Posted in Science & Nature

Tip Of The Iceberg

Icebergs are deceptive things. You may see a small bump above the ocean surface, but beneath the surface hides a massive block of ice. Using Archimedes’ principle of buoyancy, we can calculate exactly what proportion of an iceberg lies under the surface. Pure ice has a density of about 920 kg/m³ and sea water has a density of 1025 kg/m³. Ergo, we can calculate that about 10% of the volume of an iceberg is above water. Therefore, whatever you see above the surface, there is nine times the volume hiding beneath it.

Tip of the iceberg” is a useful metaphor in describing many things. Our base instinct is to believe what we see at first glance. We rely on first impressions, we judge books on their covers and we tend to believe headlines before reading the full text of an article.

Although this is a useful way to process massive amounts of information that we are exposed to every day, it is certainly a flawed method because not only can we miss a vast quantity of information, also easily misinterpret or misunderstand things.

Take mental health for example. Because we cannot read minds, we take clues from people’s expressions, body language and what they tell us to gauge what is happening in their minds and hearts. We are reasonably good at gauging this, so we often make assumptions based on surface information.

We might assume our friend is happy because they are smiling, or that a couple’s marriage is harmonious because of cute photos on their social media. Conversely, we might assume that a stranger is rude to us because they are terrible people.

But the smiling friend may be suffering crippling anxiety and depression. The happy-looking couple may be at the brink of divorce because of relationship problems. The rude stranger may have lost a loved one just the day before. Things are not always what they seem and it makes an incredible difference to have the insight to see past the surface.

Another lesson to learn from the tip of the iceberg is that when we encounter a problem – whether it be with another person or even within ourselves – we should ask the question of what lies beneath. The problem we notice may just be the tip, with 90% of the issues hidden from plain sight.

For example, if you feel tense and easily triggered often, perhaps it is worth looking under the hood and going on an introspective journey to discover what past experiences and traumas may have caused the insecurities. If you keep feeling victimised, attacked or sensitive, examine what story your subconscious is telling you and try to correct the narrative, being the agent of your own story.

Avoid the fate of the RMS Titanic: look beyond the visible tip of the iceberg and be aware of the entire problem. You will be surprised how it changes your perspective of the world, the people you interact with and how you feel about yourself.

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Posted in Science & Nature, Special Long Essays


Mirrors are perhaps one of the most useful yet underrated inventions that we use every day. From shaving in the morning to fixing make-up during lunch, the modern man or woman will use a mirror (or some other reflective surface) at least once a day. Mirrors show us an accurate reflection of the world that we cannot see. We can only look forwards and need a mirror to reflect light going the opposite way to see behind us or – more importantly – ourselves. To do this, a mirror must directly reflect every photon (particles that make up light) at exactly the right angle so the image is not distorted. If the mirror is not completely flat or perfectly polished, light will not be reflected at the exact angle and we will see a distorted image – much like looking into a mirror at the circus. Therefore, one could say that a perfectly flat, clean mirror is absolutely honest, as it will reflect exactly as it sees.

However, this statement is not entirely true as what you see in the mirror is a mirror image of reality. This may seem trivial, but it has significant consequences. This is most obvious when you hold a book up to a mirror. Without training, it is very difficult to read something that is mirrored. This is why Leonardo da Vinci wrote his notes in mirror image. This phenomenon of something becoming completely different is also seen in chemistry. Because of the way molecules are arranged, it is possible to have a property called chirality – where two molecules with the same elemental composition are built in the mirror image of one another. Essentially, it is as if the molecule can be either left- or right-handed. It turns out that even if the composition is the same, two molecules of different chirality (called enantiomers) can act completely differently. This effect may be as simple as changing the way a liquid polarises light to making a drug completely inert or even toxic. For example, the amino acid carvone that gives the spearmint taste only tastes like spearmint if it is L-carvone (“left-handed”), whereas D-carvone (“right-handed”) is tasteless despite having the same molecular formula.


