They say that when you face your mortality, your entire life flashes before your eyes like a sped-up autobiographical film. This tends to happen in situation where a person feels they are in danger of imminent death, such as moments before a car crash. Reports say that the event typically lasts anywhere between less than a second to few seconds, and what they perceive as major life events flash before their eyes, usually in chronological order. However, reports are very subjective and variable.
This phenomenon sounds very clichéd, but it has been widely reported throughout time and space. Over 8 million people in the United States of America stated that they experienced this “life review” in a near-death experience, with countless records in historical texts, reaching far back as at least 1795 in a letter by Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort. It is fascinating to see that there is even a set name or phrase for this phenomenon deeply ingrained in various languages, such as English, German, French, Dutch, Russian, Persian, Arabian and Korean, suggesting that the phenomenon is widespread and common.
There is no strong evidence for why this phenomenon occurs, but there is one theory that is persuading. The brain is always subconsciously referring to past experiences and knowledge to apply to the present to help solve a problem. It has been suggested that when you are at the brink of death, the brain frantically searches through everything in an attempt to save you from demise. This is a rather messy process as the brain does not routinely encounter such near-death experiences and does not have much information to refer to immediately. In this process, it brings up every memory that you thought you had forgotten, which you see as a montage flashing before your eyes. For example, a man who was attacked by a great white shark reported that out of nowhere, he recalled his son watching a documentary on sharks and remembered that putting your hands down a shark’s gills will incapacitate it. Thanks to this, he survived.
The brain does indeed have an amazing ability to alter your speed of thought and delay time perception when you are in danger, or the so-called “fight-or-flight” mode. There is much anecdotal evidence of firefighters instinctively knowing that a building will collapse very soon, or emergency physicians making complex clinical decisions in the blink of an eye by drawing from a well of past experiences.
What is the best or easiest way to protect yourself from an alligator attack? Obvious answers aside (such as avoiding them), it is to use something like an elastic band or a rope to tie their snout shut. Alligators have the strongest bite in the natural world – clocking in at about 2125 pounds of force (about 966kg). The sheer force of the bite is enough to crush the victim and kill them instantly. Even if the victim survives, there is a serious risk of being left with a permanent disability or die from an infected wound.
Although the force of the bite is incredible thanks to its extremely strong jaw muscles, alligators do not have nearly enough the same strength when opening their jaws. This means that a simple elastic band is enough to keep their jaws shut, leaving the alligator helpless and giving you a chance to run before its friends come to find you.
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.
According to the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, there are two ways to victory. The first is winning without fighting the enemy, the second is to win after battling the enemy. The former is the better, wiser option with the latter being the second best choice. Even if you win a hundred battles, it is not the idea victory. Achieving victory without a battle is the far better option. The best method is to predict the enemy’s movements and outwit them. The second best method is to sever the ties between the enemy nation and their close allies, isolating them. The third method is to engage in battle with the enemy and the worst method is to attack them using all means and resources.
To avoid a war and still achieve victory you must anticipate the enemy’s plans and to do this you must gather intelligence. Thus, whether you win or lose a war depends on whether you have the right intelligence. 지피지기 백전불태(知彼知己 百戰不殆, jipijigi baekjeonbultae): If you know the enemy and know yourself, even if you fight a hundred battles you are not in danger. If you fight only knowing your military capabilities and not the state of the enemy, the chances of victory is half-half. If you do not know the enemy’s or your own military’s capabilities, then you will lose every fight.
People take interest in ants for many reasons. Some people are fascinated by how ants have achieved what they deem a perfect totalitarian system. In fact, if you observe it from the outside, an ant nest appears to be completely harmonious as everyone works the same, everyone focuses on the good of the whole and everyone is prepared to sacrifice themselves. But humanity has failed in every attempt at totalitarianism up until now. The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Carthaginians, Persians, Chinese, French, British, Russians, Germans, Japanese and Americans all experienced an age of glory and appeared as if the world would be assimilated into them, but fortunately a tiny grain of sand would always fall and destroy their unified systems.
