6. Back in the 18th-century, people believed reading to be a dangerous and self-indulgent practice. Novels were considered “evil,” and those who read them were said to become “addicted” and anti-social.
Cultural commentators of today lament about the dying habit of reading. Naturally, it comes as a shock when you hear that book reading was once considered a dangerous practice. In 18th-century Europe, novel reading caused massive outrage and panic among the general population. Even some prominent voices saw reading as a threat. It was said to afflict young minds and make them “addicted.” The hysteria got so bad that there were reports on the “reading epidemic.” Back then, books on religion, philosophy, and science were accepted. However, non-fiction novels were heavily criticized as reading was not meant for pleasure, drama, excitement, or heartbreak. (1, 2)
7. In the 1800s, people across Europe believed that nonliving objects can also create life. Known as “spontaneous generation.” The idea stated that if you put dirty underwear and wheat grains together in a bucket, it would naturally produce mice.
“Spontaneous generation” is a now obsolete hypothesis that said the combination of nonliving organic matter combined with some other vital, unknown force can create life out of inanimate objects. This widely held belief originated in the Middle Ages and persisted up until the late 19th-century. The theory became popular across Europe due to the fact that it bears similarities with some religious views on how the universe was created. People tried to legitimize the idea back then because the “vital force” required for a spontaneous generation was said to be the “proof” of God’s presence and power.
Many experiments and recipes were created to substantiate the theory. One of the most popular ones was the mixing of wheat grain and dirty underwear. It was believed that if you put the two together and leave the bucket out for approximately 21 days, mice would be “generated.” The formation of maggots on rotten mean was also deemed to be the product of spontaneous generation. (1, 2)
8. Before the advancement of medical science, when the workings of the circulatory system were still unknown, it was believed that a single vein connected the heart to the fourth finger of the left hand. That is why wedding rings are placed on this finger to celebrate love.
When translated literally from Latin, “vena amoris” means the “vein of love.” Traditionally, people believed that this particular vein runs straight from the heart to the fourth finger. In Western cultures, this has been cited as the reason for wearing the wedding ring on this finger. The earliest mention of vena amoris can be found in a book written by Henry Swinburne, an English scholar, and ecclesiastical lawyer. The book, titled A Treatise of Espousal or Matrimonial Contracts, was published after his death in 1686. In it, he cited various, ancient, unidentified sources and also claimed that the “discovery” of the vena amoris has connections to ancient Egypt. However, experts have failed to confirm that.
For centuries, people considered this to be a fact until scientists fully discovered how the circulatory system works. Moreover, all the fingers have similar vein structures which means the significance associated with vena amoris is falsely attributed. Though different cultures have varying practices, the “ring finger” was originally given its name due to this widely held belief. (1, 2)
9. In the Medieval Period, people believed that toothaches are caused by small, maggot-like creatures that burrow into the human tooth creating a hole and causing a host of diseases. Some physicians also believed that nerves are the mysterious organism responsible for this. So, they used to remove them as a preventative measure.
The belief in a “tooth worm” has a long history, and mentions of it can be traced back to 5000 BCE. The popular theory was that these worms eat away at healthy teeth causing severe pain and diseases. Given the awful appearance of a decaying tooth, it is easy to understand why people in the Middle Ages thought a living organism was responsible for it. They also thought that pain is caused when the worm is active. The absence of pain meant that the worm was resting.
Ironically, no one had ever seen the tooth worm. So, the appearance of the organism was much debated, and it varied from region to region. The British, for example, thought that the tooth worm looked like miniature eels. The Germans, on the other hand, believed that the tooth worm resembled maggots, and that it comes in various colors such as gray, blue, and red. Remarkably, different cultures around the world with no connection with one another believed in this theory as recently as the 1900s. (1, 2)
10. The Venus flytrap, the carnivorous plant, was once thought to be of alien origin. The plant was often seen growing near meteorite crash sites. That led people to believe that the meteors carried this alien life to Earth.
The Venus flytrap, which is native to South and North Carolina, is known for its striking appearance and carnivorous nature. This ominous-looking plant was once thought to be from another planet. The primary explanation was that a meteorite containing this life form had crashed onto Earth, which is why the Venus flytrap only grows around meteor craters. However, in truth, the plant can be found all around the subtropical wetlands of the US East Coast, and there are no proven meteorite craters anywhere in the Carolinas.
However, given its strange appearance and unique attributes, it is easy to understand why people thought it was of alien origin. The plant uses a sophisticated mechanism to trap arachnids and insects. When a spider or an insect lands on the leaves and comes in contact with the “sensitive hairs,” the folds snap shut, enclosing the prey within. The plant reacts this way after several such “triggers” to make sure the prey has sufficient nutritional value and is worthy of consumption.
Even though people in the past believed it to be alien life, the origins of the Venus flytrap is very much rooted in Earth. The plant evolved from other similar plants that used sticky leaves for entrapping prey. Over the course of time, the Venus flytrap grew elaborate and sophisticated features such as “teeth” and trigger-hairs to immobilize and trap bugs. Scientists state that the plant grew hungrier and developed this mechanism to catch bigger and meatier insects. The Venus flytrap may not be of alien origin, but it is surely smart! (1, 2)