Stuff to Blow Your Mind listeners regularly send in imaginative and jaw-dropping correspondence. Sadly, Julie and Robert rarely have time to read it all. So here's a bonus episode devoted to your listener mail, courtesy of everyone's favorite mailbot.
Julie Douglas: Welcome to Stuff to Blow Your Mind from howstuffworks.com
Robert Lamb: Hey, welcome to Stuff to Blow Your Mind. My name is Robert Lamb.
Julie Douglas: And I'm Julie Douglas.
Robert Lamb: And this is a bonus episode, just in case you're wondering, hey, why is there an episode here I wasn't supposed to get a download today? Well, it's a bonus episode. And we don't have anything particularly planned for it; we thought we'd call the robot over here.
Julie Douglas: Yeah, I know. After all we get to talk a lot and express ourselves, but Arnie, poor Arnie the Robot just kind of comes back and forth on his little wheels and that's about it.
Robert Lamb: Yeah, so come on over here, Arnie. How's it going?
Robert Lamb: Yeah, I know, I know. We haven't had as much time for the listener mail recently, but that's what this episode is all about. So this time you can be more a part of the episode and you can share more of the listener mail. So let us have some. What have you got here that's interesting?
Julie Douglas: Arnie you don't need to stand so close.
Robert Lamb: All right. This first one comes to us from Paul. Paul writes in and says, "Hi Robert and Julie. I'm a longtime listener and have been wanting to write you guys for a long time. I just never got around to it. I just listened to your hearing power of laughter podcast and I wanted to let you know how inspired it made me. I'm a combat medic in the U.S. Army and I am going through the process of getting medically retired. I am lucky enough to be doing this in a specialized unit called the Warrior Transition Unit. This unit is special because it allows soldiers to do whatever it takes to heal. One of the newest programs they have implemented is recovery through music: guitar lessons, piano, etc. So I know that there willing to think outside of the box when it comes to healing. Your podcast pushed me to try to create a program that connects soldiers with comedians and teaches them to laugh and make others laugh. It's going to be complex and take some work to develop on my part, but I think in the end it will be a great program. I love your show and couldn't do this without your inspiration. I listen to you guys on my 40 minute drive to work and you make it fly by. Thanks, Paul."
Julie Douglas: Aw, that's really cool.
Robert Lamb: Oh, and he was in the 100 First Airborne, by the way.
Julie Douglas: That is really cool and I love that he put that together. I do wonder if he is about to look into laughter yoga as well. Which in this case I would say yes, I think laughter yoga would be very helpful.
Robert Lamb: Yeah, yeah. I think the great thing about the program, like he said, it's showing that they're willing to think outside of the box about healing. And it shows more of focus on actually healing people instead of going through a regimented process. Be like, "Okay, step one, two, three. You should be healed by now. Go out and live your life."
It's more - it seems more results oriented, which I think is great.
Julie Douglas: Well, and you had brought up when we were talking about stress and stress being that paper tiger that puts us on all alerts and how laughing is one of those things that can be that chemical release that the way that you return your blood pressure to normal and the way that you can sort of vanquish all those chemicals that are building up, the cortisol and so on and so forth in your body. So very cool stuff to hear about. And Paul please let us know how that turns out.
Robert Lamb: Yeah, for sure.
All right. Here we have another one. This one is from Chris in Baton Rouge. And Chris says, "Hi, I've been listening to you guys for a while and for my obligatory comment, you two have very soothing voices. And don't take this the wrong way, but I often listen to your podcast as I go to sleep."
We've heard that from people before, which I never take it the wrong way. But it does make me want to do a podcast where we talk softer and softer and softer and then either make -
Julie Douglas: And go, "You are very sleepy right now."
Robert Lamb: And then start messing with them. Either with loud noises or just nightmare inducing -
Julie Douglas: Or I could go [singing], sha nan nan nan na -
Robert Lamb: Like I said nightmare inducing content.
Julie Douglas: I hope no one is sleeping right now and they just bolted up in their beds.
