Simply Not Simple – WIF Human Mysteries

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Simple Things

We Still

Don’t Understand

Some have said that the human pursuit of knowledge is like awakening naked in a dark forest, and being asked “how did you get here?” Despite the many difficulties and false beliefs, man has undoubtedly made great strides in having a better understanding of our world. However, there are still ideas, behaviors, and concepts that we still fail to understand. Even the most simple concepts, like the world being round, hasn’t necessarily found footing. We’ve decided to investigate 10 simple things that we don’t fully understand, in hopes that we can come to understand that we’re not out of the wilderness yet.

 10. Some People Don’t Need Sleep

We know, we know. You’re thinking, what is sleep doing on this list? We all know the function of sleep and its importance for brain health and overall wellness. It’s widely believed that the brain needs sleep to generate new pathways and connections. Without sleep, the body would be unable to hold onto these connections and it would also struggle to rejuvenate itself, repair tissue, and synthesize hormones.

The curious case of short sleepers, profiled in Ying-Hui Fu’s lab at the University of California-San Francisco, demonstrates that we haven’t come to understand sleep as well as we think. In 2009, a woman entered Fu’s lab and gave a surprising account. No matter what time she went to bed, even if it was late at night, she would still wake up at the crack of dawn. She could never sleep in. Never. And according to the subject, it was the same for several members of her family. Skeptical at first, Fu and her colleagues, decided to compare the genome of different family members. The result was an amazing discovery: a tiny mutation in a gene called DEC2. The mutation was present in family members who identified as short sleepers, but not in members of the family who had normal length sleep, nor in 250 unrelated volunteers.

However, without more conclusive evidence the finding would not be well received. Fu was left with a conundrum: how do we prove that the DEC2 gene is tied to sleep?

In order to test their hypothesis, Fu and her team decided to breed mice to express the same mutation of the “short sleepers.” The results proved that their hypothesis was correct: the mice with the mutation performed just as well as regular mice, in terms of physical and cognitive tasks, while sleeping substantially less.

Fu’s subject would relay that her short sleeping abilities allowed her to finish college in just two and half years and has generally given her ample time to become a more fulfilled person. Imagine, having 60 extra days a year. That’s a reality that future generations will certainly enjoy.

9. We Still Don’t Know How Many Species There Are on Earth

Since Noah and his Ark, human beings have attempted to categorize and catalogue the different species that we share the planet with. You’d think we’d be able to have a concrete understanding of the other creatures that roam this planet with us, but we really don’t. In fact, it’s almost embarrassing how far ranging our estimates are. Most taxonomists believe we haven’t even scratched the surface in discovering all the creatures that live on the planet. After nearly 250 years of work,  and the findings of over 15,000 new living beings each year, taxonomists still shy away from coming up with concrete estimates of how many species inhabit the planet Earth.

Scientists have identified nearly 8.7 million species, but that number is constantly challenged by scientists presenting new methods and models for extrapolation. One concept proposed by Richard May, an evolutionary biologist, is that the diversity of land animals increases as they get smaller and, granting that we’d discovered most species of big animals, he used them as a model for smaller species and concluded that there are 10 to 50 million species of land animals.

Many might be asking why it is so difficult to come up with a finite number? One of the biggest reasons is that 99 percent of all living space is under the ocean, and we’ve explored less than 10 percent of it.

8. We Know Dreaming is Important, but We Don’t Know Why

Sigmund Freud believed that dreams are a window into the unconscious mind, which express hidden feelings that are repressed or that we’re simply unaware of. And while that may not be true, it’s just one of the many theories on the nature of dreams that have not resulted in fundamental answers. What we do know for certain is that everyone dreams. The most vivid dreams occur during the REM cycle, when the brain is most active, and while it may not feel like it, but experts claim we dream at least 4 to 6 times per night.

If we’re said to dream 6 times a night, and rarely remember our dreams, what could possibly be the purpose? Why do we remember some dreams and not others? We simply have no answers. What we do know is that dreaming is important to our health and well-being. A study in which researchers woke subjects just as they were drifting off into REM sleep found that those who were not allowed to dream experienced: increased tension, anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating, lack of coordination, weight gain, and a tendency to hallucinate.

