The advances in science and technology did not come easily. Many brave men and women dedicated their lives to come up with theories as to why something works the way it does. Although technology was nowhere near as advanced as today, 100 years ago, many prolific people based their theories on their beliefs rather than scientific research. For instance, did you know that the doctor who popularized the idea of washing hands before treating patients was admitted to the mental asylum for his crazy ideas? Well, here we are listing some things scientists used to believe to be true back in the day.
1. It takes seven years to digest swallowed chewing gum. Contrary to the popular belief, it does not, since our body treats it as any other food we eat.
For decades, we have been believing that chewing gum takes about seven years to digest completely out of the system. This belief started after a 1998 scientific paper that outlined alarming case studies of three youngsters who had the habit of swallowing gum for years. The truth is, our body doesn’t digest gum at all. When swallowed, our body absorbs the small amount of sweeteners and flavorings within the gum but since there’s not much content to break down and use, it is passed along as waste. Gum is made out of rubbery polymers known as elastomers, along with glycerin and vegetable oil-based ingredients. The contents help it to retain elasticity, softness and to keep it from drying out.
Once the body has extracted anything it can from the gum, it is simply passes it along as waste; just like anything else we eat. However, that does not mean that we can swallow gum. Doctors say that swallowing large amounts of gum can cause serious issues such as gastrointestinal blockage, which has to be removed by a trained physician. So, it’s better to be safe than sorry by simply discarding it in a trash can after its sweet flavor has diminished. (source)
2. For decades, we have been taught that different parts of your tongue pick up different tastes. Humans have more than 8,000 taste receptors and we are capable of distinguishing taste from all parts of the tongue.
This is probably something we have all heard and some of us still believe that this is how our tongue works. The idea that the tip of your tongue picks up sweetness, or the middle of your tongue processes sour or saltiness, etc., is a myth. In school, our teachers showing us a diagram and explaining each part of the tongue’s process would seem quite reasonable and made sense at the time. However, the process is not as simple as it sounds.
For decades, the same diagram has appeared in textbooks throughout the world, explaining how the tongue was able to differentiate taste. The image is actually based on a dissertation from 1901, written by a German scientist called David Pauli Hänig. David Pauli Hänig conducted an experiment where he dipped different samples onto different parts of people’s tongues. He then concluded that the sensitivity of taste buds varies at different areas.
However, with the advancement in technology, scientists are now able to determine that different regions of the tongue can detect sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Apart from the tongue, scientists also found that we have taste buds in the roof of our mouth and even in the throat. (source)
3. For years, it was believed that the universe was static. Even Albert Einstein believed it until 1931, when he changed his mind.
For decades, many prominent men, including Albert Einstein, believed that the universe was finite, static in time, and possessed of a uniform distribution of matter. Einstein, the world renowned physicist, was right about a lot of things, but not everything. In 1917, Einstein applied his theory of general relativity in the universe, and suggested a model of a homogenous, static, spatially curved universe. When other prominent scientists came up with the idea that the universe was expanding, he fiercely resisted them.
That is until 1927, when Georges Lemaître, a Belgian astrophysicist and priest from the Catholic University of Louvain, concluded that the universe was expanding by combining general relativity with astronomical observations. When Einstein heard of the finding, he refused to abandon his idea of a static universe. Einstein stayed strong to his belief until 1931, when he changed his mind and finally adopted a model of an expanding universe. (source)
4. The habit of doctors washing their hands before treating patients is only 152 years old. The doctor who came up with the idea of washing hands was mocked by his peers until he had to be institutionalized.
More than a 100 years ago, something as simple as a cold or a broken bone was hard to overcome. Many succumbed to common illnesses but one man changed it all. On May 15, 1850, a Hungarian obstetrician named Ignaz Semmelweis attending a meeting at the Vienna Medical Society to discuss the advancements in the field, only had three words to say: “wash your hands”. Today, we expect our doctors to wash their hands before treating us in order to prevent the spread of bacteria or viruses.
Surprisingly, the simple habit did not start until around 1847. Dr. Semmelweis started sterilizing his equipment as well as cleaning his hands before treating his patients. He pleaded to his fellow colleagues to do the same, in order to prevent the spread of illness. However, medical students, professors and doctors did not find the request to be amusing. When applying for a position at the Vienna General Hospital in 1846, he was already given two strikes since he was Hungarian and Jewish.
Dr. Semmelweis was an intelligent man. He connected the rate of the spread of illness and its association with washing hands and ordered his medical students and junior physicians to wash their hands in a chlorinated lime solution. The rate of which illness spread had decreased ten fold, but unfortunately his idea was not accepted by all of his colleagues. Many were outraged at the suggestion that they were the cause of their patients illnesses; causing Dr. Semmelweis to be criticized. Dr. Semmelweis refused to publish his ”self-evident” findings until 13 years after making them.
