There once lived a community of mice in the attic of a house. The mice would sneak into kitchens, gnaw holes in the walls and run about freely. The owners were so fed up that they brought in a cat, causing the mice to all hide in fear. The terrified mice eventually held a meeting to discuss how they would sneak around the house without getting caught by the cat. One mouse suggested: “What if we put a bell around the neck of the cat? Then we can hear it coming and run away.”. The mice unanimously agreed that it was a brilliant idea. However, when they came to decide who would bell the cat, no mouse was brave enough to step forward and the plan was never carried out.
What would actually happen if a cat was belled? Without a doubt, the cat would take it as a cruel, cruel punishment. Not because it cannot catch mice, but because the sound of the bell ringing every time it moves will be extremely loud for the cat. A cat’s hearing is six times better than a human’s. With this excellent hearing, the constant sound of bells attacking its eardrums would be physical torture for the cat.
Furthermore, a cat can hear frequencies as high as 40,000Hz. A person can only hear up to 20,000Hz, meaning a cat hears over twice the range of sounds we can. This combined with the boosted volume results in the cat living in a very noisy world. Ergo, putting a bell around a cat’s neck is an extremely atrocious thing to do.
We laugh when we are happy. Laughter provides us with happiness and is the best medicine available to us, relieving the pain and stress of life. In fact, when we laugh we secrete a neurotransmitter called endorphin, which as the name suggests (endo(inside) + morphine), has the same properties as morphine.
What makes us laugh? The best theory to date is that laughter is an instinctive response to the passing of danger (also called the relief theory). For example, if our ancestor came across a predator but it passed by without noticing him, he would have laughed in response to the relief he felt. Others would see from his laugh that the danger had passed and laugh also (possibly explaining why laughter is contagious).
This theory also explains why humour makes us laugh. When you throw a joke, you are essentially giving the other person a “cognitive riddle” with a logical inconsistency. This inconsistency causes the recipient’s subconscious to become confused: “Why is it funny? Why can’t I understand it?”. As jokes are fundamentally a “surprise” to the other person’s mind, they try to solve it and figure it out whether it is a danger or not. If they get the joke, the inconsistency is solved and the person feels relief (as it has been revealed that the confusion brought on by the inconsistency was not dangerous). Once the confusion passes, the person laughs in response. But if the person does not get the joke, the “danger” has not passed and the person does not laugh. This is the basis of one of the laws of comedians: “if the audience is confused, they do not laugh”.
Laughter is beneficial for your health. Frequent laughter lowers the blood pressure, boosts the immune system, relieves pain and lowers the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. Laughter is especially good for your mental health, therefore having a five-minute laughter yoga session every day where you just laugh as hard as you can will help you lead a happier life. However, ironically laughter can kill you too. Cases of “death from laughter” have been recorded since ancient Greek times to the modern day. The cause has not been identified but it is known that intense laughter can cause cataplexy, which is a paralysis induced by extreme emotions. It is possible that intense laughter overloads the nervous system and causes a heart attack.
The northern white-faced owl, found in the Sahara Desert of Africa, is a small, cute bird of about 22~24cm length. It is famous for a very unique defence mechanism. As shown in the photo, it normally has a round, puffy appearance, but when faced with a fearsome predator like a hawk, it undergoes a drastic transformation. The owl shrinks itself as much as possible to avoid the enemy’s attention, while looking like a sick bird that has lost a lot of weight. This appearance gives the predator the impression that the owl is not worth the effort of hunting and lowers the chance of it attacking. The ability to shrink to half its original width is achieved through elongating its body and pulling in its feathers as much as possible. Also, when assuming this shape, the owl always faces the predator and poses at an angle to minimise its exposure.
This transformation is only seen when the owl is placed in front of a large predator like a hawk or a much larger owl. When in front of a similarly-sized owl, it exhibits a different transformation where it flares up its wings to make itself look much larger, intimidating the opposition. But this behaviour is common in many other species of owls, whereas the shrinking performance is a rare behaviour only seen in the northern white-faced owl.
When you think of lemmings, you are bound to think of two things: a small, round rodent and mass suicide. The reason being, we have been taught as children that lemmings often commit mass suicide. This theory originates from the late 19th century when scientists could not figure out why lemming populations seemed to spike rapidly and then fall just as fast. In 1908, a man named Arthur Mee proposed that they kill themselves, writing so in the Children’s Encyclopaedia. He posited that as an overpopulation of lemmings could devastate the European ecosystem, the lemmings were naturally controlling their own population count. His theory was backed by a documentary made in 1958 called White Wilderness that showed a footage of a herd of lemmings leaping off a cliff to their death.
However, this “fact” has a severe flaw. Lemmings do not commit mass suicide. If you think about it for even a second, the thought of an animal that commits mass suicide (other than human beings) is preposterous as the species would die out. The reason why the lemming population spikes is the same as for mice and rabbits: they pride themselves in extreme reproductive abilities. A female lemming can have up to 80 babies in one year. If the population grows at such an alarming rate, then as explained above, the environment would not be able to support it. This causes the lemming population to plateau, not rising or falling, as there is not enough food to feed all the lemmings. However, due to the shortage of food, the lemmings become desperate and hungry. To find more food, the lemmings begin a migration, but the combination of hunger and being in heat causes them to act irrationally and wild. The result is a massive herd of hungry, stupid lemmings frantically running around all over the place. This leads to some lemmings accidentally slipping off cliffs and drowning in the river while swimming. This is not suicide.
