Sep 25, 2016

But a Fable Agreed Upon

     All through primary and then high school, I had just as much eureka moments as I had why-are-you-telling-us-this moments and the latter, of course, ties in with the fact that I was a victim of raging hormones thinking that most professors were morons who had no business being anywhere near a school. In retrospect, however, that's essentially true, but maybe I didn't have to make my assessments so blatantly apparent with my disdainful eye-rolling and wiseass comments, which is something I'd prefer to leave in the distant past. Unfortunately, I recently nonetheless remembered several of the why-are-you-telling-us-this moments resulting in all of the I'm-going-to-show-you-how-the-backs-of-my-eye-balls-look-like moments thanks to a conversation I had with my mom.
     My mother, you see, is somewhat of a bookworm and since she steers clear of pulp fiction (yep, that means zero bullshit romance novels — shocking, right?), we always have much to talk about even when my self-mutilation projects don't go south and thus she peppily spilled all about this awesome book she'd been reading lately during her last visit.
     "And they found a mechanical computer in Greece that's over two thousand years old and the ancient Egyptians had a light bulb and ..."
     "Mom. Come on. Ancient Egyptians had a light bulb — a light bulb?"
     "Yes, they did, I'm telling you. They found these hieroglyphs in one of the temples," she delved into the explanation with glistening eyes and by the time she finished, I was equally fascinated. "But they're trying to convince us that the modern man is so progressive, that we're so progressive and that we surpassed all other civilisations in history, when in fact it's all a lie — history, everything they're telling us, everything they're teaching in schools, it's all just one big lie to stroke the ego of the modern man," she concluded. "It's so easy to omit the facts that don't fit in with their narrative. They leave this bit out and bend the truth that way and, hey presto, there's our history."
     "Like with Columbus and Erikson."
     "Well, you know what they say: if you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth. There's a bunch of nice quotes on that in Orwell's 1984 actually. I can't remember a single one at the moment," (He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.) "but he said something about history being fabricated to suit the ruling few."
     "So much for fiction, huh — it's all frighteningly true."
     "Yep. It's a wonder they didn't try to hide platypus from us."
     "Platypus? Why platypus?"
     "Well, mammals are supposed to be animals that give birth to live cubs which then drink milk from their mother after they're born, right, but then this furry beaver-like creature with a duck-like bill comes along which hatches eggs with baby platypuses inside who then drink their mother's milk and every biology professor under the sun wants their students to know that platypuses are mammals, which just proves that a) school is annoying and b) all classification is pointless because not everything can be put in a neat little box. But I'm glad they aren't just trying to convince us that platypus is a myth because I kind of like platypuses. A lot actually. Platypuses are cool."
     My mom found my rambling amusing, bless her gentle motherly heart, but that little comment of mine and our entire conversation left me wondering: how many more platypuses and Columbuses are there that I don't even know about? I bet you can guess what happened next: after some research, I've compiled a list of history fractions that I thought were true but aren't and some I had no idea even existed — because they don't fit in with the narrative. And here they are.

Columbus and America
Sure, Christopher Columbus 'discovered' America in 1492 (let's just forget the fact that he actually never got close to what is now called the United States, shall we?), but he wasn't the first European to do so — it was actually a Viking called Leif Erikson who beat him to the chase by some 500 years. Happy Columbus Day, America.

Edison and the Light Bulb
Although Thomas Edison is given the credit for inventing the light bulb in 1879, work on it began long before Tom dedicated himself to the problem. In 1802, Humphrey Davy passed an electrical current through a thin strip of platinum and created the first short but impressive light show and after that it was just a matter of time who would be the first to find a filament that could last more than, say, five minutes. It was actually Joseph Swan, a British physicist, who came up with something that looked a lot like Edison's later light bulb and he actually was installing the devices in pubs around London a few years before Edison's big 'invention' but for some reason, history, the fickle bitch, wasn't kind to Swan.

Einstein and His Failed Math Class
It would be nice if Einstein, the genius extraordinaire, would indeed fail his math class like the popular legend claims, right? Unfortunately for us, that couldn't be further from the truth since he excelled in mathematics at an early age. If you'd like to find out more about how this myth came to be, you can find some answers here.

