Conspiracy Theory As Pseudo Theory

Theory is often regarded a systematic framework formed of concepts that analytically account for phenomena observed. Philosophers for centuries have debated whether the goings on are external to human thoughts and cognition and thus real and material; or whether they are constructs of the mind, logically assembled and maintained by the exercising of reason with no independent reality.

Theory is applied in both the social and natural sciences. In the social sciences disputes emerge, once again, between those who advocate that there is a real material world outside the remit of the observer and those who propose that the social sciences can only be understood internally by its inhabitants; resulting in normative theories that encompass Political Theory as well as historical, social and anthropological paradigms under the broader domain of hermeneutics. In the natural sciences the matter is somewhat different. Although Philosophers o f science such a Van Frassen advocate a scientific image along with anti-realism, most would accept that the methodological practice of the natural sciences is to generate hypothesis that form, or derive from, an overarching theory. This runs parallel to the procession of validating the phenomena in question with the eventual goal of producing a correlation between the explanandum and the explanan.

Classifying both the social and natural sciences as science, with the use of theory, means that the procedures of verification, evidence and explanation take the same abstract steps even though the physicist is completely divorced from the world he studies as where the sociologist, by the nature of human existence and the definition of the discipline, is inescapably part of the phenomena he studies, society. Nonetheless the issues that arise for both the sciences centre around preemption; when there is more than one theory competing for the explanation of the phenomena in question, or theoretical redundancy; when there is a theory that explains certain aspects of a phenomena but not every time nor in every context. This coupled with using evidence based empirical data to warrant the application and validation of a theory means that both the social sciences and natural sciences constantly refine their hypotheses and make predictions on future outcomes.

These are the formal understandings and uses of theory across the spectrum of the sciences and this is what sets both theory apart from pseudo theory and science apart from pseudo science. It is for this very reason that Conspiracy Theory is a pseudo theory. Take firstly one of the Holy Grail’s of the scientific method: prediction. These abound in the natural sciences, ranging from how, why and when your PC will turn on to planes flying and equations of time and space. The social sciences, as already mentioned, tread a much more precarious, unreliable and unstable ground. However through the collection of data based on conceptualized variables and statistical models of causation, predictions can be levied. Anyone who has an investment portfolio can see the benefits of employing time series and regression analysis in economics although the latest financial crises illustrates that the predictions are far from completely accurate.

Conspiracy Theory as a serious ontological and epistemological alternative to social phenomena must provide predictions, demonstrate their applicability and warrant evidence that at least renders their explanations as plausible or highly likely. Although in the social sciences these do not map exactly due to the nature of the measurement of artificially constructed social variables, Conspiracy Theory falls spectacularly short regarding the relationship between observed phenomena, explanation and the use of reliable and relevant data and thus prediction.

Here we must separate conspiracy theories, classifying them into single point conspiracy theories and Meta conspiracy theories. The latter come with an ensemble of predictions for the future. These range from totalitarian one world governments, to alien control to the accession of spiritual enlightenment in other dimensions and planes of existence. However there are no time limits placed on these occurrences only weak inductive inferences. Consequently as a readily defensible claim, conspiracy theorists have the grace of an ever winding clock on their side with limitless time as a luxury for if it does not happen today it will happen tomorrow. These are often the arguments used by classic Marxists, that there is no time frame specified for the proletariat revolution but it will happen one day. Yet it is for these same reasons that in this context both Marxism and conspiracy theories are pseudo scientific theories as neither are falsifiable – that is they cannot be shown to be false. Consequently they stay in the realm of speculation.