Robert Douglas: Chris continues and he says, "Anyway, recently I listened to your podcast on the dark side of creativity and let me say, mission accomplished. You successfully blew my mind. What you described was me exactly. The analogy of the flashlight view and the lantern view was perfect. This was especially important to me because I feel it's hard to explain to others my mindset and often I get frustrated with others not trying to get all the facts or look at the whole picture. But I do envy other mindsets because they are sure and they're better at shooting straightforward down a path to a destination, while I seem to be forever scheduling - searching for the best destination, if that makes any sense. Sincerely, Chris in Baton Rouge."
I think that's really fascinating. I think it also - as we talked before you really need the different types of viewpoint in life. The people who have the flashlight view arguably it might not be the best view for a full experience of the universe or what have you, but in terms of say, getting down with the task on the other end of that flashlight, that's great. Likewise, people with more of this lantern view of the universe, that may be great for bursts of creativity and whatnot, but maybe it means you can't focus as well on a given task. There is trade off with both.
Julie Douglas: Now the origins of those terms, I think we have to talk about Alison Gopnik and she is the child psychologist who talks about how kids have this highly creative mind, in particular babies because they have that lantern view because they are more aware than adults and they're streaming all this stimuli. So that's kind of what we were talking about when we were talking about the dark side of creativity - or not necessarily the dark side of creativity, but just creativity in general is this ability to tap into that and to know let those details that all around us at all times just fly by. To be able to consider these things and find unique meaning in them.
Robert Lamb: Yeah. All right, this next one comes to us from a listener by the name of Jim. Jim's written to us before and he has a book recommendation for everyone. He says, "Robert and Julie, about a year ago you did a podcast on whether mathematics was an invention or discovery. I wrote to you shortly after that placing myself mostly in the invention camp. I would like to update my position based upon a book I receive for Christmas, The Joy of X by Steven Strogatz, an applied mathematics professors at Cornell. On page five Dr. Strogatz, who is a regular contributor to Radio Lab writes the following, 'Math always involves both invention and discovery. We invent the concepts but discover their consequences. As we'll see in the coming chapters, in mathematics our freedom lies in the questions we ask and how we pursue them, but not in the answers awaiting us.'"
So yeah, that sounds like a very interesting text. One I'll have to pick up the next time I get on a mathematics kick.
Julie Douglas: Yeah, I was talking to my friend Maria over the weekend and she is a mathematician and she actually - she teaches in Germany now, but she teaches math to physics students. And she was saying - she was kind of talking about some of her interest in her field and she was talking about infinity, and so I who don't have a very large mathematics background said, "Look, don't strike me down for saying this, but a lot of what you're talking about really seems very philosophical."
She said, "Yes. Yes. That a lot of people don't realize that when they're talking about math, they are in a sense talking about philosophy, albeit in another language."
Robert Lamb: All right. Well, this one comes to us from Charles. Charles writes in and he's writing in response to our Splendid Isolation podcast a while back. Where we talked about how isolation affects us and about how there's, with many of us there's this desire for it. Like, "Oh, I don't have enough alone time in my life."
And then if you have too much alone time, then you start going a little crazy sometimes.
Julie Douglas: And we talked about it, too in the context of astronauts, right?
Robert Lamb: Yes. Yeah.
So Charles writes in and says, "Robert and Julie, I enjoyed listening to your podcast "Splendid Isolation." I found the concept so intriguing that I decided I'd like to try it myself for a full year. In June 2012 at the age of 40, I chartered a boat to drop me off on an uninhabited island in Alaska with my dog, a goat and supplies. This was my first time to the island. I found a good spot to build and erected a 77 square foot cabin. I've encountered hurricane force winds, heavy snow, constant rain and had two bear encounters while filming everything. Besides a few chance encounters with hunters and vacationers, I've been completely alone for six months as of last Friday. I post updates on Facebook on the Alaskan Pioneer page," and if you want to visit that, that's facebook.com/AlaskanPioneer.
