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30 Things We Learnt In July, 2023

Posted on 31 July 2023

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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 July!

1: The Golden Wheel spider escapes predators by turning into a wheel.

2: Trypophobia: A phobia of tightly packed small holes, such as honeycombs and lotus seed pods.

3: Hope, Fear, and AI: This article provides interesting and sometimes surprising statistics about AI, how it’s being used and how people think it should be used. Most Americans believe that the use of AI should be more transparent, that people should be compensated when AI learns from their work, and that AI needs to be more tightly regulated. Yet perhaps surprisingly given these points, a majority of Americans were not opposed to companies producing a ”sentient” AI.

4: This guide by Ethan Mollick on the advantages of different AI models and when to use them.

5: The dark forest theory of the internet: We previously learnt about the dark forest theory of the Universe – the idea that space is quiet not because there’s no one else out there, but because only quiet civilisations survive. It has been suggested that the internet is becoming a kind of dark forest. Due to factors like online toxicity, advertisements and invasion of privacy, communication on the web has become increasingly risky and futile. The dark forest theory challenges the view of the internet as the ultimate platform for open communication – rather, people increasingly retreat to smaller and more private spaces and do not make themselves heard outside of a network of similarly-minded people.

6: The Hedonic treadmill: The observed tendency of humans to always return to the same baseline level of happiness, regardless of positive or negative life events. As we achieve more in life, our expectations rise and vice versa – we are never satisfied with what we have for long, but we also adapt quickly after a fall.

Depiction of the hedonic treadmill

7: The Homework Apocalypse: Students cheating on their homework or coursework using AI has now become a major concern for educators, but the truth is that the ‘homework apocalypse’ has been ongoing for over a decade. One study found that back in 2008, about 86% of US students who did their homework saw an improvement in grades as a result, whereas in 2017 that proportion dropped to 45%. The reason: over half of students were getting their answers from the internet without really absorbing the information, and 15% had paid someone to do an assignment for them. So, while cheating using AI is a problem, it is only the symptom of a larger issue: if students are more motivated by a grade than the learning itself, many of them will take the path of least resistance. 

8: Two bullets that collided head-on and fused together during the battle of Fredericksburg during the American civil war.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

9: Reactive Advantage: At least in the ‘mythology’ of the American West, the man who drew his weapon first was more likely to get shot. If true, could there be a neurological explanation? It appears that humans perform motor actions faster when doing so in reaction to a stimulus, as opposed to when executing a self-initiated action. When people were tasked with pressing three buttons in sequence as quickly as possible, those who were tasked with reacting to an external visual cue had lower times between button presses than those who initiated the action themselves. However, as researchers point out, this is unlikely to help you out in a western gunfight. The time it takes to react to your opponent drawing far outweighs any gains in execution speed. If there was any advantage to drawing second, it was probably that shots fired in haste were more likely to miss.

10: Sinking of the Essex: The Essex was an American whaling ship from Nantucket, Massachusetts. It was sunk thousands of miles from the West coast of South America in 1820, after being attacked by a particularly large and aggressive bull sperm whale. It has been speculated that the whale was enraged by the sound of the hammer used by the first mate when he made repairs on a damaged whale boat, as it may have sounded similar to the sounds made by a rival male. There had been very few sinkings caused by whales before the Essex, but such events became increasingly common throughout the following centuries as the whaling industry grew.

11: Sinking of the Naiguata: In 2020, the Portuguese-flagged cruise ship RCGS Resolute stopped in international waters off the coast of Venezuela in order to carry out engine maintenance. As it was sailing to its next location, it was contacted by a Venezuelan patrol boat, the Naiguatá. The captain of the Resolute was told they were violating Venezuelan territorial waters, and was asked to follow the patrol boat to a Venezuelan port. When the Resolute didn’t immediately comply, the Naiguatá fired some shots at the boat before ramming its prow in an attempt to forcibly steer it towards Venezuelan waters. Unfortunately, not only was the cruise ship significantly larger and heavier than the patrol boat, it was also designed with a reinforced hull for sailing through icy waters. Following the ramming, the Naiguatá began taking on water and soon sank. The Resolute suffered only minor damage and continued on its way after contacting rescue organisations.

RCGS Resolute hull damage following the ramming incident.

12: Dialetheism: The belief that there can be a true statement whose negating statement is also true. Take for example the statement ‘this sentence is a lie’, a classic self-negating statement known as the liar’s paradox. Classical philosophy gets around this problem by ‘banning’ contradictory statements. Dialetheists, on the other hand, believe that contradictory statements can be true, even in science.

13: Shepard tone: Listen to the short video below. Then, replay the video from the beginning. There’s no trickery involved: you are listening to the same video, yet somehow the pitch seems to increase every time you listen to it. This auditory illusion is called a Shepard tone. It works by overlapping notes that are one octave apart, with each note fading in and out so the pitch appears to always rise or fall.

14: Fat Man, the second atomic bomb to be dropped on Japan, was not supposed to be dropped on Nagasaki – Kokura had been the primary target for the bomb. A faulty fuel pump meant that the plane carrying the bomb (Bockscar) would not be able to access its reserve fuel. Bockscar then wasted 15 minutes circling in the air waiting for an escort plane that was late. When they finally reached Kokura, they couldn’t see the city due to weather conditions, but now had to drop the bomb somewhere, as they didn’t have enough fuel to carry it back to the airbase. Nagasaki was the only viable target within range, so they dropped it there. Bockscar landed with about 5 minutes of fuel remaining.