With this outcome we have the position of scientific theory vs. unfalsifiable theory. I have argued elsewhere that Conspiracy Theory is a form of Political Theory and Philosophy. Yet Conspiracy Theory is not even competitively viable as a political and social theory. To further grapple with these issues one has to look at the philosophical frameworks and implications of the use of theory in the social sciences, the area in which Conspiracy Theory is attempting to work in. Whether one is a structuralist, a functionalist, a critical theorist or a postmodernist one can look at social phenomena and at least readily apply identifiable frameworks to these goings on based on, in one way or another, the use of data and evidence. Thus a discourse analyst would look at how issues of insanity are constructed in the work and reports of clinical psychologists themselves which brings these conceptual frameworks into existence. A classic critical theorist may demonstrate how mass consumerism and the capitalist enterprise of consumption neglects the critical thinking capacities of the citizens of the modern state. From the position of the social sciences they share the same stand point in that there is a phenomenon to be explained and one applies a theory that can be backed up by some sort of evidence, even though the constitution of evidence in the social sciences is an elusive activity.

Conspiracy Theory operates in reverse with paradoxical tendencies in terms of both phenomena observed and epistemology. This is because, by its very nature, Conspiracy Theory runs contrary to the goings on observed in terms of widely accepted explanations. That is, it a polemist contrarian to other explanations that are presented. It therefore advocates a “behind the scenes” explanation for what is really going on. Financial meltdown, civil unrest and Governmental issues are not caused by idioms advocated by social science but are a deliberately conspired plot executed in the background that most are not aware of. Conspiracy Theory and Political Theory both use observable data yet conspiracy theorists add the stipulation of a deliberately falsified social reality: that what is really going on is does not match the accepted explanations and thus in turn the accepted explanation is not what is really going on.

This then leads to the paradox in Conspiracy Theory with regards to observed social phenomena and epistemology. This is that the observed phenomenon is allocated to the realm of conspiratorial explanation. The explanation encapsulates the activity of cabalist agents operating grand tricks of misdirection yet simultaneously these grand tricks are not only detected by conspiracy theorists but are fully deciphered. In effect the conspirators are both fully competent and almost omnipotent like in that they can control all facets of social activity yet are completely inept in the maintenance of secrecy as they leave an amassed trail of clues for conspirators to find.

The final part of Conspiracy Theory as pseudo theory is its malleability in the face of empirical data. When evidence and data does not match a theory in science, the theory is either reformulated or discarded. This is the same in Conspiracy Theory, where the theories themselves evolve and adapt to take account of newly emerging evidence. We have seen this with the 911 truth movement constantly evolving their theory in the face of ever increasing evidence from structural engineers for how the twin towers collapsed by fire. However when theory is adapted in science, the fit between theory and evidence is refined and tightened so that the theory now matches the data in a more succinct and plausible way. In part, this is the reason why the falsifiability of a theory is imperative. Conspiracy theorists attempt the same execution, in which the Conspiracy Theory will then match the observable data in a correlated manner. Yet again, though, the theory runs in the opposite direction, moving further away from the evidence presented towards elaborating and embellishing the Conspiracy Theory further. For instance take the skull and bones theory that the U.S government and financial system is secretly run by an all white boys club out of Yale University; or somewhat related to a Freemason secret organization. What then happens when a black President out of Harvard takes up the office? The data does not quite fit the theory. Abandon the theory? No reformulate it in the opposite direction that Obama must be a black Freemason.

What Conspiracy Theory does is more than just maintain an equation between data and theory in a reversal and regressive manner but the schema of Conspiracy Theory means that in terms of psychological inference, all data becomes interpreted as conspiratorial phenomena. This rarely happen in the sciences for when data no longer fits a theory it soon becomes disregarded. We have seen this throughout history from Copernicus to Edwin Hubble and a shift now beginning to emerge in terms of free market economics.

Conspiracy Theory is intrinsically more dogmatic than theory in the social and natural sciences producing disjointed theoretical explanations between the theory and data. This constant malleability of Conspiracy Theory, working with different pools of data that no longer correlates to the Conspiracy Theory used in explanation and thus neglecting the data, and observed phenomena, is just one aspect that makes Conspiracy Theory a pseudo theory.

Natasha M. McKnight

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