5 Obvious (and 5 Less Obvious) Science Facts I Learned From National Geographic in Las Vegas!

By Shawn Depasquale in Daily Lists, Miscellaneous, Nerdery, TV, Tech
Monday, January 13, 2014 at 6:00 am

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Science! If you get it, you love it; if you don't understand it you live in constant fear of its seemingly magical abilities to explain the way the world works. National Geographic Channel strives to convert its viewing audience into science geeks by programming fun shows about science. With the new season of Brain Games and the spring premiere of a new series called None of the Above, they just might achieve that goal.

To that end the channel flew a small group of journalists out to the city of sin for three days of mind-blowing experiments, mental challenges and (for this journalist) a considerable amount of drinking... FOR SCIENCE!



Stuff You Should be Ashamed Not to Know

1. Gravity. It Works!

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Picture by Shawn DePasquale
Moments before the drop...

National Geographic Channel wanted to show off its new game show None of the Above so they trekked us out to a gun range for the taping of the most recent episode. The big question of the day was the following: If a piano, a bowling ball and a javelin are all dropped at the same time, which hits the ground first? If you're like me (or the majority of the press with us that day) this one is a no-brainer. Gravity accelerates all items equally; the only factor that can change in that equation is wind resistance. So, if you were to add a feather to the mix, for example, there is good reason to believe that the wind resistance against the lightness of the feather would prevent it from accelerating with the rest of the objects. However, in the case of a bowling ball, a javelin and a piano, since they are all heavy enough to out-weigh any resistance, it was clear to us that they would all drop at the same time. And they did.

The surprising thing is that of the six or so "audience" member in attendance only ONE OF THEM guessed the correct outcome. Not only that, but the guy who guessed it right was then looked at by the other audience members in much the way I imagine Copernicus was treated upon declaring the Sun as the center of our solar system.

2. WHAT?! (or.... Your Hearing Gets Worse With Age)

In one segment, Brain Games attempted to show the difference aging can have on the human body, specifically on the five senses. Many of these tests have obvious outcomes but none more so than the hearing test. If you aren't aware (shame on you) our hearing decreases with age and use. Ever been to a concert? Listened to music via headphones? If you've done these things (and you have, don't lie) then you've probably (although minorly) damaged your hearing. Wear and tear is a bitch and a half.

To prove this, Brain Games host Jason Silva asked several volunteers from ages 8-60 to listen to a series of high frequency sounds. Everytime they heard a sound they were instructed to raise their hands. As the frequency's got higher, the amount of hands in the ear decreased. Once again though, a majority of the people involved in the testing were surprised by the results. Take a look:

3. The "Oddball Effect"

This theory suggests that the brain records fewer of our familiar, mundane experiences as we get older. When something unusual happens your brain devotes more neural resources to it and as a result it can shift your perception of time. So what's all this mean? Well, as you'll see in the example below, when you process something "unusual" your brain takes more time and care to remember it, thus making it seems like time has slowed a bit. It is one of the more fascinating ways science has shown us just how fluid "time" actually is.

4.Young People Drive Better Than Old People

I mean... duh. Maybe this is super obvious to me since I was raised in Boca Raton, Florida, where the average age is 147 and the common driving speed is 6 MPH, but I'd like to believe that this is fairly common knowledge. If you're not aware, understand that as you age your ability to react quickly, take in a lot of information at once and maintain focus all decline. Think of our brain as a computer: over time/use things just sort of slow down. It's another case of wear and tear getting the better of our squishy, human parts. If only there were a way to pop in some new memory or a fresh processor as we aged...

5. It's Not All Bad News Because You Also Get Smarter with Age

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The experiment seems simple enough: a group of people 30 and younger vs a group aged 30 and over. Both are given the same word and asked to see how many words they can make out of the letters contained in the first word. The result was surprising: the older group got DOUBLE the amount of words. The question is...why? Are they smarter because they're older? Kind of...

See ours brains are hardwired for language and knowledge in a special way that actually makes them resistant to the natural "wear and tear" I've discussed. So even though you lose your sight, hearing and other facilities as your decrepit, old carcass prepares to shuffle off this mortal coil your vocabulary to describe all of those horrible, life-ending moments increases! It also means your Grandma can probably kick your ass at crossword puzzles. YAY SCIENCE!!


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