Hello, it’s Victor! I hope you’re enjoying the shy summer. Here’s links I thought were worth sharing this month:
How we respond to sneezing in different cultures. From “bless you”, to not acknowledging anything and pretending nothing happened, down to us French having 3 different responses for successive sneezings.
Petrichor is the name for the earthy smell happening when rain falls onto dry soil.
Büsingen am Horchrein is a German village located… in Switzerland. A tiny exclave surrounded by Swiss land, a few kilometres away from the German border, to be more exact. This has led to a few odd practicalities: residents pay mostly in Swiss Francs and not Euros, and pay Swiss VAT rates; mail to the village can be addressed to either country, and they may use both stamps locally; they may choose either country’s phone provider and calling code; the policing and legislating is carefully divided between the two countries; and the football team is the only German team to play in the Swiss Football League.
The Visha Kanya (poison damsels) were young women reportedly used as assassins in Ancient India. The “story goes that young girls were raised on a carefully crafted diet of poison and antidote from a very young age, a practice referred to as mithridatism. Although many would not survive, those that did were immune to other poisons and their body fluids would be poisonous to others.”
Of the few level 5 nuclear events that ever happened, the 1987 Goiânia accident in Brazil has the worst timeline section. Scavengers were trying to sell some stuff they found at an abandoned hospital, and upon observing a deep blue glow coming from a radiation capsule, proceeded to… invite all their family and friends to come and see it, thinking it was supernatural. And then managed to extract some rice-sized grains and share it with them. There were 4 immediate fatalities, 129 people with internal contamination, and a fascinatingly complex process for decontaminating or disposing of contaminated material (including 42 houses, 3 buses, banknotes, and “50,000 rolls of toilet paper”).
The broken escalator phenomenon describes our tendency to misjudge how to step onto escalators and platforms that aren’t moving. Even when we know it isn’t working, humans measurably adopt a different posture and walking speed when stepping in and out, which is what we normally do on working escalators to stabilise our balance. This dissociation is used as an example of the separation between cognitive and motor systems: our brains still act on our previous experience of what happens on a moving escalator, and preemptively act on an upcoming threat to our balance, rather than reacting to an actual trigger.
I keep finding about new cognitive biases by accident, think “wow cool interesting”, and then proceed to never think about them when they actually happen. Is there a cognitive bias for that? Anyway, the Einstellung effect is where a problem-solver gets stuck on a particular solution, is convinced this is the right one, and is unable to backtrack mentally to see potentially superior solutions. With hindsight I can definitely relate to this.
A list of the largest organisms on Earth with an interesting side on deep-sea gigantism, the tendency for species in the deeper ocean to be larger than their shallow-water relative species. (TW, some of the images there are terrific).
Hope you’re all doing well.
You just read issue #6 of Nested!. You can also browse the full archives of this newsletter.