Thursday, August 10, 2006

Education and educated guesses...

` ...I highly suggest the former before attempting the latter.
` Why is it that I keep running into people who lack basic understanding of some extremely elementary subject, causing them to reach a totally backwards conclusion when they make assumptions about it?
` Is it because I have a lot of knowledge about many subjects, and would thus notice certain things most people wouldn't? Or are these just the normal, semi-random knowledge defecits of normal people?
` I am currently lacking the time I would need to ponder this any longer, so without further ado:

` Not too long ago, I was talking about allergies with this really awesome girl, who completely confounded me by saying:
` "I don't think that people are allergic to bee stings at all, I think they're allergic to pollen and just don't know it: I mean, there's no allergens on a stinger, so how else could you go into anaphylactic shock?"
` I don't usually speak up, but since I was looking right at her and because it was an easy thing to explain, I told her that bee stingers pump venom into the wound, and the venom by itself causes a reaction even if it is injected by a hypodermic needle.
` It also gives you that feeling that you're on fire, characteristic of bee stings.
` She told me that she had never been stung by a bee, and actually had no idea that bees were venomous! You learn something every day....

` Sometime later, I was talking to a friend while we were avoiding the sun under an umbrella when she said:
` "I think it's stupid that people think sunburns can cause cancer later on in life. It just doesn't make any sense."
` Since I wasn't looking at her at the time, nor did I feel very articulate, I didn't bother saying anything. Still, I can tell you that the short answer is because radiation from the sun damages your DNA: If the cell fails to repair this damage and thus cannot grow normally, it will go through apoptosis (programmed cell death) which is why your sunburn eventually flakes off like so much dandruff.
` Sometimes, in one of the millions of afflicted cells, a particular type of genetic damage allows the cell to continue growing, even though it cannot repair its DNA. This cell can then divide into a cancerous growth, though it can take twenty years before the symptoms become noticeable.
` Also, various studies have shown, for example, that if you develop a melanoma you have probably also had an unusually high amount of sunburn damage compared to most people. So, why would it be stupid to think that there's any connection?

` The biggest blunder of them all, I remember, happened back when I was still living in Ohio. I was talking about all kinds of stuff with this random guy and he said one of the most moronic things I have ever heard:
` "I think that you're still conscious after you die and you can feel everything that's being done to your body until it completely rots. So, you get to feel what it's like to be embalmed and cut open, and you even get to hear your own eulogy and everything. And as all your memories and stuff rot, you lose them one by one until you're totally unconscious. That's when you're really dead."
` Since I was directly engaged in conversation with him, I actually tried to speak up and said that if your sensory nerves are no longer transmitting signals, then you couldn't feel or hear or see anything even if you were still clearly conscious and alive. When you die, your delicate nerve fibers shrivel up and stop working.
` And he said (get ready!);
` "No, no... nerves are only for moving muscles."
` And continued on as if I hadn't said anything important. For a while, I just kind of stared at him in bewilderment. Evidently, he'd slept through biology class, or else never took it. Come to think of it, neither did I, but somehow, I still learned these things....
` Nevertheless, I know that there are certain kinds of nerves for facillitating movement. When they stop working, you can't move. But what he failed to comprehend is that sensation is also transmitted through nerves, albeit different ones.
` When sensation-delivering nerves are blocked or do not work anymore, you cannot feel signals from them and it feels like you are missing part of your body, even if you can still move it with your motor nerves. Being injected with Novocain is a good example of this. The very same thing applies to the nerves involved in the sense of sight, hearing, taste and smell.
` When you die, electrical signals eventually cease in all of your nerve cells. This includes your brain. When certain parts of your brain stop working, it affects your consciousness to some extent or another. Usually, you lose some aspect of your ability to perceive, to act, or to think - although when you are dead, all of your brain eventually stops working after several minutes.
` Therefore, what could be left to perceive or be perceived from any part of your nervous system?
` Tactile (touch) nerves, retinas, etc. are specialized parts of the nervous system, just like the left frontal lobe or the superior olive of the brain. It doesn't really matter what portion it is; if it is no longer transmits chemical and electrical signals, which requires heavy metabolizing and expending mass amounts of energy (which involves lots of sugars, neurotransmitters, neuropeptides etc), then they cannot contribute to your awareness.
` All in all, a complete lack of activity in the nervous system - even if this does not include the brain - means that you could not sense anything happening at all to your body.
` Where the hell people get this stuff about sensation not being supplied by nerves beats me. I mean, where do they think it comes from? Magic?

` Well, I can't seem to think of anything to top that one, though I do remember something of some small significance while I was internetless and mooching off the computers at Zippy's. One day, I heard the owner (of both Zippy and Zippy's) telling one of her customers about some kind of tea with 'Rubiose'. And I thought that sounded familiar, but I didn't make a connection until I saw a hand-lettered sign that said; 'Roobios'.
` I thought to myself; 'Oh no! she misspelled 'Rooibos!'', which is pronounced something like 'ROY-boss.'
` It's an Afrikaans word. Rooi I think means 'red' and bos means 'bush'. Or something to that effect. It's a strange African bush with antioxidant-filled leaves, which is where 'red tea' comes from - although the leaves can also be brewed without drying them, in which case you have what you could call green red tea!
` Curse me for knowing obscure things about tea and wanting to be a linguist.
` I like the fact that I can infer meanings of some Afrikaans words by simply knowing English, plus the words of some other languages: Wildebeest, as you may be able to tell, means 'wild beast' (or, more specifically, 'wild ox'), and bontebok means 'colorful buck/antelope' (bunt means 'colorful' in German).
` Of course, someone who does not pay as much attention to words can easily miss these things, though I think that it is best to make sure you know how to pronounce what you peddle.

