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10 Things You Ought To Know

by Oliver Anscombe
fact checked by Alex Hanton

These are 10 of the most interesting facts hand picked from ‘The Book of General Ignorance’, written by John Lloyd, and forwarded by English broadcaster and entertainer, Stephen Fry. The human brain is, by far, the most complex single object in the cosmos, having more neurological connections within it than there are positively charged particles in the entire universe. With this astonishing level of computing power, there’s only one thing to do with it; use it.


Henry VIII


How many wives did Henry VIII have?

The answer? Two, not six. Henry’s fourth marriage to Anne was annulled, as the marriage was never consummated, in other words it was seen to that the marriage technically never took place, also Anne happened to be betrothed to Francis, Duke of Lorraine. At the time ‘betrothal’ would bar the individual from marriage. So that leaves 5 wives. Henry’s second marriage to Anne Boleyn was declared illegal by the pope, because the king was still married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Henry, as the head of the church of England, declared himself that his first marriage was invalid on the grounds that a man cannot sleep with his brother’s widow. He did the same with his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, bringing us down to two wives.



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What’s the largest living organism?

The elephant? The blue whale? The T-Rex? No. The largest ever living organism is a mushroom. And not even a particularly rare one. The Armillaria ostoyae or ‘Honey fungus’ is very common, and is probably in your garden as we speak. However, lets hope it doesn’t grow as large as the largest ever recorded specimen, in Malheur National forest, in Oregon. It covers 2,200 acres (890 hectares)!! And is between 2,000 and 8,000 years old!! The majority of the organism is under ground, in the form of a massive mat of tentacle-like mycelia (the mushroom’s equivalent of roots). The giant honey fungus was originally thought to grow in different clusters around the forest, but researches have confirmed it is in fact one very, very large single organism!




Why do chameleons change their skin color?

Not to blend into their background, never have, never will. They change their color depending on a number of emotional states, they change often, and so it’s no wonder that eventually they will match their backgrounds, but only until the next change. They change color when frightened, when mating, when fighting another chameleon etc. A chameleon would have little use for blending in, their main prey, insects, tend to have eyesight unfit to spot them when they are still anyway, and being an apex predator, chameleons don’t tend to have any natural predators.




How many states of matter are there?

Three surely? Solid, liquid and Gas? Actually, it’s more like fifteen. Although the list grows almost daily, some examples are: Solid, amorphous solid, liquid, gas, plasma, super-fluid, supersolid, degenerate matter, neutronium, strongly symmetric matter, weakly symmetric matter, quark-gluon plasma fermionic condensate (pictured above), Bose-Einstein condensate and ‘strange matter’. The most interesting is possibly Bose-Einstein condensate, or ‘bec’. which occurs when you cool a specific substance down to a fraction below absolute zero (-273 degrees), at this point, things get peculiar. For example if you put a ‘bec’ in a beaker, and keep the beaker at the correct temperature, the bec will actually climb the sides of the beaker. If you don’t believe me: YouTube. This happens because behavior only before observed at atomic levels are observed at greater levels. Some scientists believe the behavior is a result of the bec trying to “reduce it’s own energy”.


Number of the Beast

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What is the number of the Devil?

616. For 2000 years, 666 has been the number of the dreaded anti-Christ. An unlucky number for many, even the European parliament leaves seat number 666 vacant. The number is from the book of Revelation, the last book of the Christian Bible. However, in 2005, a translation of the very earliest known copy of the book of revelation clearly shows it to be 616, not 666! The 1,700 year old copy was recovered from the city of Oxyrhynchus, in Egypt, and deciphered by a palaeographical research team from the University Of Birmingham, UK. The team was led by Professor David Parker.


Golden Skies

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What color was the sky in ancient Greece?

Bronze! There was no word for blue in the ancient Greek language. The nearest words to blue – glaukos and kyanos are more like expressions of relative light intensity than descriptions of color. So when the Greek referred to the sky as ‘bronze’, they meant that it was dazzlingly bright, like the sheen of a bronze shield, rather than actually bronze-colored. It seems the ancient Greeks described things based on other qualities, so when a word is used that, to us, seems to indicate ‘yellow’ or ‘light green’ really just means fluid, living and fresh, and was therefore used to describe flowers, blood, the sea and sheep. It would appear to us that the Greeks were referring to all of these things as yellow colored, but that’s because of the way we describe things. Interestingly, in Russia, there are two words for blue: goluboi and sinii, one word referring to light blue, the other dark, which to Russians are two different, distinct colors, not shades of the same color, much like other cultures perceive pink to be a shade of red, rather than a color in it’s own right.



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How many senses do you have?

At least nine. The five we all know about: Sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch, were first proposed by Aristotle, but there are now four more which are agreed among scientists to be official senses, these are:

1. Thermoception – the sense of heat (or it’s absence) on our skin,
2. Equilibrioception – our sense of balance, which is determined by the fluid filled cavities in our inner ear.
3. Nociception – Pain.
4. Proprioception – or ‘body awareness’. This is the conscious knowledge of where our body parts are without having to look, for example, close your eyes and waggle your big toe, you still know where it is in relation to the rest of you.

Some neurologists also argue that there are even more than 9. What about hunger? Or thirst? It’s certainly a grey area.


Over the Edge


What shape did medieval people believe the earth was?

Wrong again. Since around the fourth century BC, almost no-one, anywhere has believed the earth to be flat. This misconception that people where ignorant of the shape of the earth comes from the partially fictional text ‘The Life And Voyages Of Christopher Columbus’ (1828), which incorrectly stated that Columbus set out to prove the earth was round. Truth is, nobody would have disputed the theory. Evidence shows that almost all cultures of the world worked out, through mathematics or just observation, the spherical nature of the Earth.


Moth to a Flame


How does a moth react to a light?

They are not attracted to them, but disorientated by them. The reason being that moths use natural light sources, i.e. the sun and moon, to navigate. The insects use the location of the light source from the Sun or moon to determine what direction they should be facing (i.e. what direction is up!) and how to fly in a straight line. When people come along with artificial suns and moons in their bedrooms, it confuses the insect, making it think it’s somehow moving in a curved path, because the direction of the light source has suddenly changed, to rectify this, moths try to straighten their trajectory, but the light source being so close, the only way to do this is to fly around in circles. And moths don’t eat cloths, their caterpillars do.


Arid Land


Where is the driest place on earth?

The Sahara desert? Nevada? Actually, it’s Antarctica. Some parts of the continent hasn’t seen any rain for two million years! A desert is technically defined as an area of land that receives less than 254mm (10 inches) of rain a year. The Sahara gets 25 mm, Antarctica gets around the same amount, but some areas of Antarctica never get rain, and haven’t for millennia. Making Antarctica the driest place on earth. Also, Antarctica can claim to be the windiest place on earth, with wind speeds of up to 200mph, the fastest ever recorded.

fact checked by Alex Hanton