Every time you blow out a candle, you create a rainbow.

The Link: In fact, you create a whole series of rainbows.

The Story:

Dazzling photographer Grover Schrayer captured something I never knew: A candle always goes out in a small blaze of glory.  For a fraction of a second, the vaporized wax particles are carried along the puff of smoke and refract light to create a rainbow pattern.

Like with most of the rest of the universe, I don’t really understand it.

Flickr_Candle_Rainbow

Image by Grover Schrayer

It passes by so fast, you don’t even notice it.  Life is always like that.

I’m reminded of something Krisi Metzen shared, the work of another photographer who captures the beauty of the fleeting moment.  There is beauty in such things because they reveal underlying patterns–the mathematical structures of nature.  These beautiful patterns are everywhere.

Impossible Earth Part 1: Fly Geyser, the best mining accident ever

The Link: Fly Geyser

The Story:

A recurring theme of this blog is that the world is more awesome than you think, full of impossible-seeming things.

On a private plot of land in Nevada is a scene that looks like something from an acid trip or 1970s science fiction book cover.  But it’s real.

Fly_Geyser_Wikipedia

Man, what am I even looking at here? (image from Wikipedia)

Not quite natural, not quite man-made, it’s the result of the landowners drilling a well and accidentally hitting a huge geothermal water pocket.  The area has been erupting with mineral-rich steam for nearly a century, forming those bizarre rainbow-hued shapes.

Calories Add Up… or Down

Cassie Craig, author of Confessions of the Fitness Expert, points out another thing going on right under your nose: Your stomach. It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to signal to your brain that it’s full, so we often don’t realize when we’re overeating until it’s too late.

Good to know. We eat every day, but we usually don’t think about how we eat.  That leaves us susceptible to outside influences.  But being aware of it helps us avoid such pitfalls.  Thanks, Cassie!

Wonderful World pt 1: “You’re sitting in a CHAIR in the SKY!” …”Yeah, but it doesn’t lean back very far.”

The Link: Louis C.K. and the miracle of flight

The Story:

Louis C.K. has a comedy routine that sums up my feelings: “Everything’s amazing but nobody’s happy.”  I grew up in a house below the flight path that planes took while descending to the runway.  All those years, it never occurred to me how weird it was that there were people from around the world flying above my head several times a day.

We’re surrounded by the most excellent things in history, but we take them for granted. Psychologists say that people tend to get inured to their situation because of “regression to the mean.” (Yale psychologist Paul Bloom gives a good but lengthy explanation of the science of happiness.)

But it’s important to appreciate what’s right under our noses.

Like Louis Armstrong said, it really is a wonderful world.

Why a goldfish appreciates art more than you do

The link: The Perfect Yellow, and more

The Story:

There are colors we can’t see.  All around us, every day we’re missing out on something that certain other members of the animal kingdom take for granted.

Just like dogs can hear sounds outside our range of hearing, animals like birds and the boring old goldfish can see colors beyond what’s visible to us.

In terms of the full spectrum of light, we’re practically blind.  The light that’s visible to us is a tiny part of what’s out there.

Electromagnetic radiation

From ultraviolet to visible light to radio waves, they’re all different kinds of the same thing.

Some of the birds you see outside might look drab, but actually have brilliant colors in the part of the spectrum beyond what we can see.  They’re seeing something we can’t even imagine.

The NPR show RadioLab has an awesome story on this unseen rainbow.

Key points are:

  • An American scientist, Jay Neitz, has succeeded in giving the ability to see the color red to an animal formerly unable to see it.
  • He’s working on ways to bring color to colorblind people.
  • Neitz also says it might be possible to give people the ability to perceive colors beyond the normal human range.
  • But there may already be such people in the world.  There are some rare women (normal-looking mutants called tetrachromats) who were born with extra color receptors in their eyes, enabling them at least in principle to see extra color.

The Internet has allowed the discovery of such people to happen.  Before, it was much harder for researchers to connect with the small percentage of the population with this genetic variation.  British neuroscientist Gabriele Jordan has been searching for such people for two decades.  If you think you might be one, and ever plan to be in England, you can contact her.

Megan Arquette is a blogger and possible tetrachromat who was featured on a Japanese science show earlier this year.

Another is an Australian artist named Concetta Antico, whose genetics Jay Neitz is studying.

Study of tetrachromacy is still in its infancy.  Someday within our lifetimes, it may be possible for ordinary people to see what’s been right in front of us all along.  The limits of our perceptions represent a clear and definable limit to the human imagination. You can’t imagine what a bird sees any more than a congenitally blind person can imagine the color blue.

