The world is full of things that we think are significant in one way or another, mostly because common knowledge says that they are. Of course, once we actually take the time to look into some of them, we realize that they hold almost no meaning in the real world.
From the United Nations to the various continents to the length of the penis, we count down the most seemingly important things in the world that – if we just read the fine print – aren’t even close to as important as we think they are.
Quick: how many continents are there? If you answered seven, we won’t hold it against you. After all, that’s what most of us are taught while growing up, and we’ve never had a reason to doubt it. That’s because continents serve no official purpose at all, which is why any commonly-held notions about them are never challenged in our practical, adult lives. Depending on whom you ask – as it’s just a matter of opinion, really – the number of continents can be anywhere from three to 11, or even higher, as anything can be defined as a continent by anyone.
There’s no official definition of a continent, which is why it’s impossible to know how many there are. By the most popular definition of huge, naturally-contiguous land-masses separated by the ocean, there aren’t seven, but four continents. Africa, Asia and Europe would fall into the same continuous land-mass, as the boundary between Europe and Asia is not geographical – only cultural – and the Suez Canal is an artificial construction. Australia would be an island, because if it’s not, then Greenland should be a continent, too. If we take tectonic plates as a measure, New Zealand and Australia, and so on. You get the idea.
9. The United Nations
The United Nations was formed in the wake of the Second World War, with its primary aim being stopping a war like that from ever happening again through mutual dialogue and strict codes of conduct for member nations. It was a noble effort on paper, getting countries with vastly different political views on the same page for a good cause, except that it has never actually worked that way.
While it has definitely helped in some areas completely unrelated to its original purpose (like its commendable efforts in global healthcare), as far as global conflict goes, the UN has often failed to stop it at best, and actively contributed towards it at worst. Perhaps the most striking example of this – and there are many – is the Rwandan civil war. UN peacekeepers were stationed in the country at the time, but far from trying to prevent it, they refrained from even reporting on what was happening.
Moreover, the UN’s most seemingly-influential bodies – like the Security Council – have often acted in the interests of its most powerful members, such as Russia, China, and the US, instead of the common good, further delineating the organization from its intended purpose of maintaining peace.
8. The Moon
Landing on the moon is still celebrated as one of the biggest scientific achievements of all of humanity, not just the United States. That’s not too inaccurate, either, as the technology that helped us get there – such as the rocket propulsion system, microchips, etc. – provided us with a giant, unprecedented technological leap in other, unrelated areas.
The moon itself, however, turned out to be pretty useless, which is why no one has made any serious effort to return there ever since. As it turned out, the moon is almost exactly made up of the same stuff as Earth. Apart from some measuring equipment we left there, everything we accomplished by physically landing on the moon could have been accomplished without it.
Of course, the purpose of the landing wasn’t just scientific exploration – as it was also a part of the infamous Space Race between the USA and USSR at the height of the Cold War.
Gross domestic product (GDP) is often used as the only indicator of the well-being of a nation, probably due to the assumption that an economically productive and efficient society is also a happy society.
As you can guess, that’s not the best way to measure a country’s progress. While GDP is still undoubtedly the best way to measure economic well-being, many other parameters go into building a truly happy nation, like quality of healthcare, social mobility, HDI (Human Development Index), equality, levels of urban pollution, etc. Many countries around the world right now have a high GDP, but hardly anyone would call them prosperous nations due to factors like inequality of wealth distribution or corruption.
6. A Man’s “Size”
The length of the penis is a touchy issue for most men, no matter which side of the argument on which they fall. Pop culture doesn’t help, as books and movies reinforce that notion, making it perhaps the most enduring sexual myth of all time.
In reality, study after study has proven that women don’t just prefer technique and skill over sheer size, but actively don’t like extraordinarily large penises due to discomfort and the risk of injury. Even when it comes to the preferred length of female sex toys, the most popular models are hardly larger than the average length.
