21 Nov 2014

Why You Don't Bite Your Tongue Every Time You Eat and Other Amazing Tongue Facts

by Jan Thornhill

Most, though not all, people can make a simple tongue roll. A few
can make multiple rolls. Four is called a "cloverleaf." (Wikipedia)


I went out for dinner with friends a couple of nights ago. Chinese dumplings. Yum! I was so hungry and was eating so fast that I chomped down on my own tongue. Hard. The cut was deep enough that I thought for a minute I might need stitches...except there were more dumplings to eat. Though it hurt like heck (tip: stop eating hot sauce or anything acidic for a day or two after biting your tongue!), I decided to leave it and see what happened. By the end of dinner it had stopped bleeding. By bedtime, the flap that I'd almost sheared off had sealed itself neatly back in place, and by the end of the following day it appeared to be completely healed. Amazing!

If you look under your tongue, you'll see how rich it is in
blood vessels it. (Miserlou - Wikipedia)
Our tongues, it turns out, heal faster than any other part of our bodies except our corneas. Unless you have a severe tongue injury, in which case you should visit the ER, your tongue is so rich in blood vessels that nutrients and oxygen and other repair factors are delivered with such speed that a small self-inflicted wound will completely heal in only a day or two.

Why We Don't Bite Our Tongues Every Day

Your tongue's primary job is to move solid food into position between your teeth to be chewed, and then to shift that wad of mashed food, properly called a bolus, toward your throat so you can swallow it. The amazing thing is how precise this complex action is. Though we are capable of consciously controlling how we chew, most of the time when we're eating we're not thinking about what our tongues and jaws are doing at all. So how do we, and other mammals, manage to avoid eating our own tongues? Well, science is making great strides in answering this question. New research with mice has now shown that, while eating, connections between premotor neurons that control jaw and tongue muscles are exquisitely coordinated, making it impossible to automatically close the mouth without the tongue being simultaneously retracted.  

As well as helping us to eat, the tongue is also adept at cleaning our teeth and helping us drink. It also works like a piston, allowing us to suck, which is a vitally important function for toothless babies: the tongue produces low pressure when it moves backwards with the mouth closed, which causes fluid to be sucked in. Next time you're having a drink using a straw, try to get some liquid in your mouth without moving your tongue—you'll see that it's impossible. 

Talking Tongues

Owen Price's 1665 illustration of human speech. 

Bet you can't say this three times fast: "The sixth sick sheik's sixth sheep's sick." New research is now offering an explanation for why tongue twisters like this twist our tongues (I think I just made up a new one!). 

When we speak, the brain acts like a symphony conductor, perfectly coordinating the complex movements of tongue, lips, jaw, and larynx to produce words. But how does it do it? Using electrodes on brain surgery patients, scientists have recently been able to pinpoint the specific locations of brain activity that coincide with the enunciation of various common English syllables. When these areas of the brain were mapped out, it was found that consonants and vowels are controlled quite differently, even when the sounds enunciated are produced in the same parts of the vocal tract. On top of that, the brain appears to coordinate the formation of words according to the muscles that need to move to produce them instead of by sound, as was previously thought. Front-of-the-mouth sounds, for instance, like "sss" and "shh," are clustered very closely together in the brain, which makes it much easier for our mouths to get confused when trying to produce these sounds in an overlapping series, hence our difficulty in repeating tongue twisters.

Stick Out Your Tongue!

Two pages from a treatise on the diagnostic value of the appearance
of the tongue by Mosai Tsuchida (1765-1837) (Wikipedia)

Have you ever wondered why your doctor asks you to stick out your tongue? Doctors can actually tell a lot about your health by looking at your tongue. In Western medicine, a darker or lighter than normal tongue can be a sign of serious medical issues, as can dark spots or patchiness. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine take the state of one's tongue even more seriously and believe that even subtle changes in the tongue's colour, coating, and shape can tell them so much about other parts of a patient's body that there are whole books devoted to the practice of tongue diagnostics. 

