Yet Lehrer and his ilk are popular for a reason. They make the hard-to-decipher work of scientists comprehensible to everyday readers and, at times, they give readers a belief that they too might be capable of extraordinary achievements. Lehrer, for his part, is a welcome addition to the bunch. For as well as scouring the worlds of sport, art, business and politics for puzzles to solve, he is also looking inwards, trying to understand how our minds work.
Researchers are Cornell University explored the science behind movie quotes to try and figure out how and why certain quotes become well known.
They looked at the scripts for about 1,000 movies and checked (a) which sentences were listed in the movie’s “Memorable Quotes” page on IMDb and (b) how often said sentence cropped up elsewhere on the Web. This isn’t a perfect methodology, because IMDb Memorable Quotes sections can be filled with gibberish — it’s not all “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse” on there, as you might imagine — but I can’t really imagine a better way to figure this out.
It’s really quite interesting. They find that memorable quotes tend to use less common word choices or are so general as to be easy to apply to any old situation.
Of course, this only deals with the sort of quotes that have the broadest impact and become universal (i.e. ”I coulda been a contender”). I don’t know about you, but these aren’t the quotes that are a part of my regular life. Those quotes I repeat come from things I and the people with whom I associate have in common. So when I quote “Arrested Development” or whatever, it’s not because that one quote was so memorable, but because either that quote or bit or movie or book or show or whatever has become part of the relationship I have with someone. But this is still interesting.
In general, our culture looks down upon such spontaneous forms of entertainment. We will always respect the symphony that took years to write more than the jazz album recorded on the first take. The classical work just seems more serious, more sophisticated, more worthy of critical attention. Similarly, it can be hard to defend the complexity of basketball to an ardent football fan. Have you heard what NBA coaches say during timeouts? Their game plans seem to consist entirely of vapid cliches. And then there are the plays: While athletes in the NFL have to memorize a Talmudic playbook, most NBA offensive plans are some variation of the pick and roll. The end result is that both basketball and jazz get dismissed as mindless acts of spontaneity, nothing but the carefree expression of talent.
— The great Jonah Lehrer uses Science to explain how basketball players and jazz musicians — who make what they are doing look quick and effortless — actually train their brains to think differently than everyone else’s.
Twins joined at the head — the medical term is craniopagus — are one in 2.5 million, of which only a fraction survive. The way the girls’ brains formed beneath the surface of their fused skulls, however, makes them beyond rare: their neural anatomy is unique, at least in the annals of recorded scientific literature.
— The Times Magazine story about conjoined twins and shared neural pathways is definitely worth one of your 20 reads this month.
Could seasonal allergies be a factor in causing depression? Yes, it appears that way. I can safely say that my own neverending allergies don’t cause me any grief or consternation, but they probably depress any number of people around me, just because they have to say “Bless you” roughly 312 times each day.
Here’s a new trend: People who sleep for just a few hours a day. It’s not just high school students, apparently:
For a small group of people—perhaps just 1% to 3% of the population—sleep is a waste of time.
Natural “short sleepers,” as they’re officially known, are night owls and early birds simultaneously. They typically turn in well after midnight, then get up just a few hours later and barrel through the day without needing to take naps or load up on caffeine.
They are also energetic, outgoing, optimistic and ambitious, according to the few researchers who have studied them.
The article notes that it’s hard to know if “short sleepers” are all high achievers, nobody knows exactly how many short sleepers are out there and lots of people think they are short sleepers but are really just sleep deprived. So what do we know about short sleepers?
To date, only a handful of small studies have looked at short sleepers—in part because they’re hard to find. They rarely go to sleep clinics and don’t think they have a disorder….
There is currently no way people can teach themselves to be short sleepers. Still, scientists hope that by studying short sleepers, they can better understand how the body regulates sleep and why sleep needs vary so much in humans.
Well, that’s…incredibly unhelpful. I was very excited to read this story, both because I operate on a small amount of sleep and because I am a sucker for stories like this. But it kind of seems like the entire thing is just an ad seeking people to participate in a genetic study, doesn’t it? I don’t mean to hate. I was just very, very curious about the “short sleeping” phenomenon, and excited to read the requisite three anecdotes that verified the trend, and I left this story feeling slightly let down. Perhaps you won’t feel the same way. Judge for yourself. (The sidebar about all-nighters was much more informative, in my opinion.)
But even after the longest twilight, night will fall. There will come a time when the dimmest, slowest-burning stars are done. While academic cosmologists publish, month after month, hundreds of scientific papers discussing the ultra-early universe, they have written little about this long-range future. But it is an area ripe for speculation. I can claim to have made one of the first scientific contributions to “cosmic futurology” in a short 1968 paper entitled “The Collapse of the Universe: an Eschatological Study.” Many cosmologists suspected then that the expansion that currently characterises our universe would cease and reverse itself. Galaxies would then fall towards each other, eventually crashing together into a “Big Crunch.” I described how, as galaxies merged together in the countdown to the crunch, individual stars would accelerate to almost the speed of light (rather as the atoms speed up in a gas that is compressed). Eventually these stars would be destroyed as the blue-shifted radiation from other stars rushing towards them made the sky above them hotter than the fires within.
— Feel like a little light reading about eternity? Sure, why not. This interesting story touches on how humanity can continue on beyond this planet, presuming we don’t wipe ourselves out (and also presuming that the entirety of existence is like the parts of the universe we can see, of course, along with numerous other things).
I think the bloody mary is a disgusting drink, and I want nothing to do with it. But! It’s very popular among other people who are not me, so it is with that in mind that I direct you to this breakdown of “the perfect bloody mary.” An analytic chemist named Neil Da Costa examined every ingredient in the drink, using Science to figure out the best way to make the mary, and presented this information at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.
Regrets, had a few, etc. Okay, now that we’ve gotten past that: A new study of regret says lots of interesting things! Mostly, the study found that people regret things in their love lives more than anything else. Revelations include that people who are not in relationships right now are more likely to have relationship-related regrets and that women are twice as likely to regret romance-related things.
The most interesting note, in my opinion: People are more likely to hold onto regret in situations where they didn’t act than situations where they did. So if you take a risk and it backfires, you will regret it less than if you never took the risk at all. Somehow, this fits with the moral of any post on this blog: stay on the couch.
Science says that people are more likely to get heart attacks when they are exercising and okay, fine, here it is, here’s the only thing anybody is reporting about this damn study: Sudden physical activity, like sex, increases your risk of a heart attack.
Here’s a complete and unedited quote from Jessica Paulus, a Tufts researcher who worked on the study: “[E]xercise is bad.” There you have it! If you exercise, you and everyone you know will die.
(Well, her full quote is actually: “What we really don’t want to do is for the public to walk away from this and think exercise is bad.” Again, I just reread her quote, and the only thing I saw was “[E]xercise is bad.” That’s it. That’s all I got. But Paulus really wants you to know that the study actually means that people who don’t exercise need to start out slowly and gradually increase your workouts. But why take that chance?)