In the United States, the new season of the popular television series MythBusters begins on January 10.  The program focuses on testing certain popular stores to see if they are possible, plausible, or impossible.  For instance, one episode they tested they question “are elephants afraid of mice.”  Surprisingly they really are.  How easy is it to shoot fish in a barrel?  Not easy at all.  What sort of a mess does a bull in a china shop make?  Not much: they work hard at avoiding the dishes.

Certain ideas, certain thoughts, certain beliefs that we accept without much thought or question are sometimes true and sometimes not.  The word gullible actually is in the dictionary.  Rolling stones do not gather moss.  The sky is blue on sunny days. But there are all sorts of things that most of us grow up believing that turn out not to be so. 

For instance, how many of us have been solemnly warned that if we swallow our chewing gum it will take seven years for it to pass through our digestive system?  Turns out that’s not true at all.  Although chewing gum is not digestible and will leave us looking much the same as when it entered, it vacates the body just as quick as anything else we might eat.  For instance, when my wife was in college she worked with autistic adults at the Jay Nolan Center for Autism.  One of her clients enjoyed swallowing marbles.  He would count how many he swallowed and then in a day or two, he’d count them as they came out, deriving much pleasure from the sound they made in the toilet.  Obviously marbles are a bit less edible than even chewing gum.

The story goes that if you drop a frog in boiling water, it will leap out immediately, but if you slowly heat the water, just a degree or two at a time, the hopper will stay put until he boils to death.  The point of the story is to illustrate how slow change can sneek up on us until it’s too late.  However, frogs will not actually let you boil them, no matter how slowly you try.  Dr. Victor Hutchison, a Research Professor Emeritus from the University of Oklahoma's Department of Zoology actually tried the experiment, slowly raising the temperature of a pot with a frog in it at a rate of about two degrees per minute.  He discovered that the frog in the pot become more and more agitated the warmer the water got, until the frog finally leaped out long before the water got dangerously hot.  Frogs apparently are no less able to notice when it gets uncomfortable than we are.

We’ve been told that we only use ten percent of our brains.  Although advertisers and politicians would wish this were true, it isn’t.  In fact, we use our whole brain.  MRIs show that we do only use certain parts of our brain for certain activities—for instance, reading this article will make a specific area of your brain light up more than others. Running or eating, cooking or watching a movie would use different regions.  But over the course of a day, we’ll wind up using every part of our brains multiple times.  Consider, too, that if only ten percent of our brain was really necessary, why would head wounds  be such a problem? Why wear a helmet?   I mean, what are the odds that a bullet to the head would hit that ten percent of your brain you actually use? Maybe if this myth were true, ninety percent of shots to the head would be harmless.

You have to wait a half hour after eating before going swimming. That’s what my mother always told me.  That’s what I was told in Boy Scouts.  But although there are many dangers in life, stomach cramps from eating are not likely to lead to a person sinking like a stone into the watery depths never to be seen again.  Water does not have a magic property that, when mixed with undigested food in the stomach, will cause death.  It is silly when one starts to think about it, but it is remains a widely believed myth, hard or impossible to dislodge, especially since perceived safety is involved.  “Why risk it,” is the common thought—sort of like the fellow who wore garlic even though repeatedly informed that vampires weren’t real.

As the website,, a good source for myth-busting, explains about such things:

 “Regardless of the exact version heard, the myth is spread and repeated, by both the well-meaning and the deliberately deceptive. The belief that remains, then, is what Robert J. Samuelson termed a ‘psycho-fact, [a] belief that, though not supported by hard evidence, is taken as real because its constant repetition changes the way we experience life.’ People who don't know any better will repeat it over and over, until, like the admonition against swimming right after you eat, the claim is widely believed. (‘Triumph of the Psycho-Fact,’ Newsweek, 9 May 1994.)”

            A little skepticism, a little checking after facts, is not a bad idea.

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