Planet-watching


“I swear, this is the weirdest planet I’ve ever watched,” said Yargo as he rolled his chair back, shaking his head.

“Which planet is that?” asked Gren indifferently. The planet Gren was watching was in the early stages of a major war, and she didn’t want Yargo’s problems to distract her from watching it unfold.

“They call it ‘Earth’. Population about 7 billion, one moon, five or six big land masses plus a big chunk of ice at the bottom. You know the one – in the system with nine planets but they just decided they only have eight?”

“Oh, them,” said Gren. “Where that idiot Drood crash-landed a bunch of years ago?”

“Yeah, that’s the one. We got him and his kid out just before the humans found them. His kid was playing with some rocks when we got there and we just left them standing. Do you believe it? The rocks are still there and those nuts are still talking about it. They call it ‘Stonehenge’. Anyway, that’s not the weird part.”

Gren realized that Yargo wasn’t going to let it go until he told her about it, so she turned her monitor off and sat back. She closed her middle eye, as she always did when she was bored. “So what’s the weird part?”

Yargo sighed. “Their scientists have made so much progress over the past couple of their centuries. They’ve travelled to their moon, sent probes to the next planet out, and can send messages between any two points on the planet within seconds. Their doctors can take pieces out of one person and put them into another person and have both people survive. They’re slowly but surely starting to solve problems like hunger and disease, and they’re realizing that they’re slowly killing their planet with heat and are starting to do something about it, though they’ve got a ways to go on that one. They’re even taking some baby steps into the world of quantum physics.”

“Sounds like they’re making fairly standard progress. Cold fusion will likely be their next big discovery, right? So what’s weird about it?” asked Gren.

“They still have all the old superstitions that far more primitive societies have. Supernatural beings, healing people with magic, people who claim to see the future, all that kind of thing.”

“So? Lots of planets have different cultures that are at different levels of development.”

“But that’s the thing” said Yargo. “This is all within the same culture, the same country, often the same town. You could easily have a nuclear physicist living right next door to someone who makes a living convincing people that they have some kind of energy field flowing through their body and he can manipulate it and cure diseases. It’s the juxtaposition that’s the weird part.”

Oh, here he goes, thought Gren to herself. He’s using the big words. Means he’s getting all worked up. “But once their scientists figure out that there is no such energy field, all of that will go away. Happens all the time on planets all over the galaxy.”

“No!” exclaimed Yargo, clearly agitated now. “They have explained it! They know there’s no such energy field, but millions keep believing it anyway. They’ve done study after study and there’s zero evidence that this stuff works, but it’s still a huge industry. You wanna know the funny part?”

Not really, thought Gren, but she knew he was going to tell her anyway.

“There are people who believe that you can mix stuff in water and then keep adding water so many times that by the time you’ve finished mixing it, there’s none of the original stuff left. They believe that the water remembers the properties of the stuff and so it can be used as a medicine. The less of the original stuff in the water, the more effective it is.” Yargo laughed.

Gren got up and walked over to the foam machine. She poured herself a tall glass, her third of the morning. She looked at Yargo to see if he wanted one as well, but he was staring at his monitor again. She quietly made her way back to her station, hoping he’d just continue watching and stop his little rant, though she had to admit that this water memory thing was pretty funny. They’d heard some doozies over their years of planet-watching, but that was one of the more original ones. But she’d had enough of Yargo’s weird little planet. She wanted nothing more than to just watch the war while she enjoyed her foam. She flipped the switch and saw the screen come back on, then closed her middle eye again as Yargo continued.

“Early in most of these civilizations we watch, they can’t explain all kinds of natural phenomena, like lightning or tornados, or health-related things like diseases or even death. They have no idea what causes any of them, so they make up imaginary spirits and things like that.” Yargo waved his arms in the air, conducting an invisible orchestra. “Eventually they figure out what’s really causing these things and the superstitious thoughts are no longer necessary, so they get abandoned. Eventually, they look back and laugh at what their ancestors used to believe.”

“But these humans, I don’t get them. Their scientists explain things to the point where the magic isn’t necessary anymore, but people continue to believe it anyway. I think many of them understand that their beliefs and their science are disparate, but they manage to keep things separate in their minds anyway. But those people aren’t the problem. There are many who actively try to dissuade people from believing the scientists.”

That got Gren’s attention. She opened all three eyes and spun around. “What? Why? What’s the point of that?”

“Well, as I said some make their living selling this stuff. If you’re selling magic bracelets or ineffective “remedies” or energy field manipulation or whatever and scientists say it doesn’t work, you want people to believe you and not them otherwise you’re out of business, aren’t you?”

“So they’re all crooks?”

“Well, no. There are lots who honestly believe it really works, likely because the human brain is really weird. You can give people something that has no medicinal ingredients at all but if you tell them it does and they believe it strongly enough, it can actually have a real, measurable effect.”

Gren was really starting to find these humans interesting. Her war completely forgotten, she asked “Sorry, what? You can give them fake medicine and it works?”

“Yup.”

“So what the hell’s the point of having doctors?”

“Well, it doesn’t actually cure things, it’s more for temporary relief of symptoms. It doesn’t always work that well, and it works differently for different people, and sometimes it doesn’t work at all. It’s weird.”

Gren laughed. “I imagine all of these energy field people would be out of work if human doctors knew about this.”

“They do know! They call it the ‘placebo effect’. They’ve been studying it for two hundred years. Many of them even know that this is what allows all of these so-called ‘alternative medicines’ to appear to work. But the people who believe in these supposed ‘therapies’ think the scientists and the medical community are in some kind of conspiracy to keep people sick.”

“What? Why?” said Gren again.

“They say it’s because the doctors make more money from the medicines they have than they would make from the cures they’re covering up.”

“That’s hilarious.”

“I know, right? So millions of scientists and doctors and nurses all over the planet are supposed to be involved in this huge co-ordinated cover-up to keep people sick. And they’re manipulating the results of every study done everywhere so that it looks like these alternative therapies don’t work and their expensive medicines and treatments do. And over the last hundred years, not one person has had a change of heart and stepped forward to expose the conspiracy.”

“Well, of course not,” agreed Gren, putting her foam glass down to avoid spilling it as she shook with laughter, “the doctors would have to kill them to keep them quiet, wouldn’t they? Probably arrange to have them overdose on that memory water! Or would that be ‘underdose’?”

Gren and Yargo continued to laugh until their boss stuck his head in the doorway. “Everything OK in here?” he asked, unsmiling.

“It’s all good, boss”, said Yargo as he rolled his chair back to his station.

Gren went back to her screen, watching the war continue, wondering whether the people on Yargo’s planet made any more sense than the ones killing each other on hers.

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