Monday, 20th August 2018
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By Bill Sones and Rich Sones, PhD

Q. If you dream about something you are trying to memorize, is that likely to improve your recollection?

A. Only dreams which occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep are typically remembered. But a person awakened during non-REM sleep will often report they were dreaming.

Using the forced awakening technique on 22 volunteers each tasked with memorizing 100 word-picture pairs (for example, "tree" paired with a picture of a seated child), Sarah Schoch et al. found that non-REM dreaming about the memorization task correlated with improved recollection the following day, (on the bioRxiv preprint website).

REM dreams about the task, on the other hand, indicated no such correlation.

The counterintuitive conclusion? Dreaming about a memorization task does improve recollection, but only if you don't remember the dream!

Q. Dogs, gorillas, horses, hyenas, sloths, giraffes, whales, herrings and snakes just one of these mammals does not fart. Do you know which one?

A. Sloths don't do it, answers Steve Mirsky in "Scientific American" magazine. Though their gut flora produce plenty of methane, "it is absorbed through the gut and into the bloodstream before being breathed out, say zoologist Dana Rabaiotti and ecologist Nick Caruso in "Does It Fart: The Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence."

In fact, almost all mammals fart. A list of the noes include sea anemones, sea cucumbers, Portuguese man-of-war, goldfish, octopuses, soft-shelled clams and the 10,000 species of birds. "Nevertheless, parrot owners have reported what sound like loud expulsions coming from their birds." But, Mirsky concludes, "keep in mind that parrots are excellent mimics."

Q. What's in a name, you ask? Something you might not expect, the researchers say. What might that be?

A. Respect. When they looked at some 4500 online reviews by college students rating their professors in five disciplines at 17 universities, they uncovered some gender disparity, reports "Science" magazine.

The students were "56% more likely to refer to male professors than female professors by their last name alone, and that form of address may confer greater respect."

Computer science showed the greatest difference, with male professors being referred to only by surnames 48% of the time, compared with 18% for female professors ("Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences").

In related studies, Cornell University's Stav Atir and Melissa Ferguson found that men garnered more surname-only recognition in other contexts, such as talk-show pundits discussing politicians.

It appears that people regard scientists mentioned by last name alone as more famous and eminent than those mentioned by full name.

As the authors conclude, "women may be short-changed on professional benefits such as research funding based on nothing more than how people utter their names."

Q. How does a cockroach manage to survive without its head?

A. The bodiless head too lives on, waving its antennae about for several hours, says Charles Choi in "Scientific American" magazine.

To understand how a roach and many other insects can survive decapitation, it's instructive to understand why we humans can't. First off, the blood loss and drop in blood pressure would stop the flow of oxygen and vital nutrients, and we'd bleed to death. Plus, brainless, we couldn't breathe; mouthless, we couldn't eat.

The roach neck, in comparison, would seal off by clotting, so there'd be no uncontrolled bleeding. And little holes, or spiracles, pipe air in directly to each body segment. Too, a cold-blooded roach can survive for weeks after just one meal.

From cockroach decapitation, scientists can learn about glands and maturation, metamorphosis and reproduction in insects generally.

As entomologist Christopher Tipping remarks, a headless roach that can still stand, react to touch and move has much to teach a human about how insect neurons operate.

Q. Parents eagerly looking forward to Baby's first word are often surprised by what they hear. Why?

A. Though they confidently expect it to be "mummy" or "daddy," they are as likely to get "teddy" or "drink" or "peep-bo" or "ooh," says David Crystal in "Words,

Words, Words." They shouldn't get upset. "Babies, likeadults, tend not to talk about the obvious but to comment on what is novel or dramatic. It isn't just teenagers who think that there are more interesting things in life than parents."

First words typically come around 12 months of age but can be as early as eight or nine months. Some babies may skip the single-word stage and launch directly into simple sentences. By 18 months, most children produce around 50 words, by age 2 200 words, by 3 3,000-5,000 words. One study recorded a child of 3 1/2 for a whole day and counted 37,000 words, over 4,000 different ones. "The totals seem remarkable until you actually spend time with an articulate four-year-old and find yourself wishing they would shut up so you can get a word in!"

Q. How much can you tell from your dog's bark? Better still, can you identify your dog from its bark alone?

A. Most of us can't unless we utilize our computers and software developed at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary, which can distinguish the key features of barks, reports "Animal Cognition." Thus equipped, we can not only identify our own dog from its bark but also determine if it was barking at a stranger or a ball or possibly something else.

Q. When the neurobiology prof encountered a student who had plagiarized her entire paper from one of his class lectures, what punishment did he mete out? An

F? Expulsion from the class?

A. A lesser teacher might have but not this one, says Oliver Sacks in "Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain." When the prof called the student into his office something didn't add up: She didn't seem the type to cheat or lie so he played a hunch, asking her if she happened to have a photographic memory. "Why, yes, sort of like that," she replied. "I can remember anything if I put it to music." She then sang back to him whole sections of his lecture. And quite prettily, he added. "I was flabbergasted."

This got Sacks thinking about the countless cultural songs and rhymes to help kids learn the alphabet, numbers and other lists. Even as adults we may have to sing the "ABC song" internally to recall the entire alphabet. Especially in preliterate cultures, music has held power in oral traditions of storytelling, liturgy, prayer. Whole books can be held in memory "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" with their music-like rhythm and rhyme. All of this may have much to do with why we humans took to music to the extent we have.

Q. "To be on cloud 9" is to be sky high with happiness, yet probably more of us have been UNDER cloud 9.

But how about cloud 10? What apparel might be appropriate in that case?

A. Likely umbrellas, raincoats and galoshes, sinc cloud 10 replaced the designation of cloud 9 in the 2n edition of "The International Cloud Atlas" of 1896, to signify cumulonimbus clouds, or thunderclouds, the tallest of the cloud types, says Andrew Robinson in

"The Story of Measurement." The 10 of course never caught on in popular lingo. Scientific cloud typing itself got started in 1802 when Luke Howard, drawing on an even older system, coined the names cumulus, stratus, cirrus and nimbus (the last no longer still in use).


Letters to the Editor

  • Our View

    Rush to CriticismThere are not many people who at this stage have not heard about the Cash family and what happened to them. The mother and six of her children had to seek accommodation in the Tallaght Garda Station last week as they had absolutely nowhere to turn to. It led to an outcry as pictures of the young children sleeping on seats were posted to social media by the mother.Understandably there were a lot of people who were saddened to see that in this day and age that a family had to resor …

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