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30 Things We Learnt In November, 2023

Posted on 1 December 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 November!

1: Xoloitzcuintli, or Xolos for short, are one of the oldest dog breeds and are thought to be among the closest living relatives to ancient domesticated canines. The earliest evidence of Xolos is around 4000 years old.

2: In 1952, a schoolboy was digging up potatoes with the school gardener as a punishment, when he unearthed a 4000 year-old ancient Egyptian artefact. This did not happen in Egypt, but over 2600 miles away in Fife, Scotland. It was just the first of 18 Egyptian antiquities to be discovered in the area, possibly brought there by a Lord who visited Egypt 1856. How exactly they ended up buried, though, is a mystery.

3: The sharpest cutting edges in the world are actually made from a very old material – obsidian, a naturally occurring volcanic glass that has been used to make tools since the stone age. We still use obsidian today in some scalpels, whose blades can be just 3 nanometres thick at the tip, which is about as thick as 20 carbon atoms lined up next to each other.

4: A time spiral from the Big Bang to modern humans. The full enlargeable image can be found here.

5: Large scale warfare in Europe may have occurred 5000-5400 years ago, which is at least a millennium earlier than previously thought. This conclusion comes from a study that re-examined over 300 carbon dated remains from a mass burial site in northern Spain. 23% of the individuals buried had evidence of skeletal injuries, 10% had unhealed injuries, and over 70% of those injured were adolescent of adult males.

6: A study found that daily energy expenditure among modern hunter-gatherers is, surprisingly, not significantly higher than the average westerner after controlling for body size and muscle mass, even though hunter gatherers were clearly more physically active. This counterintuitive finding could be the result of metabolic differences, such as higher testosterone and leptin levels in westerners, which promote growth and fat storage.

7: You’ve heard of Pangea, the supercontinent that existed 200-300 million years ago, but what about Pangea 2? In around 250 million years, another supercontinent called Pangea Ultima will form. According to research, this could lead to the mass extinction of mammals due to extreme climate change.

Low (left) and high (right) predictions of temperatures on Pangea Ultima during the cold months (top) and the warm months (bottom).
Climate extremes likely to drive land mammal extinction during next supercontinent assembly

8: You may have heard of the infinite monkey theorem: the idea that if a monkey types on a typewriter for long enough, it will eventually produce every imaginable meaningful sentence, including the complete works of Shakespeare. But did you know that the infinite monkey theorem was actually tested? In 2002, art students and lecturers from the University of Plymouth left a computer keyboard and screen in a macaque enclosure in Paignton zoo in Devon. The output was uploaded to a website where people could access the literary works of the monkeys in real time. Said literary works eventually totalled 5 pages, mostly consisting of the letter ‘S’. The lead male then began hitting the keyboard with a stone, and the rest of the monkeys urinated and defecated on it. The director of the university’s Institute of Digital Arts said they had learnt ‘an awful lot’ from the experiment.

9: The Gombe Chimpanzee War: A conflict that occurred in the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania between two groups of chimpanzees. The ‘war’ lasted four years between 1974 and 1978. Prior to this, a group of chimpanzees known as the Kasakela community had split in two when a number of ‘separatists’ moved into the Kasakela’s southern territory and formed their own community, the Kahama. During the four year conflict, the Kasakela community systematically killed the separatists and retook the southern territory.

Summary of the Gombe Chimpanzee War

10: Sony corp of Am vs Universal studios inc: In 1984, a the supreme court of the United States ruled that recording a program at home to then fast-forward through the adverts was legal.

11: The FBI recommends the use of an ad blocking extension when performing internet searches due to the threat of adverts directing users to malicious sites.

12: The Snake Detection Hypothesis: The theory that parts of the primate visual system have evolved specifically to detect snakes.

13: The word ‘limelight’ comes from the theatres of the 19th century, which would spotlight performers on stage by heating a cylinder of quicklime to very high temperatures with a flame fuelled with hydrogen and oxygen. The heated quicklime would produce a bright white light that could be directed onto performers. Though the limelight was replaced with electric spotlights, the term ‘to be in the limelight’ has remained.

14: In premodern societies, criminals who were declared outlaws were not so-called because they did not follow the law, but because they weren’t protected by it. An outlaw could be persecuted or killed without fear of repercussion, making it one of the harshest penalties in the legal system.

15: This extremely detailed 3d model of a bacteria showcased by graphics programmer Tim Davison.

16: Contrary to movie depictions, cactuses are not a safe source of drinking water. Many types of cactus contain hazardous amounts of oxalic acid and alkaloids.

17: Vanity height: The height difference between a skyscraper’s highest useable floor and its pinnacle. The top 27% of the Burj Khalifa’s total height is vanity height – without this, it would still be the World’s tallest building, but only by 2 metres.

