The Kymograph was invented by Carl Ludwig in the 1840s. It's history is an interesting one, with its use being applied to various areas of science.van Bronswijk (2008) argues that the kymograph was the first recording device used to record and compare the influence of drug effects. Specifically, the kymograph enabled the study of the influence of drugs on a specific organ, which van Bronswijk (2008) argues enabled the development of Pharmacology as an independent science in it's own right. According to van Bronswijk (2008) Ludwig developed the kymograph in 1847, with its intial design meant for the improvement of Poiseuille's manometer. Leon (1976) maintains that the Kymograph was also used in instrumental phonetics.According to Leon (1976) sound waves of words would be transmitted to a drum which would vibrate. As this occurs, a sheet coated with lampback attached to a cylinder which revolved at a stable speed would have the vibrations etched into it. From this, Leon (1976) states that various curves could be detected depending upon the harmonics used. From this, various aspects of the sound could be measured, such as duration, intensity, and pitch. Leon maintains that the kymograph was critical in the early 20th century, providing science with various studies, some of which included:The Phonetics of Hottentot Language - Beach, D.M (1938)Studies of Melody of Speech - Scripture, E.W. (1902)A Study of the native Hindustani melody pattern and the acquired English melody pattern with special reference to the teaching of English in India - Cama, K. (1939)Evidently, the Kymograph and inventions like it were versitile and useful, both vital aspects of success as scientific instruments. I'm sure more can be said of the Kymograph and other inventions. While today we enjoy the digital age and all that it brings us as we use it to the best of our ability, we should never forget the tools of the past, and how they served to improve our understanding of the human body and mind.References:van Bronswijk, P., & Cohen A.F. (2008). The First Recordings of Pharmalogical Effects British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 66 (5), 588-593Leon, PR & Martin, P (1974). Machines and Measurements Intonation: Selected Readings, 30-47... Read more »
van Bronswijk, P., . (2008) The First Recordings of Pharmalogical Effects. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 66(5), 588-593. info:/
In Connie Willis' book, Bellwether, two researchers acquired a herd of sheep (they were studying fads). However, no sheep agreed to start a new fashion of pressing a button for food. What they needed was a bellwether, a fads-starting sheep. Cha et al. searched for bellwethers ('influentials') on Twitter. They sampled more than six million active users ('active' means 'more than ten tweets'). They used three measures of influence: followers (indegrees), retweets and mentions. The number of followers indicated the size of the user's audience, retweets indicated the value of a tweet's content, and mentions indicated the user's ability to engage in conversation with other users. The most followed users were news sources, politicians (Obama) and celebrities in general. However, the most retweeted users were the Mashable blog, Twittertips and TweetMeme, as well as businessmen (Guy Kawasaki) and news sites (they include The Onion under this category, which amused me greatly). Retweets are influential due to their ability to pass and reinforce a message to users way beyond the followers of the tweet's creator. The authors consider retweets citations of users' content. Mentions - celebrities were often at the top of the 'most-mentioned' list. Since less than 30% of the 'mention' tweets contained URLs, the authors concluded that mentions are more about a person than about content. The number of tweets and number of people a user follows (outdegrees) weren't significant influence indicators, simply because those were spammers. Even ordinary users can rise to fame (mostly of the 15-minutes kind) if they have interesting content. Users like iranbaan, oxfordgirl and TM_Outbreak became immensely popular during the Iranian elections. Unlike those users, the Swine flu bellwethers, in the absence of catastrophic flu outbreaks, remained relatively stable in influence and popularity. In conclusionThe number of followers doesn't necessarily make one a bellwether.Retweets are mostly content-drivenMentions are mostly user-drivenNews sites do better at retweets, while celebrities get more mentions.Influence on Twitter takes supplying plenty of content. Cha, M., Haddadi, H., Benevenuto, F., & Gummadi, K. P. (2010). Measuring User Influence in Twitter: The Million Follower Fallacy ICWSM '10: Proceedings of international AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media. ... Read more »
Cha, M., Haddadi, H., Benevenuto, F., & Gummadi, K. P. (2010) Measuring User Influence in Twitter: The Million Follower Fallacy. ICWSM '10: Proceedings of international AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media. . info:/