We guess that we’ve found new meaning in the phrase “never stop dreaming.”

7. Laughing: A Universal Language?

Something as universal as laughter would seemingly be easy to explain. It’s not. Like dreams, laughter is a powerful display of our unconscious. Laughter is involuntary, and thus is a window into our sensibilities. Think about it. Laughter changes our facial expressions, elicits noises (some more flattering than others), and is without question contagious. Who hasn’t been a room where everyone breaks out into fits of laughter?

So what triggers it? It’s not as simple as you think.

Studies have shown that laughter is less about humor and more about social interaction and communication. Laughter is first exhibited in a child at three and a half to four months of age, well before speech, and as such laughter, similar to crying, is a way for an infant to interact with the mother. The idea that laughter is another form of communication was studied by researchers who went to local malls and city sidewalks and recorded what happened just before people laughed. Over the course of nearly ten years, and observing more than 2,000 cases of naturally occurring laughter, “[they] found that most laughter does not follow jokes. People laugh after a variety of statements, such as ‘Hey John, where ya been?’ and ‘Here comes Mary.’” It is not a leap to suggest that laughter supplements language to undress situations and to better form relationships or create bonds.

6. Yawning Cools the Brain

Another involuntary action that we’ve been unable to come to terms with is yawning. A behavior that occurs across species still has managed to puzzle scientists. A widely held belief that yawning occurs so oxygen can enter our bloodstream and to wake us up when we’re becoming drowsy has actually been disproven. Steven Platek, a psychology professor at Georgia Gwinnett College, is one of the many scientists who have said there is zero evidence that yawning affects levels of oxygen in the bloodstream, blood pressure, or heart rate.

The pervading theory is that the purpose yawning is to cool down the brain. The importance of scientific inquiry is that while eliminating one hypothesis it can make way for another. Subsequently, with studies showing that yawning does not affect levels of oxygen in the bloodstream, other experiments showed that yawning actually changes the temperature of the brain itself.

A Gallup study that took place in 2007 revealed that holding hot or cold packs to the forehead influenced how often people yawned, in instances where they saw others doing it. Additionally, when subjects held a warm pack to their forehead, “they yawned 41 percent of the time… (and) when they held a cold pack, the incidence of yawning dropped to 9 percent.”

Mechanically speaking, stretching our jaws leads to an increasing rate of blood flow to the skull and by inhaling at the same time, the air changes the temperature of the flow, leading to cooler blood flowing to the brain.

Experiments done on our favorite test subjects, mice, supported the conclusion that “an increase in brain temperature was found to precede yawning. Once the tiny rodents opened wide and inhaled, the temperature decreased.”

5. Mosquitoes Like Some More Than Others

“They like you more.” That’s the common refrain when a night out on the beach leads to one family member being left ravaged by mosquitoes. The truth is that remark has almost been taken as explanatory. In reality, most of us don’t know why some individuals are targeted more than others. Scientists have come to the believe that 20% of population is more attractive to mosquitoes than others.

Scientists have not settled on what exactly distinguishes that 20 percent, but one of the leading theories is blood type. A study found that Type O blood was twice more likely to be bitten than Type A.  The data is less conclusive with Type B with researchers concluding that it falls somewhere in the middle of desirable and undesirable for mosquitoes.

4. Blushing May Have Started as a Social Custom

“Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.” The eternal words of Mark Twain need only to tell us why exactly man “needs to.” It seems to be the most basic of human behaviors. We blush when we’re embarrassed. Being the product of an evolutionary process that eliminates characteristics that lower survival, how did blushing, a response that shows vulnerability, manage to manifest itself in all cultures and peoples?

Darwin remained puzzled until his death, but that did not stop other scientists from attempting to explain this behavior.

Currently, one of the leading theories of the origin of blushing is that it began as an appeasement ritual: to submit to the authority of dominant members of a group. Naturally, submitting to said member would then increase one’s chances of surviving in that group.