He says, "While I do have limited communication, the isolation has had some interesting effects on my cognition and emotions. It's increased my sleep, impaired my memory and at times increases aggression and vigilance. My mood has remained consistently positive, however, and I've experienced no sense of loneliness. I've long wondered what it would be like to live alone in the wilderness for a full year, and now I am finding out. While I look forward to returning to society next summer, I suspect it will be difficult to leave. I look forward to sharing my footage of my time here when I return. Thanks again for the fun podcast. Charles."
Julie Douglas: Wow!
Robert Lamb: Indeed.
Julie Douglas: That - I mean that's a lot to take in and that is amazing and I know I had talked about living on a boat was one of my dreams, but that is sort of one of my dreams, too, is to go off and to be able to - not leave my family necessarily, but there's a fantasy in being able to go off and know what it feels like to rely on yourself and to be out in the wilderness. And I think that's just an amazing experience.
Robert Lamb: Yeah and to be unplugged and everything. I think it's neat that he brought a dog and the goat. I'm assuming he did not eat the goat.
Julie Douglas: I was going to say that they're both alive.
Robert Lamb: And they're all doing well. But I feel like that would help enormously. Like having some sort of a companion. Even though it's not human, we've talked before about how intense and how emotional our relationships with pets can be. And goats have a lot of character. I love goats.
Julie Douglas: Joyce Carol Oats has a short story about a lighthouse keeper in the 1800s and I believe that the point where the dog runs off, that's when his madness sort of goes into effect.
But anyway, that's of course the 1800s. Charles you sound like you're having a wonderful time and I really - I think this is wonderful. I am living vicariously through you. Did he say the Facebook page is Alaskan Frontier?
Robert Lamb: Alaskan Pioneer.
Julie Douglas: Pioneer, excuse me. Definitely have to check that out.
Robert Lamb: Oh, and speaking of Joyce Carol Oats real quick, have you been following her twitter?
Julie Douglas: I have. Yeah.
Robert Lamb: It's awesome. I think maybe the best twitter account out there.
Julie Douglas: I was telling someone the other day, like if you just have to do one twitter account, I mean besides ours, right, check it out because she always has something terribly interesting to say.
Robert Douglas: It is. It is always interesting and insightful and I wish more twitter feeds were like hers.
All right here we have a couple of emails regarding our recent hallucinations episode. This first one comes to us from Justin. Justin writes in and says, "Hi Robert and Julie. I recently listened to the "Leprechaun Hallucinations" and wanted to share something from my childhood. When my brother and I were younger, we would infrequently get what we called 'small vision.' For a short time everything in the world would seem to be smaller or further away than it really was. You could even put your hands in front of you and your arms would seem much longer than they should be. This would be accompanied by a slight pain/pressure at the back of the head. I believe this is where the visual cortex is located. I have no idea why this happened, but it sounded a lot like Alice in Wonderland syndrome you described in the podcast. Until now I had never heard of anyone else experiencing something like this. Thanks for sharing the information with your listeners and giving me a little more perspective on my own experience."
Julie Douglas: Wow.
Robert Lamb: That's pretty fascinating. Yeah, it does sound a lot like the Alice in Wonderland syndrome about some of the low apportion hallucinations we were describing, where it starts messing with the way you're perceiving the size of objects and distances.
Julie Douglas: Yeah and so it's interesting that the visual cortex was brought up because just to route everybody back, in that podcast for context, we talked about is when your vision is impaired, in a variety of different situations, your brain doesn't like the void and will begin to construct images for it. So that's why these hallucinations occur. And, yeah so it's very interesting to hear about that account.
Robert Lamb: Yeah it was interesting talking about the pain that accompanied it, which brings to mind like a small - I haven't researched this - perhaps there's a miracle blog post that explains it all, but we've all at some point or another probably tried to bend a spoon with our mind or move it with our mind. Have you done this?
Julie Douglas: Yes.
Robert Lamb: Tried to do something psychic.
Julie Douglas: Yeah, it was probably when I was - yesterday.
