Why do odd images suddenly pop into your head for no reason?
You’re walking down the street, just like any other day, when suddenly a memory pops into your head from years ago. It’s about a person you haven’t thought of for years. Just for a moment you’re transported back to a time and place you thought was long forgotten. In a flash, though, the memory has vanished as quickly as it appeared. This experience has been dubbed a ‘mind-pop’ and sometimes it is prompted by nothing your conscious mind is aware of. There is, perhaps, an even weirder type of ‘mind-pop’. This is when all you get is a word or an image which seems to have no connection to anything at all. Like suddenly thinking of the word ‘orange’ or getting the image of a cheese grater. They seem weirder because they feel unconnected to any past experience, place or person—a thought without any autobiographical context.
Not everyone has these experiences, but many do. When psychologists have recorded these involuntary memories, they find that, on average, people have about one a day. They are most likely to occur during routine, habitual activities, like walking down the street, brushing your teeth or getting dressed. They are also more likely to come when your attention is roaming and diffused. Some of these mind-pops can even be traced back to their causes. Here is one psychologist describing some mental detective work "…while throwing a used bag in a dust bin the word “Acapulco” popped up and since she had no idea what it was and where she might have come across the word, she turned to a member of family for help. To her surprise, it was pointed out to her that Acapulco was mentioned on the TV news some 45 minutes ago. This ability to trace a mind-pop back to its source wasn’t an isolated case. When they surveyed people, Kvavilashvili and Mandler found that the words and images that seemed to pop up randomly didn’t actually come from nowhere.
Sometimes it was an associative mind-pop, like being reminded about Christmas and later having the words ‘Jingle Bells’ pop into your head. It could be a sound-a-like, for example having the image of a sandy beach appear after you see a banana (Bahamas sounds like bananas). The fact that many mind-pops could not be traced back to their source is probably the result of how much of our processing is carried out unconsciously. The fascinating thing was that many of these mind-pops occurred weeks or months after exposure to the original trigger. This suggests that these words, images and ideas can lie in wait for a considerable period. Some even think that experiencing mind-pops could be associated with creativity as these apparently random associations can help to solve creative problems.
Mind-pops are another hint that we are recording more information than we know. Fortunately, our minds mostly do a good job of suppressing random thoughts and images, as they can be extremely distracting. So next time you have a mind-pop, remember that, however weird, it has probably been triggered by something you’ve seen, heard or thought about recently, even if you can’t remember what. Of course, why we get these particular ones and not others is still a mystery.
Given the chance, would you want to live forever? In the Epic of Gilgamesh, written over 4,000 years ago, a Sumerian king seeks eternal life. And 500 years ago, Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon came to the Americas searching for the fountain of youth. Every generation, a new ploy for outsmarting the reaper emerges–always futile, always in vain. But is the key to immortality within reach? Some people think that technology will help us cure diseases, build new organs, and essentially reprogram our bodies’ faulty software. Futurist Ray Kurzweil calculates that 20 years is all it’ll take for this exponential boom in computing power to help us live forever. But other scientists are more skeptical. They say that to understand immortality, we must understand our own DNA.
Have you heard of the Turritopsis nutricula? It’s a type of jellyfish, said to be biologically immortal. Now, this doesn’t mean that it’s immune to disease or injury, but it is immune to the leading cause of death: aging. That’s because it can revert back to the polyp stage even after it reaches sexual maturity. In essence, it can stay alive forever, since every time it grows up, its cells undergo trans-differentiation to become young and sexually immature again. That’s one way to live forever. So if this special jellyfish can do it, why can’t we?
It’s a complicated question, and scientists think the answers may be deep within the nuclei of our cells, where the building blocks of life are stored. See, every time one cell replicates to become two, its DNA also has to replicate, and when it does that, little bits at the end break off. These areas are called telomeres, and they’re there for that very reason: to buffer against breakage when DNA replicates, so the important bits don’t get lost. But eventually, after enough replication, the telomeres get broken off too. It’s called the Hayflick limit, named for Leonard Hayflick, the first dude to notice that there is finite number of times a cell can divide. But if we can use special enzymes, like telomerase, to increase the life of the telomere, we may also be able to prolong the life of the cell.
