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10 Mind-Blowing Discoveries This Week

Pot medically engineered to help with weight loss and park benches made from old diapers are just the start this week.

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Can you imagine if the dentist’s chair and cavities were a thing of the past? I have to admit it’s pretty amazing, but if it had happened a few decades ago -- before I got so many fillings my teeth are worth more than my car -- I would have really been able to smile about it. 

6. Why we smile

Why do humans even smile in the first place? When other animals bare their teeth it’s a sign of aggression. Why do we always have to be so different?

Janice Porteous of Vancouver Island University who studies the evolution of humor and laughter (you just questioned your own job choice, did you not?) spoke to Natalie Wolchover of Life’s Little Mysteries about the evolution of the human smile. She says the “fear expression” of bared fangs that often happens when an animal feels threatened is different in higher primates. In primates like rhesus monkeys, flashing teeth at a higher-ranking member of the group is an expression of submission. If a high-ranking male wants the spot a lower one is occupying, for instance, the lower-ranking member will flash his teeth in a submissive gesture that gets him left alone by the high-ranking male. 

This, in turn evolved into “fang-flashing between friends,” as in chimpanzees who will flash their teeth at an equal if, say, they haven’t seen that individual for a long time -- then, like us, they flash their teeth and embrace. 

“So,” Porteous says, “it moves from showing non-hostility to showing affection or affiliation.”

Since then, Wolchover says, the human smile has evolved to having lots of meanings. “Like those rhesus monkeys, people still grin out of fear or nervousness,” as well as pleasure and joy.

7. A sonic screwdriver of your very own

Joy and happiness are probably the most common reasons we smile, so let’s talk about a couple of our pleasures, starting, naturally, with TV, music and gadgets. 

Generations of nerds the world over exploded with delight over the news this week of the soon-to-be-available Dr. Who Sonic Screwdriver Universal Remote Control just rrrrrrrevealed (you have to roll the r for something this good) by BBC Worldwide and the Wand Company. 

It’s as sexy a piece of tech -- using infrared technology, no less -- as one can imagine, and you can see it here on the BBC Worldwide page which includes a list of its tricks. It can control “all earth-based home entertainment systems,” TVs, iPod docks, DVD players and so on. 

AND you can control them like the Time Lord uses the screwdriver. There are 13 short gestures, a la flicking, tapping, rotating, that operate the device, a replica of the one used by Matt Smith, the 11th doctor. 

For those who are unfamiliar, here’s a few examples of the uses of the sonic screwdriver

For those who are familiar, here’s a great QI clip of David Tennant -- sexy, Scottish and the 10th doctor -- doing an inadvertent parody sonic screwdriver operation (starts at about :47 seconds, but the whole clip is worth a look). 

AND it makes noises: “T he FX operational mode features a range of authentic vintage Doctor Who sound effects.”

Finally, I know I’m not the first to make note of this, but look at that thing: has no one made a vibrator based on this yet? Horny nerd girls... and gadgetry... and the Time Lord? That’s the best three-way since Who, What and I Dunno joined the baseball team.

8. Can pot help with weight issues?

 
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