Robert Lamb: Yeah, but when you do it do - you inevitably start to feel a strain. You feel something straining. You feel like a slight, "Oh, I'm trying too hard."
Where is that taking place? What are we straining? I have a feeling that maybe it's something as simple as we're straining our visual because we're kind of thinking hard, we're kind of squinting. But I don't know. It got me thinking because if I can't do something, I shouldn't feel the strain of trying to do it.
Julie Douglas: I wonder if your pupils dilate, try to take in more light, more data.
Robert Lamb: So I have a feeling it's eye related, but if anybody has any feedback on that, I'd be interested to hear. Like I said, I haven't looked into it. I just thought about it the other day in the car.
Julie Douglas: Car thoughts with Robert Lamb.
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All right this one comes to us from Tony. Tony says, "Hey guys, love the podcast. Great topics to get me through my long walks on this very large campus of Michigan State" -
Julie Douglas: Go Blue!
Robert Lamb: "And my long meals at the cafeteria."
"Fun fact, Brody Hall an area of dorms on the northwest side of campus actually houses the largest nonmilitary cafeteria in America and maybe the world. I'm not sure. But anyway, I was listening to your "Leprechaun Hallucinations" episode and I actually experience very bizarre and usually, arguably, terrifying hallucinations when I slip into a lucid dream. I think lucid dreaming is an interesting category of hallucination because you're dreaming, but you are aware of it and in many cases you are able to control what goes on.
Usually when I dream lucidly, I like to take a backseat and let my mind unwind the story, but there are some times when things will pop up that are very jarring and I typically undergo a fight or flight reaction in this dreamland, stay asleep or wake up. I don't dream lucidly very often, maybe two to three times a month at most, but I've had some very bizarre encounters with interesting creatures popping up. For instance about a week ago I was trying that I was sitting in a room and there was a rainstorm, it wasn't actually raining at the time, and I was really just enjoying my night in content. Then a very large thunderclap echoes through my mind, most likely a door slamming down the hall in my dorm and the lights in my dream go out, but I can still see various shapes and shadows. I think turn and look to the left, physically and mentally and see a large dark shadow standing in the doorway, which I am concluding is the dresser that is in the exact spot I was looking. So I immediately think, "Wake up."
But instead I slipped into sleep paralysis, which if you have never experienced is extremely bizarre. When I experience sleep paralysis I am still able to move, but only very slowly or so it seems from my perspective in the dream. I wonder if brain activity is so high or low that I am actually moving normal, but speed is perceived as slow. I am also able to open my eyes, see the world, but not actually be awake. It's easily the weirdest visual experience. So this dark figure appears, walks toward me and my body feels like it's under immense pressure. I try to raise my arms, but it takes ten minutes. My eyes are open, but I still can't wake up. The figure is almost there and then out of nowhere I'm awake with the most intense body tingle and an elevated heart rate.
Maybe it doesn't technically classify as hallucinating, but I think it does. Again, thanks for the cool topics. Love you guys. Tony."
Julie Douglas: Huh.
Robert Lamb: Well, that's - that is fascinating because for the most part, what we're talking about there in that example isn't a hallucination, but it is sleep paralysis, which we have talked about before in its relationship to paranormal experience, which is also something that relates to hallucination experiences where something unreal happens, but it feels real and it's observed as real.
Julie Douglas: Yeah, when Tony first introduced the concept at the beginning of that email, I wasn't quite sure that it could be hallucination, but in describing that, yeah. Because you talk about sleep paralysis and the problem with that is your brain has not quite come back online with your body.
Robert Lamb: Yeah because the idea is when you're dreaming, you may be throwing Kung Fu chops and kicks everywhere, but it's kind of like a simulation, you don't need to actually throw Kung Fu chops around. So your body's under lockdown. And when sleep paralysis occurs, you're mind wakes up, but your body is still locked down.
Julie Douglas: Right, so if you're receiving data, again from your eyes, visual cortex that isn't jiving with the rest of your experience, then, again the brain abhors a void and it will fill in for you.
