476. Holiday Diary (Part 3) Astronomy, Astrology & Flat Earth Conspiracy Theory

In this episode I talk about visiting the fantastic Griffith Observatory and then ‘go off on one’ about Astronomy vs Astrology and ludicrous flat earth conspiracy theories. Includes various bits of vocabulary throughout the episode.

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Episode notes and transcriptions

Just before we start I just realised that I forgot to mention some of your responses to the episode with my Dad about cricket which was uploaded in August.

Cricket episode (#473) comments

In general, the responses seem to be along these lines: I love listening to you talk to your Dad, it’s always nice to hear his voice and his descriptions of things, but this was the most difficult episode of the podcast ever! You broke my mind! You destroyed my brain!

Hi Luke, I do really love episodes with your Dad, but this particular one, completely destroyed me. ;) Nevertheless, it was a pleasure to listen to your Dad, as always, and I liked the cricket related phrases, so I’ll cut you some slack for making my brain hurt a bit. Cheers!

 Holiday Diary part 3

Here we go with part 3 of this series which is based around some of the things I saw while I was away on holiday last month.

You should listen to parts 1 and 2 before hearing this, because that will put this episode in the right context. In a nutshell the context is that my wife is preggers, she’s got a bun in the oven. By the way, I just wanted to say that I chose to reveal this personal news because it would be impossible to keep it secret, right? For example if my uploading becomes a bit erratic when the baby arrives, you’ll understand why. Perhaps you can manage your expectations a bit if you remember that I’ve “got a lot on my plate“. Having a child will be wonderful but probably quite disruptive, but I certainly don’t plan on halting this project as a result. We went on hols to the USA for a “babymoon” (our chance to enjoy a fairly big holiday together while it’s just the two of us), we saw some really interesting things and it gave me inspiration to talk about some topics on the podcast.

What’s this episode all about?

In this one the plan is to talk about astronomy, astrology and flat earth conspiracy theories. I hope there will be enough time! Let’s see. If I run out of time, some of those things will no doubt turn up in the next episode.

I expect the main questions for this will be:

  • What is the Griffith Observatory and what did we see there? )And how do you pronounce Griffith Observatory?)
  • What is the difference between astronomy and astrology?
  • Is astrology a load of old nonsense, or is it all right?
  • What is the flat earth theory all about?
  • Why do people think the earth is flat?
  • Is the earth flat or is it round (I’m pretty sure it’s round or globe shaped)?
  • What words can you pick up from all of this to help expand your vocabulary, improve your listening and develop your English in general?

We will see as we go through the episode.

Vocabulary for you to learn (check the notes and script)

On the subject of the English you’re going to hear, I will try and define some language as it comes up, but also you should check the page for this episode. In the episode archive search for episode 476 (oh that’s this page- you’re already here). On that page you’ll see some notes and some transcriptions, and there you can see the words and phrases, see how they are spelled, copy/paste expressions to your word lists or flashcard apps and so on, or just enjoy listening to the episode.

Griffith Observatory and a hike in the park

There was lots of geology and astronomy on this holiday. The geology because of the National Parks and all the rock formations with their stories of history, and astronomy because we visited the Griffith Observatory (this place dedicated to observing the sun and the night sky). Also, in a hotel one evening while zapping between the many TV channels I came across a long interview with famous astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, which was absolutely fascinating  and also quite mind blowing – as he usually is.

You can listen to that conversation with Neil Degrasse Tyson on the Nerdist podcast here

And then near the end of the holiday there was the total solar eclipse over some parts of the USA and every single person was talking about it. We didn’t see the full eclipse, but experienced some of it. So, lots of big things like the moon, the stars, the earth, our place in the universe and also the value of proper critical thinking and science in general.

We had a nice hike (not too demanding but not too easy) through Griffith Park up to the observatory. Hiking…

Walking up through the park we had views of Griffith Park and the Hollywood hills and the Hollywood sign. You get views over LA including the high-rise buildings in the downtown area.

It’s cool to be doing some hiking in what feels like the countryside and then to turn around and see the skyline of the city.

Hiking to Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory and Griffith Park are named after the man who donated the land (about 12 km squared) and paid for the observatory and theatre.

His name was Griffith J. Griffith. What a name!

