50 Shades of Strange

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When you look at this image how do you feel?

Take a moment to feel your reaction. Without analyzing it ask yourself, do I like this image? Does it creep me out? Does it have a “vibe” to it? Is that vibe one you want to hug, or be cautious of?

Chances are your instinctual response to this photo is starkly different from, say, looking at a picture of a luscious green meadow with open blue skies.

Take a real moment to stop and observe: What does this image FEEL like.

The pattern this plant produces is generally rated as “not cuddly”, and 16% of the human population will become viscerally upset. You know that feeling when you just feel like gagging out of nowhere? Well 1 out of 6 people will get that feeling, or something similar, as an instinctual response to this image.

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This reaction is innate, and not related to cultural upbringing. It is something that exists deep inside us. Even if you are not that 1 out of 6 people there is a strong chance that this image makes you moderately uncomfortable. At the very least your initial gut reaction was something along the lines of “weeeeeeird”.

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After intense research it was discovered that the pattern of “clustered dots” in this image is what awakens this reflexive response. This effect has been called trypophobia because we humans can’t help but give everything a name. The 1 in 6 people who have a strong negative reaction to this image were found to show an identical reaction toward images of other organisms and images that presented a pattern of clustered dots.

Seems pretty random? Well the other organisms that display this same pattern are also classified as being among the most poisonous and venomous in the world, go figure!

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As it turns out, we have embedded in us an instinctive aversion to this pattern. The hypothesized reason is that this pattern has high contrast, and therefore easily catches the eye in natural settings. This makes the deadly creature more visible from a distance, which alerts you long before you get close. This is great for your survival: it prevents you from dying.

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However, it is also great for the deadly thing: it not only prevents it from dying in conflict with you, but also ensures that the creature can save energy and resources going at a casual “fuel efficient” pace through environments that are full of hungry animals.

Even though it benefits both parties, it benefits the deadly thing more. You have to waste energy taking a less preferred “detour” route to your destination while the deadly thing essentially gets to use the carpool lane everywhere it goes.

Those who had an urge to hug such creatures were less likely to pass on their genes. Those that had a gut sickening aversion were at a genetic advantage since they were less likely to perish before having offspring. This pattern is displayed by poisonous creatures throughout the globe, and our gut disgust is a trait we likely share with many other carnivorous animals.

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This begs the question: how much of who you are is your choice, and how much is at least mildly determined by our genetic heritage? If you were to walk into a room with an artificially rendered poster displaying this pattern your behavior would change. You would be more skittish, your body language would trend toward a “closed” protective stance – limbs held close to the body, arms crossed, legs together – and you would have no idea you were even doing it, much less WHY you were doing it. This is true for you, me, everyone.

There is a fascinating experiment where this exact effect is confirmed in a very amusing way, but that must be saved for another time.

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Pica: It’s OK, Eating Playdough is Non-Toxic

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If you ever have the urge to chew ice you may have an iron deficiency. If this is the case you’re lucky – other mineral deficiencies create far more bizarre urges.

 

Mineral deficiencies often create uncontrollable urges to eat dirt, wood, drywall, chalk, styrofoam, clay, and many other materials.

 

Pica is the adorable name for this condition.

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People who experience it cannot explain it. They know how ridiculous it is, but the biological urge is uncontrollable, like a reflex. Biologically this is an adaptive behavior. These flavorless and nutritionally empty objects contain loads of minerals.

 

We like to think that as humans we are in ultimate control of our actions, but how do you decide what to do for the day, what to eat, or what movies you like? We control our actions, but the desires that compel us to action, the motivations that lead to our actions and behaviors, like and dislikes, are completely unconscious.

 

One day I may have the urge to go golfing, and I may choose to give in, but where did that urge originate?

 

We may control thoughts once they’re in our head, but where do they pop up from to begin with? Our actions and behaviors are dependent on whether our brain tells us something will feel good or bad. We control the action itself, but not the underlying desire.

 

If I choose to buy a new shirt I may choose the action, but I have no control over what led my brain to desire that shirt in the first place.

 

Likewise, when these mineral deficient individuals reach for a lump of clay to chew on they voluntarily choose that action, but are compelled by an underlying desire that says “You will enjoy this, so do it! Do it now!”.

 

This is a relatively new field of study, but there is growing consensus that mineral deficiencies are a contributing factor to the development of many behavioral disorders like autism. Toxic substances like lead, cadmium, and mercury can displace mineral distribution and then cause pica, and eventually permanent behavioral disorders.

 

Woolly Mammoths Live Long and Prosper

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Woolly Mammoths still roamed the wilderness when the Pyramids of Giza were being built.

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In fact, the Giza Pyramids were over 1,000 years old before the last woolly mammoth on Earth died. For comparison, the Eiffel Tower will have to stand for another 874 years to achieve such a feat

 

A solitary population of Woolly Mammoths survived on Wrangel Island, off the coast of Siberia, until  ~650 B.C. The weather finally got a bit too balmy, and their species finally went the way of the Ice Age.

 

Mad props to that population of hard headed mammoths that held on for so long in the face of massive change.

 

The Oyster – Nature’s Ugly, Edible Water Filter

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An oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day, and a single acre of oysters filters 150 million gallons of water a day.

   

Put a single oyster in a fish tank of dirty water, and the water will become crystal clear before your eyes. Oysters act as a natural and free filter for pollutants, algae, dirt, and nitrogen in waterways.

