10 Fictional Substances Once Believed to Exist
Sometimes we try to explain things by inventing substances that causes the phenomenon, and sometimes after a couple of years, these things were proved non-existential by others, who discovers the real suspect behind the phenomenon. Here are 10 of these fictional substances that we once believed to have existed, in the order of bizarreness:
1. Poisonous Ptomaine
Before modern scientific methods of identifying illnesses, scientist believed that only poisonous ptomaines cause food-borne illnesses. It is the only non-fictional substance in this list, but its fictional property deserves a spot in this list. This substance is believed to be formed in decaying meat and comes with an unpleasant taste and odor. Scientist from the 18th century discovered the substance from experiments in which they inject extracts from decaying meat into various animals, in which most of the animal subjects dies.
The result of the experiments made the scientists assume that the substance is the caused of all the food-borne illnesses. The community easily accepted these for a few decades. But facts discovered later proved this wrong. One of them is that,ptomaines only form when the food is far from being edible for any normal person. Another is the fact that they have no proof that ptomaines are harmful is ingested, they are injected to inflict harm, which a normal person would not do. The existence of bacteria extinguished all the blame for ptomaines.
US and Soviet scientists always try to beat each other when it comes to discovering new scientific discoveries during the peak of the Cold War. In 1966, Soviet scientists claimed to have created a different kind of water which have a higher viscosity, density, and boiling point than regular water. Not liking to be left behind, the US scientists tried to duplicate the experiments. Soon after, news articles and papers regarding the theory of the so-called “polywater” emerge in nearly all publication all over the world.
Scientist believed that it might be able to polymerize water on Earth if it ever escape from the laboratory, a phenomenon then believed to have been the reason behind Venus’s demise. Ultimately it was proved to have been just a figment of imagination as they found out that that so-called “polywater” was just a result of the contamination by introduction of sweat into the containers of the experiments. With stricter controls, “polywater” was deemed non-existent.
A widely accepted substance in this list, caloric was thought to be the invisible fluid responsible for various phenomenon observed as an effect of heat, such as the transfer of heat from a hot object to a cold object. It is said to flow from the source of the heat, changing the property of the material it touches as the amount of caloric increases or decreases. The idea of heat proved to be believable due to the way heat transfer from object to object. Various experiments also helped prove the theory due to the hypotheses seemingly agreeing with it.
Proposed by none other than the Father of Modern Chemistry himself, Antoine Lavoisier, the theory was accepted due to Lavoisier’s credibility, even though attempts to disprove the theory were being performed as early as 1798, throughout the 18th century until mid-19th century in which it was replaced by another theory, the mechanical theory of heat.
4. Lumineferous Aether
During the time in which new information were uncovered by 19th century scientists due to Sir Isaac Newton’s discovery of the law of universal gravitation, a much older idea was becoming the most widely accepted solution. The luminiferous aether was believed to be the medium used by light to travel through vacuum space, for they concluded that if sound needs a medium to travel, so does light.
Until an experiment by two scientists in the late 18th century, scientists try to find proof that the aether exist wherever they can search for it. Textbooks often cited comet trails and Mercury’s orbital shift as proof of the existence of the substance in the academic world. Albert A. Michelson and Edward W. Morley tried to prove the existence of the aether in the most carefully planned experiment, but to their surprise it did the opposite. Instead of proving the theory, it disproves it and made way for the theory of special relativity by Einstein to emerge.
Another substance claimed to be poisonous, although this one is non-existent compared to ptomaines, which is an actual substance. Described as a cloud of poisonous vapor emitted by decaying organic material with a foul smell, it was believed to cause severe illnesses. This theory was popularized by unsanitary conditions of medieval Europe. This theory was accepted widely until the emergence of the germ theory, with doctors using mask filled with flowers to prevent them from catching diseases. One of the reason it was disproved was that diseases spread even in pleasant-smelling surroundings.
