30 Things We Learnt In October, 2021

Posted on 1 November 2021

Here at Gowing Life, we have decided to keep a fun record of everything we learn in 2021, be it longevity-related or something else entirely. Here is a selection of our newly acquired neural connections for the month of October!

1: The mouse deer, a small deer that looks like a mouse. Not to be confused with the deer mouse, a mouse that doesn’t look like a deer…

Mouse Deer Rediscovered — IR INSIDER
Mouse deer.

2: Murder, he wrote: The killer who was caught in part thanks to the book he wrote, which was about a murder with eyebrow-raising similarities with a real case.

3: Why don’t cats’ eyes (and those of many animals) have any white in them? Cats’ eyes do in fact have sclera (the part that is white with visible blood vessels), but the eye opening is usually too small for the sclera to be visible, revealing only the iris and pupil. For whatever reason, humans have evolved unusually large eye openings relative to the size of the human eyeball. 

4: According to a recent study, 80% of mothers estranged from their children believe it was the fault of another family member for turning their child against them. Somewhat surprisingly, very rarely is religion or sexual orientation given as a reason for estrangement.

5: Saudi Arabia imports sand from Australia. Desert sand isn’t suitable for construction, as its grains are too fine and too smooth.

6: Almost every object in the image below is an entire galaxy captured by the Hubble space telescope in 2003. The image contains about 10 000 galaxies, each containing millions of stars. What’s incredible is that the proportion of the sky shown in this image is roughly what is visible through the eye of a needle held at arm’s length. This picture is often described as the most important image ever taken.

”The most important image ever taken”.

7: Darwin coined the concept of gemmules, which he said referred to hypothesized minute ‘particles of inheritance’ thrown off by all cells of the body. His theory was that these gemmules could be modified by the environment before congregating in the reproductive organs to be passed onto the offspring. This concept was eventually replaced by the idea of genes and the chromosomal theories of inheritance. Darwin had not read the ideas put forward by Gregor Mendel, who had used the terms ‘heritable units’ or ‘heritable factors’ to describe what would now be referred to as alleles.

8: Finland is the world’s biggest consumer of coffee per person, and the world’s top four coffee drinking countries are all Nordic countries. Canada is also the only non-European country that sits within the top 10.

The top 10 consumers of coffee as of August 2020.

9: Sliced bread, the best thing since wrapped bread: When was pre-sliced bread invented anyway? To the best of our knowledge, it was first sold in 1928, advertised as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped”. Around 80% of bread in the US came pre-sliced by 1928.

10: The International Space Station is the most expensive thing ever built by humanity at over 150 billion dollars over the course of its construction.

11: Many texts from the 13th and 14th centuries include depictions of knights fighting snails in the margins, and we have no idea why. Was this some kind of hilarious medieval meme that is now lost to time, or were monks simply fed up with snails eating the monastic garden produce? We may never know.

Prepare to die, foul beast!

12: Boxers will sometimes ‘dry out’ before a fight to minimise their weight, then rehydrate between the weighing and the fight itself. In extreme cases, boxers may even avoid food and drink for 24 hours before weighing, and this has led to some deaths. Models and actors will also sometimes do this before a photoshoot, because it makes the skin shrink around muscles and makes veins stand out.

13: The Flemish giant rabbit. Nothing more need be said.

14: Mice do not have any special liking for cheese, and it’s unclear where this myth came from.

15: Linear friction welding, in which two pieces of metal are welded together using the heat from friction as they move relative to one another.

16: Saturn is the least dense planet in the solar system, with an average density of 0.687 grams per cubic centimetre. This makes it the only planet that is less dense than water. This means that Saturn would theoretically be able to float on water, but as usual, the laws of physics ruin the fun. If Saturn were ‘placed’ on a body of water sufficiently large to contain it, the opposing gravities of the two objects would simply cause them to merge, forming a new planet with a core of water and ice and an atmosphere made from Saturn’s gasses.

