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The human race has scaled the tallest mountains, charted the deepest oceans and played a quick front nine on the freaking moon, but there's one frontier that still largely mystifies us: our own bodies.

There are everyday phenomenons you'd think must have been explained ages ago, but in reality asking these simple questions of a scientist will net you at best a shrug, and at worst some bullshit he just made up off the top of his head.

6
Yawning

The act of yawning is baffling to experts for two reasons. One, it doesn't actually seem to serve any purpose. Seriously, when you feel a yawn coming on, suppress it. What happens? Do you go into convulsions? Is your face racked by pain? Does blood shoot from your nose? No. Not a damned thing happens.

Equally baffling, though, is the contagious nature of it. Yawn, and whoever sees you will yawn. When a chimpanzee yawns, the other chimps yawn. If you yawn, you can make a dog yawn. Seriously, try it.


Odds are you've yawned once just because you read the word "yawn" several times above. Why?

Science's Wild-Ass Guess:

Your science textbook in elementary school may have said that low oxygen levels in the blood triggered yawning, with the yawn providing a quick influx of the gas. That was the prevailing theory going back to the days of ancient Greece. As is usually the case though, it turns out people from back in the day didn't know what the hell they were talking about. In fact it's been found yawning may actually decrease oxygen intake. Makes sense, when you do hard exercise you don't start frantically yawning. You don't see athletes yawning in the middle of a sprint.

Unfortunately, the alternatives are quite a bit more insane.

Such as the theory that yawning is the body's way of controlling brain temperature. Yeah, apparently scientists think our brains function with all the complexity of an old car engine. And you know how you're always yawning when you wear a hat, right? Right?

The proof of this was experiments in which it was found people with cool packs attached to their heads yawned less. Unless there could be some other reason people sitting in an unfamiliar lab with ice packs on their heads weren't much in a yawning mood...

As for why yawning is contagious, some scientists have pointed to human being's primitive herd instincts, figuring group yawning could have helped regulate sleeping patterns so that a "whoops, we all fell asleep at once and got eaten by giant sloths" situation didn't develop.

This remains merely a theory though, and of course still doesn't explain why people yawn while on their own.

5
Adolescence

Hey teenagers, need something else to add to your angst pile? Turns out these awkward times you're going through are far from universal in the animal kingdom. It's only humans Mother Nature decided to kick in the nuts, cursing to an opposite sex-repelling bubble of greasy clumsiness.

What evolutionary sense does it make for guys to be confined to their parents' basements smearing Clearasil on their face during their prime sexual years?


Yeah, a tie, that'll do it.

Scientists can't even agree when exactly the adolescent phase evolved. Some believe teenagers were awkward balls of nerves and nose grease as early as the Homo erectus era over a million years ago, while others think it's a much more recent development. Until they find a Homo erectus skeleton holding a fossilized iPod filled with My Chemical Romance songs, we may never know for sure.

Science's Wild-Ass Guess:

Some scientists argue that guys' half-decade of dorkdom is designed to force them develop traits chicks dig, like a sense of humor, artistic talent and conversational skills. Honestly though this theory sounds like the wishful thinking of scientists who don't want to face the ugly truth that their memorization of the periodic table and every Battlestar Galactica episode won't be getting them in any girl's pants ever.

Plus, it's hard to buy from an evolutionary perspective. Are we seriously to believe that all the guys who didn't have awkward teen years somehow got bred out of the population? Where we went to high school, while the clumsy awkward teens were trying to discover our charming adult personalities, the cool teens were busy having sex with one another. After a few thousand years of that, shouldn't evolution dictate that we all turn into Sean Connery on our 13th birthday?

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4
Placebo Effect

It's obvious why some placebos work. A guy says he's feeling nauseous, you give him a sugar pill and tell him it'll cure it. He stops worrying about his stomach, thus the stomach calms down. The "herbal Viagra" industry and products like ExtenZe can enhance sexual performance by making the man think he has taken something that will enhance his sexual performance. It's easy to imagine how it works.

But the placebo effect goes way, way beyond that.

Completely imaginary drugs have been found to help everything from warts, to heart disease, to asthma. Doctors have even gone so far as to conduct sham knee surgeries that were almost as effective as the real thing.


"Fake knee surgeries, what a terrific use of my medical degree."

What the hell?

Science's Wild-Ass Guess:

First, there's debate over whether the placebo effect is even real at all, with some believing that most recoveries attributed to the effect can be explained by the body's natural healing abilities (as in, the patients would have gotten better even if they hadn't seen a doctor at all).

On one level, that's actually pretty disturbing. Keep in mind, some studies show placebos work as well as actual medical techniques in up to 50 to 60 percent of cases. Yes, it's possible 50 to 60 percent of what the trillion dollar medical industry does could be achieved by staying home, resting and watching daytime TV. Try not to think about that one too much or you may end up on YouTube screaming something at a town hall meeting.

Others have even hypothesized the placebo effect may just be us unconsciously ignoring or repressing symptoms so we please our doctors. Meaning, the patient was still in pain, but was fed up with sitting in the waiting room for an hour every week so finally said, "fuck it." Tell the doc you're all better and get him to sign a note for you to return to work.


