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7 bizarre conspiracy theories that are actually true
Are conspiracy theories ever true? Here are a few occasions when the government really did what the conspiracy theories claimed.
Conspiracy theories are generally relegated to the fringes of society, considered to be beliefs that are unsupported by evidence but that make very big claims about reality. A conspiracy theorist says that what you think you know is not how it really is, and most likely, there’s some nefarious group that is actually ruling your life and arranging events in the world.
Most of the conspiracy theories do turn out to be patently untrue and created by the insecurities of people who feel they lack of control over their lives, as says Professor Galinsky. He studied conspiracy theories and found a connection between the feeling of lacking control and a propensity to believe in outlandish tales that may somehow explain why your life is not the way you want it to be.
But are there times when conspiracy theories actually do pan out and are, in essence, true? While nothing that has truly shaken the foundations of our societies has recently been uncovered, there have been times when suspicions of conspiracies were proven correct. Here are seven such instances that involve the favorite topic of conspirators: the government.
1. The government poisoned alcohol during Prohibition and killed thousands
A classic government-centric conspiracy maintains that the government is not telling us the full truth and often does dangerous things to enforce its power over us. One strange and deadly episode of American history can provide much fuel to such a fire. In the saga of the American attempt to prohibit alcohol consumption that began with the passage of the 18th amendment in 1919, a little-known story emerged that when the efforts to prohibit alcohol sales and consumption were failing, the government attempted to poison the alcohol supply in order to convince people to stop drinking.
Women turn out in large numbers for the anti-prohibition parade and demonstration in Newark, N.J., Oct. 28, 1932. More than 20,000 people took part in the mass demand for the repeal of the 18th Amendment. (AP Photo)
While there are nuances to this story, it is generally true that from even before Prohibition started the government encouraged manufacturers to add dangerous chemicals to industrial alcohol in order to make it undrinkable. When this practice was combined with the explosion of an unregulated black market for alcohol under Prohibition, thousands of Americans died as a result of a vicious cycle of bootleggers trying to find new ways to purify and resell industrial alcohol for drinking and the government ordering the addition of more and more dangerous chemicals like kerosene to the mix. While the government cannot be exclusively blamed here, it is true that its policy contributed to the deaths.
2. The government is trying to control your mind
It would certainly make the government’s job easier if it could directly tell its subjects what to do and no shortage of rulers have tried to do just that. But is the government actively trying to tell you what to think? While that may not be true on a large scale, there is evidence that the government has attempted to do just that.
There was a CIA-run program called MK-ULTRA that from 1953 until the late 1960s involved experimentation on subjects using the hallucinogenic drug LSD. While the program was first using volunteers, it had offshoots like the “Operation Midnight Climax”, whereby the CIA for eight years had prostitutes drug unsuspecting clients with LSD who would then be monitored via two-way mirrors by field agents. With most of the records from the program destroyed by now, it’s hard to know the full extent of the government’s attempt to control minds but the precedent is certainly there.
3. The government is spying on you
While they may not be looking into every single person individually, rest assured the government is aware of your existence and is not above taking a look at your Facebook profile. In 2017, Facebook received 78,890 information requests from governments around the world, with 41% of those coming from the U.S., which saw 85% of such requests granted. The government is also making similar requests of Google, Apple and other companies that don’t even reveal they are being asked this information.
4. The government is spying on the media
The extent of this is not entirely clear but it seems true that the government is very much interested in creating a database of media outlets and social media influencers as well as their political leanings. This has been revealed recently in a posting by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security which was looking for contractors to create just such a system.
It would feature “24/7 Access to a password protected, media influencer database, including journalists, editors, correspondents, social media influencers, bloggers etc,” says the posting. The database would also have the “ability to analyze the media coverage in terms of content, volume, sentiment, geographical spread, top publications, media channels, reach, AVE, top posters, influencers, languages, momentum, circulation.”
5. The government lied to get the country involved in wars
Take your pick on this conspiracy. The government lies? You don’t say. The Gulf of Tonkin incident is one example where the U.S. military used a supposed attack by the North Vietnamese on the American naval ship “Maddox” on August 2nd, 1964, as a pretext for escalating the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The only problem - no such attack ever happened, according to even to the former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara.