Since the topic of chirality is rather technical and hard to understand, let us move on to the field of literature. One of the best examples of how mirrors can completely change something is seen in Lewis Carroll’s novel Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. Lewis Carroll understood the significance of mirror images in chemistry and wrote this novel to portray how quirky and strange a “mirror world” may be. Through the Looking Glass is a sequel to the famous book Alice in Wonderland and describes a world that is the mirror image of Wonderland. Carroll cleverly wrote the first book so that it would be the opposite of the first book. The first book starts outdoors, is set in the summer, uses changes in size as a plot device and focuses on the theme of trump cards. The second book starts indoors, is set in the winter, uses changes in direction as a plot device and draws on the theme of chess. There are even characters such as Hatta and Haigha who are the mirror images of the Mad Hatter and the March Hare from the previous book. Although they are very similar, they are just not the same and hence Alice does not recognise them. Perhaps the line that best shows Carroll’s understanding of the dangers of mirror worlds is this: “Perhaps Looking-glass milk isn’t good to drink”.

The field of psychology is also heavily interested in mirrors. It is a well-known fact that our brains recognise the purpose of mirrors. If you put a mirror in front of someone, you know that the person will examine themselves, groom themselves or simply make funny poses. A simple experiment shows how used to mirrors we are. If you angle two mirrors at right angles and fit a transparent sheet of glass in front of the two to make a prism shape, the image you see through the glass is a reflection that is not mirrored. Because it is not mirrored, you can hold up a book to it and still read it fine. This is known as a non-reflecting mirror. An interesting experiment shows that if you make people use this kind of mirror, they become incredibly confused as they are too used to using a mirror image to see themselves. Even though the reflection they see is a “truer” image, because their brain automatically flips the mirrored image, they become uncoordinated and keep moving their hands in the opposite direction.

As mentioned at the start, mirrors are a human invention. Although reflection occurs in nature, such as on a clear surface of water, animals generally are incapable of using mirrors. This is such a universal fact that animal psychologists use a mirror test to determine whether a specie of animal is self-aware or not. The test is done by showing an animal a mirror. Most animals will see their reflection and automatically believe that it is another animal, as they are incapable of thinking that it is a reflection of themselves. Hence, they will try to threaten, attack or flee from the image they see. But if you show a higher-order animal such as an ape or dolphin a mirror, they will start to groom themselves as they realize that the mirror is simply showing themselves.


This is what sets us apart from animals. Not only are we capable of recognizing ourselves in a mirror, but we have the ability to go one step further and reflect on ourselves using the mirror of our minds. Some people may take a look at the person in this mirror and be content with who they are. But some will gaze into the mirror and, much like the animals in the mirror test experiments, see a completely different person they do not recognise. This may cause disappointment, frustration or even disgust as we realize that we are not who we think we are or aspire to be. Then again, sometimes you will gaze into the mirror and see a person that has strengths such as courage – a person you could be if you realized your true potential. The most frightening realisation would be to discover that there is no one in the mirror.

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Lastly, we could consider the mirror of behaviour. Goethe said that “behaviour is a mirror in which everyone displays his own image”. The corollary to this is that human beings read behaviour to try and interpret another person’s character. One can use this to greatly improve the relationship and connection with another person. Mirroring is the act of subtly copying the other person’s behaviour to build rapport – where an empathic bridge is constructed between two people. Rapport is particularly useful in jobs that involve earning the trust of strangers in a short time, such as in healthcare or business. By matching the other person’s body language, such as posture or actions like taking a sip of water, the other person will open up more easily to you. The same applies to verbal and emotional mirroring where you subtly reuse the words the other person spoke and reflect their emotions such as excitement. Obviously, one must be subtle with mirroring as a direct imitation will appear mocking and strange. If you are able to subtly copy their behaviour, the other person’s subconscious mind will be tricked into thinking that you are similar in character and trust you more. This skill is extremely useful in improving your interpersonal and social skills.

