|1150411. Wed Sep 23, 2015 11:23 am
|This is a long one, but there were too many interesting things to cut it short!
Starting with a lovely word I’ve unearthed... a lucid dreamer can also be known as an “oneironaut” (pronounced oh-ney-ro-nought) - from the Greek “oneiro” meaning dream, and “naut” meaning sailor. So, to be an oneironaut is to be a dream-sailor.
How did electrocuting cows help identify the theory of relativity?
In the late 19th and early 20th century scientists were busy trying to explain how the speed of light could remain constant, even from a moving source. In 1905, Einstein published a paper on Special Relativity which proposed a solution to this cosmic-speed-limit conundrum, and remains the generally accepted theory, but his inspiration for the idea was actually rooted as far as you can get from experimental data: it was rooted in a dream. One fateful night, young Albert’s subconscious was invaded by a field of cows, all lined up by an electric fence, their necks craned, eating the plush green grass on the other side. Einstein went up to the fence and touched it. “No electricity there”, he thought, “No wonder the cows show no regard for it”. It was as this moment the farmer who owned of the field appeared at the far end of the fence and, realizing it wasn’t functioning, switched on the electricity. Einstein watched as the cows all jumped back at the same time, and walked up to the farmer. “Your cows show extraordinary reflexes - just now, I saw them all leap back together.” The farmer looked confused. “All at once? But I witnessed the cows jump up one by one, like a Mexican wave!”
This is, in fact, exactly what happens in real life, although heavily exaggerated. Assuming the electricity travels down the wires at the speed of light (I know, I know, just roll with it guys) the farmer would have to wait for the electricity/light to travel to the cow and travel back, which for each cow would be a farther distance and take a longer time, so he would see the cows jump back one by one. For Einstein, who was at the end of the fence, the electricity would move away from the farmer, systematically electrocute the cows as it got closer, and all this information would reach Einstein’s eyes at the same time allowing him to see a simultaneous effect. Supposedly, this dream nucleated the idea of time being different depending on the observer in Einstein’s mind, and if that’s the case we really do have cows to thank for the theory of relativity.
In fact, an astonishing number of inventions and ideas owe their existence to dreams: the sewing machine, James Cameron’s “The Terminator,” Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday”, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, and (my favourite) Kuklé’s model of benzene all stem from an inspirational bit of R.E.M..
It’s also curious how many people claim to have had premonitions in their dreams. Ten days before he was shot, Abraham Lincoln is reported to have told his wife of a dream in which he wandered about his empty house before stumbling upon a catafalque surrounded by weeping mourners and armed soldiers. “'Who is dead in the White House?' I demanded of one of the soldiers "The President" was his answer; "he was killed by an assassin!" Then came a loud burst of grief form the crowd, which awoke me from my dream." More recently, with the events of 9/11, one woman claims to have dreamt of spinning into blackness, a man’s voice repeating the number 2,830 and a name that sounded like “Rooks” or “Horooks”. A week before the attack she cancelled her family’s September 11th flight to Disneyland, despite protestations from her husband that she was overreacting. In the aftermath of the attacks, it was revealed that there had been 2,830 casualties, and the First Officer of United airlines flight 175, which crashed into Tower 2, was called Michael Horrocks. Famously, J.P.Morgan cancelled his trip on HMS Titanic “because of a bad feeling”. These premonitions, if they are premonitions and not (as i’m inclined to believe) coincidences or fabrications, would be an example of precognition- something that breaks the law of causality, and gets scientists into a bit of a temper. However, there are also numerous examples in nature of animals exhibiting precognitive behavior: anecdotally, dogs have often been said to anticipate owners returning home minutes in advance (as well as before walks or meal times, although this is more easily put down to repetitive behavioral cues), and many animals have reportedly behaved in an unusual manner even days before events such as earthquakes. In 2009, toads in central Italy stopped mating at the peak of the season for no apparent reason; six days later a magnitude 6.4 earthquake shook the area and the toads didn’t resume their normal behavior until two days after the last aftershock. Rachel Grant, a biologist studying the toads, could find no other reason for this behavioral anomaly other than the seismic event, although it should be noted that 6 days prior to the quake there had been no humanly register-able seismic activity. The area of study around precognition garners a degree of skepticism in the scientific community - it tends to be linked to the paranormal - but it’s objectively reasonable to assume that animals are just using a more finely tuned detection method than we currently understand, maybe picking up on unusual electrical, chemical, meteorological or tectonic behavior. Indeed, since the 1970’s China has encouraged citizens to report odd animal behavior, even monitoring wildlife centers, and has used this in conjunction with scientific data to predict seismic events far in advance of other countries. When we can start to identify the mechanisms by which animals do this we may find ourselves on a path to scientifically determinging if or how humans experience precognition.
Onto a less controversial topic... what noise does a giraffe make? Giraffes are known as fairly silent creatures, perhaps from an inability to produce sufficient airflow through their 13 foot long trachea to vibrate the vocal folds, however, some researchers at the University of Vienna trawled through eight years of Giraffe recordings from three zoos and found something... Giraffes hum. Their hum is around 92Hz, so at the lower end of the human hearing spectrum, and it turns out giraffes only hum at night - which explains why zoo-keepers were completely baffled by the recording (which sounds a bit like a distant motorbike), having never heard the sounds before. There has currently been little research into the reasons for it, although it’s suggested it enables the herd to communicate and stay together in the dark, or maybe it’s just a fancy form of giraffe snoring.
As a final fact, did you know humans produce light? You are probably all aware of bioluminescence; the most common biological mechanism in animals (but which is not exactly the same in humans) involves reacting an organic chemical with plenty of delocalised electrons, often called a luciferin (from the Latin “light bringer”), with oxygen under a luciferase enzyme catalyst - this reaction produces a large amount of energy which is channeled into the molecule, rather than being released as heat, exciting the electrons in the product (an oxyluciferin) to a higher energy state. As these electrons dissipate their energy, they jump back down an energy level, releasing a photon of light. This effect is very obvious in animals such as glow worms or angler fish, but it turns out the majority of animals exhibit low levels of photon emission- in our case, it’s about 1000x too weak for our eyes to detect. Japanese scientists Daisuke Kikuchi and Masaki Kobayashi from the Tohoku Institute of Technology, with the aid of a highly sensitive imaging CCD (charge-coupled device) camera, were able to capture the very first images of human bioluminescence - at the time, identifying this low intensity bioluminescent light from humans was considered impossible. On inspecting the images, our faces seem to glow more than the rest of us, likely because of their increased sun exposure and higher level of melanin, and the emission intensity seems to ebb and flow depending on metabolic rate - peaking at about 4pm. It’s been shown that people who meditate tend to have lower levels of photon emission, due to the reduction in stress induced radicals in the body, and there is now a lot of research into how the intensity of these high-energy metabolic emissions correlate with physical and mental health, with more and more data indicating that photon emission is linked to metabolic and homeostatic processes, biorhythms, intracellular and intercellular communication, cell growth and differentiation, regulation of biochemical and morphogenetic processes, microtubule function, and that different cells (such as cancer cells) have characteristic and identifiable emissions due to their different oxidative stress. While we’re not 100% about mechanism of human photon emission yet (it’s theorised that it originates from our DNA, and uses ATP as a cofactor) it’s definitely possible that the light we produce could tell us a huge amount about what’s happening in our bodies.
I’ve only just scratched the surface of this incredible topic; if you want to read more about it I’d suggest you look up Nobel-nominated Dr. Fritz Albert Popp, who has done a lot of fascinating work on biophotons.