And who can forget Secretary of State Colin Powell’s 2013 speech at the U.N., showing us charts of Saddam Hussein’s WMDs - “weapons of mass destruction”. No weapons like that were ever found among his stockpiles even after the Iraq War, which claimed thousands of American and millions of Iraqi lives.
6. The government knows where the aliens are
Ok, we don’t know exactly what the Feds know about this issue but we do know they have been interested in it for a while (despite years of denial) and actually had a program as recently as 2011 that was looking for UFOs. It was reported that a five-year initiative called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program was gathering video and audio footage of possible UFOs and building storage facilities to contain any alien materials recovered.
While the Pentagon denies that any such efforts are continuing, Luis Elizondo who ran the program, says it’s definitely still going on.
7. The government can control the weather
We don’t know how much of this it cares to do but we know that the government can, to some extent, influence the weather. During the Vietnam War, the CIA would seed the clouds in monsoon season to make it rain even more. The goal of this tactic, which was in use between 1967 and 1972, was to wash out roadways and provoke bad landslides that would prevent the North Vietnamese troops from moving their weapons and provisions, says this CIA blog.
If you’re in the mood to check out America’s most popular conspiracy theories, check out this article.
- Where far-left "wellness" purveyors meet right-wing conspiracy theorists - Big Think ›
- Secretive agency uses AI, human "forecasters" to predict future - Big Think ›
- Agenda 21, a wild conspiracy theory, reignited by coronavirus - Big Think ›
- Why do people believe in conspiracy theories? - Big Think ›
Some evidence attributes a certain neurological phenomenon to a near death experience.
Time of death is considered when a person has gone into cardiac arrest. This is the cessation of the electrical impulse that drive the heartbeat. As a result, the heart locks up. The moment the heart stops is considered time of death. But does death overtake our mind immediately afterward or does it slowly creep in?
Some scientists have studied near death experiences (NDEs) to try to gain insights into how death overcomes the brain. What they've found is remarkable, a surge of electricity enters the brain moments before brain death. One 2013 study out of the University of Michigan, which examined electrical signals inside the heads of rats, found they entered a hyper-alert state just before death.
Scientists are beginning to think an NDE is caused by reduced blood flow, coupled with abnormal electrical behavior inside the brain. So the stereotypical tunnel of white light might derive from a surge in neural activity. Dr. Sam Parnia is the director of critical care and resuscitation research, at NYU Langone School of Medicine, in New York City. He and colleagues are investigating exactly how the brain dies.
Our cerebral cortex is likely active 2–20 seconds after cardiac arrest. Credit: Getty Images.
In previous work, he's conducted animal studies looking at the moments before and after death. He's also investigated near death experiences. “Many times, those who have had such experiences talk about floating around the room and being aware of the medical team working on their body," Dr. Parnia told Live Science. “They'll describe watching doctors and nurses working and they'll describe having awareness of full conversations, of visual things that were going on, that would otherwise not be known to them."
Medical staff confirm this, he said. So how could those who were technically dead be cognizant of what's happening around them? Even after our breathing and heartbeat stops, we're conscious for about 2–20 seconds, Dr. Parnia says. That's how long the cerebral cortex is thought to last without oxygen. This is the thinking and decision-making part of the brain. It's also responsible for deciphering the information gathered from our senses.
According to Parnia during this period, "You lose all your brain stem reflexes — your gag reflex, your pupil reflex, all that is gone." Brain waves from the cerebral cortex soon become undetectable. Even so, it can take hours for our thinking organ to fully shut down.
Usually, when the heart stops beating, someone performs CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). This will provide about 15% of the oxygen needed to perform normal brain function. "If you manage to restart the heart, which is what CPR attempts to do, you'll gradually start to get the brain functioning again," Parnia said. “The longer you're doing CPR, those brain cell death pathways are still happening — they're just happening at a slightly slower rate."
CPR may help retain some brain function for longer. Credit: Getty Images.
Dr. Parnia's latest, ongoing study looks at large numbers of Europeans and Americans who have experienced cardiac arrest and survived. "In the same way that a group of researchers might be studying the qualitative nature of the human experience of 'love,'" he said, "we're trying to understand the exact features that people experience when they go through death, because we understand that this is going to reflect the universal experience we're all going to have when we die."
One of the objectives is to observe how the brain acts and reacts during cardiac arrest, through the process of death, and during revival. How much oxygen exactly does it take to reboot the brain? How is the brain affected after revival? Learning where the lines are drawn might improve resuscitation techniques, which could save countless lives per year.