Scientists believe that as our social interactions later became more complex, it became intertwined with emotions like guilt, shame, and embarrassment. And as the rearing of family became of the utmost importance in agrarian societies, neuroscientists note that it may have been viewed as socially desirable and attractive for women to blush and therefore reveal honesty to men.

3. What’s the Deal With Pubic Hair?

No longer hairy apes, we’ve evolved and lost most of our thick wool of hair that seemed to represent that earlier period in our evolutionary past. However, a reminder of that history remains in the most unlikely of places: hair in our genital regions. What purpose could pubic hair possibly have? If you’ve been following along, you’ll know the answer is far from straightforward.

One of the most popular theories is that “since thicker hair gathers in regions where we have apocrine (scent) sweat glands as well as eccrine (cooling) ones, it may serve to waft odors that signal sexual maturity.”

Just another example that we’re just one small piece in a long fabric of evolution.

2. Kissing Isn’t Universal

We were surprised to learn that kissing was not a universally practiced show of affection. It turns out just 46% of cultures engage in the locking of lips.

Probably the most likely proposition is that the custom began during child rearing, where the connection between a mother and an infant comes from the “mouth sensations associated with breastfeeding.”

In addition, earlier epochs, probably engaged in mouth-to-mouth feeding of chewed food, is a custom that’s still carried out by the Manus cultures of the Admiralty Islands.  The act of this is used by women to remind children and descendants of their obligations to her.

Lastly, in terms of physiology, our lips are among the most sensitive parts of our bodies, with sensory neurons linked to our brain’s pleasure palaces. The benefits of which has shown that kissing reduces levels of the stress, hormone cortisol and increases the bonding hormone, oxytocin.

1. Consciousness is a Puzzle That’s Ever-Changing

The most complex concept on our list has been puzzling great thinkers for generations. In the 17th century, Descartes, a French philosopher, posited the notion that mind and body were completely separate. That began a philosophical battle that continues to this day. Without any answers, we will ask you to choose what camp you’re in.

Descartes was the earliest proponent of idealism – the idea that the mind and body are entirely separate. On the other hand there are the materialists, like Karl Marx, who believe that nothing exists apart from the material world (i.e. physical matter like the brain); materialist psychologists generally agree that consciousness (the mind) is the function of the brain.


Simply Not Simple

WIF Human Mysteries

Freud Facts

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Top 10 Insane Facts About Sigmund Freud

You may ask why an entire list is dedicated to Sigmund Freud, but the man is famous the world over. He is renowned for his theories on the unconscious and for essentially pioneering psychotherapy, even if there is some argument as to whether he was the first to actually invent it. Freud is also infamous for his theories on psychosexual development, and the fact that his worldview was fairly misogynistic even for his time.

While some of his theories may seem quite wild, the field of psychology today would not be what it is without his influence and early work. Sigmund Freud is proof positive that you can be both a genius who essentially creates an entire field and a complete quack, both at the same time.

10. Drug Abuse

cocaine

Sigmund Freud abused drugs, and when we say that, what we mean is that Freud really, really, really liked cocaine. Freud loved cocaine so much that he discussed it openly with his fiancé, and performed experiments centered on cocaine with himself as the subject. While that may be the greatest excuse for drug use ever, he also did write several papers on the wonders of this drug, touting its use in all sorts of things, including anesthesia. However, he did enjoy the high that the drug gave him, and definitely used it for more than just medicinal reasons.

9. Misogyny

penis-envy

Freud had a bit of a problem with the ladies, which is a bit of an understatement. A better question would probably be what problem he didn’t have with women. Freud believed that women’s problems stemmed essentially from them not having a male sex organ, and felt that women didn’t have a good sense of justice. He also considered women to be weak socially, to have a jealous nature, and to be exceedingly vain. Freud was also known to believe women to be the problem in society, especially when it came to sexual tension between the genders.

8. Psychosexual Theories

oedipus

Freud had a collection of very strange theories, many of which are pretty much discredited today. His main belief was that young children, even infants, had unconscious sexual feelings. Among these were various stages of fixation, such as oral, anal and phallic. Someone with an oral fixation gained in this early stage may end up constantly needing to chew on something, or have something in their mouth, while someone who wasn’t raised properly during the anal stage could be anal-retentive, which is where the expression comes from. He also had theories involving the Oedipus Complex, which had young boys attracted to their mothers, and the Elektra Complex, which had young girls attracted to their fathers.