Imagine calling your son Griffith Griffith!

Interesting bloke. Here’s the first paragraph of Wikipedia’s page about him:

“Griffith Jenkins Griffith (January 4, 1850 – July 6, 1919) was a Welsh industrialist and philanthropist. After amassing a significant fortune from a mining syndicate in the 1880s, Griffith donated 3,015 acres (12.20 km2) to the City of Los Angeles which became Griffith Park, and he bequeathed the money to build the park’s Greek Theatre and Griffith Observatory. Griffith’s legacy was marred by his notorious shooting of his wife in 1903, a crime for which he served two years in prison.”

Bequeath = to leave property to a beneficiary in a will

Bloomin’ heck, that escalated quickly!

(Find out some more about Griffith J Griffith – includes some reading from the Wikipedia page)


Anyway, (despite that horrible crime) it’s cool that this guy clearly believed in the importance of having a space dedicated to teaching ordinary people about how the earth fits into our galaxy, how it interacts with the sun and the moon, and all that stuff.

Astronomy is fascinating, I think.

Astronomy vs Astrology (the difference)

Astronomy – the scientific study of stars, planets and natural objects in space

Astrology – the study of movements of stars and planets and the belief that these movements can affect the lives of humans on earth. So that includes the predictions written into horoscopes, the system of star signs and how they are said to dictate our personalities and the things that will happen to us.

I don’t believe in astrology.

How could the movement of stars and planets affect whether your boss will give you a pay rise or if you’ll have an awkward encounter with a possible lover?

Who knows, maybe our lives are totally subject to astrological forces out there and everything that happens has already been written in advance, but I don’t think there’s much reliable evidence for it.

But that’s not the point for people who believe in horoscopes. I think for them it’s not about looking for the most reliable theory to understand the universe. It more about finding the one that makes you feel right about yourself.

But I’m not buying it.

Rambling about ambiguous horoscopes…

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Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 16.48.28

We’re not the centre of the universe. We’re part of something much larger than we can possibly imagine. (I sound like Obiwan Kenobi)

Sure, Saturn is a huge thing out there in space and it does have forces of gravity, probably radiation that come from it, but my iPhone probably produces more radiation than Saturn, because it’s so much closer to me than Saturn. I get it, Saturn is big, but it’s also very very far away. The mass of the table in front of me exerts more influence on me than the mass of Saturn at this distance.

And, if horoscopes can predict the future, why aren’t they front page news?

Maybe they don’t want to seem arrogant.

Yeah we can predict the future, we know what’s going to happen to the money markets, to the environment, to each individual person, but we don’t like to make a big deal out of it.

Horoscopes are never on the front page, they’re always printed in the middle of the newspaper, next to the crossword and the sudoku. “Yes, we know the future of your children, but let’s just print it down here in the corner next to these puzzles.”

Anyway, at the Griffith Observatory, it was nice to get a dose of space stuff – some astronomy. It’s great to see that this building is devoted to educating people about astronomy and that loads of people were there, families with their kids (even if they were annoying “Mommy look this is awesome!” etc) it’s good to see that these kids are being educated about science.

They have cool interactive models and presentations about the earth’s orbit around the sun, with live telescope footage of the sun itself (through loads of filters of course), the moon’s orbit around the earth, the way the moon and the sun together affect the tides in the oceans. It was really cool.

And the earth is round, by the way.

Flat Earth (Conspiracy) Theory – Some people still believe the earth is flat

These days Flat Earth theories seem to be quite popular again, especially on the internet.

I didn’t meet anyone or at least speak to anyone in the USA who believed in flat earth theory, but I’ve seen a lot of talk of it online.

There are quite a lot of youtubers and even famous musicians and celebrities who spread the idea that the earth is flat and that there’s a global (although I guess they wouldn’t use the word “global”) conspiracy to convince us all that it’s in fact round, or a ‘globe’.

Most of these people are Americans of course, because as far as I can tell the USA is the world’s #1 place for conspiracy theories.

I’m quite interested in conspiracy theories and I’m willing to hear the arguments. Some of them are fairly convincing (e.g I’m a bit sceptical about the official story of the JFK assassination but I don’t pretend to know what really happened) and other theories are completely ridiculous.

