The Incorrect Facts: Fact or Fiction?

Maria D’Antonio

There are plenty of incorrect facts, or “facts,” that many people believe to be true but in actuality are completely false. Perhaps one of the reasons why many people believe these facts is due to the logical fallacy known as the bandwagon argument or argument from common sense.

The fallacy, according to the University of Texas at El Paso, states that because everyone thinks something is correct, then it must be so. Fortunately, common sense changes with the times—as one of these fallacies will show.

Brain Usage: Do We Use Than 10 Percent of Our Brain?

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A commonly held belief is that humans only utilize 10 percent of their brain. Barry Beyerstein of the Brain Behavior Laboratory at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, pointed out in the Scientific American that “losing far less than 90 percent of the brain to accident or disease has catastrophic consequences.”

It is not as though 90 percent of the brain is an untapped cerebral power source that can be used to give its owner a boost in brain power. In fact, Beyerstein explained that neurologists are having trouble finding neural inactivity in healthy subjects.

He traces this myth back to William James, the father of American psychology in the late 1800s and early 1900s. James was partial to the idea of untapped potential, and the following optimistic generation slowly transformed untapped potential to untapped brain power. This myth has stayed alive for so long because of its optimistic nature.

Subliminal Messaging: Does it really Work?

Is it possible for your mind to process information on an unconscious level that will later affect the consciousness? The answer is that there is no proof. In fact, most experiments prove that this is false, according the Center for Neuro-Hypnotic Science. The way brain processes information that will later be stored for memory provides a clue as to why this is so. Ammar Al-Chalabi, Martin Turner, and R. Shane Delamont’s book, “The Brain: A Beginner’s Guide,” explains this process.

In addition to short-term and long-term memory, there is a third type of memory called sensory memory. When a person first perceives information, it must survive the sensory memory system. In less than a second, the sensory memory sorts out the most important stimuli that then moves on to short-term memory; the rest is just as quickly forgotten. If a person is not paying attention to the stimulus, whether or not subliminal, then it is not processed by their brain.

The myth can be traced back to James Vicary and his famous theater concessions experiment in 1957. He claimed that flashing messages like “Drink Coca-Cola” for a fraction of a second had increased concession sales at the theater. The problem with this experiment is that he completely fabricated it and admitted to it in 1962. Like with the previous incorrect fact, subliminal messaging would be most beneficial to advertisers. The lack of evidence for subliminal messaging does not mean advertisers have no more tricks up their sleeves when it comes to subtlety, but subliminal messaging specifically is not one of them.

Who Discovered America?

If you guessed Christopher Columbus, then the answer is wrong, according to Discovery.com. While he did sail the ocean blue in 1492 and found the Bahamas, erroneously believing he had found India, he did not discover it first. Of course Native Americans were there first, but even excluding native population, Leif Erikson led a group of Vikings to what is now Newfoundland 500 years before Columbus set sail.

Chameleons: Changing Colors for Maximum Conspicuousness

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Credit: freedigitalphotos.net africa

Despite popular opinion, chameleons do not change color to blend into their environment. According to National Geographic, they change color to stand out from their surroundings and to communicate. Scientists observed color-changing chameleons during times of mating and danger, and while they did change color when two males fought for the right to mate, they did not change color to blend into the background. That is not to say that all animals who can change color only wish to communicate with each other. The mimic octopus uses color to disguise itself as poisonous sea snakes and then acts out the part for defensive purposes.

When does Brain Growth Cease?

The brain is not fully developed at birth or at the end of adolescence. It is the last organ to fully develop, and it is not finished until an adult’s early 20s according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

It is true that the brain’s growth rate slows after school age, but the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex, charged with making decisions and logic, will not finish developing until around college age. The brain is a highly plastic, adaptable, and complex organ that still retains its ability to change well into adulthood.

Does Cracking Knuckles Cause Arthritis?

Another well known myth is that cracking one’s knuckles increases the likelihood of developing arthritis. According to a BBC news article, this is not the case at all. The cracking sound is produced when gasses are displaced in the surrounding fluid when the space between joints increases.

The article cites many different cases and experiments, including one doctor who took it upon himself to crack one hand but not the other for 60 years. Neither hand seemed to be developing arthritis.

This myth started when arthritic patients began to notice that their joints cracked, but this was due to damaged cartilage; it is a consequence, not a cause. The only negative result of cracking one’s fingers is annoying the person next to you.

Babies Began as What?

This last incorrect fact is more historical, and not necessarily an opinion held by the common population today. There are a couple of lines in Lord Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” poem that describe one of the popularly held Victorian beliefs about prenatal development, “Move thro’ life of lower phase /Result in man be born and think.”

Here, he is talking about the recapitulation theory, which is considered invalid by scientists today. In short, according to the Psychology Dictionary, it is the belief that human embryonic development mirrors evolution. As the fetus develops inside the womb, it literally evolves from a simple organism, growing into an increasingly complex species until it arrives at a human being, at which point the fetus is fully formed and birthed. It is the result of misunderstanding early research on evolution, and today it has no place in the scientific community.

Whether we hold onto to these beliefs out of hopeful optimism or simply because everyone believes them, society will in time correct these incorrect facts, and then probably replace them with new ones. One thing is for sure, it is prudent not to believe everything one sees or hears.

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