But we’re beginning to push those limits.

3 Ways Psychology Can Help You Lose Weight Without Thinking About It

The Link: mindlesseating.org

The Story:

You can use the tricks your mind plays on you to your own advantage.

Psychologist Brian Wansink has made a career out of doing fun, sneaky experiments exploring the way people are led to either eat right or overeat when their environment guides their behavior one way or the other.

You assume that you’re 100% in charge of all your decisions, but your mind plays tricks on you.  We fall for all sorts of illusions.

For example: You’ve probably seen this optical illusion.

650px-Mond-vergleich

The Ebbinghaus illusion

It looks like the orange dot on the left is bigger, but they’re both the same size.

Even if you already understand this illusion, it still tricks you. Wansink found this type of illusion tricks you into eating more when you have a bigger plate or glass—even if you’re consciously trying to avoid it.

No matter how smart or well-informed you are, you’re way more likely to put extra food on a big plate. On a big plate, a regular serving seems insufficient.

EbbinghausIllisionOnAPlate

Video: The Ebbinghaus illusion on your dinner plate.  The less full your plate is, the less satisfying it seems.

There’s a surprising amount of psychological influences on the way we eat.  We often see what we expect to see and taste what we expect to taste. Samira Kawash, a former Rutgers University professor who writes the Candy Professor blog points out that many people think Tootsie Rolls are chocolate-flavored because they’re chocolate-colored, but they’re not chocolate at all.

When people gain weight, we do it almost without noticing it.  Our environment leads us in that direction. We live today in an environment that encourages bigger portions.  You can buy plates in an antique shop that were normal for the time, but which people today mistake for little tea saucers.

Wansink did a study of artworks depicting food, like The Last Supper, dating back 1,000 years.  As time goes on, plates get bigger and bigger.  By now, maybe they’ve gotten a little too big.  Cookbooks, too, have been supersized.  Looking at old editions of The Joy of Cooking, Wansink found that the average serving jumped from 268 calories in 1936 to 436 in 2006.  “What served four people in 1986 would have served almost seven people by 1936 standards.” he says.

We’re being swept along in this ubiquitous trend, gaining weight along the way.  But we can lose weight the same way, by taking control of our own environment and setting ourselves up to succeed.

Here’s 3 of Wansink’s ideas that can help you eat better without even thinking about it, with linked video explaining each:

  1. Put healthier food where you’ll see it first, and junk food in the back of the cupboard.  Out of sight, out of mind.
  2. Drop off your platter-size dinner plates at Goodwill, and get some nice mid-size plates.  Use tall, skinny glasses instead of short fat ones.  A huge plate means a huge serving.
  3. See what you eat: Never eat straight out of the bag or container.  At a meal, put everything you want to eat on one plate.  An experiment with people offered unlimited chicken wings had one group’s chicken bones left in front of them while they ate, while another had them taken away immediately.  People who didn’t have the reminder of how much they’d eaten sometimes ate twice as much.

A few examples of those fun, sneaky experiments (bad language warning):

What’s Einstein doing under your nose?

Public Domain art from NASA

There’s more than 2 dozen of these machines zipping around the Earth like a giant diagram of an atom, moving so fast it bends space and time.  (image source)

The link: Every day, people rely on Einstein’s time-warp equations without even thinking about it.

The story:

I’m Jay Knitig.  (It’s pronounced “Kinetic.”)  I’m a student at Wichita State University.

What I’m doing here is exploring the awesomeness of everyday life.  Our world is full of amazing things we usually don’t think about or even notice.

The wonders of science are right under your nose.  For example: Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity is abstract and hard to understand, but without realizing it you probably use it in everyday life.  It says that time and space aren’t the same for everyone: Time passes slower the faster you go, and things get smaller.

They don’t just seem smaller and slower, they actually are smaller and slower in your frame of reference.  It’s true for you but something else is true for them.  If one person is traveling at nearly light-speed and another isn’t, they could disagree about which of two events happened first, and both be right.  That’s relativity.

If you have a smartphone, it probably has GPS.  Even if you don’t, a lot of the trucks that deliver stuff to the stores you shop at use it.  GPS relies on a “constellation” of satellites that constantly zoom around the Earth at about two and a half miles per second triangulating with other satellites and your device on the ground.  At that speed (still a tiny fraction of light speed), time has actually slowed down a little for the satellites.

The GPS system people use every day employs Einstein’s time-bending equations to make up the difference.  Without Einstein’s equations, GPS couldn’t work.

Everyday life is full of awesome mind-boggling things just like that.  There are crazy, wonderful things all around us.

You have Einstein right under your nose.