Tag Archives: brain

138. Why 5 Doesn’t Make Sense

Sight, Taste, Hearing, Touch, Smell. Those 5 things are significant. They are the traditional senses. Put “Sense of …” in front of any single one of them and it makes sense, if you’ll pardon the pun. This view was proposed first by Aristotle, a great Greek philosopher of some note. However great he may be though this is very untrue. We have 5 senses yes, but we also happen to have at least 4 more, depending on what you think constitutes a sense. Most experts in the field think we have at least 21.

What is a sense though? – A system with specialised cells which respond to a specific physical phenomenon and correspond to specific regions of the brain where they are received and interpreted. So with that out-of-the-way, what are the other senses?

Thermoception – Sense of heat. Feel cold? That’s thanks to thermoception. This sense depends upon specialised nerves in the skin. It also links into the sense of pain, which is useful, unless you happen to want to boil or freeze parts of your body.

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Posted by on June 7, 2011 in Articles, Misconceptions


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126. Phantom Pains

Amputation is a very significant thing, it involves removing some part of you, whether the simplest type which involves removing a tooth up to the amputations of full on limbs such arms and legs. This is significant for how you feel things, there is simply nothing there, sometimes the brain just refuses. It causes the part where the amputated part was to still feel sensations, as if it were still there and moving with the rest of the body. Even though there is nothing there.

This is called having a Phantom Limb, it is when your brain insists that the amputated part is still there. Around 70% of Amputees experience some form of this, feeling sensations in amputated parts of the body. Fortunately the sensations become more infrequent with time and eventually disappear – in most cases. Why is it fortunate? The sensations are almost always painful; people who have teeth removed can feel the non-existent tooth still ache. Phantom Eye syndrome is when you get pain in an eye which has been removed and is another example of this Phantom Pain.

The most famous cases though, are with amputated arms. In these cases the phantom limbs often feel shorter than normal and they feel tense. As though some alien force were pinning the ghostly limb into a single position until it ached and burnt. In some extreme and blissfully rare cases the pain is constant, even staring at the stump remaining does nothing, the brain doesn’t recognise it, just saying ‘Arm is not responding, it must be clenched! It must be painful.’

Herein lies the greatest problem of phantom pains. There is no control, the amputee will obviously know that they don’t have the limb anymore, but regardless of how hard they try, no difference is made, the older parts of the brain respond to neither logic nor reason. Until the primitive brain realises it, the amputees must suffer at its expense. Fortunately for those suf

Tricking the brain and controlling a phantom limb

fering the relentless phantom pains there is a simple solution. A mirror. By showing a reflection of the remaining arm, the primitive part of the brain says ‘Oh look, my arm’ then comes the neat part. When patients clench and relax the remaining arm, the brain says that the phantom limb relaxes, and so the pain is relieved. By using these amazing mirror boxes the phantom pains can be relieved and eventually removed given time and repeated mirror usage.

So we are lucky, these pains can now be removed and amputation is all the better for it. Though the true problem remains, we cannot control the brain nearly as much as we think we can. It controls us. Even enough to make us feel pain in a long lost limb.

Further Reading


Posted by on May 26, 2011 in Articles, Trivia


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88. Single Stressful Hours

FACT: From actually waking up to be alert takes between 15 and 40 minutes for most people. How does one become awake?

The process from complete sleep to being alert is a very quick process considering the amount of adjustments made. To simplify; your brain shouts ‘get up now‘ and the provides some assistance, it releases stress hormones, increasing both your heart rate and your blood pressure, getting the blood around so you actually can get out of bed without collapsing onto the floor (not that it helps some people).

This normally works, once you are out of bed it doesn’t take too long for your to start functioning properly does it; however, there are some downsides to this method. Namely when you wake up at an unusually early time for you. In this case the brain isn’t  easing you into consciousness so gently so all of the effects are exacerbated, blood pressure goes trough the roof and heart rates increase dramatically.

This happens to nearly everyone at least once a year, with the moving forward of the clocks. That hour-long change takes at least three days to properly adjust to, so for most people those three days are ones that at least start out as stressful. Suddenly the time is a very dangerous thing indeed, this 60 minute change increases stress hormone levels and puts so much stress on the heart that it can kill. In fact this process of waking up is the exact reason as to why people are just so likely to have heart attacks within 3 days of the clock changes.

That is how time kills.

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Posted by on April 18, 2011 in Articles, Trivia


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87. Ant Soup

FACT: You are an individual, whilst you are connected to other people you have thoughts independently from those around you. Simple, congratulations.

