Posted in History & Literature


The concept of the female body being the ideal subject for nude art only became popular around the 16th century when the Renaissance was in full bloom. Art before this time mainly focussed on the male figure that could portray the perfection of gods, such as the young and beautiful Apollo or Jesus Christ on the cross. In ancient Greece, the naked male figure was associated with triumph and victory (possibly related to the Olympic games being played in nude). Thus, statues focussed on nude male figures, with female figures tending to be clothed.

The point in history when this perception of nudity changed was when an Italian artist called Giorgione painted the Sleeping Venus in 1510. This painting portrays a nude Venus (or Aphrodite) lying peacefully on white and red cloths upon the backdrop of Venetia. This new type of nude art where the naked female form was displayed – with the figure posed with grace and shyness – sparked a revolution, changing the concept that the female body evoked an “uncomfortable feeling” in the audience. Many art historians consider this painting one of the starting points of modern art.


Posted in Science & Nature

Common Side-Blotched Lizard

Rock-paper-scissors is a fun game that is played by people of all ages and nationalities. But there is also a species of lizards that plays this game, albeit in a rather strange way.

Male common side-blotched lizards, also known as Uta stansburiana, have a mating strategy based on the game, where the chances of “winning” is equal and one type has an advantage over another type while being disadvantaged against another type. The males come in three types, differing in the colour of their necks: orange, blue and yellow.

  • Orange-throated males are the strongest but do not like to form a bond with the female (i.e. do not want a relationship). They can easily win over a fight against the blue-throated males to win the female, but yellow-throated males can sneak in and win over the female instead. Orange beats blue but loses against yellow.
  • Blue-throated males are middle-sized but do form strong bonds with females. They lose in a fight against orange-throated males, but can easily defend against yellow-throated males as they are always with their female. Blue beats yellow but loses against orange.
  • Yellow-throated males are smallest but can mimic females, letting them approach females near orange-throated males. They mate with the females while the orange-throated male is distracted, but this strategy does not work with blue-throated males as they have stronger bonds with the females. Yellow beats orange but loses against blue.

Interestingly, although the proportion of the three types average out to be similar over the long run (much like the probability of a person playing a certain hand), in the short term the preferred strategy tends to fluctuate. For example, orange-throated males may strive with their masculine strength for four or five years, but then the trend will slowly switch to yellow-throated males and their mimicking, female-stealing strategy. After another four or five years, blue-throated males will make a comeback as they win over females with their strong bonding.


Posted in Science & Nature

Praying Mantis

The praying mantis is sometimes considered a symbol of ultimate female empowerment. After mating, it has been observed that the female would immediately proceed to kill the male she just mated with and eat his corpse, head first.
However, one thing that is less known is that this act – known as sexual cannibalism – occurs almost exclusively in captivity. This is because in the wild, a male runs off quickly after mating to avoid a grim fate. The female, with a massive appetite after the tiring act of copulation, looks for a source of nutrients to upkeep her pregnancy. As in a captive environment the male cannot run far and the female cannot hunt easily, she opts to eat the male as this is more beneficial for her. Furthermore, as mantises have very sharp vision, it is highly likely that the observing scientists (giant, towering figures dressed in white) will intimidate the female mantis. The anxiety caused by the observation would thus make the female act more violently.

The theory that lab intervention caused sexual cannibalism was proven when mantises stopped cannibalising after being fed ad libitum (until they were full). In fact, the female would carefully observe the courtship dance of the male and decide whether he is worthy of mating. This courtship dance also has the effect of switching the female’s priorities from feeding to mating.

It has also been suggested that females may choose to eat the males they do not deem worthy (before mating), or that the males are sacrificing themselves to improve the chance of fertilisation. This is supported by evidence of decapitated male mantises copulating more vigorously and mounting the female for much longer periods. 

In other words, male submissiveness can be a factor in reproductive success.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine


Hysteria is a disease that was believed until the late 19th century to be a disease unique to women due to a pathology of the uterus (hystera is Greek for uterus). The most common symptom was mental disturbance (such as extreme moods) accompanied by shortness of breath, vaginal dryness, nervousness, insomnia, oedema, faintness and many more. The treatment back then was for a physician to massage or stimulate the patient’s vagina to induce an orgasm. By the 19th century, the treatment evolved and involved vibrators and water massage machines.

This disease was first noted by Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine. Galen, another famous physician in the 2nd century, believed it to be caused by sexual deprivation. Thus, sexual intercourse was prescribed as treatment in the Middle Ages.

Modern medicine no longer recognises hysteria as a medical condition and is now referred to as sexual dysfunction (the sexual treatments described above are no longer used either). However, there is a condition called mass hysteria that indeed exists.
This is a psychological phenomenon rather than a disease, commonly occurring in closed spaces such as planes or in crowds in a state of panic. When a high tension situation arises, people easily become delusional and believe that they are suffering from a disease. The body reacts to this with actual symptoms such as a psychosomatic rash. These symptoms can be as severe as fevers, vomiting and even paralysis.