I was saddened this morning to read the Australian Linguistics Society’s news about Michael Clyne’s passing! Australian sociolinguistics has lost its doyen, and we have all lost a strong advocate for a multilingual, multicultural, diverse and tolerant society. Michael has … Continue reading →... Read more »
Clyne, M. (2005) The use of exclusionary language to manipulate opinion: John Howard, asylum seekers and the reemergence of political incorrectness in Australia. Journal of Language and Politics, 4(2), 173-196. DOI: 10.1075/jlp.4.2.03cly
How the toy industry handles supply chain risk is applicable to many other industries as well. While few of the risks faced by toy makers are unique to the industry, the combination of risks is daunting. ... Read more »
M Eric Johnson. (2001) Learning From Toys: Lessons in Managing Supply Chain Risk from the Toy Industry. California Management Review, 43(3), 106-124. info:/
Gonzalo Vazquez-Prokopec (Emory University, United States) and coworkers show that reducing the budget of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vector-borne disease research and surveillance will cost far more money than it saves.... Read more »
Vazquez-Prokopec, G., Chaves, L., Ritchie, S., Davis, J., & Kitron, U. (2010) Unforeseen Costs of Cutting Mosquito Surveillance Budgets. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 4(10). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0000858
When we grow as people, we often gravitate toward learning to use our right hand or left-hand for motor activity, whether for throwing a football or writing our names in grade school. While this is often taken for granted as a part of normal physical development and even comes to represent a small portion of who we are as individuals, have you ever wondered how “handedness” develops? How does our handedness affect our self-perceptions and the way we perceive the world around us? A study by Linkenauger, Witt, Bakdash, Stefanucci, and Proffitt begins to look at these hypotheses and offers further insight into how our preferences and experience shape our perceptions.... Read more »
Linkenauger SA, Witt JK, Bakdash JZ, Stefanucci JK, & Proffitt DR. (2009) Asymmetrical body perception: a possible role for neural body representations. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 20(11), 1373-80. PMID: 19788528
Mediating Punitiveness: Understanding Public Attitudes towards Work-Related Fatality Cases From European Journal of Criminology It has been suggested that public opinion about crime and justice drives the adoption of harsher and more emotive criminal justice policy via a process of ‘penal populism’, as politicians are willing to respond uncritically. This paper presents the findings of [...]... Read more »
Almond, P., & Colover, S. (2010) Mediating Punitiveness: Understanding Public Attitudes towards Work-Related Fatality Cases. European Journal of Criminology, 7(5), 323-338. DOI: 10.1177/1477370810373728
Humphries (2010) explores how real world eventualities clashed with sociocultural and economic imperatives to create the great denial that soldiers fighting in the Great War had not been traumatised by their experiences.... Read more »
Humphries M. (2010) War’s Long Shadow: Masculinity, Medicine, and the Gendered Politics of Trauma, 1914-1939. The Canadian historical review, 91(3), 503-31. PMID: 20857589
Another attempt at making sense of Bems upcoming PSI phenomena paper. Please leave comments. Especially the statistically minded...... Read more »
Bem, Daryl. (2010) Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. info:/10.1037/a0021524
Did cooking make us human by providing the foundation for the rapid growth of the human brain during evolution? If so, what does this tell us about the diet that we should be eating, and can we turn back the culinary clock to an evolutionarily ideal diet? A number of provocations over the last couple of weeks have me thinking about evolution and diet, especially what our teeth and guts tell us about how our ancestors got their food.
I did a post on this a while back at Neuroanthropology.net, putting up my slides for the then-current version of my ‘brain and diet’ lecture from ‘Human evolution and diversity,’ but I’m also thinking about food and evolution because I just watched Nestlé food scientist, Heribert Watzke’s TED talk, The Brain in Your Gut. Watzke combines two intriguing subjects: the enteric nervous system, or your gut’s ‘second brain,’ and the evolution of diet. I’ll deal with the diet, gastro-intestinal system and teeth today, and the enteric nervous system another day because it’s a great subject itself (if you can’t wait, check out Scientific American).
This piece is going to ramble a bit, as it will also include some thoughts on the subject of diet and brain evolution sparked by multiple conversations: with Prof. Marlene Zuk (of the University of California Riverside), with Paul Mason (about Terrence Deacon’s article that he and Daniel wrote about), and following my annual lecture on human brain evolution as well as conversations today with a documentary crew from SBS. So let’s begin the meander with Dr. Watzke’s opening bit on why he thinks humans should be classified as ‘coctivors,’ that is, animals that eat cooked food, rather than ‘omnivores.’