This is why there are people who try to imitate insects who live in hive societies (consider how Napoleon’s insignia was of a honeybee). If what unifies an ant nest’s thoughts into one is pheromones, then modern society’s worldwide media does the same function today. People always suggest something that they believe is good and expect others to follow it. They believe that this way, we will achieve a perfect human society one day. But this is not the way of the universe.
Nature, unlike what Darwin suggested, does not evolve so that the fittest survive and rule (and what standard could possible differentiate “fit” and “undesirable”?). Nature’s powers lie in variation. In nature, there are good, evil, insane, devastated, lively, ill, deformed, demented, happy, depressed, intelligent, foolish, selfish, generous people and big, small, black, yellow, red, white things etc. They must all exist. If there is one danger in nature, it is when one group is destroyed by another group.
If there is a field of corns and only the corns that have the “best” traits (i.e. require the least water, stand cold weather and produce juicy corn) are used to pollinate, then the entire crop can be wiped out by a single disease. Contrastingly, a wild crop with individual corns having unique traits with varied weaknesses and differences can survive diseases as the corns find a way to beat it among the many different traits.
Nature hates standardisation and loves diversity. It is through diversity that nature exerts its original abilities.
(from The Encyclopaedia of Relative and Absolute Knowledge by Bernard Werber)
Unless you are a psychopath, as a human being you are bound to feel emotions. Love, happiness, anger, sadness… there are many emotions that range from simple to complex. Emotions are an interesting system as they allow us to respond rapidly to a situation without thinking, while alerting other members of our society to what is happening to us. Essentially, emotions help us in survival and social interactions.
According to Professor Paul Ekman, emotions are universal from culture to culture, with facial expressions being almost identical from tribal cultures to modern ones. He found that there are six major emotions: anger, fear, disgust, sadness, surprise and happiness. He also pioneered the field of micro-expressions, which studies the flickering change in our facial expressions whenever we feel a certain emotion. As emotions usually occur before the conscious mind thinks, we are often unaware of the expressions we make.
Another psychologist, Dr. Paul Gilbert, divided emotions into three affect systems. They are as follows:
Threat/protection system: associated with the fight-or-flight response, activates in response to danger. It causes anger and fear and is related to catecholamines (e.g. adrenaline) and cortisol (stress hormone).
Want/desire system: associated with hunting and rewarding behaviour, helps us perform actions that aids survival such as obtaining food and mates. It is related to the emotion of excitement, which is caused by the neurotransmitter dopamine (part of the reward system).
Contentment system: associated with met needs and social connection, especially when we feel safe and relaxed. It produces feelings of happiness and peace, linked to the hormone oxytocin (released with human touch, especially during kissing).
Dr. Gilbert also posited that as societies have evolved over time, our affect systems have been altered. For example, despite the lack of natural predators around, urban dwellers are often in a state of high anxiety. This causes a sustained stress response, leading to negative health outcomes. Furthermore, the agitation and the paranoia caused by constant fear leads to crimes such as murder and war. Our want/desire system has also been heightened as we find pleasure in gaining material wealth. This has led to aggressive capitalism, exploiting other people and the environment for selfish gain.
On the other hand, the contentment system has shrunk. People feel less content despite being in a generally healthier and richer world than 100 years ago. The reason being, our brain has evolved to help us survive, not to keep us happy.
One must learn how to adapt to these changes by finding a way to relieve tension and stress, while finding inner peace and happiness. Whether it be through sports, music, humour or simply talking to another person, finding your own way to deal with anxiety is the best road to being happy and content.
The most potent and frequently used household cleaning product is bleach. Bleach is a diluted solution of sodium hypochlorite (NaClO), which has powerful antimicrobial properties thanks to the element chlorine. This is also the reason chlorine is used to treat tap water and disinfect pools.
