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Weird & Wonderful

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Do men really need their nipples? Also, do your insides really turn on a rollercoaster? Rhea Dhanbhoora & Dev Goswami ponder upon some questions that you may never have thought to ask — and reveal the really interesting answers

We’re sure you’ve had such a long, luxurious bath that your fingers and toes got all wrinkly in the process. This occurs because the sebum on the outer layer of your skin is washed off. But, why doesn’t it happen to the rest of your body? Researchers have determined that wrinkly fingers and toes don’t occur when there is nerve damage in the fingers, which means that the nervous system controls this change. Since wrinkled fingers have better grip in wet conditions, they’ve come to the conclusion that our ancestors needed them to get better footing and gather food in the rains!

Did you just yawn? Get ready to, because by the time you finish reading the word yawn this many times, you will. You know that if you yawn, people around you are going to follow. While it’s funny to start a contagious chain reaction, do you know why you’re yawning In the first place? Well, developmental neuroscientist Robert Provine had the same questions and did research that shows that even an 11-month-old fetus can yawn! There are a number of reasons scientists have come up with about why it occurs, the most important being that yawning occurs when your body needs more oxygen. Of course, there are schools of theorists that believe that it began when our ancestors needed to intimidate others and started baring their teeth, which then developed into a habit for us. The most recent theory is that people yawn in warmer situations. If your brain is warm, it thinks less clearly than a cool brain and yawning helps you stay alert. So, go ahead — try pressing a cold pack to your forehead to stop that yawn!

Did you know that your foot size can increase with age? And we don’t just mean that developmental age from child to adult. You can gain over half a size every ten years because your feet actually get bigger with all the wear and tear over the years. Your feet have several bones, joints and tendons and these (tendons and muscles mainly) lose their elasticity over time. Also, your feet have been supporting your weight for years and years — imagine how the poor soles are faring. They flatten with time, stretching them out. Because they do so much work, it’s important to take care of them and make sure they’re well-cushioned to avoid getting calluses and sore soles.

Forget rollercoasters — have you ever driven down a steep slope at a relative speed? Kids (and some adults) love that feeling, when their stomach suddenly drops. Now, imagine rollercoasters. With the constant drop, it sometimes seems like your insides are churning over and over (which is what can make some people throw up). But, it’s just a feeling, right? Here’s the scary part — it could actually be your insides moving! When you’re moving so quickly, things inside your body can actually start to shift around, especially your liver and spleen, which are secured by suspensory ligaments. And, apart from your organs, your intestines and stomach fluids are also shifting and turning upside down. Don’t worry though, they’ll fall back into place once you stop moving.

Modern technology has made it easy to identify people with their unique fingerprints. But, before this technology was created, there was possibly no other use for them. So, why do they exist? Scientists are still not very sure, but they’ve thrown a few interesting ideas out there. Researchers from the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris showed that fingertips were actually able to amplify texture and surfaces, helping us gain a better sense of touch. The University of Manchester believes that since apes and monkeys have fingerprints too (which means its not just a by-product of evolution) it may actually be because they help improve our grip by increasing friction.

You (and sometimes people around you) always know when your hungry because your tummy won’t stop growling. In fact, if you smell food, there’s a chance your tummy will growl even more. The reason this happens is because when you smell food, your digestive system gets ready for intake, releasing fluids and moving the muscles that line the stomach. When there’s no food in your body, these fluids interact with the gases in your system and can lead to a really loud growl! Be careful though, eating too quickly, chewing gum and drinking soft drinks can also cause it. It’s nothing to worry about as it’s just your stomach complaining... really loudly.

Ah! That legendary spot — you’ll be happy to find out that not only does it exist, it’s not as well-hidden as people believe it to be. The story of its discovery is so interesting; we can’t help but tell you about it. In the 50s, a scientist named Ernst Gräfenberg claimed to have discovered a place along the anterior wall of the vagina, along the course of the urethra (that swells when stimulated) that was the most erotic zone. He was ridiculed during his time of course, but we women know that he hit the perfect… spot, with his research. But, here’s the catch. First, the reason that it’s been ‘hidden’ for so long is because of a thicker wall of tissue. And second, unfortunately some women just may not have it! It’s still highly debated though, so stay updated on what scientists are going to tell you next.

