Turns out you might need to repeat kindergarten: Some of the most basic things you learned your first time through aren’t actually true.
Being a kid is basically living a lie. Sometimes, it doesn’t take long to debunk the myths you’re told: Santa Claus didn’t bring your presents and you didn’t have to throw your removed tooth onto the roof so it could grow again. But some things end up sticking around into adulthood and need to be corrected. If you still think your eyes can be damaged by a TV screen or that cavemen actually lived in caves, keep reading, because these are all lies:
1. Cavemen lived in caves.
A number of confusing comics and cartoons left us unclear exactly what to think about cavemen, but if we take the name literally, we’d at least assume they lived in caves. Not so. Despite preserving the art of early humans and Neanderthals — the extinct species we now frequently refer to as “cavemen” — for more than 40,000 years, caves were not necessarily the actual homes of these prehistoric people.
Archaeologists believe cavemen actually lived outside the caves, but that the misnomer has been popularized thanks to the great preservation skills of caves, which led some to think they were typically used as primary shelters. Although evidence of outdoor homes is hard to find because Earth has changed significantly in the last 40 millennia, a dwelling dating back to the Neanderthal period and made of mammoth bones was discovered in Ukraine.
2. Watching television close to the screen and reading in dim light will damage your eyes.
Despite your parents’ constant insistence that you back away from the screen, “sitting ‘too’ close to the TV isn’t known to cause any human health issues,” according to Scientific American. The origin of this myth dates back to a batch of 100,000 televisions released by General Electric in the 1960s that emitted radiation 100,000 times what is considered safe by health officials. Those were recalled, but the myth persisted.
Furthermore, reading print in dim light is not a threat to your eye health. But if your eyesight does end up getting worse with age, carrots won’t improve it significantly more than any other healthy foods. That was a lie created by the British government during WWII to trick the Nazis.
3. Earth’s north pole is in the North Pole, and its south pole is in the South Pole.
Did we just turn your world upside down? Kind of. Due to an electromagnetic technicality, the geographic North Pole is actually the south pole of Earth’s magnetic field, and vice versa! Essentially, Earth acts like an enormous magnet, the south pole of which faces its northern hemisphere, and the north of which faces its southern hemisphere. As “Essentials of College Physics” explains:
“A small bar magnet is said to have north and south poles, but it’s more accurate to say it has a “north-seeking” pole and a “south-seeking” pole. By these expressions, we mean that if such a magnet is used as a compass, one end will “seek,” or point to, the geographic North Pole of Earth and the other end will “seek,” or point to, the geographic South Pole of Earth. We conclude that the geographic North Pole of Earth corresponds to a magnetic south pole, and the geographic South Pole of Earth corresponds to a magnetic north pole.“
Now we understand why it was easier to just lie about this one.
4. Humans have only five senses.
Mastering the basics of your five senses was pretty much the focus of an entire semester of kindergarten curriculum, if not more, but the five-sense “sight, sound, smell, taste touch” model we’ve all learned actually dates back to Aristotle, circa 300 B.C. Needless to say, conventional scientific wisdom has changed a bit since then. Though researchers still debate the exact number of senses, most agree that humans have at least 10 or 11 senses, while some researchers believe that humans have 21 senses or more.
The Harvard School of Medicine would add the following six senses to your list: “equilibrioception,” or the sense of balance, “nociception,” or the sense of pain, “proprioception,” or the awareness of where your body parts are, “thermoception,” or the sense of heat and cold, “temporal perception,” or the perception of time, and “interoception,” or the awareness of the physiological conditions of the inner body. Other debated senses include hunger, thirst and joint position.
5. Birds and bees are consummate examples of sexual intercourse.
Learning about the “birds and the bees” was often used as a confusing code for parents to talk to their kids about human sex, so it may come as a huge surprise that 97 percent of avian species basically have no penis. Through the evolutionary process, something called “programmed cell death” has led to many bird penises to shrink away before they develop. Also, honeybees commit something called sexual suicide. Male “drones” live their whole lives to impregnate the queen bee and then, if they don’t immediately kill themselves and try to return to the hive, the female bees will push them out to die.
6. There are only seven colours in the rainbow.
That early science lesson left some things out. Because rainbows are never seen on a perfect black background, the colours are always muddied and desaturated in some way and, therefore, never truly display the pure hues of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Essentially, there are more colours in a rainbow than “stars in the Universe or atoms in your body,” but unfortunately, most humans can only perceive about a million colours when looking at a rainbow. Why are you being cheated out of the rainbow’s true beauty?
Most human eyes have three cones that perceive colour, one each for red, blue and green. This is called trichromatic vision. The sensitivity of these cones often varies from person to person, and, therefore, colours are perceived differently. That said, some people even have another cone (called tetrachromats) and, therefore, may see colours that other people aren’t aware of. Women are more likely to have this extra cone, but it is unknown how many actually can see these additional colors, because having an extra cone doesn’t necessarily lead to enhanced visual capabilities.
7. Bats are totally blind.
This idiom dates back to the 17th century and has been passed down from generation to generation ever since, despite being patently untrue. Merlin Tuttle, founder and president of Bat Conservation International (BCI), restored dignity to bat-kind in an interview with National Geographic, saying that “They see extremely well.” (They are, however, colour blind). The bat has a lot to offer humankind: It uses a razor-sharp echolocation to track its insect prey, making it the world’s most badass pest exterminator.
8. Gum takes years to digest.
You were probably warned at some point that a swallowed piece of chewing gum would take a seven-year residency in your tummy. Not true. As Duke University gastroenterologist Rodger Liddle told Scientific American, “nothing would reside [in the stomach] that long, unless it was so large it couldn’t get out of the stomach or it was trapped in the intestine.” According to another Duke gastroenterologist, Nancy McGreal, MD, gum moves through your digestive tract just like any other food or drink, and only takes 30-120 minutes to digest.
But before you go rejoice and swallow a whole pack of Juicy Fruit — a word of caution: Gum retains its sticky quality as it moves through your digestive track. This can cause other foods to clump together, and is generally bad news.