While the theory was deemed untrue, it help scientists look further at decaying matter as a cause of various illness. This search led to the discovery of microorganisms, which are discovered to be the real culprit, and also helped improve the sanitary conditions of hospitals.
6. Odic Force
Said to be the reason for other theories such as feng shui, the odic force was said to consist of a light and a dark side, much like the mystical Force from the Star Wars franchise. Simply known as od and named after the Norse god Odin, the theory was developed by a Prussian scientists named Baron Dr. Karl Ludwig Freiherr von Reichenbach, who devoted most of his life studying and experimenting to prove the theory.
The force was said to fill the universe, radiated by nearly all objects in existence. Dr. Reichenbach set up complicated experiments using various objects such as magnets, crystals, and wires in order to find out if someone, if any, could feel the od. He found that only few people, whom he called “sensitives” can feel the force and the baron himself is not one of them. For whatever reason, the “sensitives” were also claimed to universally hate the color yellow. In the end, experiments conducted by other scientists disproved the theory.
7. Elan Vital
Assumed to be the reason behind life, elan vital, which is french for “vital inpulses”, was thought up by French philisopher Henry Bergson. It is a “scientific” equivalent of the soul. Bergson was a proponent of the Vitalism theory, which states that living organisms possesses something that inanimate objects lack. It also states that it would be impossible to give life to inanimate objects, or to make organic materials from inorganic materials, because we could not control this “something”.
The theory was an important element in the theory of creative evolution, an alternate explanation for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection, in which it states that creatures have a creative impulse which drives us to evolve. Due to the gaining popularity of Darwin’s theory, and a lot of evidence disproving the theory, it is slowly forgotten in the beginning of the 20th century.
Alkahest was believed to be the most potent universal solvent, beating water. It was believed to dissolved every material possible, which would prove useful for alchemist. The term was coined by Paracelsus, a 16th-century alchemist and physician. Years later, an alchemist name van Helmont claimed to have discovered the substance, although it is believed that his “alkahest” is just a reagent which reacted with the substance it claimed to have dissolved.
Many paradox arised when you talk about a solvent as potent as alkahest. The most obvious one is if it can dissolve every material, where would you able to store it? Also claiming to have healing effect with liver diseases, it is unknown why it wouldn’t dissolve the person ingesting it. Eventually, interest in alkahest faded, with one German alchemist named Kunckel claiming it to be all just a lie, or “Allen Lugen ist” as he said.
One of the more recent entry on this list, erototoxins are claimed to be the resulting chemicals which will flood the brain when watching pornography. They are the brainchild of Judith Reisman, even though she does not have any formal medical training. She claimed that they are made up of different chemicals such as oxytocin, testoterone, serotonin, and dopamine and are said to be addictive. Reisman claimed that the substance cause an involuntary reaction which is capable of taking control someone’s free will. Reisman also claimed that this substance, which results from watching pornography, permanently damages a person’s brain. She claims that pornography should be made illegal due to this side effect. Reisman is still hoping to raise $3 million in order to conduct experiments and prove the existence of this substance. She aims to sue publishers and distributors of porn and getting the Congress establish a law against pornography.
Alicorn is believed to be the horn of the most popular mythical creature, the unicorn. Much like rhino horns, it is widely sought after for the medicinal properties it theoretically possess. One of the medicinal property is the ability to repel poisons. The alicorn can also be use to purify contaminated water by simply stirring the water with the horn, a process called water-conning.
The popularity of the alicorn was due to the widespread popularity of poisons in Europe during the Middle Ages. It is believed to “sweat” or make the water bubble when dipped in poisoned water, thus gaining popularity with noblemen who were worried that assassins were everywhere. Various frauds were often produced, usually using walrus or narwhal tusks. Various tests were also invented to determine a real alicorn. One of these involves encircling a scorpion submerged in water using the horn. If the scorpion stays within the diameter of the circle, the alicorn is considered real.