17: Some small mining caterpillars are able to keep parts of leaf photosynthetically active in the Autumn to prolong their feeding time, leading to these green patches on brown leaves. This is thanks to a bacteria called Wolbachia, which infects about 60% of the world’s insect species. This bacteria secretes plant hormones that maintain chlorophyll and keep the leaf alive, thus benefitting its insectoid host and therefore itself. Caterpillars treated with antibiotics are healthy, but lose the ability to create these green spots.

18: What fruit from the tree of knowledge did Adam and Eve supposedly eat? You probably just thought of an apple, but the book of genesis never actually mentions what the ‘forbidden fruit’ is. In the 4th century, the scholar tasked with translating the bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin decided to make the fruit an apple as a pun: the Latin word for apple is the same as the word for evil: malus.

19: These are Roman boxing gloves discovered near Hadrian’s wall. They date from around 120 AD and are thought to be the only surviving examples, even though boxing is well documented through depictions in Roman art. They are very well preserved, with one of the gloves even retaining the impression of the knuckles of its former wearer.

Vindolonda Boxing Gloves
Roman boxing gloves discovered near Hadrian’s wall.

20: Robert Liston, perhaps one of the fastest working surgeons to have ever lived. Working in the early 1800s in an age before anaesthetic, speed was of the essence to minimise pain and improve survival. Described as the ‘fastest knife in the West End’, Liston could amputate a leg in 2 and a half minutes. Unfortunately, Liston was also responsible for what is believed to be the deadliest surgery in history. During one particularly hasty amputation, he accidentally cut off his assistant’s fingers, causing both the patient and the assistant to die of sepsis, and supposedly causing an observer to die of shock.

21: Judah 1 is a proposed airline promoted as an “aviation ministry” with a focus on the Christian missionary travel market. The company bills itself as “the world’s first and only Christian airline.” The airline was founded by Everett Aaron, who claims to have received the idea in a vision from God during prayer in 1994.

22: Check out this robotic arm with the full range of human motion. It’s part of a project to create a full-sized humanoid robot powered by a musculoskeletal system.

23: Pocket watches started to be replaced by wrist watches around the time of the First World War. Soldiers were obliged to wear their watches on their wrists, so that they did not have to fumble for them when timing a coordinated attack. Previously, the ‘bracelet watch’ was considered as ‘more or less of a joke’.

24: Here’s what a sweating finger looks like up close:

25: Not all genes on a chromosome have a 50/50 chance of being inherited. So-called ‘selfish genes’ have mechanisms to ensure that they are passed on more often than not. Such genes can propagate through a population even if they are harmful to organisms that inherit them, which in turn confers a selective advantage for genes that counter their effects. This is one of the reasons that many genes have opposing effects.

26: AI is now generating hypotheses that scientists haven’t thought of yet. This brings us one step closer to the scenario in which AI takes over scientific development.

Machine intelligence is the last invention that humanity will ever need to make.

Nick Bostrom

27: The U-boats used in World Wars 1 and 2 were just that – boats, spending the majority of their time on the surface of the ocean and descending only for brief periods when necessary. U-boats in the first world war remained underwater for about 2 hours at a time. During the second world war, they could generally stay beneath the surface for between 12 and 24 hours, sometimes as long as 3 days depending on the type of U-boat and if the crew remained still. Methods to keep carbon dioxide at safe levels had not been perfected, so the air quality would deteriorate over this time.

A German U-boat in 1941.

28: The Mpemba effect: The observation that a hot liquid (usually water) can freeze faster than the exact same liquid that begins cold. It is unknown what causes this phenomenon, and some dispute whether it is even a real effect. Proposed explanations include greater convection transfer of heat by ‘microbubbles’ in hot liquid, evaporation reducing the mass of water to be frozen, or a higher quantity of dissolved gasses in colder liquid slowing down the cooling process.

29: The WHO removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1990.

30: Over 390 000 people reported their religion as ‘jedi’ during the 2001 UK census. This made it the 4th largest religion in the country that year, behind Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. The Office for National Statistics revealed the total figure in a press release entitled “390,000 Jedi, there are”.

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