Things You Thought You Knew #9: Do Animals Have Pets?

What You Thought You Knew: Animals may live in packs and have close friendships, but only humans have pets.


What You Didn’t Know: The realm of pet ownership really does extend to the animal kingdom, but it will be easier to explain what examples of animal friendship are not pet-keeping before going on to who actually owns pets.

For example, I personally do not consider Tarra and and Bella, the semi-famous dog & elephant duo, as an example of an elephant keeping a dog as a pet. This is because Tarra (the elephant) did not personally take care of Bella in a way that pet owners do. This type of caregiving behavior can be seen a little more fully in Koko, the famous gorilla used in linguistic experiments to try to teach animals sign language and prove that they had language capabilities.

Koko did have a “pet” cat, and although she was not entirely responsible for the care of the cat, she did play an important part in raising it. Well-documented incidents of her grooming the cat and even showing an understanding of the cat as a “living-partner” by blaming the cat for things gone wrong and destroyed in their shared living space show that Koko viewed the cat not just as a friend but as a partner in life in the same way that humans co-exist with pets. The only qualm I have with calling the cats (either All Ball or Moe) Koko’s “pets” is that Koko was domesticated and somewhat guided in how to treat these animals.

This brings us, then, to the real pet owners of the animal kingdom — otters. Don’t judge; a pet rock still counts as a pet! Otters search far and wide for their perfect, compatible rock, and once they’ve found it, they care deeply for it, protect it, and ensure that it survives as long as possible. Because otters are known for being some of the most intelligent tool-users, it should come as no surprise that an otter’s pet rock is so important — a rock that can crack open shellfish so perfectly is certainly to be cherished! When an otter has finished using its pet rock, it has extra folds of skin that it uses to help hold it and carry it along. When possible, it carries the rock on its stomach when floating. Interestingly, this is also the place where it cradles its young.

Pet rocks = little inanimate baby otters.


Now You Know: That some animals do keep pets, even if they may be pet rocks.


Things You Thought You Knew #8: Can You Name Any of These Everyday Things?

What You Thought You Knew: …You thought you knew the words for all these things? How many do you actually know? Answers at the bottom — test yourself!


Numero Uno: What’s it called when people stand like this, with their arms bowed out and their hands on their hips?



Number Two: What are the light rays called that come out from the sky due to cloud formations like the one above?



Number Three: We’ve all seen these metal thingies on a pencil. But what are they called?



Number Four: What’s it called when you say a word so many times that it sounds weird and doesn’t sound like it means anything any more?



Number Five: What’s the name for the colors and spots you see when you rub your eyes?



Number Six: This thingy…you know, where your arm-hole is in your clothes? What’s the real name? I bet designers don’t call it an “arm-hole.”



Number Seven: The nice smell after it rains has a name too. Any guesses?



Number Eight: You knew this was coming, because virtually no one knows what the plastic or metal casings on the ends of shoelaces are called.



Number Nine: The space between your thumb and pointer finger is called what again?



Number Ten: What’s it called when you hear the lyrics wrong?



1: Standing like that is called AKIMBO or ARMS AKIMBO

2: Those rays of sunlight are called CREPUSCULAR RAYS

3: The metal part of a pencil is called a FERRULE

4: When you repeat words so much that they lose meaning, you’ve engaged in SEMANTIC SATIATION

5: The pretty colors you see when you rub your eyes are PHOSPHENES

6: The arm-hole of a piece of clothing is the ARMSCYE

7: The pleasant smell of rain is called PETRICHOR

8: That weird piece of plastic on your shoelaces is an AGLET

9: The space between your thumb and first finger is your PURLICUE

10: When lyrics are misheard, it’s called MONDEGREEN

Now You Know: A few new words!

Things You Thought You Knew #7: Can You Hear Sounds Quieter than Total Silence?

What You Thought You Knew: “Total silence” is at 0 decibels, when you can’t hear noise at all.


What You Didn’t Know: Maybe silence really is so loud it’s deafening. A room has been developed in Minneapolis that is entirely anechoic — that is, ALL sound is completely absorbed and there is no echo. The room’s noise level is ranked at -9 decibels (below the level of total silence!), setting a Guinness World Record for quietness and rightfully earning the title “The World’s Quietest Room.”

The room’s design is a first, and test subjects exposed to the room have all lasted less than 45 minutes before caving and fleeing the room. What does this room have that’s so horrible? Isn’t peace and quiet supposed to be, well, peaceful?


Apparently (and largely thanks to the development of this room), scientists have discovered that the human brain cannot cope with sound levels below total silence (0 decibels). Since our ears are, along with our eyes and sense of touch, a primary function for us to understand where we are in the world, when our ears are confused, it’s not surprising that our body gets confused too.

With no sound for the ears to process and translate into location information, people in the silent room often find themselves dizzy, disoriented, and feeling like they are falling, swaying, or floating, especially if they enter the room when it is dark. With nothing to keep the brain grounded in the reality of physical objects nearby (since there is no echo in the room), hallucinations at negative sound are common.

The participants in the study found themselves able to hear the minutest functions of their bodies, including the heart and stomach. They could even hear their ears functioning. (It’s like Earception….)

It’s not surprising, then, that most of these people felt like they were insane after half an hour of hallucinations, floating, and hearing their ears hear nothing.

Although the room is actually intended to test the noise level of LED lights, I’d bet we may see it 200 years from now used as some sort of torture device….

Now You Know: That hearing negative sound less than total silence can drive you insane.

Things You Thought You Knew #6: Is a Coin Toss Really a 50-50 Chance?

