Ants and Their Friends

By Anupum Pant

Background

If you consider the habits, social organization, communities, network of roadways, possession of domestic animals, and counting skills of ants, they are not very different from humans. Yes, ants even domesticate animals. And we’ve talked about their counting skills in the past. Then, I came across a very interesting experiment sir John Lubbock decided to do on ants.

Experiment

He had in his captivity a number of varieties of ants living in different colonies. One day he saw a group of ants feeding on honey together. He picked twenty five of them and managed to intoxicate them by some method, others were left there, feeding on honey.

Next, he picked twenty five other ants of the same species, from a different colony and intoxicated them too. He then placed all of these 50 intoxicated ants near the honey, in the path which the ants were using to move to and fro from the honey.

He watched them for hours and it was an amazing thing he found. The twenty five ants which belonged to the same colony of ants that were feeding on honey were treated much differently by them, than the other 25 ants of the same species that belonged to a different nest! Somehow they were able to identify the ants of their own nest – differentiate friends from strangers.

Twenty out of the twenty five friend ants (which belonged the same nest) were carried by the honey feeding ants to their home. While about 18 of the other intoxicated stranger ants were picked up and thrown into water.
There were just 5 friend ants which were thrown into water (probably accidentally) and 6 stranger ants which were carried back to home (probably accidentally, again)

Nevertheless, most ants were correctly identified as friends and strangers. Moreover, I think their reaction to drunk friends and drunk strangers was so much like what human beings would do!

Next Experiments

In an experiment which he did later, the researcher tried separating friend ants (of the same nest) for about 4 months. And when they met after 4 months they were able to clearly identify each other. They caressed each other with their antennae.

In other experiments when he introduced a stranger ants in a nest, the strangers were evicted immediately and sometimes even killed.

There are a couple of other interesting experiments he has mentioned in his article here. Do read it whenever you find time. [link]

10% of Our Brains? Oh, Come on Lucy!

By Anupum Pant

Have you ever heard people say that we use just 10% of our brains and 90% of it is lying dormant waiting to get awakened? I’ve heard this all the time, from parents, teachers and “self-help” gurus. And that what I believed  too, until a couple of years back when I read it on the internet that it was so not true! Later, I came across an informative science video (shared below) which explained otherwise. Of course it came from someone whose authority we can trust in – TED education.

The 10% thing is a myth has already hit most well-informed people, and yet I’ve heard it once again now. This is coming from an upcoming Hollywood movie trailer. I just watched it and it made me uneasy that people are still propagating it. This was the reason I wanted to make it clear to every one who reads my blog that “we use just 10% of our brains” is a pure myth.

Well, if you haven’t heard people say that, you will, in a couple of days, when the sci-fi movie Lucy will hit the theatres. Or you probably have already seen its trailer. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it below. I was totally flabbergasted by the concept, I think this movie is based on. Pay attention at the 1:11 mark.

But, then it’s only a movie. When other sci-fi movies can show reverberating explosions in space making huge sounds, and people talking in space, it is only normal for Morgan Freeman, a neuroscientist in the movie, to say:

It is estimated most human beings only use 10 percent of the brain’s capacity. Imagine if we could access 100 percent. Interesting things begin to happen.

No!

The myth that humans are only capable of using around 10% of their brain capacity has floated around for a very long time. So much that more than 65% of the people believe that it’s true! There are a number of levels on how this statement is wrong, I cannot even begin to explain. TED makes it easier for me to put across the argument…

Some time ago, a MythBuster Tory Belleci, hooked himself up to a neuroimaging device (magnetoencephalogram) which is able to measure the feeble magnetic fields generated by the brain’s electrical activity. During this time, he involved himself in some memory drills, math calculations, word associations and image comparisons. 35% of his brain showed activity. But again, in order to prove the 10% myth wrong (which they did), it meant that only a certain percentage of the brain was lighting up.

35% might mean to someone that removing 65% of the unused brain shouldn’t make a difference in our cognition. But we know how even tiny lesions can impair normal function. So, myth busters didn’t mean that.

35% in only what we can measure. There’s a lot that happens in there without us having figured it out (yet). Or like the video puts forward a solid argument – “by now evolution would have gotten rid of 90% of the parts which the myth says we don’t use.”

However, not completely relying on what the myth busters “proved”, you might want to have a look at this insightful answer by a computational neuroscientist, Paul King. Turns out myth busters were not totally right. Again, that doesn’t make the 10% myth true.

We do not use all of the different areas of the brain at the same time because they have different functions.  The closest the brain gets to being completely active is during a seizure. At any time there is only a percentage of the brain active. – [Source]

Bad news for people looking to unlock the full potential of their brain by some mystical methods, one thing is for sure, the following is definitely not true.
we use only a certain percentage of our brain at one time, meaning we are not using it to its full potential. No!

Dozens Died During The Dance Epidemic of France

By Anupum Pant

Background

In the year 1518, a woman named Frau Troffea suffered with a very mysterious, contagious and a scary disease. Till date, doctors or science has no explanation on what really was going on in her body and the disease is still named among one of the most bizarre and the most unexplainable diseases ever – The Dance plague of 1518.

In the month of  July Frau Troffea came down to a quiet street in the city of Strasbourg, France and started dancing fervently on the street.  Even 6 days later, the woman was still dancing. On the 6th day, she probably died out of exhaustion.

But by the time she had stopped, the dancing disease had spread to 34 more people. And by the end of that month there were 400 others who were experiencing this irresistible urge to dance. Dozens died out of exhaustion.

Ironically, doctors and physicians suggested that the cure to this dancing plague would be to dance more. It was literally dance till you drop. Musicians were hired, stages were made for these hoards of dancers.

Similar contagious of these dancing epidemics in other European cities have been recorded in the history at least 10 other times before this. There was one in the year 1374, which the records say, spread to several towns!

Agreed the story is too old and seems to have become hyped due to repeated story telling, but clearly that isn’t the case because the certainty of the event, is established through a number of independent records.

Why was this happening?

Well, no one knows for sure. The mysterious disease has baffled scientists for years. However, there are of course some weak theories that explain the behaviour of these dancing people.

One theory says that the dancers got high on ergot – A psychotropic fungus that grows on rye and must have reached these people through bread. Since the symptoms associated with ergot poisoning are very similar to what these people were experiencing, it seems like a valid explanation. But there’s almost no chance that ergot poisoning happened…

That is because when a person gets poisoned by this fungus, they start having hallucinations and involuntary muscle contractions. However, the people who were affected by the dancing plague, according the people who had seen this happening, were clearly not willing to dance – which doesn’t happen when you are poisoned by ergot.

Also, these “muscle contractions” they were experiencing weren’t just involuntary contractions that are associated with ergot poisoning. They were moving in a very coordinated manner, actually dancing. Clearly, it wasn’t ergot.

Another possible explanation says that it was out of fear, anxiety and desperation among the people because of the widespread famine and disease in that area during this period. This is presently a widely accepted explanation.

Still, what exactly was happening their brains and what exactly caused it, no one knows.

[Source] [Read more here]