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30 Things We Learnt In May, 2023

Posted on 1 June 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 May!

1: You know the flying squirrel, but do you know the Colugo, aka flying lemur? The have much larger membranes, making them the best mammalian gliders.

2: Most people know that continents move over the aeons, but plate tectonics has only been widely accepted by scientists for about 50 years.

3: After the Earth was formed, it initially got hotter, not colder. Radioactive decay of elements already present in the Earth would have heated it beyond the melting point of iron. This caused heavier metals like iron and nickel to sink deeper into the planet, forming an early core. The Earth’s core is therefore younger than the planet.

4: The Wallace Line: Named after Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of natural selection. While travelling island-to-island in the Malay archipelago, he noticed something strange – an ‘invisible line’ that seemed to divide the archipelago. The islands West of the line contained organisms characteristic of Asia. Travel East of the line, however, and the ecosystems were suddenly dramatically different, with species bearing closer resemblance to those found in Australia. Yet the two closest islands on either side of the line were separated by just 32km (narrower than the channel separating Britain from Europe). Wallace correctly surmised that rising sea levels must have separated islands that were once joined together. He could not have known, however, that the islands were also moving, and that the proximity of the islands on either side of the line was a geologically recent situation.

5: The oddities of groundwater. Water in the ground applies a not-insignificant upward force to anything above it. This resulted in the destruction of multiple early dams. Since dams rely on their weight to resist the pressure of the water in their reservoir, engineers must account for upward pressure of the water in the ground below the dam. If they don’t, the lifting force from the groundwater can allow the water in the reservoir to overcome the weight of the dam.

6: This training film for American soldiers going to Britain. About ten minutes are dedicated to the pub.

7: The most effective way to learn new information could be by splitting up the learning process with sleep. In this study, people who studied before bed and reviewed upon waking had 50% improved long-term retention than the control group.

8: The Voynich manuscript: A hand-written, 225-page manuscript carbon dated to the early 15th century. It is written in an unknown script that has still not been deciphered, despite study by professional cryptographers including British and American WWII code-breakers. The entire manuscript was published online by Yale University in 2020. We have a feeling the text may have something to do with plants.

A selection of pages from the Voynich manuscript
Yale University Digital Collections

9: Truffle oil does not contain truffle oil, as truffles do not actually have oil. Truffle oil is usually just olive or vegetable oil with a smelly synthetic compound added, occasionally with a sprinkling of low-quality truffle pieces added in. Truffle oil-sellers profit from the fact that most people do not know what truffle is supposed to smell or taste like – just that it’s a luxury food.

10: This bizarre looking egg comes from the horn shark. Female horn sharks pick up their eggs in their mouths and wedge them into crevices, where the spiral structure around the eggs help keep them in place.

A California horn shark egg case. Photo by Gary Florin/Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

11: Seagulls choose their food based on what nearby humans are eating. This is a sign of general intelligence – seagulls have not been close to humans for most of their evolutionary history, yet are able to learn by observing our activities.

12: Why does one bad apple spoil the whole barrel? In many fruits, damage due to bruising causes the release of a gas called ethylene, which is a plant hormone that accelerates ripening. Ethylene can be used commercially – easily perishable fruits can be picked before they are ripe, then treated with ethylene while in transit to their destination.

13: Inselberg: An isolated rock hill that rises abruptly from a flat surrounding plain.

Cono de Arita, a sandstone inselberg in the salt flats of western Argentina
By Ben Stubbs, CC BY 2.0,

14: During the American Revolution, a slave from Virginia was charged with treason after being accused of joining British forces (who often promised slaves freedom if they fought against the colonies). Billy was convicted and sentenced to death, but two of the jury members wrote to then-governor Thomas Jefferson to appeal. They argued that since slaves did not receive the privileges of a citizen, they did not owe allegiance to the state and so could not commit treason. Jefferson agreed and Billy was pardoned.

15: United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins is the actual name of a legal battle that began in 2002, after the US Coast Guard seized nearly 30 tonnes of shark fins from a Hong-Kong-based vessel in international waters. However, the seizure was eventually ruled to have been illegal due to a loophole in the Shark Finning act. The vessel was not itself finning the sharks, but buying them off other fishing vessels, so its activities didn’t fall under the prohibition. This loophole was fixed by the introduction of more laws in 2011.

