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30 Things We Learnt In February, 2023

Posted on 28 February 2023

Here at Gowing Life, we are keeping our fun record of everything we learn in 2023, be it longevity-related or something else entirely. Here is a selection of our newly acquired neural connections for the month of February!

1: Pyrosomes: The ‘worm’ captured in this video is not a single organism, but a colony of thousands of organisms known as a pyrosome.

2: Most species of shark excrete urea and uric acid through their skin. This helps them to regulate the salt/water balance in their bodies, and also helps keeps their skin moist despite the salt water in which they swim.

3: ‘Pornography addiction’ is not recognized by the American Psychological Association as a mental health problem or disorder such as drug or alcohol addiction. According to the world’s authoritative guide on psychological disorders – the DSM-5 – pornography addictions are not a psychological disorder, as they do not change brain chemistry in the same way as addictions like alcohol and gambling. Furthermore, studies suggest that most people who describe themselves as having a pornography addiction do not consume more pornography than the average. These studies suggest that the perception of being addicted to porn has more to do with moral and religious views of pornography than whether someone actually fulfils the medical definition of an addict.

4: Different psychoactive drugs have distinct effects on how spiders build their webs. Caffeine in particular has a surprisingly disruptive effect on the spiders, which may be related to its toxicity.

Using Spider-Web Patterns To Determine Toxicity

5: The SATED questionnaire is a simple, 5 question self-test to assess sleep quality on a score of 0 to 10.

6: Cargo cults: A belief system practised by some indigenous peoples after encountering industrialised civilisations, particularly following World War II, in which practitioners believed that the seemingly endless resources of said civilisations are derived by spiritual means. Examples of cargo cult activity include setting up mock airstrips, constructing radios out of coconuts and straw, and staging marches with sticks for rifles in imitation of military personnel.

7: The Face On Mars: This ‘Face’ was first imaged by NASA’s Viking 1 orbiter in 1976. The formation, which is located in the Cydonia region of Mars, was named for its resemblance to a humanoid face, sparking speculations of extra-terrestrial intelligence. Later, higher resolution photographs, with the Sun at a different angle, show the resemblance to be rather less impressive.

The “Face on Mars” captured by NASA’s Viking 1 orbiter in 1976 (left) and Mars Global Surveyor in 2001 (right).
Images source

8: While Mt. Everest may be the tallest mountain on Earth, its peak isn’t the closest you can get to space on this planet. Since the Earth bulges out at the equator, Ecuador’s Mount Chimborazo gets closer to space than Everest, despite being about 2.5km shorter. The Earth is about 43km wider at the equator than it is at the poles.

9: The etymology of the word ‘secular’ has little to do with religion. The late Latin ‘saecularis’ could be used to mean ‘of a generation or age’, but also to mean ‘worldly’. The modern meaning comes from the old French séculer, which in the 1300s was used to mean ‘of the world’ as opposed to belonging to a religious order. The alternative meaning of saecularis (of a generation or age) also spawned another French word: siècle, meaning century.

10: An aerial photograph taken in 2016 shows a settlement of one of the last uncontacted groups of Yanomami – an indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest, close to the border between Brazil and Venezuela. They are currently under threat from the activity of illegal gold miners. While the people of this settlement may be uncontacted, they definitely noticed whatever was photographing them…

11: Crab mentality: A way of thinking that compels members of a group to hold back any member who achieves success beyond the others. It comes from the anecdotal observation that when a group of crabs is placed in a bucket, any one crab that starts to climb out will be pulled back in by the others, ensuring the demise of the group.

12: The human genome still contains all the genes necessary for a full coat of body hair. Most of our relative lack of hair is down to regulatory regions of DNA that suppress other genes. Many animals that lack body hair (such as dolphins, rhinos and naked mole-rats) appear to have evolved similar mechanisms for suppressing hair growth independently. Humans probably evolved less body hair in order to improve the effectiveness of sweating, allowing us to better survive hot climates and pursue prey over longer distances.

13: The Red Queen Effect: In Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass, the Red Queen tells Alice that ‘it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place’. The Red Queen effect describes a situation in which it takes considerable effort simply to maintain the current position. The traditional example of the Red Queen effect is evolution. A species’ environment will change constantly, including its predators, prey and competitors, who are also undergoing evolution. This means that a species must usually continue to evolve simply to avoid extinction.

The Red Queen lecturing Alice for Lewis Carroll’s “Through The Looking Glass”
By John Tenniel – Public Domain,

14: Dodos were not hunted to extinction. The extinction of the dodo was caused by multiple factors including deforestation and the introduction of invasive species and predators.

