The Science Behind Everything

by by Brian Mastroianni

I recently saw a nature documentary that showed an octopus wrapping its tentacles lovingly around a diver. It would detach itself and swim around the man slowly, before enveloping him in an eight-armed embrace. It was love at first sight. Suctioning itself to the man’s mask, the shapeless cephalopod looked like it was kissing the diver’s face—I could imagine hearing a loud “smack” as the suckers on each tentacle made contact with the mask.
It’s true: octopi have a whole lotta love to give.

The octopus has three hearts in order to maintain the high blood pressure it needs to propel itself through the sea on its hunt for tasty crustacean treats. The two smaller branchial hearts pump the mollusk’s hemocyanin-filled blue blood to its gills. The gills then dump out the waste while oxygenating the blood and (presto!) the oxygen-rich blood is sent to the large systemic heart. This blood is then sent through the rest of the octopus’s body.

Naturally shy creatures, these invertebrates are, quite literally, spineless. But as that one diver found out, a smitten octopus will step out of its shell to prove that it will give its heart to you… three times over.

(215): do not drink anything in a can called “four loco”. saw a news story kids are dropping like flies. 1 can = alcohol of 5 beers + caffeine of 5 coffees. just sayin. love, mom.

Well, Mom, yes and no. While your local ten o’clock news is not exactly a high-caliber journalistic institution (think Antoine Dodson, but in West Philly), they did manage to get the alcohol comparison right. A 23.5oz can of Four Loko at 12% alcohol vs. a 12oz can of PBR at 5%: carry the one and you get roughly five times the fluid ounces of alcohol in a can of PBR in a single Four Loko.

The five-coffee statistic, on the other hand, is just wrong. A can of Four Loko has 135mg of caffeine—a cup of coffee has 125mg. And it’s a good thing too, because 625mg of caffeine at once (the equivalent of five coffees) is just enough to kill a human infant.

Furthermore, Mom, I routinely ingest more than a Four Loko’s worth of caffeine as an integral part of my paper-writing process and have yet to explode. The thing that troubles people (and the reason it’s banned at four universities and in several states) is the combination of two psychoactive substances with opposite effects.

Ethanol is a positive allosteric modulator for the neurotransmitter GABA. Translation: GABA is a molecule that travels from one neuron to another, binding to certain receptors and triggering a specific cellular response in the brain. In adults, GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter—it slows down the nervous system. Ethanol can bind to the same receptor as GABA, but not at the same active site. The binding of ethanol changes the receptor’s shape, heightening the attraction between the receptor and GABA and promoting additional GABA binding. So consumption of ethanol means more GABA binding, which means slower brain activity.

Caffeine, through an entirely separate mechanism, does the opposite. Caffeine is structurally similar to the adenosine molecule, which suppresses neuronal activity and may also play an important role in the sleep-wake cycle. But caffeine is an adenosine antagonist, meaning it can bind to the same receptors as adenosine, obstructing adenosine from binding and triggering a cellular response; if adenosine is the brain’s brake pedal, caffeine is the brick underneath it. By preventing adenosine binding in the brain, caffeine interrupts its functions—it allows heightened neuronal activity, keeps drowsiness at bay, and helps me pull all-nighters studying things like neurotransmitters.

Moral of the story: the “upper” effect from blocking adenosine binding (caffeine) can make the drinker oblivious to the downer effects of GABA binding (ethanol). They feel less drunk than they really are, drink more, and in rare cases, end up in the hospital with a BAC of 0.4 and leave medical professionals unsure as to how, exactly, they are still alive. So there you have it. I promise not to drink Four Loko if you promise to stop signing your texts “love, mom.”

Hiccups are the result of repeated diaphragm contractions that cause air to surge into the lungs. In response, the epiglottis (a flap of tissue separating esophagus and trachea) snaps shut, causing the hiccup sound. They can be caused by everything from laughter to chemotherapy. Only extreme cases warrant medical treatment with sedatives, but word-of-mouth fixes for the every-day case of hiccups are plentiful. Below is a sample of hiccup remedies, empirically verified by users of the Internet:

Breath-holding method: Hold your breath until the hiccups stop.
Peanut butter method (or why I faked hiccups frequently throughout childhood): Eat a spoonful of peanut butter as quickly as possible.
Screaming Method: Count the seconds between hiccups. When you think a hiccup is about to start, scream.
Ear Method: Take a drink of water. While holding it in your mouth, pull down your earlobes, tilt your head back and swallow.
Vinegar Method: Drink a teaspoon of vinegar.
Upside-down drinking Method: Stand up, bend over. Put your head between your legs. Drink a glass of water.
Digital Rectal Massage (only to be used with intractable hiccups): Doctors at Bnai Zion Medical Center in Haifa, Israel observed that massaging the anus with a finger relieved a 60 year-old man’s unstoppable hiccups. This procedure blocks the vagus nerve from uncontrollable firing, which can be a cause of intractable hiccups.
The Styx Method: Listen to “Renegade” by Styx until hiccups subside.
30 Second Cure*: Quickly inhale as far as you can. While holding your breath, swallow. Repeat this pattern until you can neither inhale nor swallow anymore. Then, swallow once more. (Even if you feel you can’t, you’re wrong. It’s possible) Exhale.

*Note: the inventor of this cure would like you to know that he is, graciously, not charging for this imparted wisdom, but if you’d like to make a donation to his PayPal, feel free: I have no doubt the following reviewers did.

User Testimonials:
“Brilliant, it worked! Thanks very much!”
“This guy should be a millionaire (if he is not). Absolute genius., every time, first time”

Scientists suspect that mimicry within our motor and sensory systems might underlie human empathy. That is, when you see someone prick their finger with a pin, you wince too and kind of ‘feel their pain.’ Same thing happens when you watch someone crying and start to tear up. The process by which observing something makes you feel as though you too were experiencing it is thought to operate through ‘mirror neurons,’ or cells that fire both when you prick your finger and when your friend does. Some people think this is how we understand other people—we literally put ourselves in their place and experience their sensations too.

And that’s why scientists think watching porn is so much fun.