Fun Tongue Facts

Fountain in Pontevedra, Spain (Joseogon)
  • In many parts of the world, sticking your tongue out at someone is considered childish or rude behaviour. It is such an insult in Italy that in 2009 a man was fined almost $2,000 for sticking his tongue out at his neighbour! In Tibet, however, sticking one's tongue out is a friendly greeting. This practice began centuries ago as an offering of proof that someone is friendly, not an incarnation of Lang Darma, a cruel, black-tongued, 9th century king.
  • Proportionately, the human tongue is has the most powerful muscles in the body. The record weight lifted by a tongue is 12.5 kg by Thomas Blackthorne.  
  • The bumps on your tongue are called papillae. These papillae are covered with taste buds, which are collections of nerve-like cells that connect to nerves that transmit information about taste to your brain. We each have between 3,000 and 10,000 taste buds in our mouths.
  • The tongue is the most sensitive part of our body for touch. This high sensitivity allows us to test various aspects of food, such as shape and heat, and also protects us by magnifying unwanted objects, such as fish bones or small stones.
  • The tongue can move in all directions, up, down, sideways, and back and forth. It can also roll, curl, hollow, and make grooves. 
  • Contrary to what was once believed, the tongue senses sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami tastes all over its surface, not just in specific areas.
  • On average, men's tongues are longer than women's.

Fun Animal Tongue Facts:

  • A blue whale's tongue weighs as much as an adult elephant!
Blue whale's have the biggest tongues on the planet. (NOAA)

  • A chameleon's tongue can extend twice the length of its body and can move faster than the human eye can follow, hitting its target in about 30 thousandths of a second.
  • When a dog exercises, its tongue increases in size with greater blood flow and hangs out of its mouth. Moisture on the tongue along with panting help to cool the blood before it circulates back through the dog's body. 

The longest dog tongue belonged to a boxer
named Brandy. It was 17 inches long!
  • A cat's tongue has backwards-facing, hooked spines that help it comb its fur, removing dirt and parasites.
  • Hummingbirds have long, forked tongues covered in grooves. New high-speed photography shows exactly how this special tongue draws liquid into a hummingbird's mouth. See video here.

Hummingbirds have very specialized tongues that allow them to
sip nectar from deep flowers. (Dick Daniels)

  • An anteater's tongue is covered in sticky saliva while it feeds and can be flicked in and out of its mouth, entrapping ants and termites, up to 150 times a minute.

And, Finally, Something Really Gross

A "tongue-eating louse" that has replaced the
tongue of a sand steenbras fish.
A dastardly parasite called Cymothoa exigua, or the tongue-eating louse, enters its fish victims through the gills. Once inside the fish's mouth, the female attaches itself to the tongue, eventually removing so much blood from it that the tongue atrophies. "How horrible!" you might say. But it's not quite as bad a situation for the fish as it sounds. Once the tongue is gone, this little crustacean latches onto the muscles of the remaining stub and BECOMES THE FISH'S NEW TONGUE! In this position, the parasite lives out its life, feeding on blood from the fish or mucus.  
The tongue-eating louse, Cymothoa exigua, is the only known parasite that
acts as a working replacement for a host organ! (Frank Schulenburg)

References & Resources:

Edward Stanek IV, Steven Chang, Jun Takatoh, Bao-Xia Han, and Fan Wang. "Monosynaptic Premotor Circuit Tracing Reveals Neural Substrates for Oro-motor Coordination,"  eLife, June 3, 2014. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.02511

"Why tongue twisters are hard to say" - Nature.com

14 Nov 2014

Struck by Lightning: Creative Insight in Chemistry

Chemical Heritage Foundation
[CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)],
via Wikimedia Commons
Struck by Lightning: Creative Insight in Chemistry
                   by Judy Wearing

Imagine your garden variety chemistry scientist at work. Did you conjure up a picture similar to mine? A man, in a white lab coat with several golden-brown stains on the front, or a ripped pocket. He’s well worn, and slightly careless with his appearance because he’s got better things to do with his time, i.e., make lots of precise measurements of mysterious powders and liquids, which he swirls in large beakers, very carefully because if anything splashes he’ll carry the scars of the resulting flesh wounds forever. He bends over a lot, paying close attention to his mixtures and balances, and hence has a hunched back. He is rather antisocial, or at least socially-stinted as he does not use words much in everyday life; his writing centres around equations and long names of compounds with unaesthetic suffixes like ene and ic. He is considerably less romantic than my imaginary physicist, and far more esoteric than my biologist. He is the first to leave the pub, never buys the beer, and is unlikely to believe in fairies.