Although it is an extremely useful chemical, chlorine also has a very dark side. Chlorine gas is a highly toxic gas, which forms hydrochloric acid when breathed in and seriously burns the respiratory tract. Due to its toxicity, chlorine gas was used as a weapon of mass destruction in World War I. However, this terrifying gas can be made very simply at home. Unfortunately, this is often done accidentally (but sometimes on purpose) and causes significant damage.
The key warning for using bleach is that it must never be mixed with other cleaning products. If mixed with an acid cleaner, it causes a chemical reaction that produces chlorine gas, while mixing it with ammonia creates chloramine, another deadly gas (although dangerous in itself, chloramine can sublimate into chlorine gas too). Therefore, many people suffer a loss of smell, consciousness or their lives by accidentally mixing two cleaning products or cleaning up urine with bleach. A major problem is that these victims tend to be children who unknowingly mix the chemicals, creating a horrible accident. What is more unfortunate is that some people choose to end their lives using this method. If you do find a person rendered unconscious by chlorine, it is imperative to quickly move them to a well-ventilated area, while not endangering yourself. An ambulance should be called right away.
As seen from above, simple chemicals found easily at home can produce toxic gases, which can cause irreversible damage. Thus, one must never mix bleach and cleaning products and should educate their children on the dangers of chlorine gas.
CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation – or in plain English, artificially (and partially) restoring the function of the heart and lungs of an unconscious, pulseless person. As blood flow (perfusion) is critical in the survival of major organs such as the brain, this procedure can save lives by prolonging a victim’s life until the paramedics arrive to provide professional medical care.
When the heart stops beating, or becomes inefficient due to erratic beating, blood flow stops. In the case of the brain, this means that the cells will start dying after 4~5 minutes if perfusion is not restored. CPR can restore about 30% of perfusion, delaying the onset of brain death.
This may be critical when someone suffers a heart attack (myocardial infarction) and paramedics will not arrive for over 10 minutes. Ergo, this is one of the most important emergency skills one should know to help people in need as soon as possible.
There are different guidelines for CPR in many countries, but here is a standard procedure guideline (NZ).
It is summarised into the acronym: DR’S ABCD (doctor’s ABCD), and is a flowchart that goes from one step to the next (detailed explanation after summary).
Danger: check that area is safe and risk-free
Response: check for patient response by shouting, shaking, pain
Send for help: pick one person to call emergency services
Airway: check airway, remove obstruction, tilt head back and lift chin
Breathing: check for breathing, go to CPR if no breathing
Circulation: check for pulse if breathing, if no pulse, start CPR (30 chest compressions : 2 breaths)
(Defibrillation): follow AED instructions
The first rule of first aid is that you must not put yourself in danger. For example, if the patient is on the road, pull them to a safe area to minimise the risk to your own health.
Then, check for a response. The easiest way is to call loudly to them such as “Can you hear me”, and inflicting pain (such as rapping on their chest or shaking their shoulders) and see if they become conscious.
If they remain unconscious, immediately designate a person around you by pointing to them (otherwise they will be less likely to be responsible) to call the emergency service (111, 911, 119 etc.), alerting them the location and state of the patient.
This is the point when clinical skills come in.
Airway: An unconscious person may have their airway obstructed by vomit or their own tongue (which falls back by gravity into the throat). You must secure the airway by scooping out any material, and clearing the tongue out of the way. This is done by tilting the head back far (as if they are looking up), then using one hand to pull their chin out. This opens the airway up so that mouth-to-mouth becomes effective.
Breathing: Put one ear right next to the person’s nose and mouth and check for any breathing sounds or air flow. If they are breathing, check the pulse to see if they are pumping blood. If not, go straight to CPR.
Circulation: It is best to check the central pulses such as the carotid (side of neck, next to the Adam’s apple), brachial (squeeze inner side of biceps) or femoral pulses. The carotid is often the easiest as most people know how to take it. If you feel a pulse, put the patient in recovery position as they are just unconscious, breathing and has blood flowing. If not, proceed to CPR (as you do with when the patient is not breathing).
