science

In her acceptance speech for the US National Book Award, writer, scientist and ecologist Rachel Carson argued that the arts of science and writing are inextricably linked.

The materials of science are the materials of life itself. Science is part of the reality of living; it is the what, the how, and the why of everything in our experience. It is impossible to understand man without understanding his environment and the forces that have molded him physically and mentally.

The aim of science is to discover and illuminate truth. And that, I take it, is the aim of literature, whether biography or history or fiction; it seems to me, then, that there can be no separate literature of science.

Rachel Carson

Even ficticious work, which does not seek truth in the literal sense, uncovers and explores the nature of humans as we are, have been, and could be.

Science and writing are seperate forms of exploration, unfied by the same motive.

When the quantity of work required to achieve a planned outcome increases disproportionately to the resources you have available to achieve said outcomes, you have scope creep.

Scope creep is entirely common and can be absolutely paralysing, but is totally avoidable.

Scope Creep is often a product of poor planning.

Before commencing any project, you should have a clear list of specific tasks which need to be completed in order to achieve the outcome you’re working towards.

The specificity and tangibility of these tasks is directly related to how difficult it will be for scope to creep.

Vague goals generate vague tasks which lead to not much getting done.

Vagueness is the enemy of progress. Which is why we all have a friend who is still writing that ‘thing’ they have been working on and adapting for years. I have been that friend. In many ways, I still am that friend. But I’m working on it.

More specifically, I’m working on setting goals which are strategic, time sensitive, achievable and meaningful.

I was just going about my business when out of nowhere my sister de-railed my day with a horrible little nugget of wisdom from the zoo – which I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since.

Let’s have a quick chat about the largest lizard on earth.

They smell with their tongues, can swim between islands, possess venom which thins the blood of their prey and can reproduce asexually, laying 15-30 eggs at a time.

Pretty cool, right?

Wrong.

What would you say if I told you that baby Komodo dragons made up approximately 10% of an adult Komodo’s diet?

If you’ve got 30 babies, what else are you going to do with them?

These little Komodo dragons spend the early stages of their lives in the treetops – purely for the fact that mature Komodos can’t climb up and eat them.

When they do eventually muster the bravery to explore the ground, it’s common for baby Komodo dragons to cover themselves in the faeces of adults to avoid being cannibalised.

I repeat; baby Komodos coat themselves in their parent’s crap so that their parents don’t eat them…

Facts like this often leave me awestruck by how far removed we are from the savage realities of the natural world.

Humans are weird, but nature certainly has our number.

While definitely the most disturbing, this isn’t even the nastiest aspect of a Komodo’s eating habits.

If you’ve never seen footage of a Komodo hunting its prey, allow me to paint you a picture.

Hot tip: Don’t youtube this. It’s flat-out brutal and you’ll probably wind up on whatever animal cruelty watch-list I’m now on.

If a Komodo wanted to eat you it would storm up, take a bite, then casually follow you around until you’d lost so much blood that you couldn’t defend yourself. Once you looked delirious enough, it’d commence eating you alive. Bones and all.

Next time you’re having a rough day, try putting yourself in the shoes of a baby Komodo; dripping in your mother’s crap, trying desperately to scale a tree as the creature who brought you into the world snaps hungrily behind you, charging at you with all her might and evey intention of eating you whole.

If the baby Komodo can find a way, we probably can too.

I have at times been perplexed by the amount of sneezing I do at seemingly random intervals, deducing that I probably just have allergies to something.

During a meeting today, I needed to walk from one building to another. It was a gorgeous sunny day in Fremantle, and as we approached the second building, I couldn’t help but let out three muffled but aggressive sneezes.

“Sorry about that!” I said, embarrassed. “I think I must be allergic to one of the trees or something around here, it gets me all the time.”

The woman I was meeting with didn’t miss a beat before responding, “No, it’s probably the sun.”

Apparently, this is an actual thing.

The Photic Sneeze Reflex is a legitimate medical condition which causes people to sneeze when exposed to a variety of stimuli, including looking at bright lights.

Strangely, the earliest know record of the Photic Sneeze Reflex lives in the writings of Aristotle.