I think the flat earth theory is in the latter category.

Flat earth summary: www.livescience.com/24310-flat-earth-belief.html

I think it’s ridiculous believing the earth is flat because it means you have to also reject:
Pretty much all the basic understandings that we have of the way the world works, including the laws of physics, which are tested time and time again, scientifically (which means subject to the most reliable forms of objective testing and scrutiny possible). You have to reject the big bang theory, and even the basic law of gravity.

And you have to believe that all the governments, shipping and airline companies, scientists in different communities around the globe and in fact all those underpaid science teachers – you have to believe they are all part of a huge organised conspiracy to maintain the idea that the earth is round, when in fact it is flat.

What would be the purpose of doing that?

And anyway, it’s impossible! We’re just not competent enough to do that.

As a species we’re not even able to keep a sex tape secret, so what chance do we have of maintaining a lie that big?

I think we have to look at why people choose to believe in this kind of thing anyway.

I think it goes together with a general sense of distrust in authority, a feeling of individual empowerment that you get from believing something like that and the simple human ability to get stuck in a certain worldview and then block out anything that contradicts it, even if it’s rational evidence that has been proven over and over again.

I think once a person has invested themselves in a certain belief system for whatever reason, it’s very hard to get them out of it.

For example, you might hear a conspiracy theorist say “I believe the earth is flat and nobody can convince me that it’s not”.

That’s all you need to know really. They’re not interested in being convinced with evidence.

They’re more interested in pursuing their belief and maintaining it. Why? I don’t know. I think it’s an aspect of human nature that is very powerful and you can see it in lots of other situations too – like for example the way people end up getting involved in religious cults or the way people do very bad things because they believe they’re carrying out some kind of divine plan.

Flat earthers are not as bad as people like that, I suppose, but what would happen if the President came out as a flat earther? Then what? Would flat earth theories start to enter schools? Would more and more people start to believe it? If the flat earthers eventually outnumbered the scientific community, the round earth community, would flat earth become the dominant idea? Hundreds of years of history could be wiped out by a belief system like that. It’s actually possible, that’s the thing.

Let’s listen to a couple of YouTubers talking about it.

If you disagree and you think the earth is flat (which is very trendy at the moment by the way) write your ideas in the comment section. Why do you think the earth is flat? What’s your evidence? How do you deal with things like the laws of gravity or the fact that shadows are at different lengths on the ground in different places at the same time of day?

Thanks for listening! Leave your comments below with any thoughts from this episode.

Did you notice any good bits of vocabulary? You could copy&paste them into the comment section.



  • Orion team (Antonio)

    Hi people Intan has done the full transcript of this episode.


    As usual, any help improving it will be welcome.

  • zeynep deniz kozluklu

    ‘Fake filters’ :) There were hilarious moments in this episode. British humor, what can I say? I really liked listening to your point of view about science and art in these series of episodes. Thank you!

  • Lilia Kardenas

    Hi Luke! Thank you very much indeed for such an insightful episode of the podcast!

    The Flat Earth conspiracy theory you have described in the episode has actually made me thinking about this whole individuality cult spreading like a virus around the world. Everybody wants to feel different, therefore some of us tend to go to great lengths to show that our way of thinking is unique and nothing like the mainstream one.

    To me, the fact that some people appear that convinced of the flat Earth theory and seem unwilling to change their minds serves as an indicator of narrow-mindedness and an actual lack of scientific evidence to back up their hypothesis.

    As someone dabbling in psychology, I’m feeling pretty bad for the guy who drifted apart with his family because of his engraved persuasion that the Earth is flat. I believe family bonds should be fundamental to the lucky ones who do have a family, and if anyone happens to tear them apart because of a stupid theory, that person barely deserves any respect.

    On a more positive note, Luke, today’s horoscope for Geminis says:

    “If you happen to post an episode of your podcast today, it’s bound to go viral in no time. You are that very person who knows for a fact how to make everyone roll around laughing, so make sure you use that skill to good advantage”.

    Lilia from Lilia’s Sunday podcast xx

  • Chamal

    Hi Luke,
    Congrats to you and Mrs!

    i was almost certain that you were going to tell us about Jerome K. Jerome after you told us about Griffith J. Griffith.