I don’t know any chemists, and I cannot conjure a single scrap of remembrance of any of the half dozen undergraduate chemistry profs who tried to teach me their discipline, such was the impression they made. I am quite sure that my imagined, biased, and uninformed stereotype is false. In fact, I am ashamed that I possess it in the first place – it is wrong, and I know better, for lots of reasons, one of which is that I’ve spent a good chunk of time with scientists of many stripes. They are generally nice people of both sexes with active social lives and a range of talents and abilities. I’d be more embarrassed to admit such a stereotype if I was not convinced it is so common to possess it, and that many will recognize or appreciate aspects of the image portrayed.

This stereotype, like many others through which we unwittingly perceive the world and the people in
Friedrich August Kekule
it, affect our perception of creativity. Take the story of August Kekulé, arguably Europe’s most prominent chemist in the latter decades of the 19th century. It was Kekulé who theorized the concept of chemical structure – envisioning how atoms are arranged in molecules without any means of actually observing them. This insight was a leap forward that enabled organic chemistry to blossom. Kekulé described the moment of his best-known scientific breakthrough, the ring structure of benzene, as a daydream:

"I was sitting writing on my textbook, but the work did not progress; my thoughts were elsewhere. I turned my chair to the fire and dozed. Again the atoms were gamboling before my eyes. This time the smaller groups kept modestly in the background. My mental eye, rendered more acute by the repeated visions of the kind, could now distinguish larger structures of manifold conformation; long rows sometimes more closely fitted together all twining and twisting in snake-like motion. But look! What was that? One of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail, and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes. As if by a flash of lightning I awoke; and this time also I spent the rest of the night in working out the consequences of the hypothesis…Let us learn to dream, gentlemen."

Kekulé was not under the influence of drugs, hallucinogenic or otherwise. And his description of the
process of creative thinking is not so strange, though it does not fit with the stereotypical methodical, plodding scientist. For example, the mention of lightning figures in the descriptions of other chemists asked in a questionnaire in 1931, by two men named Platt and Baker, how they make scientific progress. “I decided to abandon the work and all thoughts relative to it, and then, on the following day, when occupied in work of an entirely different type, an idea came to my mind as suddenly as a flash of lightning and it was the solution.” Another chemist wrote, “One day all of a sudden the whole became as clear and comprehensible as if it were illuminated with a flash of light...” The mathematician Gauss described the moment when he solved a troublesome problem whose solution had eluded him for years, “like a sudden flash of lightning the riddle happened to be solved.”

These rational, scientific men are all evoking some external and sudden force to describe their creative insights. To avoid a new stereotype of chemists who stand out in the rain waiting to be struck by lightning in order to achieve scientific fame, here is how other scientists have described a moment of clarity:

“…as if from the clear sky above me – an idea popped into my head as emphatically as if a voice had shouted it.”

“in all directions…happy ideas came unexpectedly without effort like an inspiration.” Von Helmholtz, physicist

“Again and again the imaginary plan on which one attempts to build up order breaks down and then we must try another. This imaginative vision and faith in the ultimate success are indispensable. The pure rationalist has no place here.” Max Planck, physicist.

The experiences of these men and women are not reserved for the particularly fanciful or brilliant. In Platt and Baker survey of chemists, 33 % stated they received frequent assistance from intuition, while 50% occasionally experienced these insights. If you, like me, have a stereotype of the rational scientist, you will be mildly surprised by the more fanciful workings of their minds. These anecdotes suggest three conclusions:
  1. creativity is important for all sorts of mental processes, across disciplines - both science and art; 
  2. a person who is an excellent analytic thinker can also be an excellent creative thinker; and, 
  3. at least some common aspects of creativity happen in our brain without us being conscious of it, which gives the sensation of a vanilla shock. Or, being struck by lightning.

7 Nov 2014

Science fairs and competitions: Young scientists lead the way

By Marie Powell

In 2010, 14-year-old Rui Song discovered the molecular markers for two fungi killing lentil crops in Canada, Bangladesh, Syria, and Ethiopia.

In 2011, 16-year-old Marshall Zhang made the groundbreaking discovery of a drug cocktail to help treat cystic fibrosis, a disease affecting the lungs and digestive system. The following year, 16-year-old Janelle Tam became the first to show the antioxidant properties of wood pulp. And in 2013, Arjun Nair developed an experimental cancer therapy using gold nano-particles.

Photo by Stilfehler (Creative Commons)
These ground-breaking discoveries began as projects for the national Sanofi Biogenius Canada competition. Science and math are known to be subjects where young minds can lead the way. Science fairs across the country help Canadian students explore science concepts in a hands-on participatory way, and share results in a display or report.