If many people are all complaining of similar symptoms and infectious disease seems unlikely, there is an easy way of diagnosing mass hysteria. Tell the patients that they have a rare disease and begin listing the symptoms they complain of. At the end, make up a false symptom (e.g. “shaking of the left hand”). If the patients all suddenly start to shake their left hands (which causes them to panic more), it is likely that their panicking brain is causing the symptoms rather than some pathogen. Symptoms subside after the patients relax.

Interestingly, mass hysteria affects women much more than men.

Posted in Science & Nature


When asked “name a bird you see often”, most city-dwellers would name a pigeon or a sparrow. These two birds are the most famous urban birds that are closely associated to humans. The sparrow, being very opportunistic and adaptable, have easily taken over environments around the globe, especially those where European settlements were made. Nowadays, they are regarded as a pest due to their foraging of agricultural crop and the spread of disease. However, citizens still view them in a positive light, especially in parks or gardens where the sparrows appear to be a “symbol of nature” (ironically, they are likely an invading species driving away native birds).

One interesting fact regarding sparrows that most people do not seem to know is how to differentiate a male and female sparrow.
A female sparrow has very soft, brown feathers, with no marked features.
A male sparrow has areas of dark brown or black feathers, especially on the head and eyes. Its beak is also darker than the female.
If one observes carefully at sparrows, they can notice that the two behave slightly differently as well.

Posted in Science & Nature

Man Versus Ant

A mammal that ranges in size from about 1 to 2 metres.
Weighs between 30kg and 100kg. Females are pregnant for 9 months. 
Omnivorous diet. Population estimated around 7 billion.

An insect that ranges in size from about 0.01 to 3 centimetres.
Weighs between 0.001mg and 1g. Can produce eggs endlessly given there is an ample sperm reservoir.
Omnivorous diet. Population estimated around 1 quintillion (1 billion times 1 billion).

(from The Encyclopaedia of Relative and Absolute Knowledge by Bernard Werber)

Posted in History & Literature

Pope Joan

There is a legend in papal history regarding a certain Pope John VIII, who is believed to have reigned between 853 – 855 AD. The reason this pope is so famous is that legends state that “he” was in fact a woman, making her the first (and only) female pope in history.
Legend has it that she was a very talented and intelligent woman who, with the help of disguising herself as a man as education was forbidden to females in those times, quickly rose in the church hierarchy to eventually become the pope. After a couple years of power, her true sex was discovered when she gave birth to a child one day.

There is reasonable evidence of her existence, ironically through the extensive cover up of her existence by the church. After finding out that she was a woman, history tried its best to forget the fact by constantly removing evidence of her existence. For example, in the 14th century a series of busts of past popes were made for the Duomo of Siena, one of which was named “Johannes VIII, Foemina de Anglia”, suggesting a female pope by the name of John VIII.

It is possible that she managed to deceive people of her gender by having a form of adrenal hyperplasia, which would lead to her having abnormally high levels of androgen during development. This would lead to ambiguous secondary sex characteristics, such as facial hair, androgynous appearance and possibly even an ambiguous genitalia (but of course she would have had a mild form as she was able to conceive and birth a child).

Pope Joan had a significant impact in papal traditions. Two which are famous are the change in the papal procession path and the sedia stercorania. 
The childbirth scene that exposed her occurred during a papal procession, whilst passing a narrow lane. That lane is no longer passed after that event occurred.
The sedia stercorania is a chair with a hole in it that was used to install new popes. The reason for the hole was so that a junior cardinal could reach below the chair on which the pope was sitting on, and check whether he had testicles, after which he would announce: “Duos habet et bene pendentes” (he has testicles and is well hung). This became a compulsory examination after the scandal of Pope Joan.

Posted in Science & Nature


It is often believed that for complex organisms such as animals, sexual reproduction is a must to produce offspring. Asexual reproduction is common in bacteria and (some) plants, but even tiny beings such as insects use sexual reproduction to produce a mass of variable offspring. 

However, it has been found that despite having two clear sexes – male and female – there are cases where a certain species is able to reproduce without the need of sexual intercourse. In these cases, the female’s eggs spontaneously divides to form a new offspring without being fertilised by a sperm. Furthermore, sometimes the egg either fuses with another egg or undergo several genetic mixing and mutation to produce some variety in genetic pool, thus avoiding the issue of asexual reproduction (where the entire population can be wiped out by a single disease due to identical genetic makeup). This is known as parthenogenesis, and it has been documented in many insects, fish, reptiles and even birds. 

Obviously, as there is no donation of a Y chromosome, every offspring born from parthenogenesis is female. Because of this, some species such as the New Mexico whiptail, a lizard that is capable of both sexual reproduction and parthenogenesis, the population has completely rid itself of males, making it a completely female species. Curiously, they still engage in “mock sex”, giving them the nickname “lesbian lizards”.

Although parthenogenesis has never been documented in mammals in nature, it has been induced artificially in mice, rabbits and monkeys. However, they all developed severe developmental issues due to the numerous mutations in the egg required for parthenogenesis. 
But if in the future, human parthenogenesis is perfected, it is possible that humanity too could end up as an all-female society.