"At the same time, we also study the human mind and consciousness in the context of death," Parnia said, “to understand whether consciousness becomes annihilated or whether it continues after you've died for some period of time — and how that relates to what's happening inside the brain in real time."
For more on the scientific perspective on a near death experience, click here:
That's as fast as a bullet train in Japan.
The way an elephant manipulates its trunk to eat and drink could lead to better robots, researchers say.
Elephants dilate their nostrils to create more space in their trunks, allowing them to store up to 5.5 liters (1.45 gallons) of water, according to their new study.
They can also suck up three liters (0.79 gallons) per second—a speed 30 times faster than a human sneeze (150 meters per second/330 mph), the researchers found.
The researchers wanted to better understand the physics of how elephants use their trunks to move and manipulate air, water, food, and other objects. They also wanted to learn if the mechanics could inspire the creation of more efficient robots that use air motion to hold and move things.
Photo by David Clode on Unsplash
While octopuses use jets of water to propel themselves and archer fish shoot water above the surface to catch insects, elephants are the only animals able to use suction both on land and underwater.
"An elephant eats about 400 pounds of food a day, but very little is known about how they use their trunks to pick up lightweight food and water for 18 hours, every day," says lead author Andrew Schulz, a mechanical engineering PhD student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "It turns out their trunks act like suitcases, capable of expanding when necessary."
Sucking up tortilla chips without breaking them
Schulz and his colleagues worked with veterinarians at Zoo Atlanta, studying elephants as they ate various foods. For large rutabaga cubes, for example, the animal grabbed and collected them. It sucked up smaller cubes and made a loud vacuuming sound, like the sound of a person slurping noodles, before transferring the vegetables to its mouth.
To learn more about suction, the researchers gave elephants a tortilla chip and measured the applied force. Sometimes the animal pressed down on the chip and breathed in, suspending the chip on the tip of its trunk without breaking it, similar to a person inhaling a piece of paper onto their mouth. Other times the elephant applied suction from a distance, drawing the chip to the edge of its trunk.
Elephants inhale at speeds comparable to Japan's 300 mph bullet trains.
"An elephant uses its trunk like a Swiss Army knife," says David Hu, Schulz's advisor and a professor in Georgia Tech's School of Mechanical Engineering. "It can detect scents and grab things. Other times it blows objects away like a leaf blower or sniffs them in like a vacuum."
By watching elephants inhale liquid from an aquarium, the team was able to time the durations and measure volume. In just 1.5 seconds, the trunk sucked up 3.7 liters (just shy of 1 gallon), the equivalent of 20 toilets flushing simultaneously.
Soft robots and elephant conservation
The researchers used an ultrasonic probe to take trunk wall measurements and see how the trunk's inner muscles work. By contracting those muscles, the animal dilates its nostrils up to 30%. This decreases the thickness of the walls and expands nasal volume by 64%.
"At first it didn't make sense: an elephant's nasal passage is relatively small and it was inhaling more water than it should," Schulz says. "It wasn't until we saw the ultrasonographic images and watched the nostrils expand that we realized how they did it. Air makes the walls open, and the animal can store far more water than we originally estimated."
Based on the pressures applied, Schulz and the team suggest that elephants inhale at speeds comparable to Japan's 300-mph bullet trains.
"By investigating the mechanics and physics behind trunk muscle movements, we can apply the physical mechanisms—combinations of suction and grasping—to find new ways to build robots," Schulz says.
"In the meantime, the African elephant is now listed as endangered because of poaching and loss of habitat. Its trunk makes it a unique species to study. By learning more about them, we can learn how to better conserve elephants in the wild."
The paper appears in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. The US Army Research Laboratory and the US Army Research Oﬃce 294 Mechanical Sciences Division, Complex Dynamics and Systems Program, funded the work. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the sponsoring agency.
Source: Georgia Tech
Original Study DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2021.0215
The experience of life flashing before one's eyes has been reported for well over a century, but where's the science behind it?
At the age of 16, when Tony Kofi was an apprentice builder living in Nottingham, he fell from the third story of a building. Time seemed to slow down massively, and he saw a complex series of images flash before his eyes.
As he described it, “In my mind's eye I saw many, many things: children that I hadn't even had yet, friends that I had never seen but are now my friends. The thing that really stuck in my mind was playing an instrument". Then Tony landed on his head and lost consciousness.