Robert Lamb: Exactly.
Julie Douglas: Like I said, I wasn't quite sure at the beginning, but in the description of Tony's experience, I see how that is a possibility. It would be very interesting to see some sort of MRI studies that correlate with that. Of course then you'd have to induce someone into lucid dreaming and then sleep paralysis.
Robert Lamb: The great thing here - it's Tony's applying critical thinking to an experience that in other cases might be perceived as something supernatural or abnormal. I mean, it's still terrifying, obviously, but he was able to afterwards realize, "Oh, what's going on? There's a scientific explanation for it."
All right, here's one from McKella. McKella writes in in response to our Pica episode. She says, "Love the podcast. I had my own experience with Pica during my second pregnancy. I craved ice so strongly I started bringing cups of it to work with me from home to keep up with the demand. The weirder craving of a smell, the A.C. in my car. I would sit in my driveway for 15 minutes with my nose as close to the vent as possible, breathing in the beautiful fragrance. This became increasingly hard as my belly grew. Almost immediately after having my son, the smell all but disappeared from my radar. My doctor, although pretty surprised at this odd habit, attributed both of these to my anemic status during my pregnancy."
Julie Douglas: All right, that is unusual because, again when we talk about Pica, which I think we were saying Pica by the way, so we have to apologize for that. Or I was. When - you think about it more as eating dirt for the nutrients that are inherent there, but not necessarily the A.C. coming out of the car.
Robert Lamb: I mean, I love the smell of air conditioning. I can remember as a child loving it, because I liked the cool and all and I didn't like being out in the sweaty heat, but there's something even today when we reach that point when you suddenly turn the air conditioning back on, I'm kind of like, "Oh, the smell. Smells good."
Julie Douglas: I did not even realize that air conditioning had a smell.
Robert Lamb: It does. It has a smell and a quite lovely one if you're in the mood for it.
Julie Douglas: Okay, so now that makes me wonder is there a large part of the population that likes to smell air conditioning and can detect the smell of it. Because I believe that I cannot.
Robert Lamb: Well we talked before, smell is a powerful thing. And we attach memories to smell that we almost really can't completely fathom. We've all had that experience where we're walking down the street and we smell something and it just takes us back to a childhood memory, and we don't even know where the smell came from or even necessarily what it was.
Julie Douglas: The Postriana Madeline's right, from the story that he talks about his memory and food.
Robert Lamb: Yeah, I was at a friend's house and they opened up a new board game and I ended up having to just basically huff the board box for a little bit because the smell was taking me back to something that I had some positive feelings about, nostalgia for and I think maybe it ended up having the same smell as Dungeons and Dragons manuals from the mid-90s or something. I don't know. I think that's what it was; I couldn't quite put a pin on it. So you know it's probably like a weird chemical smell, but it pulled something out of me.
Julie Douglas: Crazy game board sniffer.
Robert Lamb: Yeah. All right, this one comes to us from Antonio. Antonio writes in and says, "Hi Robert and Julie. My name is Tony and I just wanted to comment on a podcast you did a couple months ago about bad neighborhoods and how people generally don't help. To start, I live in a city of about 30,000 people, so pretty small and not really any bad neighborhoods to speak of, but I recently went to Los Vegas and it was almost a sickness to me to give money to every homeless person I saw. I believe it is because I live in a place where we don't have a homeless population therefore I'm not blind to it. Also I just watched a show on the science channel called "Alien Encounters" and it was mentioned that we just might be developing a hive brain mentally with the help of the internet and our smart phones, iPods, etc. and how that could greatly help us against not only an alien invasion, but just about any problem humankind could face. I'm curious as to what you think about the hive brain versus the plain old single brain. I love your podcast. I listen to it while I work at my factory job and it keeps me sane and my brain working. Keep it up. Tony."