"I did it? Hell yeah. I rule at doctoring."

None of those explain everything, including the extremely weird fact that the phenomenon has become more and more powerful in recent years.

Again we ask, what the hell?

3
Dreaming

Even though human beings are obsessed with dissecting and interpreting dreams ("I was giving Gary Busey a backrub while riding a flying armadillo." "Ah, this means you are feeling anxiety about your career.") we really know very little about what causes them or what purpose they serve.

Science's Wild-Ass Guess:

The old Freudian theory was that dreams were expressions of our unconscious desires, but none of the cool psychologists still follow Freud these days. Besides, if Freud was right far too many people have a sick fetish for being forced to take pop quizzes in their underwear.


ALL MY DREAMS ARE COMING TRUE!

Others have suggested dreaming is a way for our brain to formulate new ideas through the use of "random thought mutations" (one of you New Age musicians out there, you can have that album title for free).

Another theory states that dreaming is our brain tidying itself up and disposing of useless "junk thoughts." In order to buy this idea, though, you have to accept that the average guy's dreams about tits and being Batman are junk, and we're sure you agree that's simply unacceptable.


Dreams are windows to the soul, people.

Of course both of these seem awfully high-minded when you consider that animals also dream. Does your dog really have excess thoughts he has to get out of his overloaded doggy brain?

Perhaps weirdest of all is the mounting evidence that much of what influences our dreams comes from outside, not inside, our heads. Noises and scents may have an effect on the content of our dreams, and we bet your wacky tealeaf reading, dream-interpreting aunt didn't take into account the Earth's geomagnetic activity during her analysis.

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2
Blushing

Darwin considered blushing the "most peculiar" of human expressions, and had a hell of a time trying to explain why people would evolve such an obvious tell for when we're lying or feel vulnerable, considering our lives and relationships are all built on a precarious foundation or half-lies, unspoken truths and outright bullshit.

More than a century later, we still don't understand blushing any better than Darwin did.

Science's Wild-Ass Guess:

One idea is that blushing developed as a way of appeasing and submitting to dominant members of society. This doesn't make a whole lot of sense though as everyone blushes, dominant personality or not, and the whole process is involuntary anyway. Relying on something that you can't control to please the tribe leader back in primitive times seems like a good way to get yourself tossed in the volcano.


Yep, you're adorable. Still, though. To the volcano.

Others have gone the complete opposite direction, positing that blushing is not a sign of submission, but one of anger. We're all narcissists at heart and when somebody publicly shows us up or embarrasses us, blushing is basically us sending them an involuntary screw-you. We can see why some would like this theory, since it makes someone who blushes and mumbles their way through all their social interactions sound like a badass.

Some scientists, noting that women blush more than guys, have suggested that blushing developed specifically so they could prove they were honest and submissive towards men. We're sure feminists love that one.


"I just questioned a man! Curse my wicked mouth!"

Though that's quite a bit better than the Neo-Nazi theory that blushing only happens in white people, thus proving they are the only true humans created by God. Did you consider that, Darwin?

1
Pubic Hair

Anyone who's caught themselves an eyeful of flapping chimpanzee dong at the zoo can attest to the difference between humans and our ape cousins when it comes to body hair distribution. Most apes have furry bodies and their monkey junk flies free, while humans take the exact opposite approach, sporting mostly naked bodies with the exception of impressive bushes.


Calm down, it was an afro.

Why are our naughty bits surrounded with hair that attracts lice, bacteria and makes most pornos filmed before 1980 nearly unwatchable today?

Science's Wild-Ass Guess:

Traditionally the idea has been that pubic hair was for warmth and protection from dirt and debris, which makes a fair amount of sense for women, but zero for men who have the actual important bits dangling mostly hairless in the breeze.

A more modern theory is that pubes are meant to capture pheromone-laden sweat, although some question the appeal of musty crotch smell. Some argue it developed as a sexual ornament for attracting mates, like a sad, kind of gross equivalent of a peacock displaying its tail. Others believe the exact opposite; that having less pubic hair is an evolutionary advantage. Certainly most cultures throughout history (with a few exceptions, like those weirdos in Japan) haven't really prized the stuff.

Hell, there was even an old hypothesis that says--and get ready to cringe here--our short and curlies exist to give babies something to grab and hold onto. Are you picturing it? Come on! Picture it! Couple of dudes, talking casually near their cave, each with a newborn clinging to their bush.

Any of you new parents out there, grab your infant and try this, see if his evolutionary instincts will kick in and make him grab onto your carpet. Report your results in the comments!




Nathan Birch also writes the fur filled comic Zoology

Do you have something funny to say about a random topic? You could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow. Go here and find out how to create a Topic Page.

For body conundrums that we do have the answers to, check out Sleep Jerk to Piss Shivers: 5 Body Mysteries Explained. Or check out the explanations behind sexual myths, in 6 Sex Myths as Explained by Science.

And stop by our Top Picks to see Gladstone and Brockway yawning at each other. Just, yawning.

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