Updated: Mar 20
You may have heard “money is power.” I dislike the assertion because it sounds defeatist and it fosters the notion that money is evil.
I much prefer “knowledge is power,” a smiling expression that warms me on cold mornings. I believe knowledge is more powerful than money. James Madison said, “It is universally admitted that well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people.”
I have always had questions about life. The older I get, the more of these internal inquests pile up in my mental drawers. I’m not referring to weighty matters such as what the meaning of life or how to cure world hunger. I’m speaking of quirky mysteries such as,
Why I sometimes can’t remember the names of people I've known for years, and
Why should I put ice on a burn after I’m already burned?
Because I want your life to be more empowered than mine, I will share with you answers to some of life's biggest questions. Secrets revealed. Each involves a governing principle not known among common folks.
Get a pencil and paper ready to take notes. You'll thank me later.
Inside-out shirts from the laundry
As a child, my mother used to chide me when she took my button-down shirts from the clothes washing machine. “Jeffrey,” she’d say, “don’t throw your shirts in the laundry inside-out. It makes me have to turn them right-side-out again. Have respect for your mother.”
I swore I never threw my shirts inside out into the dirty clothes hamper.
Years later, after I began doing other people’s laundry, I noticed the same frequency of inside-out button-down shirts. These included some of my own. By then I was OCD enough not to commit such a heinous sin.
Eventually, I whined about this shirt disorder to a coworker, who said, “Don’t you see? Clothing is sewn inside out. Then we reverse it and call the inside-out condition right-side-out. The natural state of our clothing is to be inside-out. After being jostled underwater by a washing machine for half an hour, our clothing sometimes gets its way.”
Ahhhh. Now I understand.
This is an easy phenomenon to test. The next time you’re about to wash your next batch of button-down shirts and blouses, ensure they’re all right-side-out. Then put them through the washer and drier and see if any have found their way home.
Why does the same side of the moon always face Earth?
There are no wires connecting the moon to Earth. Why doesn’t the moon, given enough time, rotate around so we can see its other side? Why is the moon’s “day” (one full revolution about its axis) always equal to its “year” (one full orbit around Earth)?
Ready to be edified? The moon is slightly elliptical. A bulge on the moon faces Earth and a bulge on its opposite side faces away from Earth. The bulge facing Earth is pulled toward Earth because it is closer to Earth than the rest of the moon. The bulge facing away from the Earth is—compared to the rest of the moon—rejected by Earth’s gravity because it is the farthest from Earth. Scientists have a term for this: tidal locking. If the moon were further away from the Earth, or were smaller, we would be able to enjoy gazing at the entire moon, not just half of it. Imagine how many romantic nights there’d be. Except the moon would appear smaller. Can’t we just have everything?
Why can’t I read in my dreams?
How many of you have had the nightmare where you’re taking a final exam and you can’t read what’s on the test? Or you’re lost and can’t read the map your holding in your hand? Or you’re in your old school walking down the hallway and you can’t read the room numbers?
What’s happening is the part of your brain that allows you to read is not working while you sleep.
Additionally, because you’re dreaming, your brain is making up the words on the page as it goes along. You can try an experiment right now. Close your eyes and try to make up a paragraph of text. Then, in your mind’s eye, try to read that text to yourself.
Are you having trouble? Now, try doing that in your sleep. Good luck!
What’s that guy’s name?
Why is it difficult to remember the name “Steve” after knowing the guy for twenty years? I'm sorry, but your brain doesn’t remember very much. It does not remember your friend’s name as “Steve.” It remembers his name as a collection of sounds, such as “st,” “e” and “ve.” The name is broken down into its basic constituents and saved in various cranial compartments for later retrieval. When you try to recall that guy’s name, your brain thinks, “Hmm—it starts with st. There’s an ee sound in there somewhere, and a ve. Oh, yes, Steve it is!” Your brain does this very fast (for some of us). The problem is, what if you’re trying to remember the name “Steve,” and the person next to you says, “Isn’t his name Stan?” Whoops. You consciously try to reject the name “Stan.” But now the “st,” “a,” and “n” sounds block the placement of pieces necessary to assemble "Steve."
The medical term for this condition is called presque vu. In military terminology, you’ve lost “target lock.”
To solve this problem, think about something else, or about nothing at all, and soon the name “Steve” will come to you. This isn’t my fault. I didn’t design your brain.
Why can’t I draw my mother’s face?
It gets worse. I know you love your mother very much. But I’m sorry to tell you that you don’t remember what your mother looks like. Even if you saw her seconds ago. This isn’t because you were such a bad child. As we learned from the previous topic, your mind does not remember much.
