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5 of history's strangest scientific theories


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  • 5 of history's strangest scientific theories
  • The line between science and strongly held belief was not always so clear-cut as it is today.
  • In the past, many quacks, charlatans, or well-intentioned philosophers have developed theories that strike us as obviously untrue today.
  • But hindsight is 20/20: People really had no idea how the world actually worked in the past.

For most of us, it's easy to distinguish between real science and pseudoscience. Real science requires testing hypotheses, a rigorous analysis of the results, and peer review, after which the findings are either debunked, tweaked, or accept as fact. Pseudoscience dresses itself up in the clothes of science but doesn't play by the same rules, particularly when it comes to abandoning ideas that fail to pass peer review.

But the difference between strongly held belief and scientific fact were not always so clear cut as they are today. The line between the two was blurry; if a belief had just enough of the trappings of evidence-based analysis, it could gain some traction. Over the course of history, some truly bizarre scientific theories have been put forward. Here's five of the strangest.:snip:

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4. The spontaneous generation of life

Originally developed by Aristotle, the theory of spontaneous generation persisted only until Louis Pasteur disproved it in the mid-19th century. In essence, it declared that life could and regularly did form from non-living matter spontaneously. Aristotle, for instance, claimed that scallops were generated from sand. Others made the observation that maggots grew in dead flesh — nobody ever saw maggots travel to dead flesh, and it took a surprisingly long time for people to understand that maggots were laid there by other flies.

To us today, the theory sounds obviously preposterous, but this just highlights how little ancient people really knew about the world until the scientific method became the norm. An idea that lasts for over 2,000 years must have some staying power. And if all you have is observation, it's not too crazy — life, after all, springs from apparently inert things like seeds all the time.



noun: abiogenesis
  1. the original evolution of life or living organisms from inorganic or inanimate substances.
    "to construct any convincing theory of abiogenesis, we must take into account the condition of the Earth about 4 billion years ago"
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