Although I generally liked the talk, I was struck by some things that didn’t ring quite right, including Dr. Watzke’s opening bit about teeth (from the online transcript):
So everyone of you turns to their neighbor please. Turn and face your neighbors. Please, also on the balcony. Smile. Smile. Open the mouths. Smile, friendly. (Laughter) Do you — Do you see any Canine teeth? (Laughter) Count Dracula teeth in the mouths of your neighbors? Of course not. Because our dental anatomy is actually made, not for tearing down raw meat from bones or chewing fibrous leaves for hours. It is made for a diet which is soft, mushy, which is reduced in fibers, which is very easily chewable and digestible. Sounds like fast food, doesn’t it.
Okay, let’s not be pedantic about it, because we know that humans, in fact, do have canines. Watzke’s point is that we don’t have extended canines, long fangs that we find in most carnivorous mammals or in our primate relatives like chimps or gorillas.
The problem is that the absence of projecting canines in humans is a bit more interesting than just, ‘eat plants=less canine development.’ In fact, gorillas are completely vegetarian, and the males, especially, have massive canines; chimpanzees eat a very small amount of animal protein (something like 2% of their caloric intake), and they too have formidable canines. Our cousins don’t have extended canines because they need them for eating – rather, all evidence suggests that they need big fangs for fighting, especially intraspecies brawling among the males in order to reproduce.
Teeth of human (left), Ar. ramidus (middle), and chimpanzee (right), all males.
The case of chimpanzee canines is especially intriguing because, with the remains of Ardipithecus ramidus now more extensively discussed, a species potentially close to the last common ancestor of humans and chimps, we know very old hominids didn’t have pronounced canines. If the remains are indicative of our common ancestor with chimpanzees (and there’s no guarantee of that), then it’s not so much human canine shrinkage alone that’s the recent evolutionary development but also the re-development of chimpanzee canines, probably due to sexual competition.
Even with all the possible points of disagreement, the basic point is that human teeth are quite small, likely due both to shifts in our patterns of reproduction and sexual selection and to changes in our diet. Over the last few million years, our ancestors seemed to have gotten more and more of their calories out of meat, one argument goes, at the same time that our ancestors’ teeth were getting less and less capable of processing food of all sorts (or, for that matter, being effectively used as a weapon).
Hungrier and hungrier, with weaker jaws and smaller teeth
As I always remind my students in my lecture on human brain evolution, if big brains are so great, why doesn’t every animal have one? The answer is that big brains also pose certain challenges for an organism (or, if you prefer, ‘mo’ neurons, mo’ problums’).
The first and most obvious is that brains are hungry organs, devouring energy very fast and relentlessly, especially as they grow. The statistic that we frequently throw around is that the brain constitutes 2% of human body mass and consumes 25% of the energy used by the body; or, to put it another way, brain tissue consumes nine times as many calories as muscle at rest. So, if evolution is going to grow the brain, an organism is going to have to come up with a lot of energy – a smaller brain means that an animal both can eat less and be more likely to survive calorie drought.
But hominin brain growth also presents a few other problems, which sometimes get underestimated in accounts of our species’ distinctiveness. For example, natural selection had to solve a problem of excess heat, especially if big-brained hominids were going to do things that their big brains should tell them are ill advised, like run around in the hot sun. As your brain chews up energy, it generates heat, and the brain can overheat, a serious problem with sunstroke. The good news is that somewhere along the line our hominin ancestors picked up a number of adaptations that made them very good at shedding heat, from a low-fur epidermis and facility to produce copious sweat to a system of veins that run from the brain, shunting away heat (for a much more extensive discussion, see Sharma, ed. 2007, or the work of anthropologist Dean Falk, including her 1990 article in BBS laying out the ‘radiator theory’).
Not only is our brain hungry and hot; our enlarged cranium also poses some distinctive challenges for our mothers, especially as bipedalism has narrowed her birth canal by slowly making the pelvis more and more basket shape (bringing the hips under our centre of gravity). The ‘obstetrical dilemma,’ the narrowing of the birth canal at the same time that the human brain was enlarging, led to a bit of a brain-birth canal logjam, if you’ll pardon the groan-worthy pun (see Rosenberg and Trevathan 1995).