7. Cancer

freud-cancer

Many people may not realize that Freud had a very long running battle with cancer. This was mainly due to his constant habit of smoking cigars, leading to mouth cancer later in life. At one point Freud managed to actually quit for over a year, but eventually went back to the habit again full-time. According to some, he smoked as many as twenty cigars in a typical day and had to go through 34 operations, still eventually succumbing to cancer. Despite Freud’s knowledge of psychology, he was unable to ever truly break the habit.

6. Father Of Psychoanalysis

psychoanalysis

Freud is famous for being the inventor of psychoanalysis, though some argue whether he was the first to use the method. Freud, though, was unquestionably the first to popularize the method, and influenced many great psychologists such as Carl Jung. Psychoanalysis often involves attempting to understand a patient through their childhood development and greatly involves the unconscious. His psychoanalysis has been criticized, and still enjoys a certain controversy among the psychology community today. His beliefs have always been considered controversial, but his contribution to the field of psychology and his influence cannot be denied.

5. Womb Envy

womb-envy

Some of Freud’s contemporaries were women, and a bit more feminist than he was (then again, it sounds like just about everybody is more feminist than Freud.) In response to his belief that many of women’s ills belonged to the fact that they did not have a penis and were jealous of men for having one, a female contemporary came up with the alternate theory of womb envy. Also known as vagina envy, this is an alternate theory that states men are actually jealous of women, because they do not have a womb and thus cannot create life. To make up for this jealousy, men try to construct businesses instead so it feels like they are creating something. One feminist even makes the argument that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is essentially a story about a man with womb envy.

4. Dream Theories

DREAM-INTERPRETATION

Sigmund Freud placed a lot of importance on the unconscious, so perhaps not all too surprisingly he had quite a hang up on dreams. Freud believed that dreams had parts that you remember, and those that you did not. His theory was that what you actually remembered was just something that represented what you were actually thinking during the dream, and that it was meant to disguise the true thought. Freud even wrote a book on dreams called, creatively titled “The Interpretation of Dreams.”  His main belief at the time was that dreams are a way of fulfilling things we wish we could do while conscious, but were unable.

3. The Unconscious

Unconscious-mind

Freud was one of the first to really propose serious theories on the unconscious, and it was truly a cornerstone of nearly all of what he believed. The unconscious, for our purposes, is supposed to be all of the processes in our brain that we perform without really thinking. However, Freud saw it as much more than this. He believed that the unconscious drives how we behave, often acting on feelings that have been repressed inside us since he were very young. He believed very strongly that nearly all actions that people performed were the result of unconscious processes, which would mean that our free will does not perform quite the way we first thought. While it is certain that we do have an unconscious mind, it is hard to say just how many of Freud’s theories regarding it are actually true, or even have elements of truth to them.

2. Oral Fixation

oral-fixation

There is a popular story that Freud was once with a class smoking one of his favorite cigars when one of his students suggested that perhaps his constant need to have something in his mouth meant that he had an oral fixation, basically pinning him with his own made-up disorder. To this, Freud famously replied “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Funnily enough, it turns out that some people have investigated this quote and discovered that the entire thing probably never even happened. However, as we mentioned earlier, Freud did indeed love his cigars. He was been quoted as saying that cigars were essential to his life, and he believed that they improved his work. In short, if oral fixation is real, he clearly had it, sassy comeback or none.

1. Polyglot

foxtrot-languages

A polyglot is someone who can speak many languages, basically a super linguist. And Sigmund Freud was a serious polyglot, with a strong knowledge of German, Italian, Greek, English, Spanish, Hebrew and Latin. For those of who aren’t counting, that is a grand total of seven languages, which makes us look bad as most people are lucky to be proficient in their own language. Freud was also quite the little genius, already reading Shakespeare at the tender age of eight. He was also accepted into a prestigious high school and graduated with honors, eventually proving himself as the kookiest psychologist ever to walk the Earth.

Freud Facts