Thursday, December 4, 2008

Debunking Urban Myth

I confess, I've been caught. Once in a while I spread an urban myth as "fact" before I thoroughly check it out. I confess that there's one urban myth I continue to share just because it sounds so good. Let's see if you can guess which one I still spread. Let's see if you can guess which one is true:

  • Edmonton is the restaurant capital of Canada

  • We use only ten percent of our brain

  • Boil a frog slowly enough and it won't jump out of the pot

What's the harm in spreading myth? I've spent a good deal of time teaching myself to think clearly and make decisions based on fact. It's so easy for people to get duped by a good sounding story, to be swept along by hormones, feeling, or instinct. People who base their decisions on anything other than reason may not really be in charge of their life at all. They could become victims of a con-man or a cause. I proud that am not taken by telemarketers or by any salesman for that matter. I am my own woman, not a puppet.

Even so, once in a while I get caught. But I'm getting smarter. If you haven't found it yet, snopes is a great place to check out if a story is fact or fiction. Please, please use snopes before you forward an e-mail rumor. You will be doing every shared server on the planet a big favor. And you will save yourself my annoyance.

Well, my most recent myth to die, which I have shared unknowingly for years, is that Edmonton is the restaurant capital of Canada. I've since discovered that most cities make this claim. It's not based on fact, but civic pride. The only google reference to Edmonton's claim I found in an Edmonton article. It just goes to show, if a tidbit is shared often enough, it gains a life of it's own. Share it enough, and people might just think it's fact.

So which city can honestly boast that they are the restaurant capital of Canada? Montreal. There are over 5,000 restaurants in the metro island area. All the more reason to go for a visit, don't you think?

We only use ten percent of our brain. Myth. My Witness husband uses this false factoid to bolster his claim that human beings were meant to live for thousands of years. He gains great satisfaction from the hope that his poor brain can finally be used to it's full potential, if only it were given enough time. How the brain really works is a fascinating read. Two books I highly recommend are "The Language Instinct" by Steven Pinker and "The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force" by Jeffrey M. Schwartz. From those readings, I may have to give up another myth that the mind stores all information fed it from birth. That false mind model suggests that we could remember everything if we could just learn to access a vast unconscious. It turns out rather that the brain constantly renews itself, reinforcing pathways that are referenced often, and dropping others. In other words, you can lose it if you don't use it.

Now. About the boiled frog. Myth. This myth died hard. After all, the imagery works so well. I still use it to make the point that we are to be vigilant always and not to ignore incremental change. Always check - where are we heading? I've used the boiled frog analogy to explain how Jehovah's Witness recruiters slowly introduce a bible student to their beliefs. I've seen this in action many times as a new study is first warmly welcomed to a meeting in his jeans and t-shirt.

  • The next meeting he's wearing a jacket over the jeans.

  • The t-shirt is the next to go, replaced with a crisp open-necked dress shirt.

  • The jeans are replaced with suit pants.

  • And finally, the tie. No decent Witness male attends a meeting without a tie. At this stage, the study leader my offer to lend one of his. Just to make sure the poor fellow fits in.

So which one of these myths are true? Not a one. I played a rather nasty word game to prime you to find some truth in my three myths. It's not there. Word games can be tricky. Here's a final example to make you think. An author writes a highly successful fiction novel. In his preface, he suggests that the entire story is "true", but the facts must be hidden in fiction because sinister forces don't want the "truth" to come out. But the plain answer is that the entire novel is fiction. Half-truths rumor and myth are woven together in to a great story. It's a fantastic story, but it is not true.

I am horrified to find that many people were duped by that single false statement in his preface. There's entire discussion groups dedicated to the story he wove. The story? The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. A pox on that one sentence that sent a subset of the internet world on chasing a myth. History is muddied enough without a creative author kicking more muddle in to the mess.