What You Thought You Knew: If you’re guessing heads or tails in a coin toss, both parties have an equal chance (50%) of winning because a coin has only 2 sides.


What You Didn’t Know: If you choose heads and then begin the toss with heads facing up, the odds shall be ever in your favor for a coin toss. Strangely enough, the odds of winning aren’t 50-50 — they’re about 49-51 in favor of the side that you place face-up at the beginning of the toss. Students and Standford University had a blast flipping coins under high-speed cameras all day for a few days to figure this out. Indeed, I also sat in my room flipping coins for a while, and I was impressed to see that the term “fair coin toss” is a misnomer after all.

There are, however, even more unfair object-flipping odds — coins are, to be honest, pretty fair anyway. But toast…now that’s another matter.

We all know that if a piece of buttered toast falls, the odds of the buttered side hitting the floor are virtually 100%. Such is life.

We’ve also always been told that cats always land on their feet, even if they flip in the air.

The real question, then, is what would happen if you strapped a buttered piece of toast to the back of a falling cat?

Now You Know: To pay attention to which side of the coin is facing up at the beginning of a coin toss, as the chances aren’t 50-50. (Oh, and you also know not to combine buttered toast and cats, or you may create a black hole of some sort.)

Things You Thought You Knew #5: Can Your Body Explode?

What You Thought You Knew: The human body is not prone to spontaneous explosion.


What You Didn’t Know: Despite the fact that it seems a bit unlikely, body explosion is out there…and it might be coming for you.

Don’t get too discouraged, though — the odds of your entire body exploding are phenomenally small. Though cases of spontaneous human combustion are rare (and technically aren’t ‘explosions’ in the truest sense of the word), they do exist and, so far, have no definite scientific explanation. I wonder what shows up on your autopsy?

However, there are definitely parts of your body that can, and might, explode. Your eardrums can rupture on an airplane, especially if you have a cold or congestion that prevents the equalization of air pressure. Most parts of your internal organs can “dissect,” so they can spontaneously rip open (usually from a pre-existing injury or illness, of course).

There is also, in fact, a mental condition in which people believe that their heads are exploding. A form of hypnogogic auditory hallucination, the condition is quite appropriately called Exploding Head Syndrome. But the explosions aren’t always “all in your head.” Thanks to a strangely common condition called Fuchs’ Corneal Dystrophy, eyeball explosions are semi-regularly documented.

You read that right — your eyeball EXPLODES.


Thankfully, these lesions that gather water in the eye can be treated by optometrists, however patients in countries without this type of medical care will have to face the unfortunate eye explosions that this slow, degenerative disease causes.

So although it’s clear that parts of your body can explode (and that you may just spontaneously combust), it’s not true that you’ll explode if you are exposed to a vacuum. So if you’re worried about those astronauts out there and whether their space suits are tough enough, you don’t need to worry quite so much — they won’t explode (or implode) when exposed to the vacuum of space. They will, however, have some side effects that can quickly be life-threatening. These include lack of oxygen and the water in the tongue beginning to boil.

Now You Know: That parts of your body can — and just might — explode.

Things You Thought You Knew #4: There’s a Word for That in English, Right?

What You Thought You Knew: The English language vocabulary is sufficient for expressing our needs. When we don’t have a word for something, it’s because we haven’t learned the word for it.


What You Didn’t Know: You know you’ve been there — that moment when you’re stuck, mid-sentence, scrounging around for a word, but you just can’t find anything that means what you want. So you have to resort to spelling it out in a long, explanatory phrase because you just can’t find a word for it.

What’s up with that?

You’d think that any language that’s been around for a while would be able to articulate anything that you’d ever need. And truth is, we can. So What You Thought You Knew is actually pretty correct to begin with — our language can function to cover our expressive needs.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that we’ve got a word for everything! Other languages have words that we don’t, so it looks like we’re missing a lot of words. We don’t have a single word to express a person whose face just really needs a fist (literally…a person in need of a face-punch), but German does — backpfeifengesicht. Similarly, Malaysia’s pisan zapra has no parallel in English…unless we were to explain that it’s the amount of time an average person takes to eat a banana.

Now You Know: That foreign languages have a lot of interesting words that we don’t!

Things You Thought You Knew #3: Do Circles Really Exist?

What You Thought You Knew: Geometry contains a shape called a “circle,” a line forming a closed loop where all points are equally distant from the middle.


What You Didn’t Know: In the 15th century, Nicholas of Cusa was a big fan of this geometric creature we call “the circle.” In fact, he loved it so much that he just couldn’t stop thinking about circular things — balls, plates, earth, anything he could find.

Since he spent so much time fantasizing about circles, it’s no wonder that he started to notice some strange things. The amount of curve around a circle decreases as a circle gets bigger. Make sense?

Think about it — if I have a tiny little circle and a big circle next to each other, the tiny one has a much tighter curve than the big one, right? The big one curves in a long, lazy way, and the tiny one is like, “Whoosh! I’m done!”


In other words, the bigger one is closer to being flat.

Nicholas first noticed this trend when he viewed the earth — the earth is so big, in fact, that the horizon looks flat even though we all know it is curved as part of a sphere. So then, we now know that the bigger the circle, the less it curves. By that logic, an infinite circle (one that is infinitely large) would have the greatest decrease in curve. An infinite circle is a shape that has the least amount of curve — a straight line! And we all know that straight lines are not circles. What gives?

Now You Know: that a circle can be composed of a straight line and is, therefore, not a circle. So do circles even exist?