Sunday, 16 June 2013

Slice of Enlightenment II – Common Misconceptions

by Tom Harper

Following on from my previous venture into the unknown, quirky facts concerning the world in which we live, I have recently come to realise that not only are there still many interesting pieces of knowledge of which most are still ignorant, but also that most of the things mankind claim to proudly know as ‘truth’ are in fact poorly-placed misconceptions. Hence, being a strong aficionado of QI, it dawned upon me to put to rest a few of the more shocking factual blunders that continue to pollute our minds with inaccuracy today.

·  In ancient Rome, the architectural feature known as the vomitorium was the entranceway through which crowds entered and exited a stadium, not a special room used for purging food during meals. Vomiting was not a regular part of Roman dining customs.
·  Napoleon Bonaparte was not short; rather he was slightly taller than the average Frenchman of his time. After his death in 1821, the French emperor’s height was recorded as 5 feet 2 inches in French feet, which is 5 feet 7 inches (1.69 m). Some believe that he was nicknamed le Petit Caporal (The Little Corporal) as a term of affection.
·  Albert Einstein did not fail mathematics in school, as is commonly believed. Upon being shown a column claiming this fact, Einstein said "I never failed in mathematics... Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus." Einstein did however fail his first entrance exam into Federal Polytechnic School in 1895, although at the time he was two years younger than his fellow students and did exceedingly well in mathematics and science on the exam.

Law and Crime
· It is rarely necessary to wait 24 hours before filing a missing person's report, in instances where there is evidence of violence or of an unusual absence. The UK government Web site says explicitly in large type "You don’t have to wait 24 hours before contacting the police".
·  Entrapment law in the United States does not require police officers to identify themselves as police in the case of a sting or other undercover work. The law is specifically concerned with enticing people to commit crimes they would not have considered in the normal course of events.

Food and Cooking

· Sushi does not "raw fish", and not all sushi includes raw fish. The name sushi means "sour rice", and refers to vinegared rice.
· The Twinkie does not have an infinite shelf life; its listed shelf life is approximately 25 days and generally remains on a store shelf for only 7 to 10 days.

· Bulls are not enraged by the color red, used in capes by professional matadors. Cattle are dichromats, so red does not stand out as a bright color. It is not the color of the cape, but the perceived threat by the matador that incites it to charge.
·  Bats are not blind. While many (most) bat species use echolocation as a primary sense, all bat species have eyes and are capable of sight. Furthermore, not all bats can echolocate and these bats have excellent night vision.
· A common misconception about chameleons and anoles is that the advantage of changing colour is camouflage. In reality, changing color helps to regulate temperature and is used as a form of communication.

Health and Body
·  Eating less than an hour before swimming does not increase the risk of experiencing muscle cramps or drowning. One study shows a correlation between alcohol consumption and drowning, but there is no evidence cited regarding stomach cramps or the consumption of food.
·  Humans have more than the commonly cited five senses. Although definitions vary, the actual number ranges from 9 to more than 20. In addition to sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing, which were the senses identified by Aristotle, humans can sense balance and acceleration (equilibrioception), pain (nociception), body and limb position (proprioception or kinesthetic sense), and relative temperature (thermoception). Other senses sometimes identified are the sense of time, itching, pressure, hunger, thirst, fullness of the stomach, need to urinate, need to defecate, and blood carbon dioxide levels.

N.W.Europe at night
(Wiki Commons)
Science and Space:
· A penny dropped from the Empire State Building will not kill a person or crack the sidewalk. The terminal velocity of a falling penny is about 30–50 miles per hour, and the penny will not exceed that speed regardless of the height from which it is dropped. At that speed, its energy is not enough to penetrate a human skull or crack concrete, as demonstrated on an episode of Mythbusters which noted that the Empire State Building is a particularly poor setting for this misconception, since its tapered shape would make it impossible to drop anything directly from the top to street level.
· It is commonly claimed that the Great Wall of China is the only human-made object visible from the Moon. This is false. None of the Apollo astronauts reported seeing any specific human-made object from the Moon, and even Earth-orbiting astronauts can barely see it. City lights, however, are easily visible on the night side of Earth from orbit.

Adam and  Eve
(Wiki Commons)
·  The forbidden fruit mentioned in the Book of Genesis is commonly assumed to be an apple, and is widely depicted as such in Western art. However, the Bible does not identify what type of fruit it is. The original Hebrew texts mention only tree and fruit. Early Latin translations use the word mali, which can be taken to mean both "evil" and "apple".
· The Quran does not promise martyrs 72 virgins in heaven. It does mention virgin companions, houri, to all people—martyr or not—in heaven, but no number is specified.
·  Frankestein was not the name of the monster in the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; rather, it was the surname of the monster's creator, Victor Frankenstein. The monster is instead called Frankenstein's monster. Additionally, Frankenstein was a medical student in the novel, not a doctor as frequently portrayed.
· "Edelweiss" is the national anthem of Austria, but is in fact an original composition created for the musical The Sound of Music. The actual Austrian national anthem is "Land der Berge, Land am Strone"

·  George Washington Carver did not invent peanut butter, though he reputedly discovered three hundred uses for peanuts and hundreds more for soybeans, pecans, and sweet potatoes.
·  Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet; flushing toilets were first used in the Indus Valley Civilization, around the 26th century BCE. Crapper, however, did much to increase its popularity and came up with some related inventions, such as the ballcock mechanism used to fill toilet tanks. The derivation of the word 'crap' is unrelated to his name; this is mere coincidence.

And so there you have it; some of the facts you thought you knew are nothing but mere misconceptions. Hopefully by reading this you have come a step closer to making mankind’s claims of ‘truth’ slightly more valid and perhaps will think next time before believing everything you hear!

Incidentally, if you enjoyed this then I’d recommend watching some of the videos of mentalfloss to further expand you general knowledge:

Read Tom Harper's first 'Slice of Enlightenment' article here.


  1. Although the Great Wall of China may not be visible from space, Bingham Copper Mine in Utah is the world's largest mine and its scar can be seen with the naked eye from space :)Fun fact for you

  2. Great one mate!



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