30 Things We Learnt In September, 2021

Posted on 30 September 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 September!

1: Dario Costa has become the first person to fly a plane through two tunnels.

2: Popper’s paradox of tolerance: Philosopher Karl Popper described the paradox of tolerance as the seemingly counterintuitive idea that a fully tolerant society cannot be sustained, as a society that tolerates intolerance is no longer tolerant. ‘‘In order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be intolerant of intolerance.” 

3: Astronauts’ sense of smell is affected by microgravity. Space travel can cause humans to lose their sense of smell, which is related to weightlessness. Since fluids aren’t being pulled down by the force of gravity, more body fluids accumulate in the head and the nose can become congested, producing effects similar to those of a cold. For these reasons, astronauts tend to develop a desire for spicy food while in space.

4: Tarrare, the man who couldn’t stop eating: Tarrare, born in Lyon, France in 1772, was a medical curiosity so fantastical that one might assume he was made up, were it not for the fact that many physicians in Paris knew him. He was reportedly always hungry and slim, despite eating vast amounts of food, and was constantly sweaty, malodorous and hot to the touch. He performed for crowds in Paris, in front of whom he ate anything from entire baskets of apples to cork and stones. He would later join the French Revolutionary army, in which commanders tried to utilise his talents by having him eat a message contained within a wooden box and deliver it behind enemy lines. Unable to speak German, he was quickly captured by the Prussians and later released. He died of tuberculosis in 1798. Tarrare may have been suffering from hyperthyroidism, but this wouldn’t explain all of his abilities, though it’s quite probable that many of them were exaggerated.

5: In 2003, excavations around St Pancras station as part of its expansion to accept Eurostar trains unearthed about 1500 human bodies buried during the 19th century. This finding wasn’t all that surprising – London was hit by a wave of successive epidemics during this period, with around 44 000 people buried in St Pancras cemetery alone between 1822 and 1854. What was surprising was the discovery of the remains of a Pacific walrus among the dead. No one knows how the beast (which would have weighted as much as a small car) got there, but it seems likely that its cadaver was dissected, as some skull fragments had holes drilled into them.

History Mystery! How did a walrus end up in an old London cemetery? - Atlas  Obscura
Pacific walrus bones discovered during excavations around St Pancras station.

6: Most animals do not undergo menopause. Indeed, there are only five known species in which females do not retain the ability to reproduce throughout their entire lives: humans, short-finned pilot whales, killer whales, beluga whales and narwhals. One theory that could explain these outliers is the ‘grandmother hypothesis’. Given that reproduction for females is energetically costly and potentially dangerous, it may be more evolutionarily advantageous to preserve the life of existing offspring rather than attempting to give birth to more. Thus, maintaining reproductive function into old age may be redundant or even disadvantageous when it comes to preserving one’s genes.

7: Despite 1000s of years of inbreeding, the kakapo is still in relatively good genetic shape. Only about 200 individuals remain today, most of them descending from an isolated island population. Yet despite higher levels of inbreeding, a study found that the frequency of deleterious mutations may actually be lower amongst the surviving kakapos than amongst the now extinct mainland population, suggesting that small populations can survive even when isolated for hundreds of generations.

8: The Statue of David, as well as many other artefacts, were bricked over during the Second World War to protect them from possible bomb damage.

Michelangelo's David and unfinished Slave statues encased in brick to  protect them from the oncoming Allied front, 1944 [975x548]: HistoryPorn
Michelangelo’s David and unfinished Slave statues encased in brick to protect them from the oncoming Allied front, 1944

9: The yeast cells used to bake bread have 16 chromosomes, but once upon a time they only had 8. At some point during their evolution, a yeast cell accidentally duplicated it’s entire genome. The resulting subspecies of yeast diverged further through the loss of some chromosomes, so the descedants of the original yeast now have between 6 and 8 chromosomes, while the descedants of duplicator yeast have between 10 and 16.

10: Catnip repels insects, and now we know how. The active component of catnip, nepetalactone, triggers a chemical receptor in insects called TRPA1, which is also present in many animals and responds to environmental irritants such as cold, heat, wasabi and tear gas. Perhaps at some point in its evolutionary past, catnip was eaten by insects, resulting in the evolution of a natural insect repellent. It remains to be seen whether nepetalactone also triggers TRPA1 in cats, and if this has any relevance to its effects in felines.

11: The bumps on the tongue are often mistaken for taste buds, but these structures are actually papillae. Taste buds reside within the papilla and are too small to see with the naked eye.

12: The longest running lab experiment: So far as we know, the longest-running lab experiment was the ‘pitch drop’ experiment at the University of Queensland. The experiment has been running since 1920. Its purpose was to demonstrate to students that objects that appear solid can still flow like liquids – in this case pitch, which is hard enough to be shattered by a hammer, yet when placed in a funnel will drip out like a liquid – albeit very, very slowly. The most recent drop fell in 2014 – amusingly, no one had actually witnessed a drop fall until then. Physicist John Mainstone, who watched the experiment for 50 years, missed all three drops during his custodianship – one because he got tired and went home, one because he went to get a cup of tea, and one because a tropical storm caused a 20-minute power outage when the pitch landed. The experiment is predicted to run for another 80 years, with the next drop due to land in 2027.

