Monday, September 5, 2011

Death


I hadn't gotten any other questions from my fianc├ęs lab-mate so I thought I'd just tackle another one that stumps some parents into flat out lying.

"Where did fluffy go?" (assuming fluffy is a pet that has died)

As with the first answer, and I'm assuming most of my answers, Im going to use honesty and science as best I can to answer the question.

Well, fluffy is now (wherever fluffy physically is now), but she has died. Dying is something that happens when enough parts in your body stop working that every stops working all together. There are many things that can cause death.

Imagine your body like your favorite battery powered toy. It has many ways it could stop working too. It could fall and break enough important parts off it, that it would not work anymore. Just like your body, not all accidents will cause it to break all the way, sometimes it can still be fun with a piece or two missing. But once enough of its parts are missing, or broken, it cannot be played with anymore.

It could also run out of batteries. This can happen to your body if you don't feed it enough of the right food. Our bodies use food like your toys use batteries. If you do not eat enough food to make your body go, it can stop working (which we call dying).

Your toy can also stop working just through using it so much. If you play with a toy all day long, every day for enough days, it will eventually wear out and break. This also happens in our bodies. We call this dying from old age. Most peoples bodies cannot keep working for more than 80 or so years. Sometimes peoples bodies will last longer, sometimes shorter. This is determined by how well they take care of their bodies, and how well their bodies are built (which is determined by genes, which we already learned about) You can also make your toys last longer if you take care of them, so make sure to play nice with them :)

You may be thinking, well why can't we fix fluffy? Sometimes we can fix bodies. This is a very good question, and one that scientists are constantly looking at. Sometimes (in very rare instances) we actually can "fix" bodies that have died. The main difference between toys and bodies, are that we made toys, so we know exactly how all the parts work 100%. And we can make new parts very easily. With bodies, we cannot make new parts for everything just yet, and we are learning more and more everyday, but we are very far from knowing everything about how they work.

So while fluffy is now (wherever fluffy is physically) fluffy is not alive anymore, and we do not know enough right now to "fix" him/her.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Why only humans talk

A labmate of my fiance recently posted on facebook "My 5 y-o to me: "Daddy why did nature make us the only animals that can talk?" My answer: "Uh....mm....uh....good question! We'll research it and find the answer together." Think I've bitten off more than I can chew this time."


This is what ultimately inspired me to start this blog, and I hope I keep up with it. (I have a tendancy to start a million projects and forget about them after time)


I am going to write this from a perspective of talking directly to a child (which may end up in some odd speech patterns, so I want to get that out of the way first)


The goal of this blog is going to be to come up with complicated questions (or answer questions submitted via a method I am unsure of yet; either email or comments) so that a child would understand.


Here goes:


That is an amazing question that most people do not even bother thinking about. Luckily we have a pretty good answer to this now. It was not very long ago that people did not have a good answer to this, and ended up thinking nature favored humans.


First of all you have to try not to think of nature like a person. Nature is just a word that means "the world around us" This includes plants, animals, air, water, and everything else. These things do not work together on purpose. It may seem that way because of something we call evolution.


Evolution is a word that tries to explain how life started from something very simple, think of moss, to something as complicated as a human. The answer to your question of "Why are humans the only animals that talk" is explained in evolution.


Evolution works like this: All animals have a way of making babies. Every time you make a baby the baby will be different. This is because in most cases babies take a little bit from the mom, and a little bit from the dad. How they put these bits together is basically random and sometimes can make entirely new things. These new things can sometimes be very good, or very bad. Think of how you combine your favorite foods together. Sometimes they can be very tasty (peanut butter and chocolate), but sometimes they can be not very tasty (try mixing coca-cola and milk sometime). 


Now imagine humans before we could talk. One day a mom and dad have a baby that has a new feature: they can make noise. This may not seem like a very good thing at first, but imagine how useful noise can be. They could let other humans know when danger was around, or when they were hurt. Noise can be very useful.


Evolution works because these new babies that can make noise usually end up living longer, and when they grow up, they can make more babies. There is a very good chance that when they have babies, their babies will be able to make noise too. And after a long long time, (show a exponential growth chart) all humans will be able to make noise. Then after another long time, another new feature is found in a baby, this time the baby can make two different types of noises. This keeps going on and on for a very very long time, adding different noises, until eventually we can talk!


Now the reason why other animals cannot talk like we do, is because they did not have a baby yet that gave them the features that are required to talk the way we do. Now most animals can talk, just not the same way that we do. Dolphins talk through high pitched chirping noises, bees talk by dancing, ants talk in a number of ways but one of those ways is by scents. 




Now... as odd as this sounds, I would encourage people to ask questions (in the way a child would) or criticize/add to what I have. Hopefully this can grow to be a very useful resource for parents who may not be very scientific/nerdy but would like their child to be :)