Imagine this: you were in New York on September 11, 2001. You remember every harrowing detail. The roaring of the planes. The crush of concrete and bending metal as the buildings were hit.The fires. The ash. The billowing smoke. The fear and confusion. The horror.
You spend the next day writing it all down, desperate to capture the raw emotion and stark reality of the moment. Fast forward a decade, and you’re asked to recall that day again. To write it all down. You then compare the piece written in 2011 to the piece you wrote the day after the event. There are discrepancies. You are shocked to see how different they are.
And yet you are adamant about the fact that your latest account, written 10 years later, is the more accurate of the two.
Our minds are amazing. And often very wrong. Each time we recall an event, we reconstruct it. Each time, we distort what we remember.
The other day I happened upon a short article about bunnies and carrots.
I didn’t know that rabbits shouldn’t eat many carrots. That a bunny could possibly die from complications associated with eating carrots.
So why the misconception that carrots are the staple of a rabbit’s diet? Bugs Bunny, apparently. We all know who Bugs Bunny is, even if he doesn’t appear in a Christmas special every Jul. He characteristically munches on a carrot and says, “What’s up Doc?”
His creator was inspired by a popular movie of his day, 1934’s It Happened One Night. In it, Clark Gable, referred to as “Doc” several times throughout the film, munches on a carrot while describing how to hitchhike. Bug’s Bunny copying the behavior was understood to be a reference to the movie. Fast forward nine decades and the general population not only doesn’t get the reference, but they might very well think carrots are a bunny's best friend.
Misconceptions have always interested me. That’s one of the reasons I became a science teacher.
In Florida, I had students who thought that summer happens when we are the closest to the Sun, and winter happens when we are furthest away. That dinosaurs and humans co-existed. Some thought that when we say something is a scientific theory, we mean that it is a “guess.”
It may be that reading through this has made you feel pretty good about yourself. Made you feel as if you are immune to the power of misconceptions. That every fact you know is rooted in logic and infallible. I mean, you know the world isn’t flat, right? You know the moon landing happened. 9/11 wasn’t an inside job.
What were some misconceptions in the US about Sweden? That Sweden was really Switzerland. That Sweden had the best chocolate in the world (commonly attributed to Switzerland) That all of its inhabitants are tall, thin, blond and blue-eyed. That Sweden is always cold and dark. That Sweden has unusually high levels of suicide.
But the worst myth about Sweden is one I grew up with in the US, where we have an incredibly delicious dish called Swedish Meatballs. It is an egg noodle dish with meatballs in a creamy, sour cream based sauce. I love this dish. But it just does not exist in Sweden. It's a total myth.
Sometimes misconceptions really hurt.
This is a column and the views are the author's own.