There's even a virtual science fair that posts reports and projects online. Many science fairs offer prizes and accolades for the winners, as well as an opportunity to advance new ideas in all fields of science.

The Google Science Fair also has a Canadian competition resulting in significant breakthroughs, such as 18-year-old Hayley Todesco's sand-and-bacteria filters for cleaning up toxic waste. The Google competition is open to anyone 13 to 18, and offers a variety of prizes.

The Sanofi Biogenius Canada competition offers high school and CEGEP students from across the country an opportunity to submit biotechnology projects for consideration. Those chosen work with mentors who are experts in their fields to develop these projects for regional and then national competitions.

For example, in 2014 students submitted more than 200 biotechnology projects, proposing research in such fields as diabetes, stress management, Alzheimer's research, pulp production, and chromosome research. The 15-year-old national winner Nicole Ticea developed an innovative test for diagnosing HIV in newborns.

For more information on these competitions and projects, try the following links:

Sanofi Biogenius Canada: http://biogenius.ca
Articles: "Calgary student takes prize for 'nano-bullet' cancer research," CBC, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/calgary-student-takes-prize-for-nanobullet-cancer-research-1.1369403; "British Columbia student's new method for diagnosing HIV in Newborns...," Market Wired, http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/british-columbia-students-new-method-diagnosing-hiv-newborns-wins-sanofi-biogeneius-1915010.htm

Canada-wide 2015 Virtual Science Fair: http://www.virtualsciencefair.com

Science Fair Project Ideas: http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas.shtml

Google Science Fair: https://www.googlesciencefair.com/en/
Article: "Calgary's Hayley Todesco wins Canadian Google Science Fair," CBC, http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/calgary-s-hayley-todesco-wins-canadian-google-science-fair-prize-1.2704257

31 Oct 2014

The Science of Spooks

by L. E. Carmichael

Hubby and I were in San Antonio this summer, and we decided to take a ghost tour. For one thing, they are a fun way to learn a bit about local history. For another, they take place at night, and anyone who's been to Texas in August knows that going for a walk is a lot more comfortable after dark, when the heat (if not the humidity) dials down a notch or two.

San Antonio is considered one of the most haunted cities in the USA, which makes a certain amount of sense when you consider that the battle of the Alamo took place in what's now downtown.

Because if anywhere is going to be haunted, it's this place, right?

So it's not too surprising that there are several companies offering ghost tours of the city. We decided to go with Alamo City Paranormals, a company that's been doing full-time paranormal research for over 15 years, investigating claims of hauntings and appearing on numerous ghost-hunting TV shows. With that kind of resumé, we figured we'd at least get to hear some well-documented historical anecdotes.

We did not expect to get to play with ghost hunting equipment. 

No proton packs, I am very sorry to say. But our guide did offer us electromagnetic frequency detectors, for measuring spikes in electrical fields thought to signal the presence of a ghost. We also got to test non-contact temperature guns, used to detect the famous cold spots ghosts are said to produce.

To the credit of our guide, he spent a great deal of time explaining how other ghost tour operators use these tools to falsify sightings - for example, telling people to take temperature readings at the top of gallows trees, where (surprise!) ambient temperature is low enough relative to pavement-level to produce a differential. 

Junior ghost hunters on our tour using EMF readers to detect buried power lines

He also confirmed the opinion of my photography teacher, who told us that "ghost orbs" in images are one of two things: lens flare, or particles on the lens or inside the camera itself. He maintained, however, that when hunting ghosts, it's a good idea to shoot first and look later, because today's mexapixel cameras can capture images of ghosts that are far more detectable zoomed-in-upon than with the naked eye. I have my doubts about this, though, because this photograph I took of a courtyard where the ghost of Louis M. Rose (Coward of the Alamo) is thought to manifest, on closer examination mostly looks pixelated.

Next to the highly ironic sign?
By the end of the tour, I had no doubt that our guide was far more interested in providing ghost education than in fleecing the tourists, and beyond that, believed in the scientific rigour of modern paranormal investigations. But it is ghost hunting science? 

Here's the thing. While we heard a number of sad and/or creepy stories about the locations we visited and the ghosts people believe they've seen there, some key details were never explained to my satisfaction. Like, for example, why ghosts should produce electromagnetic signals or cold spots, and whether there's any replicable, verifiable evidence for those effects. In fact, it seemed to me that ghost hunting is based on the a priori assumption that ghosts exist, and that ghost hunters are seeking ad hoc empirical data in support of this pre-existing belief. And that's not really how science works.

