Forty years ago, the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands is said to have given that country’s prime minister a moon rock during a visit by the Apollo 11 astronauts. Upon the prime minister’s death, the moon rock went to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, where it’s been on display on and off for the past twenty years.
It was announced today that the moon rock has been discovered to be a fake – a worthless piece of petrified wood. “Apparently no one thought to doubt it, since it came from the prime minister’s collection,” a museum spokesperson said.
In alpha (objective) reality, the rock has always been petrified wood. But because people believed it was a moon rock, it’s been a moon rock in beta reality (the world of beliefs), where it has had all the effects of a beta fact. Insured for a large sum, it’s been treasured as a rare piece of history and has evoked thrill and wonder in the many who filed past its display. All of those effects now disappear with its outing as a fake.
Scientists visiting the museum noticed it didn’t look like a moon rock, which testing confirmed. Presumably they were tipped off by properties like its color and texture – petrified wood doesn’t bear much resemblance to the kinds of rocks that have been collected on lunar missions. Visual nonveridicality thus led to the correction.
But this correction took twenty years. There are terrestrial basalts and other igneous rocks that look more like the Apollo moon rocks than petrified wood does. Given the many Apollo samples that have been distributed around the world, and given the high utility of possessing an object believed (by somebody) to have been brought back from the moon, how likely is it that there are more rocks out there that are believed to be from the moon but really aren’t?
Very likely. But until and unless they’re “outed,” they will remain moon rocks in beta reality, with all the beta effects of a real moon rock.