Posted in History & Literature


Factoids are commonly known as trivial tidbits of knowledge and fact. This is actually incorrect. Factoids actually mean pieces of false information that have circulated and become popular to the point that they are accepted as facts. This makes factoids ironic in the sense that the definition of a factoid itself, is a factoid.

Here are several examples of common factoids.

Vikings wore horns on their helmets”. 

There is no evidence of this ever happening and all Viking helmets found in archaeology are hornless. It is likely a myth originating from dramatisation of the Vikings in opera.

“Medieval people thought the Earth was flat”.

It has been common knowledge that the Earth is spherical even since ancient Greek times. Greek astronomer Eratosthenes even calculated the Earth’s circumference to within 5-15% error margin of the actual circumference in 240BC.

“Napoleon Bonaparte was short”.

Napoleon’s height was recorded as 5 feet 2 inches, but this is in fact French feet. This converts to 5 feet 7 inches, which is taller than the average height for French males at the time.

“The low life expectancy in the Middle Ages meant people usually died around their 30’s”. 

The low life expectancy of the past was mostly due to the high infant mortality, meaning people who survived into adulthood lived much longer, fuller lives.

“You need to drink eight glasses of water to stay healthy”. 

There is no agreed upon amount of water a person should drink in medical literature. The current consensus is that drinking water when you feel thirsty is fully sufficient to avoid dehydration.

“Carrots help you see in the dark”.

Vitamin A is indeed used by the body to synthesise chemicals used in vision, but having more does not improve your vision. This was a myth propagated by Great Britain during World War 2 to mask the fact that they were using radar for accurate nighttime bombings.

“Evolution is a theory, meaning there is insufficient evidence to confirm it”. 

This is a complete misunderstanding shared by many people against evolution. The word “theory” in science means a concept or set of principles that best explains an observed phenomena, not a hunch as it is often used in common English. For example, gravity is a theory, as well as germ theory (that microorganisms cause infectious diseases).

“Chameleons can change the colour of their skin to match their surroundings”.

Chameleon’s skin colours change based on their mood, not the colour of their surroundings. Cuttlefish, on the other hand, can perfectly mimic and blend in to their surrounding environment.

“Adding oil when boiling pasta stops sticking”.

The oil floats to the top and does nothing to prevent sticking. Adding oil after draining the water will help.

“Searing meat seals in the juices”.

Searing can actually make meat drier on average. It does, however, add more flavour by adding a brown crust due to the Maillard reaction.

Posted in History & Literature


One of the things that mankind has been fascinated with throughout history is the concept of an apocalypse or doomsday. Just in the last decade, there have been no less than fifty claims that the world would end on a certain day. The most famous of these include Nostradamus’ prediction that the world would end on July 1999, the Y2K problem that suggested that the year 2000 would cause all computers to malfunction, and many claims that a certain date would be the Rapture – the second coming of Christ and the end of the world. The latest of these doomsday predictions is the one regarding the Mayan calendar. There are claims that on the 21st of December, 2012, the Mayan calendar finishes its 5125-year cycle, leading to a cataclysmic event that will destroy the universe. But of course as usual, this theory is complete and utter nonsense.

Firstly, there are no records that the Mayans predicted that the world would be doomed when the cycle would finish. It is true that December 2012 marks the end of a b’ak’tun – a time period in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar equating to about 394 years, much like how we measure 1000 years by 1 millennium. Essentially, it is like a “turn of the century” for the Mayans. Pretty much the entire concept of the Mayan calendar ending bringing doom to us all was fabricated by some shoddy academics and New Age believers.

Secondly, every theory about how the world might end in such a scenario has been disproven. Some of the most popular “theories” were: the collision of a Planet X or “Nibiru” with Earth, geomagnetic reversal and galactic alignments. However, to this date (20th December, 2012), there are no large rocks or planets hurtling directly towards Earth (would have been noticed by thousands of astronomers worldwide months prior), the magnetic poles are stable (even if they switched it would not cause much harm) and there are no alignments between planets, moons or stars scheduled at the time.

No matter how crazy the theories and predictions are, there will always be people claiming that the world will end soon, and that we should repent our sins or something like that. Even better, there will be a significant amount of people who believe it or at least worry enough about it to affect their lives somehow.

Perhaps the most fitting quote for this phenomenon is something that Martin Luther wrote in his diary at a young age: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree”. Whether the world is ending or not, live your life to the fullest, seizing every day and making the most of your chances.

Posted in Life & Happiness

Simple Pleasures

Consider this theory. People feel happy when they experience an upturn in life. A hungry person is happy when he receives food, a poor person is happy when she earns money, and a person seeking love is happy when they find love. But as people are highly adaptable creatures, they become used to such upturns very quickly. Even the happiness brought on by great food and luxurious lifestyles tend to fade over time, and the love between a couple who act like they cannot live without each other will eventually die away. To remedy this, people always seek excitement that will create an upturn in life, giving them happiness. This causes them to adventure, seek new experiences and sometimes make dangerous, risky decisions.

Everyone has a point in their lives that could be called the “peak”. But no matter how tall the peak is, as people will adapt to it soon, the height itself does not matter. What matters is the path to the peak. For example, if someone experiences their peak in life too early, every moment from then on will seem worse than the past. The person will continuously face disappointment and reminiscence the good times. The reason being, no upturn can beat the peak that they experienced, meaning they cannot feel the happiness of an upturn in life. According to this theory, the key to a happy life is delaying this peak as much as possible. When life is starting to get boring and dull, add just a little sprinkle of greatness in your life to continuously infuse it with happiness.

