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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Infrasound: Lions, And Volcanoes, And Tsunamis Oh My!

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If you blast a person with infrasound (sound just below our hearing threshold) they will become fearful, anxious, uneasy, nervous, feel chills in their spine, pressure in the chest, and extreme sorrow.

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Sound waves in this range also resonate with our eyes natural vibrations creating undistinguishable and imaginary shapes in our peripheral vision. Most major scientific discoveries are complete accidents, and the story behind this discovery is no different.

In a lab, experimenters kept experiencing a gray shape sitting next to their desk in a specific area of the room. They also consistently felt feelings of dread, depression, anxiety, and feelings of someone watching them in that area.

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They eventually discovered that a “silent” exhaust fan was emitting sound waves of 18.9Hz (infrasound). The fan was fixed and the mysterious gray shape and strange emotional experiences ended.

Stunned by the implications, this clever scientist went to a well regarded haunted cellar in a local home. People who entered the cellar often reported feelings of fear, nausea, nervousness, chills, seeing apparitions, and feeling apparitions watching them. It was found that the cellar had a particular resonant structure that created infrasound waves at, you guessed it, 18.9Hz.

Why do humans feel these sensations when these “silent” sound waves hit our ears?

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Lions, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, large ocean waves, elephants, and other dangerous things produce sounds in the infrasound range. It is the hypothesized reason that many animals know ahead of time about tsunamis and earthquakes. In fact, if humans weren’t so caught up in our own thoughts (detached from our bodily intuition), we’d probably be able to sense these events too. The sensations created are an evolutionary adaptation that intuitively says “Don’t be here! Get somewhere else NOW!”.

 

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The Tape of Superman: Scotch Tape and X-Rays

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Scotch tape emits x-rays when peeled in a vacuum.

How many x-rays? Enough to take an x-ray of a finger!
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Even under standard atmospheric conditions (STP) peeling Scotch tape emits a flash of light visible to the naked eye in a dark room.

Scotch tape is the Clark Kent of tape; it seems weak and feeble compared to any other tape, but it has hidden x-ray vision super powers. For instance, duct tape, the meat-head of the tape world, does not have this property. What exactly is going on to make this unassuming tape emit powerful and damaging radiation?
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This phenomena was confirmed just 6 years ago in 2008, and there are no conclusive answers – mostly because 3M keeps a tight lip on it’s secret adhesive formula for Scotch tape.

Soviet scientists reported discovering it in 1953, but no one seems to have believed them. To put this in perspective, the U.S. spent $20 million on remote viewing and clairvoyance research when they discovered the Soviets were doing the same. But when the Soviets said that Scotch tape may emit x-rays? The U.S. said no, freaking, way; not possible; not even worth testing.

Scientists do have a loose understanding of what is occurring. The visible light emitted when you step into a dark room and peel the tape is strikingly similar to what happens during a lightning strike:

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As the layers are peeled apart a difference in electric charge forms between the two separating pieces. Hundreds of strings of adhesive stretch then snap apart – this locks in the charge differential. A massive charge difference builds and builds until the laws of physics say it has gone too far, a single line of air molecules form an electric circuit by ionizing to transfer the charge, and ZAP lightning flashes. The view for an ant on the roll of tape would be no different than you observing an intense lightning storm.
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The mechanism for the x-ray emission in a vacuum is identical, but much more powerful for a simple reason. The strength of the charge difference that builds before the release is proportional to how easily charge can travel through a medium (air, water, metal, space, etc). The moment a charge difference is strong enough to travel the gap it does so.

This is why lightning has its odd zig-zag form – out of the hundreds of trillions of paths the charge could travel it automatically and instantaneously finds the easiest, laziest route. Think you’re lazy? The universe is lazier.

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!)