15: Foster’s rule: Also known as the island effect, Foster’s rule is a phenomenon in evolutionary biology in which, when mainland organisms colonise small islands, small species tend to evolve larger bodies, while large species tend to evolve smaller bodies. Notable examples include the Dodo and the Pygmy Mammoth. These effects are thought to be due to predation and food constraints respectively. Small organisms may escape many of their mainland predators when colonising an island, which removes at least one selective pressure for being small (less tempting and harder for predators to catch). Larger organisms, on the other hand, require a lot of food, which is limited on a smaller island.

16: Dual Coincidence is possibly the world’s most complicated electromechanical game. It resembles 5 pinball machines radiating out like spokes on a wheel, with balls representing different currencies that are traded between the 5 players.

17: A recent study suggests that playing video games as children does not affect cognitive score. The authors found that neither the duration of play, nor the genre of game chosen had a significant correlation with verbal, quantitative and nonverbal/spatial skills. This included games specifically designed and advertised for learning purposes. While video games may still distract from study or sporting activities, there does not appear to be anything exceptional about gaming as a leisure activity.

18: Zone Rouge: An area which, following the first World War, was designated by the French government as too physically and environmentally damaged for human habitation. Main dangers included unexploded shells (including gas shells) and soil pollution with heavy metals. This zone still exists today, though it has been greatly reduced in size.

19: The SS Richard Montgomery: A ship whose wreck lies just 1.5 miles (2.4km) from shore in the mouth of the Thames estuary. In 1944, harsh weather caused the ship to go down with 1,400 tonnes of high explosives on board. What would happen if these all went off at once? According to one historian: ”The remit area for the explosion would be from Margate to the centre of London. It would level Sheerness, and a 30 or 40ft wave would breach sea defences.” Fortunately, the munitions being submerged in water makes complete detonation quite unlikely.

The SS Montgomery today
Colin Harvey

20: Jeanne Calment, the only person to have ever made it to age 122 as far as we know, famously smoked. However, she didn’t actually take up smoking until age 112 while living in a nursing home.

21: Aerographene: the least dense solid ever made at 160 g/m3 (helium has a density of 167g/m3). It’s a single molecule made of carbon sheets bonded together to trap pockets of air. Unfortunately, while the carbon structure itself may have a very low density, this doesn’t include the mass of the trapped air. When the air is taken into account, a piece aerographene is still more dense than air – it won’t float.

22: A Climbing Arc (also known as a Jacob’s Ladder) creates arcs of lightning that rise up between diverging electrodes. The arc begins where the electrodes are closest together, then rises with the heated, ionised air.

23: The Pizza Bomber Case: On the 28th of August, 2003, pizza delivery man Brian Wells left to deliver a pizza to a nearby address in Erie, Pennsylvania. About an hour later, he was robbing a bank with a shotgun in his hands and a bomb collar around his neck. The case that later emerged has been described as ‘one of the most complicated and bizarre crimes’ in the history of the FBI. It involved two murders, one attempted suicide and one death by drug overdose, all as a direct or indirect result of another murder plot.

24: The occurrence of large earthquakes does not follow a Poisson distribution, meaning they do not occur independently at a constant average rate. Not only does the occurrence of earthquakes depend partly on the timing of previous earthquakes, but there is also evidence to suggest that they may depend on a completely external factor: solar activity. Research has shown a strong correlation between solar activity and the occurrence of large earthquakes, which could be due to the reverse piezoelectric effect – the conversion of electrical energy into mechanical energy within quartz crystals deep underground. Protons expelled by the Sun could cause electrical currents underground, generating mechanical stress that would favour fault rupture.

25: During the last century, average human height in South Korea increased significantly more than in any other country in the world. South Korean women born in 1996 grew to be 8 inches taller on average compared to those born a century earlier. The simple explanation is that South Korea went from being among the poorest countries in the world to being on par with with Western Europe.

26: Around 30% of genomics papers contain mangled gene names in their supplementary data, due to the autocorrect features of spreadsheet programs like Excel and Google Sheets. As many frustrated users can attest to, spreadsheet programs like to ‘correct’ anything they can into a date. This is a problem when you have genes like membrane associated ring-CH-type finger 1 (MARCH1). The problem has become so disruptive that the HUGO Gene Nomenclature Committee has actually changed the symbols for some of the most commonly affected human genes.

27: Pure vanilla extract contains about 35% alcohol.

28: A cymbal being struck, filmed at 1000 frames per second.

29: Ford wants to patent a system in self-driving cars where, if you miss enough car payments, your Ford will literally repossess itself and drive away without you.

30: A rare mutation in the DEC2 gene, one of the genes that controls the circadian rhythm, results in people needing only 5 hours of sleep on average, rather than the usual 8. Bizarrely given the vital role of sleep in human health, this mutation has no known negative effects.

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