So two interesting things he's responding to there. One talking about what happens when we encounter say a homeless individual or somebody in need and group dynamics affect that. Where if you see other people pass them by, then it kind of becomes the norm and a lot of times you feel like you need to keep with the norm or there's kind of a culture of not helping versus other environments where you're going to be more in close proximity and they seem more human to you, strangers in general.
Julie Douglas: Yeah, we've seen this in countless experiments whether conducted on the street or in an instance where someone is placed at a situation where they could give money to another person, but if the other person knew they were giving them money, then they would give them it - there's all sorts of - there are all sorts of experiments that involve altruism and it does seem that whoever sort of does the first thing, it dictates what the protocol will be. So if you help that stranger in the street, other people will follow suit.
Robert Lamb: Yeah, we've talked about this, too in terms of corporations and industries. Large - any kind of large social structure where you have - there's like a caring culture at the beginning of it and in the roots of it, then that tends to carry on out through the company as it grows. But to whatever degree it's not there, then it's not there in the larger social organization as well. So, anyway it was an interesting email because he really drives home like two aspects of group think and this hive mind. The idea that it can lead to some great things: the bringing together of ideas, our potential to better the world potentially protect it against an alien invasion. But also in our ability to all decide not to do anything for someone that needs help.
Julie Douglas: Well, also I think points toward the self-organizing nature. I always think about this whenever I get in an elevator now since we did the podcast on elevators and you watch people come in and see how they organize themselves. And over and over again, people will self- organize into these certain configurations, so sort of these invisible forces always at play, we just don't always realize it.
Robert Lamb: All right and here's one from a listener, Eric. Eric writes in and says, "On the subject of labeling food with gross names like writing "cloaca cake" on a cake, my mother came up with a recipe she calls "Garbage Can Casserole." She invented it shortly after getting married. She had a can of soup, some chicken and a little bit of other food, but not really enough of one thing to make a meal for two people. It's basically a chicken casserole with cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soup, right from the can without dilating so it stays thick, chow mein noodles, water chestnuts and "other stuff" topped with cornflakes and baked. She says it makes it - it makes you clean out your refrigerator and anything that's not green and fuzzy goes into the dish. It's not quite that easy, but other stuff usually consists of different vegetables like peas, green beans and/or corn.
I ate it a lot growing up and despite its name; it's one of my favorites. I usually make it for potluck parties and it's almost always gone by the end, so long as I don't display it with the name garbage can casserole. I've tried displaying it with that name in the past as an experiment and if I do it's almost always untouched except for the helping I took for myself to show it was tried."
So there you go. Eric has already done this experiment we were talking about to a certain extent. Call it garbage casserole, who's gonna eat it? Call it beautiful casserole or just casserole, and then -
Julie Douglas: Crunchy casserole.
Robert Lamb: Crunchy casserole and people will go for it. You see the same thing with some fish species. You have fish where it's called a slime head or if it's called a dolphin - because we have the fish that is the dolphin as well as the mammalian dolphin. People are going to be hesitant to eat it. But you rebrand it as something - I forget what the slime head was rebranded as, but the dolphin became mahi mahi, right?
Julie Douglas: Yeah. Yeah. It's true.
Robert Lamb: Yeah. So -
Julie Douglas: I still want to do the cloaca cake experiment though.
Robert Lamb: I think we should. I think we should do it, film it and see how it pans out here in the office.
All right so there you go. Robot do you feel better about things now?
Good, good. Yes. Well, I love you, too.
Julie Douglas: And we love you guys. This is a lot about just sharing some of your feedback with everybody else and we love to get this email and it makes us - it reminds us of why we love this job so much and it's very nice. So thanks, guys.
Robert Lamb: Yeah. And if feedback's good on this, if you guys like this and it wasn't an annoyance, then maybe we'll do some more bonus episodes like this. Hey, in the meantime if you want to send us more listener mail and read out to us with your various comments and shares and whatnot, you can find us on Facebook. You can find us on Tumblr. We are Stuff to Blow Your Mind on both of those. And on twitter we go by the handle blowthemind.
Julie Douglas: And you can always drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit howstuffworks.com
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Duration: 27 minutes