Although frequently presented as a significant constraint on brain growth (and I’m sure all mother... Read more »
Rosenberg, K., & Trevathan, W. (2005) Bipedalism and human birth: The obstetrical dilemma revisited. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 4(5), 161-168. DOI: 10.1002/evan.1360040506
Suwa, G., Kono, R., Simpson, S., Asfaw, B., Lovejoy, C., & White, T. (2009) Paleobiological Implications of the Ardipithecus ramidus Dentition. Science, 326(5949), 69-69. DOI: 10.1126/science.1175824
Generational differences in work values: Leisure and extrinsic values increasing, social and intrinsic values decreasing From Journal of Management This study examines a US nationally representative sample of young people and measures their values at the same age at different points in time, to observe generational differences in values. It is recognized that today’s workforce [...]... Read more »
Twenge, J., Campbell, S., Hoffman, B., & Lance, C. (2010) Generational Differences in Work Values: Leisure and Extrinsic Values Increasing, Social and Intrinsic Values Decreasing. Journal of Management, 36(5), 1117-1142. DOI: 10.1177/0149206309352246
Ever wondered how pure mathematicians have fun? The following is from the 1967 paper Modern Research in Mathematics by A. K. Austin, from the Department of Pure Mathematics at the University of Sheffield. It's a send-up, by the way...
A note on piffles by A. B. Smith
A. C. Jones in his paper "A Note on the Theory of Boffles," Proceedings of the National Society, 13, first defined a Biffle to be a non-definite Boffle and asked if every Biffle was reducible.
C. D. Brown in "On a paper by A. C. Jones," Biffle, 24, answered in part this question by defining a Wuffle to be a reducible Biffle and he was then able to show that all Wuffles were reducible.
H. Green, P. Smith, and D. Jones in their review of Brown’s paper, "Wuffle Review, 48", suggested the name Woffle for any Wuffle other than the non-trivial Wuffle and conjectured that the total number of Woffles would be at least as great as the number so far known to exist. They asked if this conjecture was the strongest possible.
T. Brown, "A collection of 250 papers on Woffle Theory dedicated to R. S. Green on his 23rd Birthday" defined a Piffle to be an infinite multi-variable sub-polynormal Woffle which does not satisfy the lower regular Q-property. He stated, but was unable to prove, that there were at least a finite number of Piffles.
T. Smith, L. Jones, R. Brown, and A. Green in their collected works "A short introduction to the classical theory of the Piffle," Piffle Press, 6 gns., showed that all bi-universal Piffles were strictly descending and conjectured that to prove a stronger result would be harder.
It is this conjecture which motivated the present paper.
Not to be outdone, S. J. Farlow from the Department of Mathematics, University of Maine, wrote in the seminal A rebuke of A. B. Smith's paper, 'A Note on Piffles':
In A. B. Smith's recent paper, 'A Note on Piffles', The American Mathematical Monthly, 84, p. 566 he completely fails to mention one of the most significant results yet discovered in Piffle Theory, namely A. K. Puddle's paper, 'Products of Planar Piffles'.
In this short but succinct note Puddle proves that a denumerable product of Pi Piffles is in fact a P-Pi Piffle (assuming of course pairwise permutation of the Piffles). That Puddle's condition was only necessary and not sufficient did of course not detract from this significant work—but did in fact open the door to the well-known Piffle Paradox (of which I'm afraid Professor Smith is completely unaware).
Readers interested in obtaining a complete up-to-date history of the Piffle should consult P.U. Piper's comprehensive review, The Piffle: 1840-1978 (Pauper Press). Here Piper describes some modern approaches taken by American Mathematicians during the last fifteen years. I am sorry to say that the classical treatment of Piffles taken by most English Mathematicians, notably the work of author Smith, is, by American standards, obsolete even before it hits the printing press. In particular the classic theorem of Smith, Jones and Brown on Polynomial Piffles would be only a simple corollary to Puddle's basic result on Homological Piffles. In fact it is fairly safe to say that all the English results so far on Piffle Theory can be subsumed in Piper's short note, 'Spectral Decompositions of Partial Piffles', American Piffle Review, 27, pp. 1-2.
