Think About It

Please Do Not Read

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | August 17, 2013

“The brain may die but my compulsion for useless trivia lives on.”
Molly Harper

If you do not want to acquire useless information, I would suggest that you stop reading this column immediately. Most of the columns I write encourage readers to think about something relatively important. Today, I am making an exception.

In 2009, Noel Botham wrote a book titled "The World’s Greatest Book of Useless Information." With topics ranging from “A Sporting Chance” to “Food for Thought” and from “Historical Reference” to “The World We Know,” Botham fills the pages with line after line of useless information. 

Since you are still reading … did you know that the highest known score for a single word in competition Scrabble is 392? In 1982, Dr. Saladin Khoshnaw achieved this score for the word caziques, which means “Indian chiefs.” Or, that Rocky Marciano is the only world heavyweight boxing champion to remain undefeated throughout his entire professional career?

Perhaps you are more interested in the human body. I just learned that there are 1,200,000 fibers in a human optic nerve. And, the average human eye can perceive more than one million simultaneous visual impressions and can discriminate among nearly eight million gradations of color. Or, the average person will walk 115,000 miles in a lifetime or around the world four-and-a-half times. 

While making my way through this book of useless information, I found myself disagreeing with Oscar Wilde who said, “It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information.” In this little book I found page after page of it. 

Here is some more. Two animal rights protesters were protesting at the cruelty of sending pigs to a slaughterhouse in Bonn, Germany. Suddenly, the pigs — all two thousand of them — escaped through a broken fence and stampeded, trampling the two helpless protestors to death. Then there was the thief who was surprised while robbing a house in Antwerp, Belgium and as he fled out of the back door, he clambered over a nine-foot-high wall, dropped down and found himself in the city prison.

On his way home to visit his parents, a Harvard student fell between two railroad cars at the station in Jersey City, N.J., and was rescued by an actor. The student was Robert Lincoln, heading for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The actor was Edwin Booth, the brother of the man who, a few weeks later, would murder Robert’s father, Abraham Lincoln. 

Would you like some useless information about food? Did you know that the custom of serving a slice of lemon with fish dates back to the Middle Ages? It was believed that if a person accidently swallowed a fish bone, the lemon juice would dissolve it. The pumpkin has been known to develop roots with a total length of 82,000 feet, or more than fifteen miles.  

Most of us are fascinated by lightning. But, did you know that a typical lightning bolt is only one inch wide and five miles long, and the longest lightning bolt recorded was 118 miles long? Then there was the church steeple in Germany that was struck by lightning and destroyed on April 18, 1599. The members of the church rebuilt it, but it was hit by lightning three more times between then and 1783, and rebuilt again and again. Every time it was hit, the date was April 18.

It must have been this kind of interest in useless information that caused Chris Haney and Scott Abbot to invent the game Trivial Pursuit in 1979. They could have never imagined that their new game would eventually sell over 90 million games in 26 countries in 17 languages. 

By now you might think you have wasted your time by reading this article. So, in the words of Seneca, “It is better, of course, to know useless things than to know nothing.” 

Don’t think about it.


Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu 
Official page: Facebook.com/DrDonMeyer
Follow on Twitter: @DrDonMeyer
 
You're Watching: My name is Michael Stetson and this is my story