Napoleon and His Complex
I can still hear our history teacher explaining how in paintings and statues Napoleon Bonaparte was always depicted taller than in real life to compensate for his inferiority complex due to his short statue — which later became known as the Napoleon complex. Cool story, but it isn't necessarily true: the myth that he was short stems mostly from the fact that he was said to be 5 feet 2 inches tall at the time of his death, which is 157.5 centimeters, but that measurement was listed in French units, which would actually amount to 170 centimeters (or 5 feet 7 inches). You may think that that's still pretty short but at the time in France, the average adult male was about 165 centimeters (or 5 feet 5 inches) tall, so he was actually anything but short. And to quote the man himself, What is history but a fable agreed upon, right?

Bell and the Telephone
Alexander Graham Bell is famed for inventing the telephone in 1876, but he wasn't the only one working on the idea at the time and supposedly wasn't even the first who got a working telephone together. Some historians claim that Elisha Gray was the first, but Bell beat him to the patent office — supposedly by only a few hours!

The Wright Brothers and the First Flight
History recognizes the Wright brothers as the first ones to fly a manned aircraft powered by a motor in 1903 but there may be a number of people who completed the task first. One of the most notable was Gustav Whitehead, a German immigrant, who supposedly flew in a small monoplane of his own design which was powered by a tiny motor also of his own design in 1901. So what's the problem? He didn't take any photos of the flight. Pic or it didn't happen, right?

A, B, AB, 0 and Other Blood Groups
Other blood groups? Yes, other blood groups — and I'm not talking about Rh+ or Rh-. There are a bunch of other blood types (Duffy, Kidd, Kell, etc.) and they keep discovering new ones. Sure, they are rare, but don't think that they're so marginal that they don't matter: if you are one of the 'lucky' few and one day end up needing a transfusion, that information won't be so marginal, will it?

The Egyptian Light Bulb
A relief in a basement of one of the temples in Egypt, the Temple of Hathor at Dendera to be exact, depicts figures standing around a large object looking like a light bulb with some sort of a socket and cord attached to it. Scientists recreated the object and you can see what happened in this short video.

The Baghdad Battery
The Baghdad battery is an artifact some 2000 years old which was found just outside — Baghdad, where else. It's actually a clay jar with a stopper made of asphalt and sticking through the asphalt is an iron rod surrounded by a copper cylinder. When filled with vinegar or any other electrolytic solution, the jar produces about 1.1 volts. The artifact actually made it in on an episode of MythBusters where they tested the theory with great success. And here we thought that people threw stones at each other for fun and ate mud up until last year when the great modern man invented the iPhone.

The Indian Rust-Resistant Obelisk
In the middle of a square in Delhi, India, there's an iron pillar that's over 1,500 years old. By now, it should've rusted completely and turn to dust but it's obviously rust-resistant. The obelisk is extremely pure, it's 99.72 percent iron, and they have no idea how they made it because even today with our technology wrought iron can be as much as 99.8 percent of purity, in which case it contains manganese and sulfur, but these two substances aren't found the Indian pillar.

     Of course these are just a few facts I found most interesting, there are tons more, but I'm leaving the rest of the digging to you — if you so happen to share my opinion that school is annoying, that is. That doesn't necessarily mean, however, that I think everyone should just drop out or take their kids out of school, because despite being annoying, school is cool (not as cool as platypuses of course, but still pretty cool). I only think that it would be nice if one day — just like they taught us that people used to think that the Earth was flat until someone came and said it wasn't — teachers would explain how back in the day people were convinced that Columbus discovered America until someone came along and rectified that nonsense. But of course for that to happen you have to have enough people who actually care, people who are genuinely curious, people who don't like being spoon-fed bullshit information, but I'm not holding my breath: most people today are too preoccupied with the latest iPhone release, the next Zara sale, the number of their Twitter followers or their next Facebook status — the truly important stuff, you know. Oh well. Maybe the Earth really is flat.

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