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We’ve abstruse abundant about physics to accelerate bodies to the Moon. We’ve apparent that DNA carries our abiogenetic information. Scientists acquire alike gotten afterpiece to analytic the abstruseness of whether bodies can behave as both debris and liquids [PDF].
But there are still some basal questions we haven’t answered, including these frustratingly assiduous accurate mysteries.
1. Why We Cry
Some of us breach up watching a sad movie; sometimes, we’re so blessed that we access into tears. But according to science, arrant in acknowledgment to acute affections doesn’t acquire to be a advantageous behavior, and it ability not acquire a biological purpose.
What science does apperceive is that not all tears are created equal. The actinic agreement of the tears produced back we cry, which are alleged analytic tears, is hardly altered from the agreement of the tears that anoint and advice belch adopted bodies from the eyes. This has led some to conjecture that the actinic architecture of analytic tears makes them emotionally healing. But affirmation assuming that the actinic differences acquire abundant cerebral effects—let abandoned that such furnishings explain why arrant evolved—is lacking.
And that’s not area the theories end. Some evolutionary psychologists anticipate that arrant may acquire acquired as a ache alarm that brings help: In a 2009 paper, one researcher appropriate that tears may arresting acquiescence and helplessness by abashing vision, which prompts others to aid (or at atomic not harm) the crier. But added advisers acquire acicular out that we generally cry afterwards a demanding bearings has resolved, not while it’s in advance and we charge to arresting for help; it’s additionally archetypal for bodies to abstain arrant about and to attending afield on those who do. In any case, these hypotheses, like best in evolutionary psychology, are difficult to test.
2. How to Cure Hiccups
Maybe you authority your breath. Maybe you choke water. Unfortunately, annihilation has been begin to anxiously annihilate hiccups, admitting the cutting cardinal of folk remedies on the internet. This sad accompaniment of diplomacy is acceptable due to bereft research: Austere cases of the hiccups are rare, and the balmy cases are abrupt and don’t usually account problems.
Most of the treatments for astringent cases of hiccups—doses of sedating antipsychotics like haloperidol, vagus assumption stimulation, agenda abdominal massage—aren’t absolutely things you could try on your own. For now, you’ll acquire to abide hiccups or stick with unproven, but usually harmless, solutions. At atomic they accord you an alibi to eat peanut adulate by the spoonful.
3. How Accepted Anesthesia Works
As you’re rolling into surgery, you apparently acquire that your doctors not alone apperceive how to achieve the procedure, but acquire how the drugs that beating you out absolutely do so. But you’d be wrong. Scientists do apperceive that bounded anesthetics like Novocain block affliction signals afore they ability the axial afraid arrangement by altering the action of specific proteins on assumption cells. But the atomic base of accepted anesthesia is added of a mystery. These drugs acquire to baffle with the functions of a array of proteins on assumption beef in the axial afraid system, but how they achieve this is not able-bodied understood. Accepted anesthetics arise in a array of types, and they acceptable don’t all assignment the aforementioned way, so developing models of how the compounds assignment on the atomic akin may abide to be a challenge.
4. How Tylenol Kills Pain
A layperson demography Tylenol to abate affliction ability anticipate it works like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin, which block some enzymes and, in turn, the pain- and inflammation-causing chemicals they produce. But that’s not the case—acetaminophen, the alive additive in Tylenol, seems to charge specific actinic altitude to assignment on those enzymes, and it doesn’t arise to abate deepening as the NSAIDs do.
Some advisers anticipate acetaminophen may adapt the way affliction is perceived by interacting with assertive proteins on assumption cells, possibly including serotonin receptors, cannabinoid receptors, opioid receptors, and specific channels on fretfulness in the analgesic bond that address affliction and crawling signals. Acetaminophen byproducts acquire additionally been apparent to actuate these channels rather than shutting them down, added complicating the question.
5. Why We Sleep
Too little beddy-bye impairs cerebration in the abbreviate appellation and increases the accident of several austere diseases in the continued term, while complete beddy-bye denial is fatal. We may acquire acquired to beddy-bye because it aids healing, anamnesis consolidation, and added important processes, but we still acquire abundant to apprentice about the means sleeping achieves these ends. Added roles for sleep, like attention activity during times back it wouldn’t be advantageous to be alive (for example, during scorching-hot canicule in Death Valley) acquire been proposed as well.
At atomic for now, we don’t acquire a single, absolute acknowledgment to the catechism of why we sleep. But no amount how sleeping arose, we can apparently acquire that it provided a abundant evolutionary advantage already in place, back beddy-bye is begin above abundant of the beastly kingdom.
6. Why Alone Some Thunderstorms Aftermath Tornadoes
A accepted account of how tornadoes anatomy is that they’re spawned back cold, dry air mingles with warm, boiling air—that’s how we absolve the actuality that Tornado Alley in the axial United States, area Arctic air, air from the Southwest, and air from the Gulf of Mexico mix, has so abounding tornadoes. But that’s not the accomplished story. These altitude do actualize added thunderstorms, but not all thunderstorms accommodate tornadoes, and scientists aren’t abiding why.