` ...By the way, this reminds me of the best Afrikaans insult ever: Sit jou kop tussen die kooie se kont en wag tot die bul jou kom holnaai! It means; 'Stick your head in a cow's vagina and wait for the bull to buggar you!'
` If only I knew how to pronounce Afrikaans sentences....

` Hrm... what's the most recent thing I've caught? Well, just today, there was a photograph I received in an e-mail of a yellow canary finch hanging upside-down, with the subtitle; 'Now, that's one talented parrot!'
` Okay....
` I didn't save the picture, but I thought it was most obvious that it was indeed a canary and not a parrot. Now, let us review our animal identification skills from kindergarten....

` This is a parrot:

` These are canaries:

` The large and unusually-shaped beak is generally what people first notice as being distinctive about parrots (as opposed to other birds), but whoever wrote that caption apparently was oblivious to any shapes and proportions that are different between canaries and parrots!
` Perhaps this person called the canary a 'parrot' because it was brightly colored like parrots are. I know that people tend to do that, so they confuse two animals that have a similar general coloration even if they otherwise look different.
` Oddly, I don't seem to have that problem - quite the opposite: I tend to distinguish between animals based on body shape instead of markings. In fact, if I do misidentify a species, it is because I am going by shape, and any distinctive coloration doesn't register as being that important!
` Isn't that just... not normal?
` This explains the incident when I first glimpsed a quite shaggy-looking magpie in the distance, noted its long, erectile head crest, long tail, beak and legs, and thought its feet looked X-shaped; I figured that perhaps it was a species of roadrunner! Other people laughed, probably thinking that I was stupid for missing the fact that roadrunners are not black and white, whereas magpies are!
` ...But as far as I know, magpies are not supposed to have head crests! Had this one been moulting? In any case, since that blunderous incident I've taken care to get better at not ignoring the markings that animals sport.
` And yet, I've always been better at distinguishing between animals than other people. I've never had any trouble telling apart - for instance - brown bears from black bears that are brown, African from Asian elephants, nor white from black rhinos.
` As a child, especially, it drove me nuts that random people I overheard at the zoo evidently could not spot any differences between various animals that didn't at all look similar to me. For example, I ran into several people who could not tell apart the jaguar...

` ...from the cheetah!

` So, looking at the two animals in the same position here, it is impossible to miss that the jaguar is very stocky while the cheetah is built like a greyhound (hence its characteristic swiftness); the jaguar has a massive snout while the cheetah has quite a small muzzle; also, the jaguar's legs and tail are very short while the cheetah's are long and exaggerated.
` So, at the big cat enclosures, I would be telling people; "Can't you tell that they have completely different body types?"
` Plus, the markings are more than noticeably different, yet oddly I didn't catch on until after I learned how to tell them apart!
` Pretty strange, huh?

` And, that reminds me; for the record.... Tanuki are not raccoons! How many times do I have to tell people? Tanuki are a type of dog, for soup's sake!

` Still, someone that I know who was studying Japanese culture thought that raccoons live in Japan and are called tanuki! Well, that's just backwards, so I tried to tell him that this was not true, but he didn't believe me because 'tanuki' was translated as 'raccoon' in his reference books.
` ...I suppose that's typical: It was also translated as 'raccoon' in the movie Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko, which has stunned probably most American viewers because it depicts the tanuki spirits beating the crap out of police officers with their expanded testicles!

` Yes, the picture is not lying! If you'd like to know more about tanuki, their role in Japanese culture, and the reasons for some of the weird things in Ponpoko, I'd suggest checking out this post. Of course... Wikipedia has some more detailed articles on Tanuki spirits and the actual animal!

` Well, I think this post turned out to be strange (and wayyy too long!). I hope I have been a most, um, colorful know-it-all, because at least I'm the kind that usually makes sure I know what I'm talking about!

` Well, enjoy the bonus post!


Galtron said...

What a wonderfully graphic depiction of violence involving testicles, except that the testicles aren't the things getting hurt!

Though, I'm still stuck on 'Oh, nerves are just for moving muscles.' That is too hilarious!!! Waa haaa!

Aaron said...

Spoony. I'm glad you're out there setting people straight. I gave up on doing that a long time ago, and now I just laugh at their ignorance - and envy their bliss.

S E E Quine said...

` ...Lucky for you, ignorance is not usually bliss.

R said...

Guy from Ohio cracked me up. Apart from the nerve/ muscle thing; do we not have enough physical problems without starting to think they won't end when we're dead? Leaving aside for a moment views on afterlife, non of which to my (limited) knowledge involve lying there whilst you totally decompose. And at what stage would you stop "feeling"? When bits of you have become grass? When those bits that were grass have been eaten by cows? Yuk. I'll re-read that again in the morning and see where I think that idea would logically conclude - based on, of course, no science studies beyond age 16 except for economics. And ignorance is not bliss; I want to know.

Galtron said...

Ignorance is EVIL!!

I just can't get over that guy - your brain is very delicate and you might go unconscious if it simply gets jerked really fast in one direction and bounces off your skull! It's weird how anyone could think that you would still be conscious once it was a) free from activity and b) putrifying.

It appears that he thinks your brain still has to be intact in order for you to be conscious, though it leaves the question: Would he prefer being cremated or rotting for a long time?

S E E Quine said...

` I think he'd said that rotting was probably less painful.

Galtron said...

I think I'd prefer incineration, because then the suffering and waiting wouldn't last very long.

S E E Quine said...

` Me too, probably. I can't stand agony for very long.