Hat-tip to Let ε < 0 where I first saw this lovely work. I believe the original paper came out of discussions between mathematicians and educators regarding good (and presumably bad and confusing) forms of mathematics education. I dare say that had I seen this treatise in undergraduate maths, or had Homological Piffles been mentioned at least once, I wouldn't have transferred from Metric Spaces to Astronomy....
Austin, A. (1967). 3183. Modern Research in Mathematics The Mathematical Gazette, 51 (376) DOI: 10.2307/3614400
Farlow, S. (1980). Three Mathematical Satires A rebuke of A. B. Smith's paper, 'A Note on Piffles' International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 11 (2), 285-304 DOI: 10.1080/0020739800110222
... Read more »
Farlow, S. (1980) Three Mathematical Satires A rebuke of A. B. Smith's paper, 'A Note on Piffles'. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 11(2), 285-304. DOI: 10.1080/0020739800110222
by Nestor Lopez-Duran PhD in Child-Psych
Special Editorial. See no Race, See no Gay: What Proponents of a Gay-Blind Approach to Bullying in the Schools can Learn from Race Relations Today’s Special Editorial was co-written with Kira Hudson Banks PhD, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Illinois Wesleyan University. This article also appeared on Race Matters, Dr. Banks’s blog on race [...]... Read more »
Sourander, A., Ronning, J., Brunstein-Klomek, A., Gyllenberg, D., Kumpulainen, K., Niemela, S., Helenius, H., Sillanmaki, L., Ristkari, T., Tamminen, T.... (2009) Childhood Bullying Behavior and Later Psychiatric Hospital and Psychopharmacologic Treatment: Findings From the Finnish 1981 Birth Cohort Study. Archives of General Psychiatry, 66(9), 1005-1012. DOI: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2009.122
Vreeman, R., & Carroll, A. (2007) A Systematic Review of School-Based Interventions to Prevent Bullying. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 161(1), 78-88. DOI: 10.1001/archpedi.161.1.78
One major supply chain risk is that supply networks are constantly changing. Perhaps not controlling and resisting change, but letting things happen and letting supply networks emerge is the best management strategy?... Read more »
Choi, T. (2001) Supply networks and complex adaptive systems: control versus emergence. Journal of Operations Management, 19(3), 351-366. DOI: 10.1016/S0272-6963(00)00068-1
A recent post by Miko on Kirschner and Gerhart’s work on developmental constraints and the implications for evolutionary biology caught my eye due to the possible analogues which could be drawn with language in mind. It starts by saying that developmental constraints are the most intuitive out of all of the known constraints on phenotypic variation. Essentially, whatever evolves must evolve from the starting point, and it cannot ignore the features of the original. Thus, a winged horse would not occur, as six limbs would violate the basic bauplan of tetrapods. In the same way, a daughter language cannot evolve without taking into account the language it derives from and language universals. But instead of viewing this as a constraint which limits the massive variation we see biologically or linguistically between different phenotypes, developmental constraints can be seen as a catalyst for regular variation.... Read more »
Gerhart, J., & Kirschner, M. (2007) Colloquium Papers: The theory of facilitated variation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(suppl_1), 8582-8589. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0701035104
In their paper "The medium is the joke: Online humor about and by networked computers" by Shifman and Blondheim (2010, pay-walled) the authors sampled 170 texts from "humor hubs" (that is, well-known humor sites), plus 80 videos from YouTube, ending up with 250 humorous items in their sample.Manufactors, monopoly and the Microsoft menace In the absence of real alternative to Microsoft (though a friend once threatened me with installation of Linux) users make jokes which the authors interpret according to superiority theories (users are helpless to do anything but mock the ruler). Instead of throwing the Vista-installed laptop against the wall, the victims users show their frustration by making jokes. But it's not all Microsoft's fault: the authors suggest that because of the strong synonymity between Microsoft and the PC, people could be taking out their anger on Microsoft for "the failure of man and computer to interact harmoniously".The usersMisusers: blondes, rednecks and usually other 'stupid' groups. Misusers are the people who can't work their computer properly.Over-users: geeks; They are so familiar with computers they become emotionally attached to the ("You seriously consider devoting a web page to your computer. Not the brand, mind you, but the actual computer itself"). Over-users in jokes compromise their humanity and 'real' relationships in favor of their computers and cyberculture.Abusers: The abusers "can be interpreted as the mirror image of the over-user". They use their computer to satisfy "the most earthly human drives" (pornography, frauds). Unlike computers, abusers have human-related faults.Tech support(source: the inevitable XKCD)The tech support jokes address