Wednesday, July 8th, 2020
5 Most Absurd Scientific Theories Which Have Been Discredited
“Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.”
-Wernher von Braun
Science has earned its roots from the tradition of questioning practised in Philosophy. But while Philosophers question everything in the surroundings including life and existence, science seeks to find the answers to those questions. However, one of the most important principles is of falsifiability.
To this day, there are numerous scientific beliefs which have been discredited. For instance, there was a time when the earth was perceived as a flat surface, being the centre of the universe. However, with new research coming to light, the prior view was disparaged.
While science is not always reliable, it doesn’t mean that it should not be appreciated. All scientific theories, even the flawed ones, contribute to the progression and advancement of the world. Hence, they should be studied, ruminated on, and further investigated. The following theories are although absurd, they each have their own significance in the modern world.
Lambs grow on trees
In the early fourteenth century, it was a widespread belief that lambs grew on trees, almost like cotton. The idea was first discovered by Greeks, particularly by Sir John Mandeville. While the people could already see where the lambs came from, the misconception was created when Sir John Mandeville, a travel writer, visited the Indian area of Megasthenes. At this place, he had his first encounter with a cotton plant. This led him to believe that baby sheep were grown out of the ground. He referred to the cotton plant as “Trees on which wool grows.”
His writing also stated that the branches of the plant were bent down flexibly in order to feed the sheep which grew out of them. Later, this idea was adopted by the Europeans in the later years of the 14th century. This point of view remained relevant until the 1700s.
Phrenology was a branch of science that stemmed from the basic idea of judging a book by its cover. This school of thought was promulgated by Franz Josef Gall in the late 19th century when neurological research was on the rise. Phrenologists believed that a person’s effectiveness of brain functioning could be determined by viewing the top of their head. The phrenologists compartmentalised the functioning of the brain. Hence, they believed that certain areas of the brain were responsible for specific features. For instance, a person’s decision-making skills may be stored on the top side of the brain.
Based on this, they analysed the individual’s intelligence, self-esteem, personality traits, and propensities by examining the bumps and hollow areas on the head. The predominant perspective was that an intelligent individual or a person with advanced functioning would have more bumps as the brain’s effective functioning has made it grow in size.
Although this theory was quick to be falsified, it resulted in major damage. This school of thought emerged in the colonial era, thus contaminating the already racist minds of the Europeans. The phrenological assessment created a further misconception that the dark-skinned or colonised people were less intelligent than the Europeans.
While the theory caused a lot of harm, it did contribute to modern research. Franz Josef Gall’s idea that the brain functions are compartmentalised is still relevant and evident by the brain scans which reveal higher activity when a person is engaged in a specific process.
The possibility of life on the sun- and other planets
In the 1700s, telescope-aided astronomy was also being thoroughly studied. During that time, it was believed that the sun is an old terrestrial body, which is coated by a glittering surface. William Herschel, the scientist who discovered Uranus, came with a theory that suggested that there was life on the sun. He believed that there were atmospheric channels which provide coverage of the sun’s surface, these openings also reveal mountain-like entities, pushing through the cloud layers.
In addition to the sun having signs of life, Herschel believed that other planets in the Solar System might also have life-like entities present on the surface. His faith was reimbursed with this mission of carrying out a telescope-fuelled investigation on what another form of life could exist on non-earth planets.
This theory was discredited by Thomas Young, who came up with a response in the collection titled ‘Natural Philosophy.’ He brought out calculations that proved that life on the sun could not exist due the enormous gravity of the sun. Based on his research, the understanding of the Sun started taking place in the early 1800s. By the 20th century, it was established that the sun is a nuclear furnace.
Alchemy- Turn anything into gold
Alchemy is a practice followed in the pre-scientific era. It is a subdivision of natal Philosophy and has been observed in the cultures of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Alchemy is basically an attempt to purify certain materials.
In the 1600s, the alchemist in Europe had a fascination with gold. This fascination could be attributed to the current value of gold today. The experiments conducted on the material were carried out way before gold was used in the scientific revolution.
However, the goal of the alchemist was not to use gold; rather, it was to extract gold from other materials such as iron, brass or metal.
In order to guarantee the success of their operations, these individuals required the philosopher’s stone. The philosopher’s stone is a material that was said to convert any material into gold. According to the alchemists, the stone could be found anywhere and everywhere. However, it was unrecognisable and underappreciated.
The alchemists believed that if they attained the philosopher’s stone, its power would surpass the transformation of every metal to gold, and could provide the human being with the gift of immortality. These two perceptions best describe the discipline alchemy, as it focused on achieving perfection.
Alchemists worked like an online assignment help. They could take ordinary and transform it into a perfected state. However, while their results may have been faked, the assignment writing services consistently provide genuine and authentic results.
The alchemists noted their findings in the form of code words, as they did not want their research to break out of their labs. These individuals were so committed to their work that in 1601 an alchemist promised the duke to turn silver into gold. However, as this vision proved impossible to execute, he faked the results. This ultimately led to his execution.
The profession had earned so much respect, that even the greatest minds, including Sir Isaac Newton, dipped toes in it. Amidst his writings, traces of alchemy are more evident than that of physics.
Alchemy constituted of non-empirical techniques such as magic and spirituality; however, these methods were discarded with the commencement of the scientific revolution.
While astrology is still popular today, in ancient times, it was practised religiously. People believed that the events taking place on other planets had a direct influence on the events that will take place on earth. As a result, the notion that stars and planets have an effect on the day to day functioning became evident.
Astrology was practised in Europe, Central America, and many other countries in between. In fact, this perspective was only dismissed in the last few centuries, particularly, the 17th century. Additionally, the discipline of Astrology does not fall in the science category. Instead, it is a pseudoscience (science which is not factual and falsifiable).
In the 1600s, astrology was combined with the teachings of astronomy. These two separate disciplines were studied together, almost as if they were inseparable. As a result, in the celestial revolution, following the invention of the telescope, the astrologists began to track the movements of different stars and planets. However, the difference between ancient astrology and its current version is that the previous astrologists did not believe that the patterns of stars and planets guided the future. This perspective was birthed years after astrology was heftily researched on.
While astrology may be discredited, it contributed to the field of science by introducing the scientific community to developing a better understanding of the cosmos.
The first-ever critic of this school of thought was the Roman orator, Cicero. He pointed out that the planets and the stars were too far apart from the earth to leave an influence on it, in any way. He further criticised that twins, who were born under the same star, held different personality traits, as well as the fact that they opted for different paths in life. Cicero further made a point that while many people went through similar situations; they were not born under the same star.
Science had come a long way from when it first started. However, these trial and error methods were significant in landing us where we are today. Without these discoveries, the human mind would not have been probed to investigate further.