It turns out your school education might not have been all it’s cracked up to be. After all, how could it have been when these crazy myths are still commonly believed? Now, though, it’s time to put them to rest. So was Einstein really a bad student? And just how many senses do humans have? Buckle up – your brain is in for the ride of its life.
20. Humans didn’t evolve directly from apes
No, we humans aren’t the direct descendants of the apes you see clambering about in the zoo. The truth is humans just share the same distant ancestor with some types of ape, so you could call us very distant relatives. And that’s why apes are still around today, and presumably why they’ll eventually take over the world. Planet of the Apes was a documentary, right?
19. Isaac Newton didn’t discover gravity after an apple clonked him on the head
At least, there’s no proof that the tasty fruit did actually drop on Newton’s head. Instead, it’s far more likely that the 17th-century scientist’s findings on gravity were inspired simply by watching an apple fall to the ground. Indeed, that’s the story published in Newton’s biography, penned by William Stukeley in 1752.
18. The Pilgrims didn’t journey straight to America from England
It turns out the pilgrims took the scenic route to America. In fact, they stopped off at Holland first – for an entire decade. There, they were free to practice their particular branch of Christianity without anyone telling them otherwise. But eventually, they realized they were losing their way of life by becoming too Dutch in culture, and so they headed off for America.
17. Christopher Columbus wasn’t the first person to discover the earth was round
Around 2,000 years prior to Columbus’ famous voyage to the New World, mathematicians in Ancient Greece – like Pythagoras and Aristotle – had already determined that the world wasn’t flat. The Columbus flat-earth myth was printed in an 1828 biography of the sailor, but is still perpetuated to this day.
16. Einstein wasn’t bad at school
Sure, Einstein may have gotten a little frustrated with the quality of his teachers. And yes, he did chuck a chair at one when he was just five years old. But there’s no denying the genius mind of Albert Einstein. And no matter what you heard on the school playground, he really did excel in his studies.
15. The pyramids weren’t built using slaves, but paid, skilled workers
It’s little wonder the Greeks perpetuated the theory that the giant stone structures spanning Giza were surely constructed by slaves. After all, who’s going to sign up to shift nine-ton slabs of stone with just wood and rope? But in fact, in 1990, archaeologists discovered that the pyramids really were built by skilled workers, who earned a salary for their labor.
14. Columbus wasn’t the first European to discover America
Columbus wasn’t the first European adventurer to set foot in America. No, that accolade is actually held by Leif Erikson, an Icelandic Norse explorer who arrived on American shores a whopping 500 years before Christopher Columbus. Erikson even has several statues across the U.S., and in 1929 he was given his own day – “Leaf Erikson Day” – on October 9.
13. Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb
Edison’s version of the light bulb was simply the design that became most popular. But at least two men, Humphrey Davy and Joseph Swan, could claim to have invented electric lights long before Edison’s concept took off. Indeed, they even filed a successful patent lawsuit against him. But their names, and those of the other men who contributed in some small way to Edison’s bulb, are lost to history.
12. Humans don’t just have five senses
Depending on your point of view, humans aren’t limited to just the five senses. Indeed, it could be argued that humans have far more. Take proprioception – or spatial awareness – for instance, or our sense of balance. Some people even say that each sense should be linked to a different “sensor,” meaning things like temperature and pain would split the basic five senses – like touch – even further.
11. Toilets don’t flush the other way Down Under
Yes, it turns out Bart Simpson didn’t need to place a $900 collect call to Australia to figure this one out after all. Because water really doesn’t flush in different directions at either end of the world. While hurricanes and other large forces are subject to the opposite Coriolis forces of the hemispheres, toilets are simply too small-scale.
10. The Trojan horse probably never happened
It’s a fable as old as any – the Greeks hiding inside a giant wooden horse, masquerading as an offering, in order to siege the city of Troy from within. But while Troy really was sacked, according to historians the horse part likely didn’t happen at all. Instead, it was probably dreamt up, perhaps by Homer – it was first mentioned in his Odyssey – based on the way damp horse-hides were used to protect siege-engines from being burned.
9. Gravity does actually exist in space
Gravity does, in fact, have some pull in outer space. It’s just that it exists in far smaller amounts than here on earth. Indeed, gravity from the sun stretches all through the Milky Way – it’s what’s keeping the planets in orbit. And by extension, the earth’s gravity is what’s keeping the moon in orbit. But the further away you get from earth, the less effect gravity has – and that’s why astronauts float in space.
8. Humans use the full 100 percent of their brains
In the late 19th and early 20th century, psychologists and self-help authors began perpetuating the myth that humans only use 10 percent of their potential brain power. And by the 21st century, Hollywood was still clinging to that false claim. Indeed movies like Lucy exploited the premise to portray what might happen if we used 100 percent. But in fact, we already do.
7. Napoleon Bonaparte wasn’t actually that vertically challenged
Napoleon was, in fact, basically average height for a Frenchman at the time – five feet and seven inches tall. And the myth that he was very short likely comes from the disparity between English and French measurements in the 19th century, with French doctors recording his height as five feet and two inches tall.
6. Lemmings don’t actually commit mass suicide
When you think of lemmings, you probably think of a long procession of animals walking off a cliff. The myth was first started by Disney in a 1958 nature documentary, in which hundreds of lemmings were callously pushed to their deaths in the Arctic Ocean for the sake of the production. And it was then perpetuated by the video game Lemmings, which asks players to try to save the animals. In reality, however, these fluffy rodents really aren’t catastrophically suicidal at all.
5. There’s no such thing as a “tongue taste map”
You’ve probably heard the myth that different parts of the tongue detect different taste types, like sweet, sour, salty or bitter. But it really is just that: a myth. In fact, our taste buds span the entirety of our tongues, meaning we’re able to detect these different sensations with a little more nuance.
4. Bulls will charge at any moving object, no matter the color
Next time you find yourself wandering in the presence of a bull, you don’t need to worry about whether you’re wearing red or not. Yes, you can now rest safe in the knowledge that no matter what colors you’re wearing, it’s probably going to chase you anyway. Doesn’t that make you feel better?
3. Raindrops aren’t actually shaped like tears
They may both be water, but raindrops and tears don’t share the same basic shape – despite what cartoons would have you believe. In fact, most raindrops actually bear more resemblance to the shape of hamburger buns, while the smallest are simply spherical.
2. Ferdinand Magellan wasn’t the first person to circumnavigate the globe
Ferdinand Magellan might well have been the first to circumvent the world, had he not died halfway round. Indeed, one ship from his original expedition made it back to Spain in September 1522, three years after it first set sail. Magellan wasn’t with it, however, having been killed during a fracas with natives in the Phillippines. In fact, only 18 members of the 260-strong crew that set out made it back alive.
1. Chameleons change hue to communicate, not to camouflage
Chameleons may be able to change color at a whim, but it isn’t actually to adapt to their environment and camouflage themselves. Instead, they change to communicate their mood – whether it’s a calm green, fiery yellow or even a smorgasbord of hues to express its desire to mate. Color us surprised. (Sorry.)