15: Jousting horses were often trained to run blind in a straight line so that their eyes could be protected, and so that they would not swerve away from the opponent’s lance at the last moment. This meant that the horses would sometimes collide with each other, often killing both the riders and the mounts.

16: The world record for water speed has remained unbroken for the last 45 years at 511.11 km/h. This is because water speed record attempts are extremely dangerous. Since June 1930, thirteen people have attempted to break the record and seven of them have died doing so. Only two attempts have been made to break the current record, and both resulted in death of the pilot. Why is it so dangerous? It’s very hard to predict or test how a boat design will perform at such high speeds, with factors such as waves, wind and hydroplaning all capable of leading to unexpected outcomes.

17: The word ‘Caucasian’ is usually used today to simply describe white people. However, the etymology of the word is based on an obsolete theory of racial origin. Some 18th century European scholars thought that current humans originated in the region of the Caucasus Mountains, as this is where Noah’s Ark purportedly landed. Caucasians were not imagined as exclusively white: scholars considered Arabs, North Africans, West Asians and Indians to be ‘Caucasian’.

18: The image on the left is not CGI – it’s the spillway of the Monticello Dam in California. The photo on the right shows the spillway under construction. The water level doesn’t often rise high enough for the spillway to operate, but when it does, it can drain up to 1370 tonnes of water per second. Don’t swim too close to it.

Left: By Jeremybrooks (talk · contribs) – Self-photographed by Jeremybrooks, Public Domain,
Right: By Seeyardee – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

19: The coronation of Queen Victoria was ‘botched’. Those involved in the ceremony (the soon-to-be Queen included) did not rehearse it properly, resulting a variety of mistakes and accidents. The music was reportedly bad, and no-one knew where they were supposed to be or what they were supposed to do next. While ascending to meet Victoria, 82 year-old Lord Rolle tripped and rolled down some stairs, and Victoria ended up having to meet him half way.

20: Railway Madness: During the rise of the railways in Victorian England, an increasing number of cases of ‘railway madness’ were reported. Seemingly normal men would board a train, then ‘become mad’ while the train was moving. When the train stopped, they would just as suddenly regain their normal composure, then start behaving strangely when the train resumed its journey. Victorians believed that train movements could ‘injure the brain’. Some historians now suggest that railway madmen could have been suffering from mania triggered by the stress of a new form of travel.

21: Temperature-dependant sex determination: In some species, such as turtles and alligators, sex is determined by the temperature during egg development. For example, turtle eggs in warmer temperatures hatch females, while cooler temperatures result in males hatching. This could be because different sexes are better at surviving different temperatures. It could also be a way of increasing fertility – reptilian sex chromosomes are complicated, and their misallocation during the production of gametes can result in non-viable pairings upon fertilisation. Determination of sex after fertilisation eliminates this risk.

22: Hygroelectricity: A concept first proposed by Nikola Tesla in which electricity could be derived from the air itself. Specifically, electricity is generated from air humidity – ‘hygro’ comes from the Greek ‘hugros’ meaning wet or moist. Recently, several research teams have managed to make hygroelectricity a reality. Hygroelectric devices are comprised of microscopic tubes less than one-thousandth the size of a human hair. Water molecules enter these tubes and bump around, which generates an electric charge. While the amount of electricity produced this way is very small, air is everywhere and is present at all times, so this material could be incorporated into pretty much anything in order to generate electricity.

23: Electrofishing: As the name suggests, electrofishing is a fishing technique using direct electric current flowing between a submerged electrodes. This affects the movements of nearby fish so that they swim toward the anode, where they are stunned and collected. It’s a common scientific survey technique and doesn’t permanently harm the fish if done correctly.

24: The courtroom gavel is the iconic symbol of the United States’ justice system, yet no one actually knows for sure where these tiny hammers originated. All we really know is that they were in use by the time the very first session of the U.S senate was opened in 1789. One theory suggests that the use of the gavel originates from the Freemasons, an organisation of which many of the United States’ founders were members.

25: Capitol Reef by Douglas Snow, a painting installed in the Utah State Court House in 1997. One judge, Richard C. Howe, was strongly opposed to the piece as he found it distracting. The piece could not be removed without destroying it, so in 2002 the decision was finally made to install a curtain that could be drawn over the artwork while the court was in session. Installing the curtain cost the state $26 000. Howe retired in February 2003. A victim of the hedonic treadmill, perhaps?

26: Nub City: The city of Vernon in Florida earned this nickname in the 1950s and 60s due to the implausibly high number of limb loss insurance claims made there, leading many to speculate that residents were dismembering themselves for insurance money. At the time, Vernon had a population of 500-800, but accounted for two thirds of dismemberment claims nationally.

27: The Matryoshka diamond: A diamond with another, freely moving diamond inside it discovered in 2019. It is thought to be the first ‘double diamond’ ever found, though another was found just two years later.

28: According to surveys, around 16% of Americans have owned cryptocurrency and 2-3% have owned an NFT.

29: PDS 70 is a system around a very young dwarf star located 370 light years away from Earth. It contains a planet-forming disc where at least two terrestrial-class proto-planets seem to be forming. Not only that, but the James Webb telescope had detected a surprisingly large amount of water within the disc, despite the intense radiation from the star. The system may help us learn more about how water-containing planets form, how the Earth came to have so much water, and how many other planets like it could exist throughout the Universe.

30: The Australian plate is one of the fastest-drifting tectonic plates in the World, moving about 7cm per year. In 2017, all GPS coordinates were adjusted 1.8 metres to account for changes since 1994.

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