However, life is not as predictable and controllable as we want it to be, making this theory highly implausible. But the theory is not completely wrong. Although it is near impossible to artificially add little upturns throughout life, it is extremely easy to “feel” an upturn. All you need to do is change your perspective. The difference between a happy person and a miserable person is that the former finds joy in the smallest things. A miserable person will feel bored unless something exciting is happening, but a happy person leads what appears to be a boring life while enjoying every minute of it. Enjoying a warm cup of coffee on a rainy day, being astounded by the beautiful sky, smelling the roses on the path, singing and dancing when no one is looking… Finding and enjoying the simple pleasures of life is the most important skill one can have in life.

Who would you rather be: a miserable person who always seeks excitement and thrills or a happy person who enjoys a “boring” life?

Posted in Philosophy

Fundamental Malevolence

Human beings are fundamentally evil. This was a theory concerning human nature put forward by Xunzi – a leading Chinese Confucian philosopher, along with Confucius and Mencius. Xunzi stated that human beings naturally seek out only their own interests and greed, envying and hating each other so much that they are bound to fight if left alone. He suggested that people needed to learn etiquette and culture themselves to correct this.

Xunzi’s philosophies are on a background of the chaotic setting of the Warring States Period. The Warring States Period was a period when China was split into many different countries, all warring with each other to gain dominance over each other’s lands. During these wars, Xunzi saw countless cases of people looting and killing each other, which led him to the conclusion that people are naturally selfish beings. He believed that human beings focus on their greed and self-preservation from the moment of birth. He also believed that leaving people without order would indubitably lead to social chaos. Thus, to effectively rule over the people, a leader must place limits such as laws, ethics, etiquette and culture.

From an evolutionary point of view, the theory of fundamental malevolence (성악설, sung ak sul) makes sense. Would a starving lion mourn the death of a baby zebra? Protecting one’s own interests is a great way to increase your chance of survival and propagating your genes.

The more you carefully observe people’s behaviour, the more credibility the theory seems to gain. Human beings are selfish beings who become jealous of others for having more than themselves, kill someone because they tried to take away their love and engage in fratricidal war because others do not share their beliefs. You as the reader may state that you cannot imagine hurting anyone, let alone taking a life. In that case, let us examine the following thought experiment.

One day, you are kidnapped. When you come about, you find that you are trapped in a pitch-black room, tied to a pole. The room appears to be completely empty and you cannot see or hear anything. Suddenly, you hear a voice coming from the other side of the room. The voice talks about how it will murder you in a violent, excruciating way, over and over. The voice continues to threaten you in a macabre way for three days. Just when you are near your breaking point from the overwhelming fear of imminent death, another voice appears. The voice says: “If you nominate someone you are close to that I can kill in your stead, I will let you go and not harm you in any way”. Would you have the courage to not give a name?

Posted in History & Literature

Elements: Wu Xing Of The East

In ancient China and Korea, there are five, not four, basic elements (Japan also has five but they are slightly different). In the East, these five elements are called “oh hang (오행, 五行)” in Korean and “wu xing” in China. These are (read in Korean): hwa (火, fire), su (水, water), mok (木, wood), geum (金, metal), and toh (土, earth). When you combined with the theory of Yin and Yang, the concept is known as the Yin-Yang and the Five Elements theory (eum yang oh hang sul, 음양오행설). Wu Xing is quite different from the Four Elements of ancient Greece in that it explains the changes in life and the universe rather than being the building blocks of matter (“wu xing” translates to “five ways”). To first understand Wu Xing, one must understand that each element is more of an abstract concept than the actual object. For example, “mok” does not mean wood per se, but rather a symbol for the life force of a growing tree.

There are two relationships between the elements in Wu Xing: Creation (상생, 相生) and Destruction (상극, 相剋). Creation refers to the cyclic principle of what generates what, and Destruction refers to what overcomes and represses what. The Creation and Destruction of Wu Xing are as follows:

  • 목생화(木生火): Wood creates Fire. Wood feeds Fire.
  • 화생토(火生土): Fire creates Earth. Fire makes ash which becomes Earth.
  • 토생금(土生金): Earth creates Metal. Earth bears Metal.
  • 금생수(金生水): Metal creates Water. Metal carries Water.
  • 수생목(水生木): Water creates Wood. Water nourishes Wood.
  • 목극토(木剋土): Wood beats Earth. Wood takes roots in Earth.
  • 토극수(土剋水): Earth beats Water. Earth absorbs Water.
  • 수극화(水剋火): Water beats Fire. Water quenches Fire.
  • 화극금(火剋金): Fire beats Metal.  Fire melts Metal.
  • 금극목(金剋木): Metal beats Wood. Metal chops Wood.

(Image source

Posted in Science & Nature

Grandfather Paradox

Is time travel possible? In 1943, a science fiction writer called René Barjavel posited the following paradox.

A man travels back to the past and kills his biological grandfather before he meets his grandmother. Thus, his grandparents would not have sired a son (the man’s father) or daughter (mother), which then suggests the man could not have been conceived. If so, who killed the grandfather? As there was no one to kill the grandfather, he would have had a child and the man would ultimately be born, travelling back to the past and killing his grandfather. This paradox suggests that time travel is impossible.

Some people use the parallel universe theory to argue against the paradox. They suggest that as soon as the man travels to the past to kill his grandfather, an alternate universe is created where the grandmother meets a different man and the course of time is changed. This is a valid theory but the grandfather paradox still holds strong in disproving time travel. However, the grandfather paradox only states that travelling back in time is impossible; it says nothing about time travelling to the future.