    By the way, you might have missed this video on Flat earth

    Thank you for your wonderful LEPisodes.

  • David Weiss

    Hi Luke. You said it yourself, you really haven’t looked into it that much. We would like to invite you on an episode of THE FLAT EARTH PODCAST to discuss your thoughts on the subject. We are not dogmatic flat earthers or the type that go into a Starbucks and disrupt people. We have answers to all the misconceptions that you have stated on your show. Please reach out at info@theflatearthpodcast.com. Also links to the show can be found at www.theflatearthpodcast.com. You asked for a good flat earth video. Here you go. *THE EARTH IS FLAT* Search youtube for “*A Stranger’s Guide to Flat Earth | 21 Questions*” Your first 21 questions are answered there.

    • Hi David, I’d be happy to talk to you on an episode of your podcast. I’ll get in touch with you by email.

      • David Weiss

        We are in the USA NY and CA. What times might be good for you? Lets have a quick conversation and then set up a record time quick. This will be a very interesting conversation. We are open to new information as we don’t care what shape the earth is, only the truth matters. You can also hit me up on Skype: dtweiss

      • Zverg

        You know, helping people, who basically making money out of bullshitting uneducated folk, to create their content, doesn’t sound like particularly nice thing to do. I understand, that this is like two months late, just saying.

      • Firstly, they’re not making money out of it, and secondly I debated with them about it and tried to convince their audience that they were wrong about Flat Earth.

      • Zverg

        I have to disagree. Luke, you’re a good man, and maybe that’s why you tend to think better about other people, which is a good thing, I guess. Look up their YouTube channel, videos have hundreds of thousands of views, the first piece of information you get is how to donate, and then just take a look at videos themselves. They sell T-shirts and stuff also. They are making money out of this, no matter what they say about it.

        If you still unsure, watch that “Stranger’s guide” again, and pay attention, how carefully he’s avoiding obvious topographic and physical inconsistencies. Listen attentively what he’s saying about gravity or Coriolis force, he’s just dodging the question using common rhetoric technique. There’s no way people, who created this video actually believe in it’s content. It is quality bullshitting, but it’s still bullshitting.

        Finally, in my opinion, trying to convince flatearthers that they are wrong is counterproductive. It’s a little bit like having a political debate with Alex Jones (you probably know the man, if not, look him up, he’s quite a blast). By the way, he is another guy, who is “not making money out of it”, no sir. Their supporters do not look for proper discussion, because there’s nothing rational in their belief in the first place, and lack of proper education hinder their ability to process information greatly. In the end nobody profit from such a discussion.

        Anyway, looks like my English is not good enough to explain this last one, and I already wasted a lot of your time, if you’ve read the whole thing, so I guess I just skedaddle. You’re grown-up man (and soon a father, yay!!! Congrats! :D), so you can have your own educated opinion. Which obviously will be wrong, if it differs from mine. But still. I’ll just leave you to it.

        P.S. Love your podcast, listen from the very beginning (how many years have it been, I lose count). Still can’t into English, as you probably noticed, but enjoying every bit of it. Keep up the good work! D.S.

      • Awesome comment, thanks! Your English is great so don’t worry about being able to explain yourself.
        I totally get what you’re saying about these guys. I just thought I’d be able to debate with them in a civilised way and perhaps convince one or two listeners to change their minds. I did get a few messages later saying I’d managed to do that, so I hope that rather than bringing them more attention I managed to bring some light to what they’re really doing.
        In any case it was interesting to talk to those guys. I think they really believe it but at the same time it does give them something to talk about and a community of listeners.
        I know about Alex Jones and have done for quite a while after reading books by Jon Ronson. The guy is flat out bonkers and makes a living out of it. He used to claim he was Bill Hicks reborn in someone else’s body. He also claims he has proof that Michelle Obama is a man. This is the guy Trump has retweeted and says is a “nice guy”.

      • Orion team (Antonio)

        I hopw you are not going to bring them here, please. Enough is enough. To listen fool people I have my own in my street and I Spanish. :)

      • No plans to do that, don’t worry.
        I went on their podcast and talked to them. They didn’t convince me and I didn’t convince them, although some of their listeners got in touch with me to say that I’d managed to change their mind, which is nice.