So could ghosts actually exist?  e = mcc implies that nothing's ever lost in this world, it just changes form. To me at least, that presents an intriguing possibility for continued existence after death. But as far as the science goes? My jury is still out.

For more information about the ghosts of the Alamo, check out this great link. And Happy Halloween!

17 Oct 2014


By Shar Levine

As part of the research for my new book, I happened to virtually meet Dr. Nancy Turner, a world-renowned ethnobotanist who teaches at the University of Victoria. Dr. Turner literally wrote the book on the Ethnobotany of the Aboriginal Peoples of British Columbia.

If you were ever lost in the woods in B.C. or stuck on a deserted island in the Pacific Northwest, you would want Dr. Turner by your side. She would be able to find enough foraged foods to keep you fed until help arrived. Not only would she be able to identify non-poisonous mushrooms for a meal, but she could also prepare a unique dessert --- soapberry whip, known by some as Indian Ice Cream.

Despite its common name, the treat does not contain cream, and it is not frozen. The dish is made using soapberries, a plant in the oleaster family. The soapberry or soopalallie (Shepherdia canadensis) is not like your usual blueberry, strawberry or raspberry. According to Turner, “It has a distinctive bitter flavour due to the presence of low levels of saponins.” Saponins are natural detergents. As a result, when the juice of the berry is whipped, it will foam, so it looks like beaten egg whites or whipped cream with an orangey-pink tinge.

Soapberries can be difficult to pick or harvest, and the best way to gather the fruit is to “beat around the bush.” No, really, put a cloth below the plant and tap the branches sharply. The ripe berries will fall off the branches and onto the cloth.

Once you have gathered about ¼ cup of ripe berries, put them in a very clean bowl. If there is any grease in the bowl, the berries will not whip. Crush the berries and then add cold water, at little at a time, beating the liquid with an old-fashioned rotary whisk or electric mixer until it is stiff and forms peaks. You will probably need about a cup (250 mL) of water, added slowly, to make a bowl of soapberry whip. The dessert will be quite tart, and Dr. Turner recommends using apple juice instead of water, or adding in sugar or other sweeteners after the mixture starts to stiffen.

Turner says, “Don’t be confused by the name. There is another dish that some people call ‘Eskimo’ ice cream made by warming fat then whipping it by hand with snow and berries as it cools into a soft mixture.” 

If you would like to try to make this treat, look for a shrub that is about 1-2 metres (3-6 feet) tall, with a grayish bark and small, oval, green leaves. The berries are found in clusters and will be orange or reddish and translucent when ripe. The leaves and stems are covered with brown scales. Male and female flowers grow on different bushes, so only the female bushes will produce berries. The plant grows in many places across Canada, but does not flourish in really wet areas. Before picking this fruit, make sure it is a soapberry and not any other berry that might be harmful.

This versatile berry is high in vitamin C and has been used by indigenous people to treat high blood pressure, flu and tuberculosis. Smearing the berries on acne and other skin conditions, as well as using the fruit as a skin cleanser, are among the other uses for soapberries. The roots, stems and bark of the plant were also used for other medicinal purposes.

Berries can be preserved using traditional jam recipes, or made into a puree to be used in drinks. They can also be dried and made into cakes for use in recipes throughout the year. If you are interested, here is a paper by Dr. Turner and Carla M. Burton, called “Soapberry: Unique Northwestern Foaming Fruit.”

10 Oct 2014

Treacherous Glass: Bird Collisions with Windows

ruby-crowned-kinglet killed by window collision
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Dania Madera-Lerman)

It’s October and fall bird migration is ongoing. Though most warblers have already crossed our southern neighbour’s border, many other songbirds, as well as shorebirds, ducks, and raptors, are still moving south.

Migration is fraught with danger and hardship for birds. Many fly thousands of kilometers, following flight paths established by their ancestors millennia ago. But things have changed. Suddenly (at least in millennial terms) there is a new hardship: cities filled with glass-windowed buildings have been built smack in the middle of some of these flight paths. And these glass-windows are lethal, even to the healthiest bird.

ruffed grouse killed when it hit a window
A Ruffed Grouse victim

Migration season isn't the only time that birds are killed by glass—it happens in all seasons, and it happens everywhere. In the United States alone, it’s estimated that from 100 million to one billion birds die each year from window collisions. Put another way, that’s 1-10 birds per building per year. These are shocking numbers.