‘Why is it that one sneezes more after one has looked at the sun? Is it because the sun engenders heat and so causes movement, just as does tickling the nose with a feather? For both have the same effect; by setting up movement they cause heat and create breath more quickly from the moisture; and it is the escape of this breath which causes sneezing.’

Aristotle

Aristotle thought that the sun might cause nose sweat, which could tickle the inside of the nose enough to illicit a sneeze. While the logic checks out, this isn’t actually how it works.

Scientist’s best guess at the moment is that the sneeze reaction has something to do with the overstimulation of the trigeminal nerve,

Image result for trigeminal nerve
NHS

This nerve is the connection point for three other nerve branches including; the ophthalmic branch, which can be stimulated by rapid changes in light conditions; and the maxillary branch, which when stimulated, can cause sneezing.

The running theory is that when the opthalmic branch is overstimulated, it can cause other branches of the trigeminal nerve to become irritated.

A 2010 study discovered that if you’re amongst the 18-35% of people who report sneezing at the sun, you almost definitely have a very specific and seemingly pointless inheritable genetic mutation.

For those of us with the mutation, the irritation passed on to our maxillary nerve from overstimulation of the ophthalmic nerve through bright light changes is just enough to send us over the edge and into a small fit of sneezes.

The condition is harmless unless you’re a brain surgeon, but one hell of a nuisance nonetheless.

You can test whether you’re affected quite easily. Just walk outside and look at the sun for a while (not directly, obviously). If after thirty seconds or so you wind up achoo-ing your head off, welcome to the Photic Sneeze Reflex Club. You’ll receive your card in the mail.

The tiles in your bathroom are exactly the same temperature as your bathmat.

But it don’t feel that way.

Physics 101 taught us that when things feel hot or cold, it’s not their actual temperatures we’re meassuing. We only feel temperature of things in relation to ourselves.

When you first dive into a pool on a warm day, it feels freezing at first because your body was acclimatised to the heat outside.

But as your skin cools to an equilibrium temperature with the water, the water seems to get warmer.

In reality, you jumping in barely changes the temperature of the pool water at all.

But the variance in temperature between your skin and the water has reduced greatly as your body has cooled.

Hopping back to bathroom tiles, the second factor we need to understand when thinking about temperature exchange is the conductivity of different things.

When you walk into your bathroom in the morning, you dart over the tiles and onto the bathmat not because it’s warmer, but because it takes a lot longer to exchange it’s temperature with yours.

Before you enter the room they are exactly the same temperature, and each share the exact same variance in temperature with the sole of your foot.

The difference is that your tiles are far more conductive. They equalise temperature with your feet much quicker than the bathmat.

The tiles have a higher capacity for receiving and exchanging heat. The tiles are more sensitive to the incoming heat transferred through your foot. They experience your heat more intensely, and you experience a more intebse feeling of cold.

In a similar way, some people are more sensitive to certain inputs that others.

This conductivity is not necessarily a weakness. Even if at times it’s inconvenient.

Tiles and bathmats each serve their purpose.

Don’t judge a book by it’s conductivity.

In case you missed it, psychedelic medical research in the US just got a $17m injection from private donors.

The research will centralise around psychedelic compounds such as psilocybin, which is the hallucinogenic compound found in ‘magic mushrooms’.

Researchers at the newly funded Johns Hopkins Centre for Psychedelic Research will assess the potential for psychedelic treatments for an array of medical conditions including depression, opiod addiction, anorexia and PTSD to name a few.

Previous psychadelic research conducted on volunteering cancer patients has displayed hugely promising results for these treatments. Studies have shown that high dose psylocybin experiences are able to reduce depression and anxiety and an increase in quality of life, life meaning and optimism.

The perplexing thing is that these effects seem to last for months. This sustained improvement in mindset and increase in mental plasticity has massive theraputic implications if the research concludes that the compounds are safe for clinical use. Which, with this funding, could easily occur within the next decade.

Whether you’re invested and interested in this research, or you’ve never heard of psylocybin before, this announcement panel is worth a watch.