Picture in your mind right now what your mother looks like. Unfortunately, you are not imagining her correctly. In your head is a jumbled mess that you think describes your mother's face. It’s just bits and pieces. For a computer analogy, think of a string of machine code commands that looks something like this:
Doesn’t that capture her cute dimples?
Your brain's job is not to remember what she looks like, but to recognize her face out of millions of other faces when you see it.
You don’t believe me? Go ahead, draw your mother right now. You can’t? Your brain cannot put the pieces of her face together.
Then why can artists draw people? It is because they have trained their brains through many years of hard work and dedication to assembling visual cues better than the rest of us.
Why cutting onions makes me cry
Cutting onions causes the onion to emit a gas that creates sulfuric acid in our tears. Sulfuric acid is used during the manufacture of batteries, explosives, herbicides, and jet fuel. At high enough concentrations, sulfuric acid reacts with your cells to remove the water from your skin, destroying it. The reaction creates heat, which can also cause burns. More onions, please! The chemical formula for sulfuric acid is H2SO4. It is pronounced: H, 2, S, "Oh," 4. This reminds me of a poem published in 1899 by Harry Graham:
Little Willie's dead and gone. His face we'll see no more. For what he thought was H2O, Was H2SO4.
To avoid the tearing problem, cut onions in front of a fan or outdoors where there is a natural wind.
If that isn't scary enough, remember when your mother put hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) on your cut to help prevent infection? That medicine was about 3% H2O2 and 97% water. That's a good thing, because do you know what pure H2O2 is? It's rocket fuel. If only your mother sang Elton John's Rocket Man while she helped your booboo get better.
You’re always 0.1 second behind
Not only does your brain not remember much, but it is always behind. In fact, you never have in your life experienced the present. What you’ve been feeling, hearing, seeing, and tasting your entire life is what your brain anticipates or guesses to be the present, based on what happened 0.1 second ago.
It takes about 0.1 second for your brain to “put together” or “render” the present. If that’s all your brain did, you’d never be able to do anything that requires quick reflexes like catch a ball or grab that falling piece of buttered bread before it lands face down on the kitchen floor because you'd always be 0.1 second behind.
Thus, your brain guesses what "its" future will be 0.1-second ahead of time, and then presents that to you as "your" present.
What’s the big deal about 0.1 second? A baseball thrown at 80 mph travels about 12 feet in 0.1 second. If the baseball hitter’s brain were 0.1 second behind, he’d miss the ball by 12 feet every time.
So, if you think you've lost grip on reality, you're correct.
Why do certain images shimmer?
How many times have you looked at optical illusions that seem to shimmer or move?
It's because of that 0.1-second delay. Not only is there a 0.1-second delay between reality and perception, your brain can't process all colors simultaneously. The black and the white portions of the image are rendered at different times. If you're moving your head or eyes while this is happening, you'll experience the shimmering effect. Your brain cannot keep up with what's in front of your face!
If you can manage to look at the image while keeping perfectly still, the shimmering will stop.
Why don't we see this shimmering effect everywhere we look? Because ordinarily, everything in our field of view is so disorganized it all comes out as a "wash." Whereas, the image you see above has been carefully constructed to take advantage of this weakness within your brain.
When you see something like this on TV and a creepy voice comes on that says, "You are now under my control!" unfortunately for you, the voice is correct.
Why put ice on a burn?
When you get a minor burn after touching a hot pot on the stove, go at once the freezer and take out a piece of ice. Hold the ice against the burn for about ten minutes. If you do this quickly enough, your burn will be drastically reduced, if not avoided altogether.
What is happening?
When you get a minor burn, your nerves in the burn area overreact and have a hissy fit. Or a tantrum. Call it what you will. It is your nerves, not the heat from the burn, that create the redness and pain and blistering. The ice makes your nerves forget the burn ever happened. What you’re left with after ten minutes is only the burn itself, which is often a relatively minor injury.
What is an itch?
I’m not speaking of rashes or allergic reactions. Just the ordinary itch that you feel you must scratch. Apparently, scientists don't yet entirely know what an itch is except that it involves the molecule called neuropeptide natriuretic polypeptide b (Nppb). The itch may be a phenomenon originating from humankind’s ancient past. There are theories out there, but I’m not interested in theories. I must wait until someone in the future can explain it to me.
But, I have more bad news for you.
Every time you scratch an itch, you encourage that particular nerve system to produce another itch in the same place. If you keep an “itch log,” you’ll discover that your itches tend to keep occurring in the same places. If you want your itches to go way, stop scratching them.
