Monday, November 23, 2015

Facts about the human body. Did you find them as (un)fascinating and (un)weird as me?

A friend posted a link on his FB wall whose click-bait title blares, "23 Fascinating and Weird Facts About The Human Body. Wow."

When friends post these sort of fact lists, I often like to go through them to challenge their initial premise (usually that I will be shocked, amazed, fascinated, tickled, or some other sharp reaction). I have yet to find a list that actually I actually found lived up to its premise, and I have also yet to find a list of facts that is 100% factual.

So here's the list of the 23 "Fascinating and Weird Facts" and my responses to them:

1.The brain doesn’t feel pain: Even though the brain processes pain signals, the brain itself does not actually feel pain.

Not fascinating; the brain was not evolved to be in direct contact with the environment. If the brain actually could feel any pain, *that* would be fascinating.

2. Women have a better sense of smell better than men: Women are better than men at identifying smells.

Women - on average - have a better sense of smell than men - on average. Again - on average - women are better than men - on average - at identifying smells. Many specific cases will differ.

3. Babies are stronger than oxen: On a pound for pound basis, that is. For their size, babies are quite powerful and strong.

This is not only limited to babies and oxen. This is a general characteristic among any group of animals of a type. Pound-for-pound, a mouse is stronger than an elephant; an ant is stronger than a samurai beetle; and a house cat is stronger than a great dane. But so what? This is due to issues of scaling and inherent limitations of physics and biology that come with larger body size.

4. A higher I.Q. equals more dreams: The smarter you are, the more you dream. A high I.Q. can also fight mental illness. Some people even believe they are smarter in their dreams than when they are awake.

I am skeptical. I haven't heard of the study that came up with this result, and given the problems of whether IQ tests actually measure intelligence and the many flaws with dream recollection studies, I'm wondering how much validity this statement carries.

5. Your smell is unique: Your body odor is unique to you — unless you have an identical twin. Even babies recognize the individual scents of their mothers.

No duh. Just like finger prints and DNA. Even between identical siblings; if one sibling eats only Indian food and the other eats only Japanese food, they will have different body odors. If they grow up in different places, they will also have different body odors.

6. A sneeze can exceed 100 mph: When a sneeze leaves your body, it does so at high speeds — so you should avoid suppressing it and causing damage to your body.

Yes, this is true. But learned once, its repetition hardly fascinates any more.

7. Your nose remembers 50,000 scents: It is possible for your nose to identify and remember more than 50,000 smells.

Yes, this is true. But learned once, its repetition hardly fascinates any more.

8. Your hearing decreases when you overeat: When you eat too much food, it actually reduces your ability to hear. So consider eating healthy — and only until you are full.

Ah. This is something new. And now that I have read the blurb, it is no longer fascinating.

9. Babies always have blue eyes when they are born: Melanin and exposure to ultraviolet light are needed to bring out the true color of babies’ eyes. Until then they all have blue eyes.

This is blatantly false. Go to East Asia. Go to the maternity wards. Look at the eyes of the East Asian babies. You can go through ward after ward without coming across a blue-eyed newborn. (Although blue-eyed East Asian babies do exist; they are really friggin' rare.) I was not born with blue eyes. My wife was not born with blue eyes. Our daughter was not born with blue eyes. The only fascinating thing about this "fact" is that it blatantly isn't.

10. Most men have regular erections while asleep: Every hour to hour and a half, sleeping men have erections — though they may not be aware of it.

Not really fascinating; if you are male then you have personally experienced this, and (unless you are a solipsist or an egomaniac) you likely have come to realize that you are not a special case. If you are female, you likely don't really think about this.

11. Sex can be a pain reliever: Even though the “headache” excuse is often used to avoid sex, the truth is that intercourse can provide pain relief. Sex can also help you reduce stress.

If you've had sex in the past, you might well have encountered the many psychological and physiological benefits that sexual intercourse *can* bring about. If this is a fascinating fact, you either haven't had sex, or you haven't had sex that moved you in this manner.

12. Your brain operates on 10 watts of power: It’s true: The amazing computational power of your brain only requires about 10 watts of power to operate.

Key word here is *about* 10 watts. The other thing though, is to recognize that your brain is an energy *hog* - and that energy conversion from food is not terribly efficient. A significant portion (if not the majority) of your caloric use during the day actually goes to feeding your brain.

13. Chocolate is better than sex: In some studies, women claim they would rather have chocolate than sex. But does it really cause orgasm? Probably not on its own.

Chocolate is better than sex for some women and almost no men.

14. Your feet can produce a pint of sweat a day: There are 500,000 (250,000 for each) sweat glands in your feet, and that can mean a great deal of stinky sweat.

See comment on #8.

15. Throughout your life, the amount of saliva you have could fill two swimming pools: Since saliva is a vital part of digestion, it is little surprise that your mouth makes so much of it.

See comment on #8.

16. You probably pass gas 14 times a day: On average, you will expel flatulence several times as part of digestion.

See comment on #8.

17. 80% of the brain is water: Instead of being relatively solid, your brain 80% water. This means that it is important that you remain properly hydrated for the sake of your mind.

See comment on #8.

18. Bones can self-destruct: It is possible for your bones to destruct without enough calcium intake.

Yeah. It's called osteoporosis.

19. You are taller in the morning: Throughout the day, the cartilage between your bones is compressed, making you about 1 cm shorter by day’s end.

See comment on #6.

20. Your tongue is the strongest muscle in your body: Compared to its size, the tongue is the strongest muscle. But I doubt you’ll be lifting weights with it.

See comment on #3.

21. Being right-handed can prolong your life: If you’re right-handed, you could live up to nine years longer than a lefty.

As a lefty, I learned about this study a long time ago. It's based on correlation, not causation. Also, see comment on #6.

22. It takes more muscles to frown than to smile: Scientists can’t agree on the exact number, but more muscles are required to frown than to smile.

See comment on #6.

23. Pinkie toe: There is speculation that since we no longer have to run for our dinner, and we wear sneakers, the pinkie toe‘s evolutionary purpose is disappearing — and maybe the pinkie itself will go the way of the dodo.

Or it could go the way of the appendix. This is not so much fact as wild conjecture. True, there is no apparent value to the presence of a pinky toe, but there also isn't any natural selection pressure to get rid of the pinky toe.

So, yeah, a bunch of *yawn*, with one blatant falsehood (#9) and one general arm waving (#23). I remain unfascinated.

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