Posted in History & Literature


Travelling is fun. But strangely, the etymology of the word travel is the Latin word tripalium, which means “torture instrument”. This is most likely because in the old days before airplanes and trains were invented, travelling was often long, arduous and painful. Travelling is probably the least terrifying form of torture. Let us explore the various methods of torture used throughout human history. There are many types of tortures, but they can be largely divided into physical and psychological torture. The main goal of torture is to induce maximum pain to extract information from, punish or to execute a person.

Physical torture is very simple: inflict as much pain as you can. For example, you can simply tie the person to a chair and beat them senselessly, or apply pressure to a wound to cause intense pain. A useful tip for beating someone is to place a phonebook on their stomach or hand and hitting the book, which transfers pains while not leaving a bruise or any marks. A simple way to cause extreme pain is the use of fingers. Finger tips are extremely sensitive and contain many nerve endings, meaning sticking needles under the nail bed or ripping the fingernails off causes extreme pain. Like this, medical knowledge has often been used to develop new ways to torture people. For instance, heating the sole of the feet with fire causes severe pain, electricity used in the right amount can keep the person alive while causing pain and seizures, and if you lie a person flat and on a slight decline (so the head is lower than the body), put a cloth over their face and pour over it, you can induce a sensation of drowning (this is called waterboarding and is used by the CIA). Another simple, effective torture method is the joori-teulgi(주리 틀기) from Korea, where a person is tied to a chair with the feet bound, with two long sticks inserted between the thighs, crossed, then pulled down to streth the thighs apart. This causes extreme pain and suffering.

As mentioned above, torture can be used to kill a person too. The famous hanged, drawn and quartered torture was used in the Middle Ages to punish treasonists. The convict was drawn behind a horse for a while and then hanged until just before death, when they were disembowelled, beheaded and quartered. Another strange, complicated method of torture can be found in China, where slow slicing was used. Slow slicing involves tying a convict to a post and cutting slices of flesh off him until he dies. Executioners often had an art of slicing in such a way to prolong the suffering for as long as possible without killing the person. Another execution method found in both Western and Eastern history is dismemberment by horses, where the person’s four limbs and head are tied to individual horses (or cows), which are then made to run in different directions to violently rip the person up.

Animals were used in various forms of torture throughout history around the world. Tying the prisoner to an elephant’s feet to crush them to death, putting a rat on the person’s stomach then putting a pot over it and heating it with fire to make the rat burrow into the person’s guts, feeding them to lions or vicious dogs, coating them in honey and leaving them in the path of fire ants to make them get slowly eaten… Out of all of these, the most bizarre method is the goat torture used in ancient Rome. This torture involved tying the prisoner to a chair and securing their feet, which were coated with salt water. Next, goats were released around the prisoner. The goats would lick the sole of the feet to cause tickling, which over a prolonged period is interpreted as pain by the body. This eventually drives the person insane from pain.

Unlike physical torture, psychological torture induces shame and fear rather than pain. Threatening, solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, rape and sexual torture, sensory deprivation, exploitation of phobias, loud noises (such as banging on a door constantly), blindfolding the person and rubbing a balloon on their cheeks, placing foreign objects or snakes in the anus or vagina, leaving them in a container full of insects… Psychological torture has just as much a variety as physical torture and can have longer lasting effects on the person. Furthermore, as it leaves no external marks, it is still frequently used in the modern day.

No matter what the method, inducing extreme pain to control people, extract information and cause suffering is an inhumane act that cannot be tolerated. If mankind had focussed their creativity and effort into more constructive and altruistic things rather than discovering various ways to cause pain, we would probably be living in a much better world.

Posted in Science & Nature


The sound of fingernails scratching a chalkboard is one of the most difficult sounds to listen to. This “screech” sound gives the sensation of your soul being ripped to shreds and invokes great discomfort. Why is this?

Professor Randolph Blake of Vanderbilt Center, USA, observed that this sound is very similar to the scream chimpanzees and macaque monkeys make when they see a predator. According to other researches on this phenomenon, many species of monkeys also hate this sound greatly. Blake used these facts to hypothesise that as our primitive ancestors used this sound to alert an enemy approaching, it has been programmed into our primitive brain to trigger a negative response. Also, physically this sound amplifies in our ears at a certain frequency to cause intense pain. The pain and our basic instincts combine to generate such an unpleasant feeling.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine


Among the thousands of signs and symptoms in the field of medicine, there is one that every doctor and medical student knows since the development of medicine. Clubbing is an easily noticeable sign in a patient’s fingers that can have wide implications on their health.

Clubbing is essentially when the angle (gap) between the fingernail bed and finger disappears. The formal definition is much more complicated, such as “the loss of the normal <165° angle, or Lovibond angle between the nailbed and the fold”, but for all intents and purposes the simple definition is sufficient.

To see if a patient has clubbing, the physician carefully studies the fingers against light. There are a few ways to check for clubbing but the most popular methods are holding the fingers out straight and holding them parallel to the ground, checking the angle between the nailbed and finger, or the Schamroth’s window test. The latter test is done by holding two opposing fingers (such as the left and right index fingers) against each other nail to nail. The fingers are then held against the light so that the light can shine through the “window” that is made. If the window is not seen, the test is positive and the patient has clubbing.

What does clubbing suggest? Clubbing was first noticed by Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, who observed that people with clubbing tended to grab their chest and fall dead. This is one of the most common associations to clubbing – a congenital cyanotic heart defect such as tetralogy of Fallot or patent ductus arteriosus. Other common associations are related to the lungs, such as lung cancer (one of the most common causes) and various other lung diseases such as interstitial lung disease, tuberculosis and other chronic infections. There are also a myriad of other diseases associated to clubbing, including but not limited to: Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, cirrhosis, celiac disease, Graves disease and certain types of cancers (lung, gastrointestinal and Hodgkin’s lymphoma mainly). Clubbing can also be idiopathic, where there is no apparent cause for the clubbing and the person just has it (possibly just born with it).

Despite knowing about clubbing for over 2000 years, we still do not know the exact reasons for clubbing. There are theories that it is related to a fall in blood oxygen content leading to vasodilation in the peripheries. As the pathophysiology is not clear and so many diseases are associated with it, when clubbing is found in the patient the physician should investigate the related organ systems (heart, lungs, GI mainly) to narrow down the possible cause of it. As many of the causes (such as lung cancer) carry a rather morbid prognosis, it is quite important to notice whether the patient has clubbing when doing a physical examination.