Author: Chloe Calhoun

Language of Flowers

People have long attributed meaning to flowers. Starting in Ottoman Turkey and popular in Victorian England, the language of flowers, also called floriography, is “a means of cryptological communication through the use or arrangement of flowers.” The meaning assigned to each flower varied, but a consensus emerged for the meaning of common flowers.

Cyclops

A possible origin for the greek myth of the Cyclops is dwarf elephant skulls. It is possible that the ancient Greeks found dwarf elephant skulls, twice as large as human skulls, and explained them as monsters, having never seen an elephant before. This becomes more plausible once you see an elephant skull.

Asian elephant skull.

The large hole in the center is actually the nasal cavity for the trunk, but it also resembles a single eye socket.

Bottle Imp Paradox

“The Bottle Imp” is a short story about an imp in a bottle that grants its owner wishes. The catch is that the object is cursed, and if someone dies with it in their possession they will go straight to hell. The second catch is that the bottle cannot be given away, but must be sold at a loss.

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In the story, a man buys the bottle for fifty dollars and then sells it after his wishes are granted. However, he later contracts leprosy and must find the bottle again to cure himself. He finally tracks down the bottle, but by this time it has gone through many owners and now the price is only one cent. The man buys the bottle, knowing he will be unable to sell it for less than a cent and so will be stuck with the curse.

The story goes further, but it presents a paradox: if no one is willing to buy the bottle for one cent because they will be unable to sell it, then no one would be willing to buy it for two cents, for the same reason. Therefore no one would buy it for three, four, five, six cents, or any price and the events of the story would be unable to happen.

Link to the short story (PDF).

The Unknown Woman of the Seine

imageThe smiling, peaceful face of the woman in the above photo is actually a death mask, cast from her face . The story goes that the body of a girl around 16 years old was pulled from the Seine River in France in the late 1880s. It was suspected that she drowned herself. According to the story, a pathologist saw her body on display at the morgue and was so enchanted by the corpse’s beauty that he felt it must be preserved, and so created a death mask of her face.

There are doubts as to whether the mask was indeed taken from a dead body, due to the unusual facial expression. Another story states that the mask was made by a German mask manufacturer using his living daughter’s face. Whichever story is true, numerous copies of the mask were produced and it became fashionable for Parisian artists to have one in their homes. She was called L’Inconnue de la Seine, “The Unknown Woman of the Seine” and was famed for her beauty.

imageIf you ever learned CPR, you may have used a Rescusci Anne dummy as practice. Dubbed “the most kissed woman in the world,” she was the first CPR dummy created. Her face was supposedly based on L’Inconnue after the toymaker who created her saw one of the death masks at his father’s house.

Shepard Scale

The Shepard scale is an auditory illusion of a tone that continually ascends or descends in pitch seemingly forever. The illusion can be created by overlapping ascending or descending scales.

It’s sometimes used in music, such as at the end of this song:

Dies Irae

Dies Iræ is a Latin hymn describing the day of judgement. The first line is as follows:

Dies iræ, dies illa

Since used in the hymn, the first few notes of Dies Iræ have appeared in a lot of music, especially movie soundtracks, from The Nightmare Before Christmas to It’s a Wonderful Life to Star Wars: A New Hope. Once you hear it, you’ll start noticing it everywhere. This video gives a history of Dies Iræ, from classical music to modern movie soundtracks.

 

 

ASMR

If you’ve ever had someone brush your hair and felt tingles down your scalp, that’s ASMR. It stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, but most just know it as tingles and a relaxed feeling. ASMR is usually triggered by stimuli such as whispering, crinkling, tapping, or “squishing” noises, personal attention, and mouth noises. (I find it strange that I usually find mouth noises very irritating, but relaxing in the context of an ASMR video.) There are many more triggers, and many YouTube videos dedicated to stimulating ASMR through these triggers. Whispering is the most common trigger, and before ASMR was well-known the videos were known as “whisper videos”. Today, ASMR is much less obscure, but the ASMR community is still known as being part of the “weird side of YouTube” and there continue to be misconceptions about the sensation. For example, the scalp tingles associated with ASMR are sometimes colloquially called a “head orgasm”, and many outside of the ASMR community falsely perceive the phenomenon as being sexual in nature.

Many people will point to Bob Ross’s The Joy of Painting videos as their first experience with ASMR. It’s not hard to see why, with Bob Ross’s quiet, relaxing voice and the gentle sounds of the paintbrush on the canvas. I can’t pinpoint my first ASMR experience, but all my life I’ve found getting my hair brushed and played with to be very relaxing and tingle-inducing. Not everyone is able to experience ASMR, but even if they don’t feel tingles many people still find the videos very relaxing. However, with so many triggers, many people can find something that will give them tingles.

ASMR parody video by CollegeHumor:

The Old Hag

When I first read about sleep paralysis, also known as the Old Hag phenomenon, I was terrified. Thankfully it is more common in people with narcolepsy or anxiety, but the idea is still scary. You wake up, but you are still unable to control your body. You lie there, paralyzed. To make things even worse, the paralysis is often accompanied by terrifying hallucinations often involving a person or creature sitting on your chest.

The Nightmare by Johann Füssli

The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli, 1781.

Sleep paralysis occurs either when the person remains aware while their body shuts down for REM sleep, or when they become aware before their body has completed the REM cycle.

When a person wakes up paralyzed and vulnerable to attack, an emergency response is activated in the brain. The sense of helplessness intensifies the threat response and could account for why the “intruder” is perceived as evil.

The explanation behind the pressure on the chest, or incubus, is a combination of the muscle paralysis and the threat response. Breathing during REM sleep is naturally rapid and shallow, unnoticeable while asleep but frightening to those suffering from sleep paralysis, who are suddenly conscious of the shallow breathing and feel as if they are suffocating.

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