the gap between human expectations and how computers actually work. Tech supporters are considered a class of their own, "the closest parallel may, in fact, be the Oracle's Pythia or the priest in confession, mediating between man and the sublime divinity". The user has sinned and the computer stopped working. In order to communicate with the divine entity, the users turn to its priests, the tech support people. I think the authors might have missed a sub-genre here, which I'll refer to as "tech-support are idiots" and is represented in the above XKCD comics. It's true there are many jokes about idiot customers, but tech-support personnel is also often mocked. Anthropomorphism When computer become human. The sneezing computer, the icons attempting to kill one another on your desktop...These jokes are funny because of the sudden similarity between the very separated categories of 'human' and 'machine'. Compumorphism The mocking of human groups by comparing traits associated with them to those of computers (computers are males because "they have a lot of data but are still useless"; computers are females because "no one but their creator understands their internal logic"). The traits allegedly shared by the computer and the group make them less than 'true humans'.... Read more »
Shifman, L., & Blondheim, M. (2010) The medium is the joke: Online humor about and by networked computers. New media . info:/10.1177/1461444810365311
I’ve been teaching about bilingualism for more than a decade and when I speak about bilingual education and dual-immersion programs I draw on examples from Canada and the USA. These are the examples that fill the literature and the textbooks. … Continue reading →... Read more »
Meier, G. (2010) Two-way immersion education in Germany: bridging the linguistic gap. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 13(4), 419-437. DOI: 10.1080/13670050903418793
Sugimoto, Yoshio. (2010) An Introduction to Japanese Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. info:/
I’ve read many written expectations of people coming for pain management – and without a doubt, the majority of people want to get on with life, go back to doing what they enjoy, and feel better in themselves. The only problem with that? Most of them preface their goals with ‘reduce my pain so I … Read more... Read more »
Turk, D., Dworkin, R., Revicki, D., Harding, G., Burke, L., Cella, D., Cleeland, C., Cowan, P., Farrar, J., & Hertz, S. (2008) Identifying important outcome domains for chronic pain clinical trials: An IMMPACT survey of people with pain. Pain, 137(2), 276-285. DOI: 10.1016/j.pain.2007.09.002
The eye sees all, and can possibly warn
of danger in Trinidadian folklore.
Trinidadians have a rich collection of superstitions, many of which found their way to the island via colonialism. These beliefs reflect the ways ideas and explanations have been blended here—and elsewhere—in the face of globalization. There is one, however, that I have grown up with that seems unique to Trinidadians. It concerns an involuntary eye spasm known colloquially as when your eye "jumps." The superstition has multiple parts and meanings depending on which eye is affected:If your right eye jumps, you are going to hear good news. If your left eye jumps, you are going to hear bad news (Roberts 1927: 161).
If your right eye jumps, someone is speaking well of you. If your left eye jumps, someone is saying bad things about you.* (If you think of the name of people you know, when you name the right person—who is speaking badly about you—your eye will stop jumping) (Robert 1927: 161)
If your right eye jumps, you'll see someone you haven't seen in a long time.
If your left eye jumps, a loved one/friend is doing something behind your back.
If your left eye jumps, a love one/friend may be in trouble.
*There seems to be some confusion with this particular version of the superstition since I have also seen/heard it reverse (i.e., right eye = someone speaking ill of you). It is included here in the parallel form to match the other suggestions.
There are additional variations to this theme, but all emphasize the dichotomy between the left and right eye in relation to bad versus good events. The eye has long figured in superstitious lore—for example, the idea of the "evil eye" may date to 600 BC, and since this only marks documented reference to the belief, it may in fact be older than that. As a source of vision, awareness, and knowledge, it is no surprise that beliefs relating to the eye tend to suggest a forewarning.
Superstitions are often met with a certain degree of scorn. Rational folks are often quick to dismiss them. But still they lurk in the background until the opportunity arrives when they can suggest a potential "What if?" Historically, when discussing superstitions scholars (e.g., Matthews 1945; Roberts 1927) have categorized them as "primitive" beliefs of "simple" people, and overlooked the insights they may offer on the way people view the world. While many superstitions have religious or supernatural undertones, many others offer interesting observations on life in a particular location. And if you dig deep enough, there are sometimes suggestive details that can explain why some superstitions persist.