A mirror is a paradoxical object that is absolutely honest yet relatively deceitful. Reflections in the mirror are true yet completely different. If you take a peek into the mirror of your mind, perhaps you will see the person you think you are now or the person you could be in a mirror world. If you are happy with what you see, then cherish that and be proud of who you are. Otherwise, you can always do what Alice did and jump through the looking-glass to find an alternate you – the best you that you can be.


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Posted in Psychology & Medicine, Special Long Essays

Lie Detection

In developmental psychology, a child’s ability to successfully lie is considered a milestone achievement. This goes to show how lying is one of the characteristic behaviours of human beings. Even a three-year old knows that by lying, they can avoid punishment and gain much more.

There are many signs of deception. Becoming an expert in observing these signs and knowing what they mean can grant the ability to see through lies. The following is a description of some of the changes – both non-verbal and verbal – that people exhibit when lying. Note that these signs are not always definitive and should be used as a reference only. One must carefully deduce whether the signs are there because the person is lying, or whether it is a simple physiological process with no meaning. Here is a simplified list of the signs that will be discussed:

  • faster blinking, avoiding/too much eye contact, dilated pupils, looking up and right
  • sweaty face and palms, fast pulse and blood pressure, flushed face
  • dry mouth/lips, constant licking or pursing lips, swallowing loudly and often
  • looking away or down, tics and twitches in face (eyes, cheeks, mouth)
  • placing hand near mouth (rubbing nose/chin, scratching face etc.)
  • touching neck, pulling at collar, rubbing forearms or hands
  • shoulder shrug, crossed arms/legs, fidgeting, hiding of hands
  • holding hands or clenched fists, unusual movements
  • tucking feet below seat, tapping of feet
  • short, general descriptions (or overly detailed), inconsistencies in detail
  • talking faster and at a higher pitch, emphasising the “truth”

Non-verbal signs are essentially body language – a mean of subconscious communication through which the person signals to another person about their emotions and thoughts. These can be behavioural (avoiding eye contact), physiological (faster heart rate) or cognitive (exaggerating that they are “truthful”). As non-verbal communication makes up 90% of a conversation, it is extremely useful to know what signs to look for and know what they mean. Let us start with the face.

The eyes are considered the window to the soul. This is because the eyes give off so many clues about what the person is thinking, usually subconsciously. A key sign to look for is the frequency of blinking. If the person is blinking much more than usual, it suggests that they are nervous (causing their eyes to dry out faster). Another famous example is eye contact – people avoid eye contact when lying as they are subconsciously “ashamed” of being immoral. However, they may consciously compensate this and make too much eye contact, another sign they are hiding something. Looking up and to the right has been associated with the brain imagining something, as opposed to down and left which is related to recalling true memories. Lastly, the pupils may dilate from the excitement and nervousness.

When a person lies, they tend to be nervous, stressed and excited. This activates the sympathetic nervous system, colloquially known as the fight or flight mode (rapid blinking is related to this). This causes other signs such as sweating, dry mouth, fast heartbeat and blood pressure. Therefore, a liar may be seen licking or pursing their lips to moisten them. Frequent, loud swallowing is also a clear sign of dry mouth. The face may be slightly flushed as well.

As stated above, the person is also subconsciously ashamed of their lying. This causes the person to face away from the person or look down (think of a child who is lying – their innocence makes signs of deception flare up like Christmas lights). Many people place their hand near their mouth (e.g. rubbing their nose or chin, touching their lips), as if the brain is telling the hands to stop the lie from coming out. They also tend to rub their neck or adjust their collar as touching the neck comforts people. Note that scratching the nose is another sign of lying but not the same as rubbing the nose. Scratching is to relieve the itchiness caused by the raised blood pressure irritating the soft tissue of the nose (Pinocchio effect).

Obviously the facial expression would change also, expressing nervousness and mild stress. This may be concealed with a fake smile (when the “eyes don’t smile”) or anger. It is well-known that people exhibit microexpressions – a flicker of emotion expressed in the face – that only shows for a fraction of a second. Although it is hard to spot, it is a direct display of their true emotion. Fascinatingly, the right face tends to react more as it is controlled by the left brain – responsible for the logical and complex thinking required in telling a lie. This may show as a tic or twitch in the eyes, cheek or mouth.