13: Napoleon I replaced La Marseillaise as the national anthem during his rule. Perhaps he didn’t like what it had to say about tyranny.

14: 30 years ago you had 15-17 minutes to escape a house fire. Nowadays you only have 3-5 minutes, due to a greater abundance of plastic & petroleum-based products in the house.

15: Daily recommended iron intake for women is over twice that of men, at 18mg vs 8mg. This is to compensate for iron loss during menstruation, during which women lose iron at a rate of roughly 1mg/day (not all ingested iron is absorbed).

16: The freedom ship: The largest ship ever designed, the ‘Freedom Ship’ project envisioned an integrated city 1,800 metres long, with housing for 80 000 people, 20 000 crew, a hospital, school system, casino, commercial and office occupancies, a subway, and a two-runway airport on the roof. All in the name of tax evasion. It would have cost at least $10 billion (and probably much more) to build, let alone maintain.

Top 10 Largest Ships in The World
Depiction of the Freedom Ship

17: Eugene Lazowski, a doctor who saved around 8000 Polish Jews during the Holocaust through an ingenious and unusual method – creating a fake epidemic. He did this by distributing injections of Proteus OX19 bacteria, with which antibodies against typhus cross-react and vice versa. This caused the recipients to test positive for typhus, convincing the Nazis that epidemics had broken out in several areas. The Nazis were paranoid about typhus, which was already sweeping through the country, and imposed strict quarantines on these areas, thus protecting the Jews within.

18: If you divide 1 by 998001, you will get every three digit number from 001 to 999, in its correct sequence, except 998. If you divide instead by 9980001, you will get four digit numbers, and so on. Why does this happen? Watch this video to find out:

19: The two least profitable movies in history were both set on Mars: Mars Needs Moms and John Carter lost $143 million and $127 million respectively.

20: Visualising how much of the Earth’s surface is taken up by different countries.

21: The melting of the Earth’s glaciers isn’t just raising sea levels – it’s also deforming the Earth’s crust, according to a recent study. ”We show that, rather than only being localized to regions of ice loss, melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and Arctic glaciers has caused significant horizontal and vertical deformation of the crust that extends over much of the Northern Hemisphere. This 3-D surface motion is on average several tenths of a millimeter per year, and it varies significantly year-to-year.”

22: Sea otters hold ‘hands’ to prevent themselves from floating away from each other while they sleep. Sometimes, they will form ‘rafts’ of hundreds of otters, all holding hands!

23: Most people know that Yuri Gagarin was the first man to visit outer space, but did you know that he died 8 years later at age 34? Yuri was killed when the MiG-15 he was flying crashed, after he swerved to avoid another plane, sending him into a tailspin.

24: Stompie the Tank: After being denied planning permission for a new building on an empty lot, a South London resident applied for a permit for a tank. The council approved, assuming he meant a septic tank. The man bought a decommissioned Russian T-34 and parked it on the lot. It’s gun supposedly points towards the council offices.

Stompie the tank.

25: Prior to 9/11, the Federal Aviation Administration regulations allowed passengers with small knives to board planes.

26: The carbon footprint of Bitcoin mining is now widely recognised, but what about the electronic waste? One study has estimated that the average bitcoin transaction generate electronic waste equivalent to binning two iPhones.

The lifespan of bitcoin mining devices remains limited to just 1.29 years. As a result, we estimate that the whole bitcoin network currently cycles through 30.7 metric kilotons of equipment per year. This number is comparable to the amount of small IT and telecommunication equipment waste produced by a country like the Netherlands.


27: Most people would agree that online interactions are no replacement for real life ones, but can they help prevent loneliness? According to a study of 700 teenagers in Peru, the answer is yes – so long as their interactions were ‘high quality’. Teens in the study who found support online (such as chatting with friends and relatives via WhatsApp or joining multiplayer online video games) reported less loneliness during the pandemic. So rather than assuming that all screen time is bad, perhaps parents should pay more attention what kinds of online activities their children participate in.

28: Wild cockatoos make their own cutlery.

29: Just like humans, monkeys seem to ‘choke’ under pressure – performance in a task increases as the rewards increase, yet when the stakes become very high, performance drops. Researchers gave 3 rhesus macaques a “speed + accuracy” task, where the goal was to move the cursor on a screen to reach a target. The monkeys were shown the reward they would receive prior to the task. Performance rose through small, medium and large rewards, but when a reward 10 times the size of the medium reward was used, performance fell by between 10% and 25%.

30: Scientists have developed anti-sperm IgG antibodies. These could provide an effective non-hormonal form of female contraception.

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