Let me explain. Much of our daily life is lived according to a need to accept as fact a lot of things that we cannot personally verify.

Somebody tells you that the car runs by having a bunch of tiny controlled explosions take place under the hood and you just accept it. There is no time for questions, you are late for work.

Somebody sends me a mass e-mail telling me that there are more stars in the sky than grains of sand on a beach and I am going to delete it without a second thought. (It is my policy to delete any e-mail that has more than one "FW" in its subject line.)

But then, some months down the road, I may whip out that fact at a club to try and impress the women. (This is a chess club, not a night club.)

I would not have done any due diligence on this fact. I would not have asked if they counted the grains of sand. Did they use very small tweezers or what?

And I can see how there is only so much of this one person can take.

After about maybe 50 million of these little facts, a person might start to think: "You know what, I am going to break away from conventional wisdom and personalise my own belief system, even if it means I have to embrace the idea that aliens are among us and that they know only one way to conduct experiments on the human body."

The only criterion then for what he believes in is that it conforms to principles he already holds true.

If his belief system requires a deep suspicion of big government, then he is willing to believe nearly any fact that implies Big Brother is doing something evil.

If his system involves a belief that mass e-mails are the harbinger of truth, then he is more willing to embrace the idea of kidney thieves or the possibility that corporations will give a poor one- legged girl 20 cents for everyone he forwards an e-mail to.

The beautiful thing about all of this is that it is impossible to disabuse someone of this belief.

Very few facts, these days, can be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt. And even a fraction of a fraction of uncertainty is enough to allow someone to hang on to his conspiracy theory.

When confronted with something where little evidence exists, like the tragic disappearance of a plane, then there are going to be more theories than you can swing a big stick at.

Even if a lot of evidence is ultimately uncovered, the initial assumptions people make are difficult to shake.

The truth is out there but it does not stand a chance against a good conspiracy theory.

This article was published on May 12 in The Straits Times.

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