Superstitious Pigeons

By Anupum Pant

B.F. Skinner was an American psychologist, a behaviorist, and a social philosopher. He was also the inventor of the operant conditioning chamber – A.K.A the Skinner box, is a box which is used to study animal behaviour. For example, you can use it to train an animal to perform certain actions in response to some input, like light or sound.

Using one of his favourite animals, he designed an experiment where he trained a pigeon in order to examine the formation of superstitious beliefs in animals. Here’s what he did.

He placed a couple of pigeons in his setup which was designed to deliver food to them after certain intervals. Of all the things, the timing of food delivery by this apparatus wasn’t related to one thing for sure – behaviour or actions of the bird.

And yet, after some time in this automated setup, the pigeons developed certain associations which made them belief that the food came when they did something. They had developed superstitious beliefs.

For instance:

One bird was conditioned to turn counter-clockwise about the cage, making two or three turns between reinforcements. Another repeatedly thrust its head into one of the upper corners of the cage. A third developed a ‘tossing’ response, as if placing its head beneath an invisible bar and lifting it repeatedly. Two birds developed a pendulum motion of the head and body, in which the head was extended forward and swung from right to left with a sharp movement followed by a somewhat slower return. – Wikipedia

The bird behaviour isn’t much different from what humans do…

The pigeons started believing in a causal relationship between its behaviour and delivery of food, even when there was nothing like that.

It’s almost like the humans blowing on the dice, or throwing it harder to make a favourable number appear. Even when blowing or throwing a dice harder doesn’t hold any causal relationship with the event of good numbers turning up.

During other times, when people bowl down a bowling ball and twist  their bodies towards right to make the ball go right, they have in fact unknowingly developed a superstitious belief, just like the pigeons that there’s a causal relationship between turning their bodies and curving of the bowling ball. In reality, there’s nothing like that. The ball goes where it has to, irrespective of how they turn their bodies.

Just like in the superstitious pigeon’s case, the food would have appeared anyway. The pigeon didn’t have to do something to get it.

via [Wikipedia]

White Sand is Mostly Parrot Fish Poop

By Anupum Pant

Walking on the sparkling white sand on a sunny beach in Hawaii, sounds wonderful, right? Who’d even think, the white sand on Hawaii beaches, which people love walking on, is actually something that is excreted by a certain kind of fish called the Parrot fish…at least most of it – about 70% of it is poop.

Now, I suppose people walking on the beach must be all grossed out. But they shouldn’t be. It isn’t too bad after all. The sand (poop) doesn’t even smell like anything bad. It looks and feels completely fine. There’s actually no reason to be grossed out.

This is how it works…

The Parrot fish spends most of its time eating sea weed and polyps which grows on coral most of the time. When it tries to puck it off, thanks to the protruded mouth of a parrot fish, it scoops off a part of coral too. The coral and sea weed mixes and gets crushed in its throat.

The sea weed and polyps eventually get digested, while the crushed coral comes out as it is. As a result, it poops out the undigested  crushed coral.

Interestingly, in the process of taking off a chunk of coral and munching it, the parrot fish does two good things.

Firstly, it helps the coral in removing all the parasites and other things growing on it. The fish is considered to be a natural cleaner of corals. Had there been no parrot fish, corals would have died.

Secondly, the parrot fish does a great service to its own beak in this process. As a result, the beaks don’t grow too much.

The parrot fish eats a lot, and each one of them can produce about 100 kg of “sand” every year. It has been confirmed by scientists that about 70% of the sand that is present on all the tropical beaches has come out of the back side of a parrot fish at some point of time.

This is what a parrot fish looks like and this is how it poops out sand…

Bonus fact: Our planet is old and fresh water is less. So, it’s valid to say that all the water molecules that are there now have passed through something really bad, and there’s a high chance that all of it has passed someone’s urinary tract at some point.

The New York Pizza and Subway Ride Connection

By Anupum Pant

This is funny and interestingly true at the same time. According to Eric M. Bram of New York, there’s an unspoken rough law that says – there’s a connection between the price trends of a pizza* and a subway ride ticket in the New York city.

Their prices have remained more or less same for about 50 years now, moving up and down together! If one goes up, the other has been seen to move in the same direction too. The trend has been observed to be more or less valid for the last half century. 

Don’t ask why. I say, just go with the flow.

It was first observed in the year 1980 by Eric M. Bram. He observed that there was an uncanny similarity in the price of a slice of a pizza and a subway token in the year 1960, in the NYC – Both 15 cents.

In the 70s pizza started costing about 35 cents. So did the subway token! and so on…

Fairly recently, in the year 2002, when the price of pizza was about $2.00, and the price of a subway token was $1.50, it was predicted that the price of the subway ticket would rise. And as the “law” states, it did!

Again in the year 2005, the price of pizza went up to $2.25 and it was predicted that the subway token price would rise. It did again!

Once again in the year 2007. In 2013 the fare moved to $2.50, again just after the average pizza price had risen to the same price. No one probably knows why.

With 50 years of record, I’m pretty sure that the trend is going to keep up. Some one from the future, living in New York could confirm it in the comments section below.

So, if someone starts mass producing pizzas, floods the pizza market in the NYC, and drops the price, will the Subway ticket drop too? Someone should try that. 

*When we say pizza here, specifically, we are talking about a plain tomato + mozarella + crust pizza only.