From goose bumps to top hats - decrease your chance of dementia

Posted Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - 7:31pm

Let me explain the heading to this article before we dive into goose bumps and top hats. I mentioned Dementia (the deterioration of memory) because I once learned that if you don’t exercise your mind everyday, you will lose it. That is why teachers and professors are not as likely to develop Dementia as are everyday people. So instead of naming this article “random information” or “useless facts,” I decided to go with something more interesting and eye-catching. (This way I can make you feel guilty if you ever develop Dementia because I tried to help and you would not read.) Now read on “for a healthier you.”

Do you find yourself wondering what goose bumps are for or why exactly they occur? Never fear, dear ruminators. (If you have never pondered goose bumps, no problem! I have saved you time mulling and searching so you have plenty of time to read on.) I have found satisfyingly curious answers to this crucial mystery. It turns out that goose bumps, goose flesh, gåsehud, piel de gallina, kash´arirah or, formally, cutis anserina is considered a vestigial function or “evolutionary leftover.” This means that once there was a purpose to goose bumps but there is no benefit today.

Goose bumps are caused by a reflex that pulls at the base of body hair causing it to stand vertical from the skin. The reflex is triggered by the feeling of being cold, experiencing strong emotions (such as those felt during fight-or-flight responses), listening to the sound of inspiring music or nails on a chalkboard or remembering prominent memories. These all play in the “why” factor.

We know that birds experience these bumps, but so do many mammals besides ourselves. Porcupines raise their quills and cats, rodents and sea otters “puff-up” when threatened. More closely related mammals such as the chimpanzee traps a layer of insulating air with raised hair when cold. It is thought that our furry ancestors reacted to threats and cold in the same way by “puffing up.” Since modern humans have little body hair (well, some of us) cutis anserina no longer is required. Note: Some (researchers or common folk) believe that goose bumps can act as a communication indicator. For instance, goose bumps can signify fear, awe, coldness, and stress in the respected situations.

If you are taking an anatomy course, I dedicate this next bit of uncommon information to you. Pomum Adami is the fancy-pansy scientific name for one of the most uninteresting parts of the body: the “Adam’s apple” as we common folk call it. But is it really? Not the name, the uninteresting part. Through research, I have found the curious story behind this normal body part. (Yes, I know it sounds like I spend all my time looking up the weirdest things but, I can assure you I do sleep some of the time.)

So, most of us have heard the Adam and Eve story, though it may only be part of popular culture to some. And we know that the in the story, Adam “fell” or sinned. Now this is where we enter a controversial area for some believe that we inherited Adam’s sins while others say we are only responsible for our own sins. Let us go with the first notion for the sake of this story. (I swear this is relevant, just read on.) Not only do we carry Adam’s sin spiritually and so forth, but we carry it physically. Yes, the “Adam’s apple”, which is present in both males and females, is the “mark of sin” or more specifically a piece of the forbidden fruit stuck in Adam’s throat. I don’t know about you, but this is my favorite explanation as to why we have “Adam’s apples.” And isn’t it interesting that science has used this religious story to “scientifically” name a body part? This is one reason why I love uncommon information; it is a fun surprise.

Now let us dig into some history. (The fun history, not that boring kind.) We are familiar with Napoleon Bonaparte and Waterloo, right? Just in case, we will quickly refresh those memories. Napoleon was a French guy who was really great at politics and waging war so he tried to conquer Europe but was caught near Waterloo, Belgium by the Seventh Coalition made up of Brits, Russians, Austrians, and Prussians (Germans). He lost the battle and was exiled to an island off the Italian coast where he died.

Anyways, during the Battle of Waterloo, weird things were going on—so legends say—including the sight of an officer riding into battle wearing a top hat. What is so weird about that, you ask? The beauty is that there is always a story behind everything in history, not excepting the top hat. Lieutenant General Thomas Picton, an officer in the British Army, had been in the military since the age of 13. He rose through the ranks quickly, and was well-traveled. He was respected by his peers and those under him as well. During the Battle of Waterloo, Picton held a crucial position in the fight against Napoleon even after he was mortally wounded. He continued to hold his position when two days later he was shot in the head and killed.

Now think. (I’m sorry but, go with me please.) Picton was in the military all his life; he was respected. So why would he ride into battle not dressed in uniform? It turns out that he quickly accepted the request by the Seventh Coalition to join in the battle and had arrived and engaged in the fight before his luggage came. Picton rode into battle clothed like a civilian but died as a war hero. He was the highest ranking officer to die at Waterloo. Some Welsh legends say that his top hat was blessed and so long as he wore it, he would not die. The legends mention that it was blown off his head by a cannonball before he was killed, though it cannot be proved by historical sources.

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