As a human, I have to say I’m quite fond of windows. They allow me to look outside, which keeps me from feeling imprisoned while I’m stuck at my computer inside. Nice for me, but not good for birds.

bird impact imprint on glass made by powder down
Birds, such as doves, that have powder down feathers sometimes leave behind
ghostly reminders of their collisions with glass. (Beth Woodrum, Wikicommons)

Though birds have amazing visual capabilities—they see more colours than we do and can process what they see faster—hard, transparent glass is not something they recognize as a barrier. What they do recognize are trees, water, dark spaces. If they see a tree reflected in a window, they assume they can navigate through its branches. A group of potted shrubs in a glassed-in atrium looks like the perfect place to perch and have a rest. The reflection of a fountain is a drink of fresh water. A dark space indicates a safe “fly through” zone. Birds don’t slow down when they see these things, so when they hit windows, they hit them hard. About half will die immediately, usually from brain hemorrhages. Others can have broken wings or beaks, concussions, or other injuries that make them easy victims for predators.

gulls scavenge window collision vistims
In some cities, gulls have learned to patrol high incident areas
to scavenge recent kills and injured birds. (Wikicommons)  

So What Can Be Done? And What Is Being Done?

Reflections can be blocked with physical barriers, such as netting or shades. Glass can be etched or otherwise marked to create recognizable “no-fly” zones. New panes have been developed that have external patterns that birds can see from the outside, but that are invisible from the inside. Here is great document put together by the Bird Conservancy of America that has lots of pictures of amazing architectural solutions for bird-safe buildings.

Double-whammy corner windows show foliage reflected in one window
as well as a clear view of trees and sky through a second window. 

Largely due to grassroots organizations such as Toronto’s FLAP and the American Bird Conservancy, businesses and government are beginning to respond. Researchers, basing their work on avian vision and behavior, have been coming up with novel solutions for building “bird-safe” structures and for modifying existing problem areas. Governments, including those of Toronto and New York State, are gradually coming on board, by putting in place legislation requiring new buildings to be bird friendly.

What You Can Do at Home:

Single decals like this DON'T work. They're only effective
if you cover the window with them.

  • place bird-feeders and bird baths half a meter or less from windows
  • move houseplants out of the sight line of birds
  • hang string or ribbon vertically 4" apart in front of windows
  • decorate windows with patterned window film (i.e. FeatherFriendly's DIY tape
  • more solutions from FLAP

Children's Books About Bird Migration:

  • Is This Panama: A Migration Story (Owlkids): Jan Thornhill & illustrator Soyeon Kim—my 2013 book's main character, Sammy, meets office tower windows (and other migrating characters!) on his epic first journey from the Arctic to his wintering grounds in Panama

  • How Do Birds Find Their Way (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) Roma Gans & illustrator Paul Mirocha—facts about bird migration with well-labelled species and maps

Enchantium Gas is Real (Tell Me Something I Didn’t Know)

By guest blogger Robert Paul Weston

[This post originally appeared in May 2014 on Robert Paul Weston's blog. We liked it, and he kindly offered to share it. - The Sci/Why Gang.]

The Lagoon Nebula.
Photo credit: "ESO/VPHAS+ team" (http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1403a/)

This morning I read an article about a “quiet revolution” in theoretical physics. According to Max Tegmark, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, consciousness may in fact be an undiscovered form of matter, as in a solid, liquid or gas. He even gave the new element a fancy name. “Perceptronium.”

Now, far be it from me to accuse a highly decorated theoretical physicist of scientific plagiarism, but I had to wonder…has this guy read my book?

Enchantium Gas, the square root of -1
on the periodic table of elements.
A discovery I made way back in 2008.
Photo credit: Robert Paul Weston/Penguin USA
In Zorgamazoo, I very clearly laid out the principles not only of human thought as an element (ahem, Enchantium Gas anyone?), but I also went one step further, postulating how an entire civilisation, power system and energy cycle could be derived from something as intangible as psychological boredom.

This was way back in 2008. This guy Tegmark—if that’s his real name—is waaay behind the times. Seriously, physicists, chemists, people of science: Do try to keep up.


Robert Paul Weston grew up in Ontario but now lives in England. He writes fiction that sometimes veers toward fact.