If lots of people believe something, it’s probably wrong.
I have gotten extremely suspicious that “myths” are not just isolated glitches, but a widespread and diffuse epistemological rot in human knowledge. What we think of as myths are probably just the most widely discussed examples of things that too many people believe but general skeptics are always akshually-ing about, like all the non-neurologists who know that “we only use 10% of our brain” is a ridiculous idea and a terrible premise for a movie — why, Morgan Freeman, why?!
My hypothesis is that, for every relatively well-known myth like this, there are probably 10 more that are known only to experts. And I bet that’s underestimating it.
I had been inching inexorably towards this position for years, and then the excellent podcast You’re Wrong About started to push me along much faster. Episode after episode has taught me that basically all popular versions of events and ideas turn out, when you dig into them, to be substantively and even obnoxiously wrong. At best, reality is oversimplified to the point of absurdity, but it’s often much worse than that: our version of the story is often ironically wrong, wrong in ways that matter, ways that are signicantly at odds with the truth.
Potent cultural prejudices often seem to be at the heart of these misunderstandings, which also helps to explain why they would be both prevalent and a bit toxic.