Then what was the strange phenomenon of mass suicide depicted in White Wilderness? The answer is simple: it was staged. The producers tried to replicate Mee’s theory by importing a dozen lemmings and filming them running around the place. Then why did these lemmings commit suicide? Because the producers launched them off a cliff from a turntable.
The word cute is used in many different contexts: a girl saying a guy is “cute” could mean that she finds him attractive, while a guy saying a girl is “cute” may imply that they find them lovable but not in an attractive way. But essentially, cuteness can be described using the concept of neoteny.
What is neoteny? This is a concept in evolution where adults of a species preserve traits of youth. The end result is a mature organism that appears to be immature. A good example of this is the axolotl, which preserves its juvenile aquatic form (e.g. gills and overall look) in adulthood, even when they are living amphibiously. It has been hypothesised that human beings originate from neotenised chimpanzees, as a baby chimp has striking resemblance to a human.
Cuteness and neoteny have an extremely intricate relationship. It is common knowledge that the most powerful attractors of care from an adult is cuteness. Almost every infant organisms have “cute” appearances that make people instantly feel warm and fuzzy. Ergo, being cute (i.e. neoteny) is a survival advantage as the young are cared for more until they are mature. This simple concept has led to the lengthening of childhood in humans, as children require a long time under the care of adults while they absorb knowledge and learn how to function in society. This also solved the problem of babies being born with immature brains (as the head is already too large to fit through the birth canal) and still having a chance at survival.
It has been scientifically proven that people with cuter faces are seen in a more positive light, more likely to be hired and less likely to provoke aggression in violent people (the human brain is wired to inhibit aggressiveness when faced with cuteness, presumably an effort to reduce child abuse and improve survival). In short, cuteness invokes maternal or paternal love and causes a sudden want to protect the cute thing.
This leads to another advantage of cuteness: attractiveness. Although beauty and cuteness are almost diametrically opposed, many men (and women) find “cuteness” to be appealing in the opposite sex. This is likely related to the brain confusing parental love with romantic love. A youthful look is also associated with fertility, which greatly influences a man’s subconscious choice of a partner. However, it is also true that because of this effect a man may see a cute girl only as a “little sister” figure they need to protect, rather than a potential love interest.
So what makes for a cute person? As stated above, these are traits of neoteny, or in other words:
small jaw and teeth
flattened and rounded face
large brain/forehead (causing the eyes/nose/mouth to be lower on the face)
hairless face and body
limbs shorter than torso length
legs longer than arms
These characteristics are commonly used in animations and cartoons to boost the audience’s affection towards the character. This is especially the case in Japan where the a cultural obsession with cuteness is clearly evident.
A baby appears to have a pure and innocent image, but they also have a side we don’t know about.
Firstly, babies (including infants) know how to lie and steal.
They fake crying to fool an adult, and put on an innocent face on purpose.
During times when they are strongly possessive, they grab what they want and not let go. An adult pities that the baby does not know better and gives it what it wants, but this is actually meticulously planned by the baby.
Furthermore, research has shown that babies show racism and judge people based on looks. Babies, in almost all cases, prefer to be held by the prettier woman. Also, they can perfectly recognise and differentiate faces yet cannot tell the differences in faces from another ethnicity.
Lastly, babies experience euphoria and pleasure through self-harm (banging their heads against a wall produces a similar effect to taking drugs) and can murder their twin inside the womb by (stealing nutrients).
The history of cats is longer than people think. It is known that they have had an intimate relationship with humans for the past 9500 years. The hypothesis is that they were probably domesticated in Egypt and surrounding Middle Eastern countries such as Persia. The reason for this is most likely to eradicate vermin, as they kept stealing the stores of grains that had been produced using developed farming technology.
Cats, with their natural hunting instincts, excelled at this task and people came to love the animals more and more. They became important to the degree that in ancient Egypt, cats were considered sacred animals and worshipped, even being mummified in some cases.
But entering the Middle Ages, the image of cats deteriorated. Europeans considered cats as signs of bad luck and the pet of witches, and proceeded to massacre all cats. As the population shrank, rats thrived with the loss of their predator and began to multiply at a rapid rate. These rats, often carrying fleas, were key players in spreading the deadly Black Plague. In other words, thanks to the massacre of cats, a third of Europe died from the Pest.
Cats are beloved animals in the modern age (dog lovers may disagree), but superstitions linking cats to bad luck still exist. In the West, black cats are believed to be bad luck and have nine lives (most likely originating from a cat’s ability to break its fall). But their image has much recovered and as it can be seen from characters such as Hello Kitty, they are becoming a symbol of cuteness. However, considering their close relatives such as lions and tigers represent bravery and the king of beasts, a cat’s dignity has surely fallen.