It’s very easy for us to hear something and believe it without question. After all, if a lot of people say that they fully believe it, then it must be true, right?
It turns out that this kind of thinking is wrong. The number of believers does not necessarily count in validating the credibility of a belief. It’s the scientific data and the historical facts that really matter.
Which common beliefs are actually wrong? Here are ten of them.
Wrong: We only have five senses.
Right: We actually have at least nine senses, while most scientists believe that we have around 21.
Basically, a “sense” is a sensory system that responds to physical stimulation and corresponds to a particular brain region that receives and interprets the signals. Aside from the senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, there are also the senses of itching, thermoception, thirst and hunger, among others.
Wrong: Napoleon Bonaparte was a short man.
Right: He was actually measured as 5 feet 2 inches in French feet, which translates to 5 feet 7 inches in modern measurements.
His nickname “The Little Corporal” is believed to be just a term of affection. It’s not really an indication of how people perceived his height.
Wrong: “Third World country” means poor or underdeveloped.
Right: A country considered as capitalist is First World; a country considered as communist is Second World; Third World countries are simply countries that are neither.
Because the list of Third World countries included a lot that were underdeveloped, the common belief that all Third World countries are poor was born, even though many countries in this group are actually well developed.
Wrong: “Sushi” means raw fish.
Right: Sushi actually translates as “sour rice” or “vinegared rice”.
Not all sushi includes raw fish.
Wrong: The Great Wall of China can be seen from the moon.
Right: None of the Apollo astronauts had any documented sightings of it.
Even astronauts who orbit the Earth can barely see it. Additionally, International Space Station commander Chris Hadfield tried to find the Great Wall of China from space, but he was unable to do so due to it being “narrow and dun-colored”.
Wrong: Brain cells can never regenerate.
Right: In 1998, researchers from the Sahlgrenska University Hospital, in Sweden, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, in La Jolla, California, found that brain cells in mature humans can actually regenerate.
It’s not the “regeneration” of a dead neuron, mind you. It’s “neurogenesis”, or the creation of new ones. In fact, neurogenesis happens only within the subventricular zone (SVZ) and subgranular zone (SGZ)—these areas of our brains can create new cells and initiate new cell growth. Because this common false belief is cleared up, a cure for Alzheimer’s may be discovered in the future.
Wrong: Lightning never strikes the same spot twice.
Right: It’s actually common for lightning to strike the same place twice.
During thunderstorms, remember to stay away from high areas and trees. You see, the tallest place in an area is likely to be struck multiple times until the lightning moves to the next target. One favorite victim of lightning is the Empire State Building.
Wrong: Antibiotics can help you cure your common cold.
Right: The common cold is caused by a virus, whereas antibiotics are helpful only against bacteria.
So, next time you are tempted to try an antibiotic because of this common belief, stop yourself. You don’t want to experience antibiotic resistance, do you?
Wrong: Jesus was born on December 25.
Right: It was never stated in the Bible that Jesus was born on the 25th of December.
It was Pope Julius the First who initiated this common belief—he declared in the year 350 CE that December 25 was the official Christmas date. It is believed that he chose December 25 because the day when Jesus was conceived was also believed to be on March 25. Nine months after that is Christmas Day.
Wrong: Fortune cookies come from China.
Right: Fortune cookies actually originated in Japan.
This common belief was caused by the fact that many Americanized Chinese restaurants serve fortune cookies with their meals. The truth of the matter is, though, that authentic Chinese restaurants don’t really have fortune cookies. In fact, there’s no documented records of fortune cookies being invented in China. A researcher, Yasuko Nakamachi, was able to shed light on this belief by encountering a Tsujiura Senbei (fortune cookie) made by hand at a family-owned bakery (Sohonke Hogyokudo) in Kyoto, Japan. These cookies, which had fortune slips (omikuji), were sold in temples and shrines even before fortune cookies materialized in America.