It looked promising at first. “Do You Know Why…?” The eternal question of philosophers and scientists.
Why does your hair turn gray? (Pigment cells die in the follicle.) Why do your feet fall asleep? (Compressed nerves.) Why hiccups? (Diaphragm irritated.)
You could ask more “why” questions about each of these answers, but that would be half the fun, right? The writers picked interesting topics, and maybe a budding doctor or nurse had their imagination sparked over breakfast.
But then you see “Why do you get goosebumps?”
Paraphrasing their chickentsh*t explanation: Each hair on your body is surrounded by a tiny muscle. When you feel cold, these muscles tighten to help hold in your body heat. The tightened muscles make little bumps.
Even a medium-smart kid might feel justified in asking “why would tightening muscles around tiny hairs help hold in body heat?” All the other factoids on the box are about real actual effects of physical causes. We may not be sure why pigment cells die, but they surely do, and hair surely turns gray.
But do goosebumps, or the underlying cause of goosebumps, actually achieve the stated effect of making us feel warmer? No, they do not. A medium-smart child might be forgiven for thinking this is a piss-poor scientific explanation of anything.
A slightly smarter-than-medium-smart kid might then notice the phrase “…that also make your body hair stand on end.” What would this remind her of? Yes: being frightened.
So where this breakfast lesson leaves us, is with:
- A malfunctioning fact about something that is supposed to keep us warm, but doesn’t; and
- An unspoken connection with “fear,” something completely different from “cold,” but which inexplicably triggers an identical physiological response.
Ah, how much more elegant, complete – nay, exquisite! – does the lesson become if the writer deigns to hint that human children are related by common descent to other, hairier, mammals.
For to a hairier mammal, both responses vitally affect survival. If cold, the hairs of the coat stand on end, producing a thicker insulating bulk, and trapping more warm air near the skin. If frightened, the hairs of the coat stand on end, giving the animal a larger, more imposing silhouette, more likely to warn off an aggressor.
One phenomenon, utterly useless in humans, fully explained in light of evolution as a remnant of two fascinating mammalian adaptations.
Pass the milk.
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