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.

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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?

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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?

Things You Thought You Knew #2: Do Men See the Same Things as Women?

What You Thought You Knew: Men and women can see the same things.

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What You Didn’t Know: It’s long been said that a big part of getting along with people is learning to “see the world through their eyes.” But according to science, doing that might be a bit harder if you and your friend are of the opposite gender.

According to numerous reports produced by institutions like the Smithsonian and National Geographic, a man’s eyes are not physiologically geared to see the same things that women see. This means that women’s eyes perceive slightly shorter wavelengths of color than men’s, so a woman is more likely to see more colors than a man does. Where a man’s eyes fail him is mostly in the middle of the spectrum, where these short wavelengths matter (in the yellows and greens). What women perceive as slightly orange, men overwhelmingly perceive as more yellow than orange. When men describe things as white, most women detect a very light brown shade called “ecru.”

This means, of course, that women also have a bigger vocabulary for expressing colors, as they distinguish fine differences in hue more readily than their male counterparts. It’s no wonder you can’t agree with your wife that the living room should be painted xanadu or gamboge. 99% chance those words were created by women….

Interestingly enough, though, just as women have an advantage over men in color perception, men are much more attentive to moving objects traveling across their field of vision. This means that a man is much more likely to be able to identify the shape, color, and details of a quickly-moving object. Some scientists attribute this to the ancient man’s need to hunt; the woman’s color focus is explained as a need that developed for her to differentiate between plant life used for medicines, food, and other things. Ironically, though, more men die in vehicle crashes each year than women, according to the IIHS. It seems that object-sensitive male vision, while useful for detail, does not affect reaction time.

How-I-feel-when-women-talk-about-colors…

Now You Know: that women see color better than men, but men see moving objects better than women.

New Series! Things You Thought You Knew #1: Did America Earn Independence on July 4, 1776?

Welcome back to bythepathlesstraveled! Sorry I’ve been kind of missing-in-action for the last two months — it’s a story for another time. For now, I’d like to get on to happier things, like the topic of this semester’s blog series!

The Things You Thought You Knew series, which will be published every Monday, was hatched in my little brain when I realized that not only do I enjoy random, often pointless facts, I also severely enjoy proving people wrong. 😉 Character flaw? Pretty much. But sometimes it’s necessary.

So, what’s the goal of this series? First, it’s to be short, thought-provoking, and to the point. In addition to quenching my ongoing desire to always be right (just kidding…), I thought that these types of questions would really give you guys things to think about. Maybe take your own knowledge with a grain of salt and realize that more than half of what you believe was told to you by others and accepted by you without question. This first one is somewhat easy (some people probably actually know it), but they get harder after this!

So, without further delay, here is Week #1 of Things You Thought You Knew!

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What You Thought You Knew: America earned her independence on the fourth of July in 1776.

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What You Didn’t Know: In all honesty, nothing much happened concerning American freedom on July 4th, 1776. Just as slaves couldn’t just declare themselves free and then be free, America couldn’t either. So while it’s true that we did sign some pretty important stuff on July 4 (or, err, in August, as the signing date is debated too), it didn’t do anything to earn us our freedom. So “Independence Day” is more like “Want to Be Independent Day.”

If we wanted to celebrate our real independence, we’d really need to wait until September 3. It was on this day that George III actually signed the Treaty of Peace in 1783, seven whole years after we think we were free! After all, it’s not really freedom if the Brits are still fighting you about it (which they were in 1776. And 1777. And 1778…).

Now You Know: that America gained her independence on September 3, 1783, not on July 4, 1776.

Top 5 Unique Things to See in Budapest

I’m not talking about those places that you should see in Budapest — you know, the Parliament, the bridges, all of that. That’s easy enough for you to find out about. I’m talking about those places that you can walk right by without a second glance, those places well worth seeing yet that rarely make it on popular travel sites as the go-to destinations in Hungary’s largest city.

#5 — The Duck Pond at Vajdahunyad Vára

Vajdahunyad Castle is most likely a destination on your trip to Budapest, but there are a lot of hidden gems surrounding the castle that you’re unlikely to find while your focus is still on the castle itself.

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Because you can enter the castle through that bridge, many people neglect walking past the bridge and onto the docks. There’s a small, homey park with wooden paths spanning the waters of the lake around Vajdahunyad, so take some friends for a relaxing day at the water’s edge or feed the friendly ducks.

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#4 — The Lucky Horse on Várhegy

Várhegy, more commonly known to tourists as Castle Hill, is a great place for a new visitor to Budapest to experience a great view a city while knocking quite a few popular items like Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion off of the sightseeing list. However, if you spend some time wandering the narrow side streets at the top of the hill, you’ll discover a statue, rain-worn and sun-bleached, of a horse and rider. At first is appears to be nothing special, as Budapest is especially fond of making statues for everything.

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However, young people from all over Budapest come up to this statue in the dark hours of night to crawl underneath it and place a hand on the horse’s testicles, which are gold. If you’d like some good luck for your stay in Budapest, stop by and pay the horse (or rather, his testicles…) a visit!

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#3 — The Lock Block between St. Istvan Cathedral and Deak Square

On your way to see the popular tourist attraction known as St. Stephen’s Basilica, take a break in the small park nearby and find the testament to all the young love blossoming in Budapest — a block of steel bars on which are fastened hundreds of locks inscribed with the names of two lovers who are committed to staying together forever. Together, they throw the key into the nearby Danube.

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A good place to propose or confess your love for the person you’re traveling with? Perhaps. Bring a lock of your own if you feel like it. You’d probably be a little more confident than some of the young soulmates in Budapest….

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#2 — The Tree of Life in the Great Synagogue

The Great Synagogue just a short walk from Astoria is surely an eye-catcher, but take a tour of the inside to get a glimpse of the giant steel tree known as the Tree of Life. Metal leaves inscribed with names commemorate the Jews taken from Hungary during the Holocaust. Walk underneath and get yourself lost in the glimmering steel branches, which were fashioned in vague resemblance of the Jewish candelabra.

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#1 — The Timewheel near Heroes’ Square (especially on New Year’s Eve!)

One of the world’s largest hourglasses, the Timewheel in Budapest clocks in (ha ha…) at more than 60 tons and runs constantly all year long.

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However, on New Year’s Eve, the sand runs out. The wheel is then rolled by human hands to restart, the crystals within beginning again with the new year.

Make sure you get someone to take your picture in front of it — this thing is bigger than it looks! [photo courtesy of trekearth, cattaro]

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Budapest is full of all kinds of unique and interesting things that didn’t make it onto this list, such as a water fountain in Egyetem Ter shaped like a book (with turning pages!), lion statues without tongues, and a wall of amateur paintings at Moricz Zsigmond, to name only a few. Part of the joys of travel is finding these hidden treasures yourself, so get out and explore!