This is not true for ants, they are pretty much a hive mind, to the extend that some treat the colony as an animal, as opposed to the individuals. This system for ants requires the single-mindedness and a dependence on the whole as opposed to the ants. This can unfortunately lead to some very stupid and deadly consequences for ants, it does although, provide the opportunity for some very clever things that can only be done with extreme cooperation.

Whilst the continued existence of colonies as working and thriving systems is within itself a marvel, the true marvel lies in taking the ants out of their comfort zone, specifically by pouring them out of a funnel. This is what I like to refer to, as ant soup.

When placed in a clump on the surface of a fluid the ants initially bunch together, then, whilst holding onto each other and spread out across the surface, forming a kind of floating ant raft, spreading in exactly the same way as a thick fluid. In addition to this they do another thing when poured out of a funnel,  across a jagged surface they do the same thing, they fall down slowly, in a completely solid cylinder of live ants/ Then they spread downward with gravity, some forming a bridge across gaps whilst the others slip and slide over the top.Just like a very thick ant soup.

The shared characteristics with water show how nature naturally repeats itself with the same processes over and over again, firstly with galaxies and Cheerios, now with thick fluids and ants. What’s next I wonder. Click below for the footage of the ant soup performing its varied tasks:

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Posted by on April 17, 2011 in Trivia


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63. World Wide Brain

FACT: You are probably smarter than you think, you are certainly doing more than you think. You are controlling your own breathing, heart rate, temperature, internal humidity, digestion and so on…

What you may not know is how large this is. In 2007, the combined power of every general computer in the world was capable of performing 6.4 × 1018 actions every second. That’s around six trillion four hundred million billion actions. A not unimpressive number.

Hear that number again… six trillion four hundred million billion. That is an unimaginably large number, yet you are doing that right now. Your brain, assuming you are human of course, performs around that number of actions every second. Compared to computers you are a bona fide genius.Now remember, you are smarter than millions of computers combined. Now think that there are six billion humans.

Computers are still in their infancy, and whilst they seem impressive; nature is far more grand.

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Posted by on March 24, 2011 in Trivia


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62. Shrinking Brains

FACT: Over the last 30,000 years the human brain has been shrinking. Today the average human brain is 10% smaller than 30,000 years ago. This is the same across all genders and all races; suddenly after 2 million years of brain and skull growth we have lost a chunk of brain the size of tennis ball.

Now it is far too easy to conclude from this that humans are becoming idiots, however that is simply not the case. Many scientists have, as per normal, many contrasting theories. Some claim that we don’t need to be as smart to survive, thanks to living with lots of other humans in cities.

Others even claim that in the past a bigger head was needed because a smaller head would cool down to quickly in the chilly paleolithic era. However one of the theories which merits the most attention is that the brain is becoming more efficient.

You must understand that 20% of all the energy in your body, is used by your brain, it is very power hungry and thusly reducing its volume will save us energy (as well as a considerable amount of water). Expanding upon this are other theories that say the brain itself is staying just as smart but is able to shrink and be just as intelligent.

Another theory states that we have developed a higher level of thinking than our ancestors which requires less energy but lets us understand more. Whatever your perspective this isn’t nearly over. The latest studies by Anthropologists suggest that while the brain has been shrinking, it is now growing larger again A most perplexing mystery indeed.



Posted by on March 22, 2011 in Articles, Misconceptions, Trivia


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49. How Hangovers Work

FACT: Hangovers are a painful experience. The splitting headaches are caused by the brain shrinking effect that occurs when dehydrated. Essentially, less water makes the brain shrink and hurt, but how can the brain be dehydrated after a lot of drinking? It almost seems paradoxical but the explanation is logical.

The key lies in what was being drunk, namely alcohol. A little known fact about alcohol is that it causes one to produce higher levels of urine in comparison to how much one drinks, meaning that while alcohol may hydrate you temporarily it will always leave you with less water. This leads to the dry mouth and lethargy people often feel as part of a hangover. It is also why you should never drink wine or beer to regain liquids, always have a soft drink.

Anyway, this initial dehydration is not enough, to cause the full hangover experience. As you may know, whilst one is out drinking, they do not experience these headaches of dry mouths. This is because of what happens during the sleep afterwards.

During sleep your body digest all of the easily digestible parts of the alcohol then sets about the very difficult task of absorbing ethanol. The process involves changing it into many different substances, all of which need water. So water is taken and used for the chemical reaction, resulting in great water loss through the night. This causes the brain to shrink.

Combine that headache to lethargy and a dry mouth when one wakes up and voila! Now you have a complete hangover.


Posted by on March 9, 2011 in Trivia


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