16: Your comprehensive guide to ye olde units of measurement. You wouldn’t want to confuse a finger with a digit, after all.

By 42CrMo4, Christoph Päper – English length units graph (PNG), CC BY-SA 4.0

17: Panophobia: Not considered a real phobia in medical references, panophobia refers to a vague and persistent dread of some unknown evil, rather than a specific object or situation.

18: This graph showing causes of death in the United States, their share of Google searches, and how frequently they are mentioned in news articles. It’s interesting to note that, for the most part, the pattern of Google searches is more representative of mortality distributions than media reporting. This suggests that on average, people make better decisions about prioritising different risks when they seek out information themselves, as opposed to being presented with information by a platform motivated by sales/traffic.

19: The Flynn effect: The observation that intelligence scores progressively increased all over the world during the 20th century. This is mostly based on IQ tests, which are continually updated and standardised so that a score of 100 represents the median intelligence of a population. When taking an ‘outdated’ IQ test, people usually score above 100. Various explanations have been proposed, including improved education, more stimulating environments, improved nutrition and reduced exposure to toxins such as lead.

20: The Gartner hype cycle: A graphical representation of the adoption and maturation of new technologies. The cycle consists of an initial ‘overhyping’ of technology driven by early publicity, followed by a ‘trough of disillusionment’ when the technology fails to live up to expectations. As the technology improves and expectations become more realistic, adoption increases before reaching a plateau. Though some technologies do seem to follow this trend, the cycle has been criticized for being unscientific, vague in its terms, and not really supported by data.

By Jeremykemp at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

21: A meta-analysis of 42 studies and 22 000+ people suggests that simply adding ‘‘But you are free to accept or to refuse’’ to a request makes people significantly more likely to accept.

22: According to this study, the single best predictor of academic performance in the United States is not admission tests, not study habits and not course performance – it is simply class attendance.

23: The drum microscope, a design based on a pocket microscope built in 1738 that later became popular throughout Europe.

Drum microscope, unsigned, English, 1800-1850
Science Museum Group collection

24: Back in 2008, the state of Nebraska became one of the last US states to pass ”safe haven” laws. These laws were meant to give parents an anonymous, safe and legal way of dropping off babies that they were unable or unwilling to care for. However, legislators couldn’t agree on an age limit – why stop caring about a child’s safety after an arbitrary amount of time? Instead the law simply specified ‘child’ with no age limit. Within the next three months, only one of the children abandoned at hospitals across the state was under 6 years old, and none were babies. Many were teenagers with behavioural problems, and many were driven there from other states. The law was quickly amended.

25: Highway hypnosis: An altered mental state in which a driver can drive great distances, responding to the road and to events in a safe and correct manner, only to have no recollection of having done so.

26: Bose suspension, aka electromagnetic suspension, was a concept showcased in 2004. It operated using similar technology to a loudspeaker driver, comprising a magnet and electromagnetic coil which pushed the speaker cone in and out. The suspension system worked impressively well, but the cost of components remained too high and it never reached the market, though it did find its way into truck seats.

27: A teacher’s musical style influences their student’s style and that of their student’s student, and can persist even hundreds of years later. That’s according to a study of ‘musical lineages’ since 1450.

28: Multiple studies suggest that night owls aren’t less productive – they just ‘peak’ later in the day. Creativity seems to play a role in this: owls start the day less creative than larks, but are more creative in the evening than larks are in the morning. They are, however, consistently grumpier.

Creativity and mood over time in earlier chronotypes (morning types) and later chronotypes (evening types).
There Is a Time to Be Creative: The Alignment between Chronotype and Time of Day

29: People with higher genetic risk of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are more likely to be members of an artistic society or to have a creative profession, suggesting that creativity and psychosis could share some genetic roots. To imagine new realities, a certain dissociation from reality may be required.

30: The League of Extraordinary Communities: An official relationship formed between the town of Boring in Oregon, the village of Dull in Scotland, and the Shire of Bland in New South Wales.

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