Science marches steadily forward, right? Every day a new discovery wipes out an old one. That is the way it is supposed to be, anyway. In reality, sometimes science marches backward. Old ideas that were long ago discredited are suddenly re-commissioned, like a battleship that has regained its usefulness in the face of a new threat. It happens so often these days that I’m beginning to wonder what ELSE we were wrong to leave behind.
Medicine has come along way, for instance. There was a time when they thought that all diseases were caused by an imbalance in the body’s four humors. I believe they were blood, phlegm, Peptobismol and Bosco. What’s that? You say you are running a fever? Your skin is turning all red? Clearly you have too much blood! Let me just slap a leech on that. That ought to balance you out. The utterly barbaric nature of the concept of attaching a blood sucking parasite to treat an illness made leeches to bad medicine what banana peels were to littering. Surely no one would ever use a leech in modern medicine… unless, you know, they were doing state of the art microsurgery. Yep. It turns out leeches are good at drawing blood into the tiny vessels inside freshly re-attached extremities. So this bass ackwards medieval idiocy actually manages to solve a problem that modern science is still struggling with.
Well, okay, fine. Leeches might have had some merit, but what about whale oil? Can you believe we actually used to light our homes with liquid drained out of a sea creature? HA! Things are much better now that we marinade our animals underground for millions of years first, then suck them out, refine them, and use them to boil water to create steam, force it through a turbine that spins magnets though coils of wire, then conduct the resulting electricity to our homes and use THAT to light our house. Back then, though, we didn’t just fill our lamps with Shamu squeezings, thus providing illumination with the fresh scent of burning whale fat. We also oiled our wool with it, made cosmetics with it, and used it to make margarine. Yum yum. Nowadays we wouldn’t dare use whale oil for anything as important lighting and breakfast spreads. No sir. Now we only use it for the little stuff. Like spaceships. Yep. The Apollo missions and, if the history channel can be believed, the Hubble Space telescope have been lubricated with refined whale oil. (Finding definitive proof of this has been something of an Internet scavenger hunt, though.) It has to do with spermaceti, a type of sperm oil, having superior lubricating qualities at very low temperatures than any synthetic alternative. So whale juice got us to the moon. Go figure.
Right, so. Leeches were a good idea, and whale oil was a good idea. What other antiquated ideas will turn out to have been on the right track? I, personally, think that the old concern that cameras steal your soul might have some truth to it. For proof, I submit to you the following. The percentage of major assholes in real life is around 10%, at least according my last visit to the International Bureau of Subjective and Invented Statistics. (Ah, IBSIS, what would I do without you?) On Reality TV? Approximately 130%. What could possibly explain such a shift? Scientists cite the Hawthorne Effect. This is the theory that the act of observing an individual inherently alters their behavior. Basically, if you know someone is watching, you work harder. Now since the goal of most reality TV is to display despicable acts of backstabbing and conscienceless depravity, the very act of filming them coaxes those involved into switching their jerkiness into overdrive. I suggest that the cameras are indeed the problem, but for a different reason. These people spend all of their time on camera, and end up soulless husks, resulting in sociopathic behavior. Sure, it sounds far fetched, but I’ll bet I can find a guy who owes his thumb to a blood sucker who might be willing to back me up on this.
Now for a family favorite. Picture a pigeon. This is a short, fat, ugly bird. It isn’t particularly fast, isn’t particularly graceful, and is about as smart as a box of rocks. And yet go to your average park and it is practically wall to wall pigeons. From a strictly genetic standpoint, it seems like they should have gone extinct long ago. How could anything so awkward and stupid continue to exist? (Insert Geek Joke of your choice here.) Yet they find themselves flourishing in the city, an artificial environment crafted by humans. Our elderly feed them. Our laws prohibit us from carrying guns to shoot them. We have chased out the predators that hunt them. And all in less time than evolution could have possibly allowed them to adapt. There is only one explanation for why such a beneficial set of circumstances, such a perfect storm of pigeon-friendly events, could have happened. Pigeons are lucky. They are little feathery concentrations of pure, unadulterated good fortune. It is literally squirting out of every orifice. And thus, when it lands on you, you had better go buy a lottery ticket before the luck byproduct wears off.
Yes sir, this line of thinking has opened my eyes to the wisdom of the past. Even as I type this I am realizing more and more old and new policies and superstitions that could fuel the next big breakthrough. Maybe feeding a cold and starving a flu works by manipulating the body’s hormone levels. Maybe a spoonful of sugar really does make the medicine go down. Yes… yes… sugar… medicine. Sorry, gotta go. On to something big here…