Creating New Myths

Have you ever run into a situation where you try your best to explain something and accidentally end up creating a whole new incorrect belief?

The other day I was explaining evolution to a friend of mine. He’s a bit older and a very, very smart man who never really got the advanced education that his mind is clearly capable of. Nobody instilled a love for learning into him, and he’s just now discovering it in the form of 4 am debates with me and literary criticism. It’s a lot of fun and we have a blast just talking.

Suffice it to say, he asked me at one point, “Why couldn’t it have been that instead of humans coming from apes, they both came from the same animal that just split into two different paths?” I was floored, not only because I hadn’t really explained evolution properly, but also because he kind of hit on this himself just from my discombobulated rants. Again, he’s not stupid, he’s very smart, but he hasn’t been exposed to a lot of academic knowledge over the course of his life.

So I told him that’s exactly what happened as far as we know, that the evidence all points to that, and we had a nice hour of conversation on gradual change over time, genetic drift, etc.

Somehow, what he got out of that is that him being born without wisdom teeth was an evolutionary leap.

It reminds me a little of something Fred Clark wrote yesterday about trying to explain how Ouija boards work using a really clever pendulum example. Read the whole thing, I won’t ruin it for you, but be prepared to laugh and sigh at once.

Have you ever tried to explain something and created a whole new wrong impression by accident? I expect many more hours in the future about gradual change over time and how the lack of wisdom teeth probably grants very little evolutionary advantage in this day and age.

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5 thoughts on “Creating New Myths

  1. “Have you ever tried to explain something and created a whole new wrong impression by accident?”

    Sort of. In a social studies class in high school, our teacher gave us a worksheet on current news stories. It was like a trivia thing. We had like 100 questions and could work in groups. One of the questions was something like what is Louise Woodward trying to sell. I remembered hearing something on the news about a local woman trying to get off welfare by selling cookies she made in her home and getting shut down by the health department. I was pretty sure her name was Louise. So I wrote down “cookies.” I shared my answer with a friend, who also didn’t know who Louise Woodward was. So toward the end of class, we are going over the answers together and the teacher asks about Louise Woodward. This guy I hated raised his hand and said “cookies.” Apparently, my answer had spread to everyone in class and no one corrected it because we all forgot who she was.

    • The au pair?

      Kinda classic, there. I wonder how easy it is to get bad information like that to circulate if it’s not something everybody wishes it would be, like cookies? Also, how many people knew what the answer was, but bowed to social pressure.

  2. Hmm… well, it’s not entirely off the mark. I mean, right now it’s just a genetic oddity, but I suppose if it did turn out to convey some subtle advantage that we don’t see yet (lower dentist bills, thus more money, thus better mating options and survivability? I dunno) , I suppose it wouldn’t be recognized as an evolutionary leap for a few more thou…

    In other words, maybe but way too soon to call it 🙂

  3. …also I did manage to convince my entire restaurant that I’d put a spell on them to affect their mood! (Which… technically speaking was true, just not the way they meant it!)

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