He was still facing resistance from prominent doctors who insulted him every time he brought his theory. Finally, on July 30, 1865, Dr. Semmelweis was committed to an insane asylum after suffering a mental health breakdown. (source)
5. When trains were first introduced, it was believed that women’s bodies were not designed to go at 50 miles an hour.
Today, our biggest fears with the rise in technology is AI gaining control over us. A century and a half ago, people worried about anything and everything. When the first steam locomotives were introduced, it was believed that women’s bodies were not designed to go at 50 miles an hour. According to cultural anthropologist Genevieve Bell, this kind of reaction is part of the “moral panic” that a society experiences when particularly revelatory technological advances show up. The mass-hysteria occurs whenever something new interferes with or alters our relationships with time, space, and each other. Another popular Victorian Era belief was that riding trains would cause one to go insane. These were (of course) proven to be false.
6. Most of the human population believes that the moon has a dark side.
For centuries, scientists as well as most human beings believed that the moon had a dark side. Even Pink Floyd sang about the Dark Side of the Moon. The fact is that, from Earth, we can only view about 59% of the lunar surface, but not all of it at the same time. The remaining 41% is hidden from us but it does not mean that the 41% is filled with cold and darkness.
The reason why many scientists believed this myth was due to tidal locking. Tidal locking occurs when the gravitational gradient makes one side of an astronomical body always face another. For example, one side of the Earth’s Moon always faces the Earth. According to Princeton University: “A tidally locked body takes just as long to rotate around its own axis as it does to revolve around its partner”.
The moon is rotating but at a very slow phase. In order to complete a rotation, it takes the moon the same amount of time it takes to revolve around Earth. This means that even though we don’t notice much difference, the moon does receive equal amount of sunlight at all sides. (source)
7. Until 1543, everyone believed that the Earth is at the center of the universe.
Human beings are deep thinkers. Before the satellites and telescopes, our ancestors had no idea of how the universe worked but they surely thought highly of it. Many brilliant minds put forward their thoughts and believed that the Earth is the center of the planet and everything else revolves around it. However, everything changed in 1543, when Nicolaus Copernicus put forward the motion that everything in the universe does not revolve around our home planet. He even wrote a book, “De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies)” and laid out a heliocentric model of the universe that is similar to what we believe today.
According to NASA, Aristarchus, a Greek astronomer, was the first known person to say that the sun was in the center of the universe. He proposed his theory in the third century BCE but other great minds had trouble believing his theory. (source)
8. It has been a longstanding myth that a full moon affects behavior.
For centuries, we have believed that a full moon affects our behavior. Even today, many believe this myth to be true. The disproven fact that a full moon has impact on one’s behavior is also used by people with mental disabilities to explain their behavior. Some even claim that the tidal forces of the moon are powerful enough to affect the water in the brain. Back in the day, the belief was so strong that even the UK police increased the number of officers on duty when it was time for a full moon to appear. They believed that the full moon would cause a surge in crimes and accidents.
Scientists have studied the topic for decades in order to find any correlation between a human being’s behavior and the full moon. A few studies did show that crime increased during a full moon but scientists quickly determined that the days in which the full moon appeared were all holidays or the weekends. The ability of the moon to influence our behavior is undoubtedly a myth perpetuated by some unknown source. (source)
9. During the mid-1700’s, potatoes were forbidden in France because it was believed that they cause leprosy.
Before the 15th and 16th century, many countries did not have certain foods or amenities that they have today. For instance, horses were not found in America and India had no chilies. Contrary to the popular belief, chilies are not native to India. They were introduced to India in 1498 by the Portugese explorer Vasco De Gama. Although there were horses in America, they became extinct between 8,000 and 12,000 years ago. The animals were re-introduced when the Spanish arrived on the American mainland in the 16th century.
Like so, Spanish sailors are believed to be the ones who introduced potatoes to most of the world. Today, they are popular worldwide and are used in thousands of dishes. Potatoes are part of our daily meals these days, but took its time to reach the popularity it enjoys today. During the mid-1700’s, France forbid potatoes because it was widely believed that the vegetable caused leprosy. Its only consumers were live stock and the poorest of farmers who had no other choice.
However, everything changed when Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was imprisoned by the Prussians. The Prussians had no problem consuming potatoes and served it to the prisoners. Parmentier, who believed that the vegetable caused leprosy, starved himself for days. Finally, facing no other option, Parmentier consumed the vegetable and noticed that he was fine. He continued to enjoy eating it until he was released. Once a free man, he started promoting the vegetable among France and Europe. Potatoes are a staple food today because of his efforts. (source)
10. During the Medieval times, it was believed that a touch from a royal would heal you.
In the past, people used to believe many inaccurate things. One of the most popular beliefs during the Medieval times, among the poor, was that any ailments could be treated with a simple touch from a royal. The unfortunate considered meeting the royals to be a blessing and even believed some individuals to be ordained by God himself to lead the masses.
One such superpower that credited to these individuals, was the ability to heal the sick with a simple touch. The practice was mostly popular among Europe and France, with many poor individuals waiting in long lines to receive the touch that would cure them. Many historians believe that the practice was mainly a case of mass-hysteria since some of the illnesses were known to clear up within a few days. By the 1800’s, science was gaining prominence among people and when studies came forward, showing that they had no superpowers, the belief fell out of practice. (source)