Scientific studies are considered to be reliable and foolproof by most of us, as we assume that all of them adhere to the scientific method. News networks – as well as fact-based platforms like ours – regularly use them as primary sources, as that’s the best way we know how to back up our claims.
Of course, as you can guess by the general theme of this list, scientific studies aren’t actually the last word on a particular topic we think they are. In fact, many researchers and experts maintain that the findings of most modern studies are inaccurate (due to factors such as a small sample size) at best, and deliberately structured to prove one thing or the other to serve a larger social or political interest at worst.
Even reputed journals regularly publish work that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, though that doesn’t mean that you can’t trust any of them. Quite a few groundbreaking works of reliable scientific research are still published around the world, though all of them meet certain criteria that most other research papers don’t, like being peer-reviewed by the scientific community, being done on a large enough sample, and so on.
4. The Right Age For Success
When it comes to career, almost every culture around the world places some importance on hitting the right milestones at the right time. Right now, many early 30-somethings are beating themselves up for not achieving as much as so many other young achievers they keep hearing about on the news.
If you look at the research, though, that popular notion doesn’t hold water. According to studies, the average age of a successful entrepreneur isn’t actually anywhere close to what most of us imagine – which is about as old as Mark Zuckerberg was right out of college – but somewhere around 45. Of course, that varies across industries, but even in industries with a relatively younger workforce – like IT – the average age for a successful founder is around 40.
While it’s true that the concept of race has been behind some of the biggest – as well as the most horrific – events of the past few centuries, the idea itself hasn’t faced much scientific scrutiny. When we say that all races are created equal, we implicitly agree that different races exist. However, do they?
The idea of the scientific origins of race – which divided the human population into five races – originated before Darwin, when most people didn’t even know how natural selection works. As we move into the future and modern genetics continue to shine a light on our genome, scientists are gradually finding out that the concept of race, in any of its forms, doesn’t have any genetic or scientific basis at all. The human genome is more consistent around the world than even chimpanzees, which is saying something, as the human population is a lot larger. Genetically, we’re almost exact copies of each other, with only a minor set of genes responsible for all of our differences.
If we were to really trace our roots, we’d find that the entire human population is actually African. Everyone outside Africa descends from a small group of Homo Sapiens, possibly somewhere in East Africa.
IQ – short for Intelligence Quotient – has the reputation of being a reliable measure of intelligence in most societies, though have you ever wondered why no college or job application ever asks for it? Apart from casual party conversations and Mensa (an exclusive high-IQ society based in the UK), no one seems to take it too seriously.
That’s because IQ – like the idea of race – was formulated at a time most people didn’t know what they were talking about. While it’s a great indicator of someone’s analytical and problem-solving abilities and hugely helps psychologists – especially those working with kids – catch glaring gaps in learning, it’s a minute part of all the wide variety of abilities that make up our intelligence, some of which we don’t even understand that well yet. Take emotional intelligence; a completely different type of intelligence that we’re only just starting to explore. Or creativity, or even practical knowledge, most of which are almost impossible to quantify at all.
Genealogy – the study of one’s ancestry – has gained quite a bit of popularity recently, largely due to the success of platforms like Ancestry.com, as well as the enduring human desire to know our true origins.
Since they became popular, quite a few genealogy services have managed to make the news by revealing unlikely connections between various celebrities. One of the most surprising was that Obama and Dick Cheney are distantly related to each other, as both of them share a common ancestor that lived around 400 years. That’s pretty interesting, but then you find out that Obama is related to Brad Pitt, too, as well as multiple other popular figures that have almost no connection to each other, and you start to doubt the whole thing. Almost every celebrity would be related to every other if we trace all of their roots, which begs the question: how accurate is the science, really?
Quick answer: not very. If you go back far enough, every single one of us shares a common ancestor and is genetically related to each other, for the simple reason that we’re the same species. And you don’t have to go really far, either. According to research, the most recent common ancestor of every person on Earth lived a mere few thousand years ago.