In some cases, tornadoes may anatomy is back there are temperature changes in the air abounding bottomward about mesocyclones (vortexes aural the types of storms tornadoes can arise from). This abstraction has abstract and beginning support, but alike afterwards these temperature variations, tornadoes can still form, demonstrating how abundant added we acquire to apprentice about the phenomenon.
7. Why We Itch
At a basal level, crawling is an abhorrent awareness that triggers the appetite to scratch. Abrading could end up authoritative an crawling worse, but it may additionally serve a purpose. Mechanical itch—the affectionate triggered back accomplished hairs on your anatomy are disturbed—may active you to the attendance of bitter insects or parasites, and abrading could besom them away.
This antecedent is difficult to test, and it doesn’t awning actinic crawling acquired by histamine and added scratch-provoking substances. Continued afterwards you’ve absent your adventitious to besom a mosquito off your skin, histamine in the acquisitive bang it has larboard abaft continues to bulldoze you to scratch. Whether this blazon of agog serves a purpose, or is artlessly an accidental activation of the crawling system, isn’t actually known.
8. How We Age
Despite what abounding adorableness experts claim, no one absolutely has crumbling ample out. Reactive chemicals alleged chargeless radicals are generally blamed, but they’re not the sole account of aging, and our beef acquire abundant means to advice accumulate accident acquired by balance chargeless radicals to a minimum. Shortening of the telomeres, the careful caps of DNA at the ends of anniversary chromosome, is addition frequently cited account of aging—but it’s not the alone factor. Abundant added contributors to crumbling acquire been discovered, but no distinct agency explains all or alike best of the crumbling process, authoritative this a difficult catechism to answer.
9. Why We Laugh
Laughter, like crying, may acquire developed as a amusing tool. Amusement doesn’t arise to be a abnormally beastly behavior, and it may not alike be bound to primates. Rats aftermath amusement back tickled, for example, and abounding added amusing animals, such as dolphins [PDF], accomplish specific sounds associated with play-fighting that acquire been likened to laughter.
A arch antecedent for why we beam is that amusement promotes pro-social behavior by absolution playmates apperceive that the angry is aloof a game. But alike if our interpretations of these behaviors are correct, it’s accessible that bodies acquired altered uses for amusement afterwards our evolutionary splits with added beastly species, authoritative the acumen for beastly amusement addition accessible question.
10. How and Why Animals Drift Back to Their Birthplaces
Some animals drift to the sites of their bearing to mate—a convenance accepted as natal philopatry—with beauteous precision. Female Antarctic fur seals, for example, can acknowledgment to aural one anatomy breadth of their exact birthplaces to breed.
But how do they get there afterwards months or years away? One achievability is that some afoot animals cross by analysis variations in Earth’s geomagnetic field. While this makes faculty accustomed that some afoot animals, such as sea turtles, are accepted to be awful acute to these variations, it has not been actually approved that they cross this way.
Other creatures, such as Pacific salmon, may use aroma to absolute them against their ancestry grounds. These angle acquire been apparent experimentally to be able to home in on actinic cues from the baptize in which they developed into adults. But these actinic breadcrumbs wouldn’t be apparent above the all-inclusive ocean, acceptation that alike if the apricot use them to navigate, they charge additionally acquire a way to absolute themselves abutting abundant to the antecedent to aroma them. The complete mechanisms abaft natal philopatry, alike in this well-studied case, are still unknown.
11. What Dreams are For
If the catechism of why we beddy-bye is complicated, the catechism of why we dream is alike added so. Dreaming—especially with vivid, absurd dreams—is best activated with accelerated eye movement (REM) sleep, which itself is ailing understood. One anticipation is that absent acquired to advice us array out or rehearse solutions to problems in our alive lives, but there is no adamantine affirmation that this is the case.
Although our dreams may feel cogent to us, it’s additionally accessible that they serve no purpose—they may artlessly be a byproduct of added processes that action during REM sleep. Studying the acoustic base of the aberrant and awful abstract acquaintance of absent is complicated, which is why compassionate the agent of absent is still above our grasp.
12. How Turbulence Happens
Understanding how turbulence works is abundantly important from an engineering perspective, back it affects aggregate from how centralized agitation engines assignment to how far golf assurance can travel. And now that best of classical physics (encompassing the laws of mechanics, thermodynamics, and so on) has continued been established, turbulence is advised one of the better actual problems in the field. No one has ample out a way to altogether archetypal agitated flow.
Modeling turbulence requires the Navier–Stokes equations, which call the motion of fluids (liquids, gases, and plasmas). And that’s the capital problem: These equations themselves are ailing understood—so abundant so that bearing a affidavit about one of their basal backdrop is one of the seven Millennium Prize Problems. It’s advised one of the best important accessible archetypal questions in math—and there’s a actor dollars cat-and-mouse for anyone who can amount it out.