If we can get a handle on how to prevent cellular aging, in theory, we can extend life, potentially indefinitely. We may also be able to fight cancer, since the cellular mechanism involved in this deadly disease is closely related to that in aging. In fact, cancer is a type of cell that simply doesn’t die. That’s why it’s so hard to treat. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that cancer cells also divide uncontrollably and invade the healthy cells around them. In fact, biomedical researchers routinely use HeLa cells in their studies. They’re named for Henrietta Lacks, a woman dying of cervical cancer in 1951. Her cells were harvested without her permission, and grown in culture. Since they are so hearty and easily divide; this exact same cell line is used today in labs all around the world and if that doesn’t blow your mind, think about this.
In a way, we’re all already immortal. Think about it: there’s a line of cells, traceable to the earliest human being–in all of us. See, before I became me, with ten fingers and toes, brown hair and eyes, and a funny birthmark on my arm, I was a single cell. That cell eventually divided over and over to make the person you see today. But that single cell was nothing more than a combination of my father’s sperm (with half the chromosomes necessary to make me) and my mother’s egg (also with half of my chromosomes). Together, they made a single cell, and that single cell divided to become all the cells in my entire body, including my own eggs. One day, one of those eggs may combine with sperm to make another human being and so it goes, down the line, until those branches of the family tree end. But if you trace the branches backward, earlier and earlier in time, you’ll find a common ancestor to us all. Really think about it. The cells in your body, in my body, are traceable to the earliest cells of the very first humans and not just figuratively. We are literally made of the same DNA, the same cytoplasm, the same molecular ingredients as those who harnessed the energy of fire, invented tools, developed language, and first stepped out of Africa, the seat of all humanity. They are physically within us. We are made of them and in that way, we are all immortal.
So you tell me. Would you want to live forever? Or do you feel that you already are, being part of the great lineage of humankind, a lineage that will never die?
Pheromones are naturally occurring odorless substances the fertile body excretes externally, conveying an airborne signal that provides information to, and triggers responses from, the opposite sex of the same species. In 1986 Dr. Winnifred Cutler, founder of Athena Institute, and her colleagues conducted the first controlled scientific studies to document the existence of pheromones in humans. Prior to their landmark research, there were no conclusive indications that pheromones were excreted by humans. In animals, it had been known that pheromones served to promote behavior that perpetuated the species. Pheromones elicit unlearned behavioral or developmental responses from others of the same species – act to regulate sexual and reproductive behavior in many nonhuman mammals. We can see examples of this throughout the animal kingdom. The human body produces chemical secretions that have pheromonal properties.
What does science tell us? Do we produce pheromonal secretions? Men and women do have odor-producing apocrine glands in their underarm, nipple, and genital areas. Also, biochemists have isolated compounds that have pheromonal properties in pigs from the urine and sweat of men and, to a lesser extent, women. So, we give off body odor and our bodies excrete substances that pigs find sexually stimulating.
Assuming the human body can secrete pheromonal substances, are we capable of detecting them? Here, the evidence is a bit more solid. Scientists have found that human infants, children, and adults are able to discriminate between other individuals on the basis of olfactory cues – we can tell each other apart using our noses. It seems possible that we have the capacity to detect pheromones, should they exist.
The question that interests most of us, of course, is whether pheromones actually influence species perpetuation behavior. Certainly many perfumes and colognes contain pheromones or their synthetic equivalents from a variety of mammals, including the musk deer, civet cat, beaver, and pig. Studies find that exposure to these substances either has no effect at all or decreases sexual feelings among adults. So exposure to pheromones produced by other mammals doesn’t seem to do much for us. Pheromones are species-specific. Thus, it really isn’t surprising that exposure to nonhuman pheromones does not directly influence sexual attraction in humans. However, it is possible that these substances have an indirect effect on desire – a scent or odor may elicit a pleasant emotional response which, in turn, may increase sexual feelings. In addition, it is likely that a particular scent or odor that has been paired repeatedly with a sex partner or with sexual activity, for example, a specific brand of cologne or perfume may come to produce a learned desire response. Of course, these types of elicited or learned responses do not constitute a true pheromone reaction.
Science will continue to advance, and the quest to identify a human pheromone will undoubtedly go on. Maybe in a year or two, I’ll be able to post a new, updated entry that presents more conclusive evidence with respect to pheromones. Human sexuality is multifactorial, and much more complex. Our responses are much less biochemically-dependent than those of other mammals. Men and women don’t require the presence of a particular hormone or chemical secretion to feel desire, want sex, or become attracted to another member of the species. No single substance would have the power to produce those animalistic, primal sexual and aggressive behaviors.