Believe it or not, there’s actually research done on this subject and scientists have found that your brain has the power to anticipate certain movements and their responses. This means that when you try tickling yourself, your brain is prepared for the subsequent reaction that you should have and so, you don’t feel the ‘tickle.’ So, the surprise of a tickle is quite important when you get tickled. Want to test this out? Ask someone to tickle you and watch their every movement. Since you know you are about to be tickled, your brain behaves in the same way and you won’t end up laughing as much.

This one has a straightforward answer — the blood capillaries that are present below our skin are located very close to the surface in our lips compared to the rest of our skin. And this proximity gives rise to the pink colour. Since the answer was quite boring, here’s a fun fact for you — your lips do not have any sebaceous glands, which are responsible for keeping your skin moisturised. That’s the reason our lips get dry and chapped easily.

The answer will truly make you marvel at the beauty of evolution. Scientists aren’t sure about the exact reason, but the theory here is that our eyebrows shield our eyes from rain and sweat. This allows our vision to remain clear during rain or when you sweat profusely. Apart from that, they also keep the sweat out of your eyes and ensure that you don’t end up stinging your eye (due to the salt) every time you sweat. Amazing, right?

We’re sure every man (and probably woman) in his/her life has wondered this. Well, men, prepare for some shocking news. The reason males have nipples is because in the womb, each and every foetus, first develops as a female. This is because the dominant chromosome early on is the female one. It’s only after two months when the testosterone kicks in (for those foetuses who inherit the male chromosome) that the baby develops the male parts. And then, the nipples just stay.

Beauty spots… birthmarks… they are actually the same. Beauty spots are just attractive birthmarks that people feel add to their beauty. As to why they’re there in the first place, sadly, there’s no answer to that. The only thing that’s known is that they happen because of an abundance of pigments in your skin. A fun fact — research has shown that people with a lot of beauty spots go on to have younger looking skin as they age.

Yes, why round? Why not cubes or squares? The actual answer is quite in-depth and scientific. But, a simple and short explanation involves an understanding of gravity. Gravity works from the centre of a body and pulls everything towards it. While forming, planets are in a fluid form. The only way all the mass will get as close as possible to the centre of gravity is by forming a sphere. And so, planets are round. Smaller bodies which don’t have the same gravitational pull, such as asteroids, aren’t round and have a haphazard shape.

Well, it isn’t ‘no reason.’ There is always some reason or the other, you probably just don’t know it. The most common reason is a change in body temperature. To warm your body, your brain makes your muscles suddenly tighten and release, leading to the shiver. At other times, it is nervousness or a feeling of fear, which leads to the release of adrenalin, which has a similar effect. There’s also an emotional connection; when you come across a deeply emotional stimuli — a song you love, a beautiful picture, or even a person — your brain releases dopamine (the ‘happy’ hormone) which again makes your muscles contract and release, leading to that shiver down your spine.

No, it’s not because someone has you in their thoughts. That’s an old wives tale, something which hiccups have several of. The actual reason you get hiccups is because your diaphragm, located just below your lungs and responsible for you breathing, gets irritated. It then moves in a jerky manner, causing you to take large amounts of air through your mouth. When this air reaches your voice box, it leads to the ‘hic’ sound.

From the embarrassing sound to the sometimes foul odour, there are a number of reasons you’d like to stop farting. However, the fact is that you can’t stop farts and they’re actually necessary for your body. You fart because of an excess build-up of gasses in your stomach. When you swallow too much air or eat foods that aren’t easily digested, gas gets trapped in your stomach and the only way it can escape is by farting. As far as the foul odour is concerned, it is because of the gas hydrogen sulfide. The more sulfur rich your diet is, the more smelly your farts will be. Fun fact — a healthy person on an average, farts as many as 16 times in a day!

We take it for granted, but have you ever wondered why the sky is blue? You’ll need to recall your physics lessons for this one — light travels in a wave and is made up of six colours — red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet (the colours of the rainbow). The red wave is the longest while the violet has the shortest wavelength. This difference in wavelength leads to white light from the sun breaking up when it passes through the atmosphere or a prism (remember that prism diagram from your school textbook?). Most of the violet is scattered away (since it has the shortest wavelength) due to air particles and different levels of atmosphere. The blue light too gets scattered, but just about enough to make the whole sky appear blue. During sunset, the sunlight has to pass through more atmosphere than during the day, so almost all of the blue light is scattered away, letting the red, orange and yellow colours come directly to our eyes.

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