Same fish across U.S.?
How can it be that the same species of fish exist across the U.S. when the natural water systems fish live in are not connected? According to the World Research SIMCenter, there are twelve major river basins in the United States. None of these systems connect to each other. As far as fish are concerned, these basins might as well be on different planets. How, then, did a species of trout in Oregon get to a river in New Hampshire?
The answer is vicariance and dispersion. Vicariance is when wide-scale geology or climate changes are severe enough to temporarily connect these basins, such as during wetter ages in Earth’s history or during the waning of ice ages. Dispersion is when outside influences relocate fish to another basin. Two examples are birds that unwittingly carry fish eggs across great distances, and human beings who stock lakes with fish.
Speaking of fish, have you ever wondered how a fish knows which school to swim with? A fish can't see itself. How does it know when it's swimming with the right group?
Aren't you glad you're reading this?
The answer is smell. Fish can smell each other. That's how they know. It turns out that fish are smelly for a reason.
Why do dogs in cars like to stick their head out of windows?
Do dogs hang their heads out of car windows to get a better view? No, it's so they can get a better smell. It's the world's exciting smells that cause their noses to pull their heads out of all those windows. Know you nose the reason.
When I lose weight, where does the weight actually go?
We often hear the phrases "burning off fat" or "converting fat to energy." But fat molecules just don't just disappear. They are not converted into energy and just "vanish," as in E=mc2. To lose ten pounds of fat in a month, that mass of atoms must go somewhere. But where?
Are you ready for excitement? Who says chemistry isn't exciting?
Fat molecules ultimately break down into two chemicals: carbon dioxide (84%) and water (16%). How does our body get rid of excess carbon dioxide? Our body does it by exhaling it from our lungs!
The next time you're huffing and puffing when walking fast, jogging, or pumping iron in the gym, you are literally exhaling your fat!
Think about it. When 10 pounds of wood burns, you're left with a few ounces of ash. Where did the rest of the wood go? It went into the air as mostly water vapor and carbon dioxide. What about candles, which are mostly fat? When the candle burns down, where did the wax go? It was converted mostly to water vapor and carbon dioxide. The same goes with fat.
Keep exhaling that fat!
Two secrets not yet answered
I wish I had the answer to every question. But there are at least two questions that are still giving me trouble. Maybe you could help me out?
Our bodies are built from 375 MB of data
All the genetic information in each of our cells amounts to about 1.5 GB. Each of our cells contains the same DNA, so its not like each cells provides its own new information. 1.5 GB is all we get. However, about 75% of that genetic information is so severely out-of-date (from the “cave men” days and before) that it is not currently used. Therefore, only about 375 MB of information is used to define every part of our bodies. Compare our 375 MB of genetic data to a Microsoft Office 365 download of about 3,000 MB. How can we be designed from about one-eighth the information needed for Microsoft Office 365?
Consider these astronomical numbers:
The average adult brain contains 100 trillion neural connections, which if they were all stretched end-to-end would span 100 thousand miles (four times around the world).
The average adult possesses 100 thousand miles of blood vessels.
The average adult brain has about 100 trillion cells.
The average adult has five million pores
Obviously, these numbers represent only the tip of the human-body-complexity iceberg. Doctors go to school for ten years or longer to specialize in only one portion of the human body. How is it that such incomprehensibly intricate beings can be made with so little information?
Wiping off grocery cart handles
When I visit any large grocery store I see people at the front entrance wiping off handles of shopping carts with disinfectant wipes. They do this, I suppose, to isolate themselves from other people's germs.
These same people then go into the store and handle canned and other packaged products which have also come in contact with countless people around the world. What about all those germs?
Do these handle-wiping shoppers disinfect their coins and paper money before touching them?
Our skin is razor wire to viruses. The best way to avoid getting colds or flues from touching things is to wash our hands before touching our face or eating. This can be done just as easily whether or not shopping cart handles have been disinfected.
It is difficult for me not to feel badly for the handle-wiping people. I don't stare at them. Instead, I walk past them, pretending they weren't there.
Then there are the people with their shopping carts full of items who go to the self-checkout line and look over each item before checking it while everyone else waits. They’re much slower than the paid clerks who do this for a living. Apparently they don't want to go home, and instead remain in the store for as long as possible while holding up everyone else.
Perhaps some mysteries are too difficult to solve.
Now that you’re armed with this set of rare and valuable principles, you will excel ahead of your friends and coworkers and live happy and fulfilled lives. I could provide you with more nuggets, but then you’d be too happy, and your friends would reject you out of jealousy. Then you'd be sad.