When he came to at the hospital, he felt like a different person and didn't want to return to his previous life. Over the following weeks, the images kept flashing back into his mind. He felt that he was “being shown something" and that the images represented his future.
Later, Tony saw a picture of a saxophone and recognized it as the instrument he'd seen himself playing. He used his compensation money from the accident to buy one. Now, Tony Kofi is one of the UK's most successful jazz musicians, having won the BBC Jazz awards twice, in 2005 and 2008.
Though Tony's belief that he saw into his future is uncommon, it's by no means uncommon for people to report witnessing multiple scenes from their past during split-second emergency situations. After all, this is where the phrase “my life flashed before my eyes" comes from.
But what explains this phenomenon? Psychologists have proposed a number of explanations, but I'd argue the key to understanding Tony's experience lies in a different interpretation of time itself.
When life flashes before our eyes
The experience of life flashing before one's eyes has been reported for well over a century. In 1892, a Swiss geologist named Albert Heim fell from a precipice while mountain climbing. In his account of the fall, he wrote is was “as if on a distant stage, my whole past life [was] playing itself out in numerous scenes".
More recently, in July 2005, a young woman called Gill Hicks was sitting near one of the bombs that exploded on the London Underground. In the minutes after the accident, she hovered on the brink of death where, as she describes it: “my life was flashing before my eyes, flickering through every scene, every happy and sad moment, everything I have ever done, said, experienced".
In some cases, people don't see a review of their whole lives, but a series of past experiences and events that have special significance to them.
Explaining life reviews
Perhaps surprisingly, given how common it is, the “life review experience" has been studied very little. A handful of theories have been put forward, but they're understandably tentative and rather vague.
For example, a group of Israeli researchers suggested in 2017 that our life events may exist as a continuum in our minds, and may come to the forefront in extreme conditions of psychological and physiological stress.
Another theory is that, when we're close to death, our memories suddenly “unload" themselves, like the contents of a skip being dumped. This could be related to “cortical disinhibition" – a breaking down of the normal regulatory processes of the brain – in highly stressful or dangerous situations, causing a “cascade" of mental impressions.
But the life review is usually reported as a serene and ordered experience, completely unlike the kind of chaotic cascade of experiences associated with cortical disinhibition. And none of these theories explain how it's possible for such a vast amount of information – in many cases, all the events of a person's life – to manifest themselves in a period of a few seconds, and often far less.
Thinking in 'spatial' time
An alternative explanation is to think of time in a “spatial" sense. Our commonsense view of time is as an arrow that moves from the past through the present towards the future, in which we only have direct access to the present. But modern physics has cast doubt on this simple linear view of time.
Indeed, since Einstein's theory of relativity, some physicists have adopted a “spatial" view of time. They argue we live in a static “block universe" in which time is spread out in a kind of panorama where the past, the present and the future co-exist simultaneously.
The modern physicist Carlo Rovelli – author of the best-selling The Order of Time – also holds the view that linear time doesn't exist as a universal fact. This idea reflects the view of the philosopher Immanuel Kant, who argued that time is not an objectively real phenomenon, but a construct of the human mind.
This could explain why some people are able to review the events of their whole lives in an instant. A good deal of previous research – including my own – has suggested that our normal perception of time is simply a product of our normal state of consciousness.
In many altered states of consciousness, time slows down so dramatically that seconds seem to stretch out into minutes. This is a common feature of emergency situations, as well as states of deep meditation, experiences on psychedelic drugs and when athletes are “in the zone".
The limits of understanding
But what about Tony Kofi's apparent visions of his future? Did he really glimpse scenes from his future life? Did he see himself playing the saxophone because somehow his future as a musician was already established?
There are obviously some mundane interpretations of Tony's experience. Perhaps, for instance, he became a saxophone player simply because he saw himself playing it in his vision. But I don't think it's impossible that Tony did glimpse future events.
If time really does exist in a spatial sense – and if it's true that time is a construct of the human mind – then perhaps in some way future events may already be present, just as past events are still present.
Admittedly, this is very difficult to make sense of. But why should everything make sense to us? As I have suggested in a recent book, there must be some aspects of reality that are beyond our comprehension. After all, we're just animals, with a limited awareness of reality. And perhaps more than any other phenomenon, this is especially true of time.