Vanity height of buildings that have held the position of World’s tallest.
By cmglee, Kryostat, Донор – TallestBuildings.svg, CC BY-SA 4.0,

18: What country has the most pyramids? Here’s a clue: it’s not Egypt. There are 118 pyramids in Egypt, but around 200 pyramids in Sudan. These pyramids were built by the Kushites, who were influenced by neighbouring Egypt and began building pyramids as tombs for their rulers around the 8th century BC.

19: The widely accepted view that Vincent van Gogh committed suicide was called into question in 2011 by biographers Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. They proposed the controversial theory that Van Gogh was actually shot by drunk teenagers, possibly by accident with a malfunctioning gun. They cite among other things the awkward position of the gun wound, the fact that van Gogh was shot in the abdomen (an odd place to shoot oneself if the intention was suicide) and the fact that van Gogh had appeared reasonably upbeat and positive prior to his death. Of course, van Gogh’s mental illness makes it hard to draw concrete conclusions from any of this evidence. Either way, we may never know exactly what happened because most police records of the following investigation are lost, and much of the testimony about his death is hard to verify.

20: The Maison de Jeanne in Aveyron is thought to be the oldest house in France. It was built in the Middle Ages in around 1478. As was common for the time, the top floor overhangs the lower floors to maximise street space (and sometimes to reduce taxes, since these were based on ground footprint).

21: Research shows that when fruit flies are in the presence of dead fruit flies, they age faster and die sooner. Captive fruit flies live around 60 days, but this is shortened to around 45 days when dead flies are present. This effect remained when the dead and living flies were separated by glass, suggesting that it’s the sight of the dead flies that triggers the accelerated ageing. The scientists were even able to identify a group of around 20 neurons in the flies’ brains that were responsible for this response. When those neurons were inhibited, the flies no longer died faster upon seeing dead flies. No one is entirely sure why this happens, but it could be because the presence of dead flies acts as a danger signal. When the living flies are unable to get away from the dead, this triggers a biological stress response that shortens the flies’ lifespan.

22: Researchers are trying to develop an ultrasound device that can induce lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming has been suggested to have multiple cognitive benefits including improved learning and mindfulness.

23: Cod skin is remarkably similar to human skin, and can actually make a better skin graft than tissue from pigs or other humans. This is because there are no known diseases that can be transferred from cod to humans, meaning the cod skin can undergo minimal processing before engraftment, keeping its tissue structure intact.

24: Town Line: A tiny hamlet in upstate New York near the Canadian border that voted to secede and join the Confederacy during the American Civil War. It’s unknown to this day why they chose to do this, as the hamlet had voted overwhelmingly for Lincoln and was mainly populated by Germans, most of whom opposed slavery. It may have been to avoid Lincoln’s call for soldiers, which would have resulted in almost all able-bodied men in the small town being drafted. Stranger yet, Town Line did not officially concede the war and join the United States until 1940.

25: This letter sent by George Bush Sr to White House staff in 1992:

26: Thanks to digital mapping technology, Japan recently discovered around 7000 islands that it didn’t know it had. In order to be counted, an island had to have a circumference of at least 100m, which is the same criterion that was used during the last survey 35 years ago.

27: Bananas have been used to launch ships as a substitute for grease. In 1941, a Type C1 ship cargo ship was launched by Pennsylvania Shipyards using 3,200 kg of ripe bananas as a slipway lubricant. This was the largest ship to ever be launched with bananas.

28: A visual guide to ocean depth:

29: The unexpected hanging paradox is paradox that goes as follows: A prisoner is told by the judge that they will be hanged on a weekday during the following week, but the prisoner will not know the day until the executioner knocks on their door. The prisoner concludes that they cannot be hanged on the Friday, because then it would not be a surprise as there are no more weekdays after Friday. With Friday eliminated, the prisoner then rules out Thursday using the same logic, and so on until all weekdays have been ruled out. The prisoner concludes that they cannot be executed according to the wording of the judge’s statement. For this reason, it comes as a complete surprise when the executioner comes knocking on Wednesday.

30: Newcomb’s paradox: Imagine there are two boxes in front of you. Box 1 is guaranteed to contain $1000, while box 2 contains either $0 or $1,000,000. You are presented with two options: open both boxes, or only open box 2. In either case, you get to keep any money inside the boxes you open. What’s the catch? Before you make the choice, a supercomputer will try to predict which option you are going to choose. This supercomputer is extremely accurate – it has made millions of predictions and has never been incorrect. If the supercomputer predicts that you will open both boxes, it will put $0 in box 2. If the supercomputer predicts you will only open box 2, it will put $1,000,000 in box 2. What choice should you make to get the most money? The computer has already made its prediction by the time you make your choice – box 2 either contains money or it doesn’t. It is therefore logical to think that picking both boxes will maximise the money you will obtain. Yet suppose the supercomputer is 100% accurate. If you choose to open box 2, does this guarantee that the box will contain $1,000,000? It is ultimately a question about causality and logical fatalism. In surveys, about 53% of people choose to open only box 2.

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