 Closeup of up-ended oysters surrounded by sponges and anemones.

People of this generation complain that the Chesapeake Bay is murky and dirty, but in the past the Chesapeake was known for its pristine, clear water. It should come as no surprise – the Chesapeake Bay has less than 1% of its original oyster population due to overharvesting.

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It isn’t all bleak though. The problem is well known, and significant restoration efforts will soon come a long way to restoring the crystal clear beauty that the Chesapeake once symbolized.

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Oysters use those murky bits they filter out to build their tissue. Mmmmm tasty!

 

Red Lobster Revolution

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In the 1800s lobster was considered so disgusting that it was served only to servants and prisoners.

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Lobster was considered such a revolting dish that it led to a servant rebellion – the servants felt they were force fed this wretched concoction too often.

 

This rebellion caused Massachusetts to pass a law stating that lobster could be fed to servants and prisoners no more than twice a week – to eat lobster more often was legally defined as cruel and unusual punishment!

 A Great Article On This Subject

People once found this food revolting because their culture and society told them it was. Today we find it to be an expensive delicacy, mostly because our culture and society tell us it is.

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History is littered with examples of fads that are considered high brow in one place or time, and laughable in the next.

 

The amazing thing is that these influences are so strong it can make a “delicacy” like lobster taste utterly revolting. When you eat lobster the same flavor molecules that led to rebellion hit your tongue’s palette.

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On an absolute level the flavor is precisely the same, but our mental evaluation is starkly different depending on how our culture told us to experience it. If this is true with something as easy to evaluate as “does this taste good?” then it is true of nearly EVERYTHING in your life.

 

Now that’s some food for thought.

 

Mystery of the Dog Poop Dance Solved?

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Dogs seem to have an awful lot of ritual before hunkering down and soiling the sidewalk. It’s not uncommon to see a dog owner—plastic bag in hand—rolling his eyes as his furry companion sniffs and spins, getting just so before hunkering down to do the least considerate thing possible.

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But for whatever its worth, all that spinning is far from arbitrary. What dog owners witness is a small and furry version of the aurora borealis and a link between species and environment that’s as holistic and beautiful as a dog pooping can be. A team of Czech and German researchers found that dogs actually align themselves with the Earth’s magnetic field when they poop.

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Proving at least that they’re really devoted to their work, the researchers measured the direction of the body axis of 70 dogs from 37 breeds during 1,893 defecations and 5,582 urinations over the course of two years, and found that dogs “prefer to excrete with the body being aligned along the North-south axis under calm magnetic field conditions.” They fittingly published their results in the journal Frontiers in Zoology.

 

You might wonder why dogs bother to do this, and uh, so do the researchers.

It is still enigmatic why the dogs do align at all, whether they do it ‘consciously’ (i.e., whether the magnetic field is sensorial perceived (the dogs ‘see,’ ‘hear’ or ‘smell’ the compass direction or perceive it as a haptic stimulus) or whether its reception is controlled on the vegetative level (they ‘feel better/more comfortable or worse/less comfortable’ in a certain direction). Our analysis of the raw data (not shown here) indicates that dogs not only prefer N-S direction, but at the same time they also avoid E-W direction.

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This isn’t the only example of animals seemingly sensing the Earth’s magnetic field. Birds, turtles, and fish are known to use magnetic guidance while migrating. Cattle and deer are known to graze on a north-south axis—as with defecating dogs, this is magnetic north, not the geographic one. Some bats navigate using a magnetic compass and given the large ranges of the dog’s closest relatives in the wild, wolves, scientists suspected that canines might also sense the magnetic field.

But this was perhaps the first time that magnetic sensitivity was proven in dogs, and it was also the first time that a predictable behavioral reaction to the fluctuations in the magnetic field—magnetic storms, often as resulting from solar flares—was proven in a mammal.

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If you’re out walking your dog later, and he sidles up and pees on a tree facing east-west, don’t be terribly surprised. The magnetic consciousness was observed only in dogs off leash, in the middle of a field. All things considered, the owner matters more to the dog than the Earth’s magnetic field; a nice little ego-booster that you’ll need as you bend over to pick up warm dog droppings.

(I copy pasted this article because it was perfection. It said everything I wanted to say, in logical order, AND with a touch of good fun. Great job Vice!)

Low-Cost Miracle Drink Burns Fat, Adds Muscle

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A mysterious, new, low-cost miracle drink called “milk” burns fat and adds gains.

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Seriously, don’t pay $4 for a glass of a GNC “Ultimate MAX Gains Bio-Elite Whey Formula” unless you’re competing in this years Mr. Universe.

New studies this year confirm that if you’re an average Joe looking to have a healthy body and a healthy bank account, then plain old milk is ideal for cutting fat, adding muscle, and bulking the size of your checking account.

Here’s the Study For the Curious

Mammals produce milk for the growth and development of their young.

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It makes perfect sense that a blend of nutritional goodness specifically for growth and development would be a great “workout recovery drink”.

For 40 cents we can drink 12 oz. of milk. The fact that it is cheap obscures its hidden power – it is a substance with tens of millions of years of evolutionary selection backing it.

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With milk we let nature do the work for us over millions of years, and we reap the rewards for free.

Is milk perfect? Of course not, but studies now confirm what makes intuitive sense – milk has a great nutrient profile for post-workout recovery.