Moving down the body, a classic sign of deception is the shoulder shrug. Shrugging the shoulders is a message they are “unsure” if what they said is true and is seen (subtly) in many cases of lies. The arms may be crossed (a closed position), which shows they are being defensive (a sign of guilt or discomfort). Similarly, the person may be leaning away from the other person.

The hands are just as important as the face when it comes to lie detection. As mentioned before liars tend to touch various parts of their face and neck while telling a lie. Women tend to rub their hands together or their forearm instead of the neck to comfort themselves. Fidgeting is also very important to notice as this is a comforting act too and exaggerating movements are seen also (reinforcing the “validity” of their lie). Usually, people are aware of this fact and attempt to hide their hands in their pockets, behind their back or behind a bag. They may hold the hands together to prevent fidgeting, or tightly clench their fists. Basically, look for unnecessary (or lack thereof) movements as this almost certainly indicates that something is abnormal.
Similarly, the person may cross their legs (defensive), tuck their feet below the seat (distancing from the other person) or tap their feet (nervousness and excitement).

To finish off, here are some verbal cues for deception. People have a tendency to give short replies when lying. They also talk at a faster pace and higher pitch. These are all due to the subconscious want for the conversation to be over as soon as possible (often accompanied by an awkward or angry attempt at changing the topic). On a similar note, they are more hesitant and less fluent in talking, adding many “umm”s and “uhh”s as they try conjure a lie. Words such as “somebody” “somewhere” “everywhere” that encompass a non-specific or broad target are used to try dilute the details of the lie.

Conversely, the more experienced liar tries to make their lie believable by adding excessive detail to their story. For example, asking a specific detail (that they normally wouldn’t notice) would prompt an answer as opposed to an “I don’t remember”. It is also useful to ask the same question again and check for any inconsistencies.
Lastly, if the more the person affirms that they are telling the truth (e.g. “honestly”, “believe me”, “swear to god”), the more likely they are lying.

This list is not exhaustive and there are many tiny details that can be used to help you decide whether someone is trying to deceive you or not. Again, as the signs are not definitive (e.g. they may be thirsty or just nervous talking to you) it should be considered within the context along with other information. However, it is still an extremely useful tool for finding the truth as everybody lies.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Open Hand

90% of human communication is non-verbal. This shows how facial expressions and body language have a powerful effect on our subconscious. Even the position of the hand can send a clear signal.

An open hand suggests peace, love and openness. Because of this, if the other person has his or her palm showing, you will feel more comfortable talking with them and view them in a more positive light. Jesus is often pictured in a pose with his arms stretched and palms showing, sending the message: “I would like to embrace you”. The same signal is used to initiate a hug.

On the other hand, a closed hand sends a cold message of strictness and professionalism. Therefore, people who are debating or negotiating often have their hands flat on a table or their lap to symbolise their resolution and defiance.

From this analysis, we can tell that an open hand is a good way to gain the affection of another person. Furthermore, this body language can manipulate the other person’s subconscious.

From my experiments, I found that when given the choice between a closed fist facing up and another fist facing down, the subject would choose the fist with the palms facing up about 90% of the time. Although it is a crude test, it definitely beat the 50:50 statistics that is expected.
This experiment was probably affected by other factors. Especially because people will usually choose the unusual choice due to curiosity (as when told to pick a hand, the person will usually have both fists facing down) and due to the psychology of “the unusual fist will probably contain something more interesting”. Also, most people who chose the downward-facing fist later said that they “deliberately chose the other fist because they felt they were supposed to choose the upwards-facing fist”. Thus, they too were first attracted to the unusual fist.

This test must be done suddenly to bypass the logical conscious mind and have an effect on the subconscious mind. If you take too long to explain the test, the results become skewed. 
Bypassing the conscious mind to suggest an acceptable choice to the subconscious mind – this test shows the basic principles of hypnosis.