For example, in a collection of West Indian beliefs and superstitions Basil Matthews (1945) discusses the Caniteel in Trinidad: a particular hour on a particular day between July 15th and August 15th during which any plants planted will fail to grow (141). No one knows for sure when the day or the hour actually occurs. What they do know is that generally what happens is that during this period worms eat the heart of the plant. Trinidadian farmers view this period as a bad time. Many avoid planting on July 15th, and then plant on alternate days hoping to avoid the Caniteel. Some avoid planting altogether during this period. The farmers have connected a real event (the activity of the worms) with a superstition (don't plant, this period is bad).
The same may be the case for eye jumping. The phenomena is largely harmless, but appears to be poorly understood by science. It is officially classified as benign essential blepharospasm (BEB), a phenomenon that can be disruptive in severe cases causing functional blindness:The condition is progressive with the early symptoms being irritation and discomfort in the eyelids causing an increase in the blink rate, which can progress over time to frequent, forceful involuntary and uncontrollable closure of the eyelids (Kowal et. al. 1998: 123).The condition is idiographic, but researchers believe that it may be linked in part to fatigue, stress, eyestrain, and/or caffeine (Robb-Nicholson 2010: 8). In a health column in the Harvard Women's Health Watch, Dr. Celeste Robb-Nicholson advises a writer of ways to cope with "eyelid twitching":There are several things you can do to ease the spasms. Close the eye and apply a warm compress—or try pulling gently on the lid. Get more sleep, and reduce your caffeine and alcohol intake. If the twitching occurs while you're reading or using a computer, relax your eyes occasionally by focusing on something in the distance. If your eyes are dry or irritated, use lubricant eyedrops (8).Even in the less severe form, eye jumping can still be disruptive (or at the very least, irritating), marked by a fluttering sensation in the eyelid, twitching of the eye, or the repeated closing and reopening of the eyelid. And it can last anywhere from minutes to hours or can occur intermittently over the course of several days. Perhaps its disruptiveness has contributed to its role in superstition. Let's consider the following:Eye jumping may be caused by stress in some form.
Because it is disruptive, it is memorable.
When a negative or otherwise anticipated event occurs following an eye jumping episode, it can be easily connected to eye jumping because the phenomenon sticks in the mind of the afflicted.
Since Trinidadians appear to follow the traditional notions of right = good, left = bad, it may be that they are selecting events following experiences of stress that match the eye afflicted by BEB. So for example, if they are anticipating speaking to a relative who has missed a telephone call, the anticipation may turn to worry and as a result experience BEB as a stress response. When the relative finally calls, the afflicted person may recall that their eye jumped and connect the two. This may also explain the fluidity between assigning events to the eyes. While Trinis largely follow the right/left dichotomy, they have been known to blur the line and simply say "My eye was jumping." It may also be that events that can be tied to the afflicted eye are more readily remembered. Similar to the Caniteel, Trinidadians have connected a real event (BEB) with a superstition (the eye afflicted by BEB can predict or warn of events).
Superstitions, however you view them, can be a source of comfort. They offer a way to take control of a situation and in this case to reaffirm ties—note that the eye jumping superstition is connected to loved ones. They can become deeply ingrained. When my eye jumps, I'm inclined to tell myself quite seriously to just "quit it." Meaning, quit worrying about it. I know that my stress levels are generally elevated when my eye jumps, but invariably, when the phenomenon persists, it opens the door for "What if." The event in itself also adds to my stress levels, creating a nagging sensation of worry that I refuse to openly acknowledge but seem to acknowledge in small ways. For example, my behavior changes slightly. I might call loved ones more frequently. And if I happen to learn of an event that occurred to one of them in this period, I find myself wondering about which eye the was afflicted. Superstitions are persistent. It's one of the reasons they've survived time and travel.
Do you have a family superstition that crops up from time to time? Something your grandmother or mother said or did continuously? Something that you yourself came to believe for no explicable reason? With Halloween just around the corner, let's open the vaults and see what's lurking in the shadows of our minds.
Cited: ... Read more »
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This is a heavily revised version of a series I wrote for my LEE Blog on biological anthropology and hormonal contraception. This post deals with contraindications for hormonal contraceptives.... Read more »
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