CPR is composed of two actions: chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth breathing. The former is the strong compression of the chest wall to squeeze blood in and out of the heart; the latter is breathing air into the patient’s lungs and letting exhalation come out naturally.
Chest compressions are often misrepresented in medical dramas, and is extremely important that you do it correctly. First find where the sternum is (centre of ribcage, between the nipples) and place the heel of your left palm on it, then spread your fingers out. Put your right hand over your left and close your fingers around it for a good grip. If the patient is lying flat on the ground (with head tilted back), kneel beside them and stoop over their chest with straight, locked arms (bent arms exert much less pressure).
You are now ready to begin chest compressions. Press down hard, until the chest wall is compressed to about 1/3~½ depth (the chest wall is a springy structure, and do not worry about broken ribs, as being alive is more important for the person), then ease pressure to let it bounce back up. Ideally the time pushing and the time letting it bounce back should be the same, giving a good rhythm. Repeat this 30 times at the beat of 100/min, or in easier terms: to the beats of the Bee Gee’s song Stayin’ Alive (scientifically proven).
After 30 compressions, tilt the patient’s head back, lift their chin up, and lock your mouth over their mouth and nose to make an airtight seal. It is crucial that you use a face shield to prevent the spread of disease. Be aware that breaths are less important than the compressions, so if you do not have a face shield, let someone else do the breathing and focus on chest compressions. Pinch the nose closed to ensure air does not escape.
Forcefully breathe into them and look for the chest rising. Let go of the nose and pull away so that they can breathe out. Repeat once, then return to chest compressions.
After 2 minutes of CPR (30 compressions : 2 breaths, repeat 4 times), change places with another person capable of CPR, as otherwise you will tire out and become inefficient.
Defibrillation is only possible if you are near an AED (automated external defibrillator). Nowadays, AEDs are designed to be completely user-friendly so simply follow the instructions on the machine.
It is important to note that not all abnormal heart rhythms are “shockable” (see Flatline). Follow the AED’s instruction, as it will state whether shock is advised or not. Make sure that CPR is still happening continuously.
Repeat until help arrives.
As a final note, remember that the patient is dead whether you do CPR or not, so there is nothing to lose. Believe it or not, this will be of incredible help in calming your mind when struck with such an emergency. Even with CPR, there is a maximum 30% chance the patient will survive, 10% if it occurs outside the hospital. But if you do nothing, their survival chance will be 0%, so put all your energy into resuscitating them, and you may just save a life.
Babies first show “stranger anxiety” at between 8 to 10 months of age. As their brains develop rapidly, they also learn social-emotional skills and recognise the identity of “parents”. Thus, they do not trust any other adults that are not “parents”. This phenomenon usually disappears after two years, but they then receive education from adults that they should not trust strangers, or Stranger Danger. Interestingly, most kidnapping cases are committed by an adult the child knows well.
Another fact related to stranger anxiety is that it is dependent on how close the baby is to its parents. Take the Strange Situation Test developed by Ainsworth as an example:
Put a baby under the age of 12 months and its parent in the same room, then separate the two. Next, send in an adult the baby has never seen before, then after a short while exchange the adult back with the parent.
Normal babies become anxious and agitated when a stranger enters the room, but then they calm down almost immediately as the parent returns. Also, when the parent returns the baby requests to be held, as physical contact represents safety for a baby. However, a baby that has spent less time with its parents, or a baby with unresponsive parents exhibit a different behaviour. In fact, they become more agitated when the parent returns, and often show avoidance. This is because there has been insufficient bonding between the two. A more extreme case is of a baby that has been abused. These babies become extremely disorganised and disoriented upon the parent’s return. This is also due to improper socio-emotional development. Babies like these that were not intimately bonded with their parents tend to have trust issues even after development, which may lead to social problems in adulthood.