5 Basic Things You Won't Believe Science Can't Explain

In school you learned all about a few basic concepts that prepared you for a lifetime of barely understanding the simplest things in this complicated world. It wasn't much, but it's all you have. And we're about to take that away from you. Don't think we're condescending. It turns out we don't understand a goddamn thing anymore either, and frankly, we are sick of it. Time to rage-quit this whole thinking business and get back to hitting things we don't understand with sticks. First up on the old stick-list is ...

(For all the experts know, gravity might as well be created by a Viking physics-god. Read our De-Textbook to find out why and own a sweet cartoon of said Asgardian.)

#5. Water Is the Weirdest Substance on Earth

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What You Were Taught

It's the most basic and abundant compound you can think of, making up most of the world's surface and your body. Surely we've got water, if nothing else, pinned down.

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We're especially good at turning it into pee.

But Really ...

Water doesn't behave like any other chemical. We've discussed before the various ways that you can make water do magic, and these things are possible only because water is a maverick that plays by its own rules. It would likely wear a sexy leather jacket, if we could get the bastard to stay in form long enough.

For example, a very simple principle of matter is that a liquid fills less volume when it freezes into a solid. That's because the molecules are closer together, which is why it gets hard (although strangely, ladies, if we get closer together and something gets hard, the volume only goes up). But water, unlike anything else, actually expands when it freezes, as you'll know if you've ever had a beer explode in the freezer after forgetting about it. This is why ice cubes float -- unlike any other substance, the frozen version is lighter and less dense than the liquid version.

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Much to the Titanic's dismay.

Why? Nobody knows. It's been a mystery to science ever since Science first graduated from Science School. There are complicated theories, but none of them are a slam dunk. In fact, despite the fact that water is the most ubiquitous substance, we know embarrassingly little about it. Why is ice slippery? Fuck if science knows that one either.

That's not where water's mysteries end, either. For some reason, hot water freezes faster than cold water. That is to say, if you take a glass of hot water and a glass of cold water and put them both in the freezer at the same time, the hot water will turn to ice before the cold water does. It's called the Mpemba effect, because it was discovered by a Tanzanian high school student named Erasto Mpemba in 1969. Actually, it was first discovered by Aristotle, but that guy was getting all the glory anyway, and Mpemba really needed a win.

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Plus, Aristotle was notorious for making shit up.

Again, the reason for this is completely unknown. We're just going to have to assume that water is some kind of sorcery and hope that the warlocks in charge of it are not angered by the fact that we poop in their magic every day.

#4. Time Is Relative and May Not Even Exist

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What You Were Taught

Things you did are in the past, things you're going to do are in the future, things you're doing right now are currently happening no matter how hard you wish you could return that stolen cop car, and, barring the misuse of a DeLorean, we're all moving along in one direction at the same speed.

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Old. We're all moving in the direction of old.

But Really ...

When physicists are doing their eggheady equations about the nature of reality, they don't factor time into it. Why? Because time doesn't matter to them. Equations work just the same if time goes forward, backward, or sideways. In fact, as far as physics is concerned, time is pretty much an illusion.

Of course, it's hard to say that time is an illusion if we all experience it the same, but here's the kicker: We don't. According to Einstein, we experience time at relative speeds. By infinitesimal amounts, someone who is sitting down is actually aging more slowly than someone who is running a marathon. It's not just a thought experiment with no real-world consequence -- GPS satellites have to account for time relativity to work properly, because time is literally moving more slowly on the satellite than it is on Earth. That means that scientists working on the International Space Station return to Earth younger than their colleagues on the ground, because time moves more quickly on Earth than it does in space. It's an almost immeasurably small amount, of course, but that doesn't stop them from being smug about it at your 40th birthday party, does it?

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You can at least remind them of how fat they were.

Then there's the fact that nobody really knows why time seems to move in only one direction to us, because as far as physics is concerned, the "arrow of time" is irrelevant to studying physical processes -- math doesn't need time (math got aaalll the time in the world for you, baby). In that sense, the fact that we can remember the past but not the future seems to be entirely arbitrary. Scientists have spent a lot of brainpower trying to figure out why that is, but they're only human, abstract concepts are pretty difficult, the new PlayStation looks awesome, and we haven't made much progress on this whole time thing. You don't need a scientist to understand how that formula works.

#3. Plants Can Communicate and Do Complex Arithmetic

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What You Were Taught

Plants are at the bottom of the food chain for a reason. Having no brains or feelings or ability to move or sense of humor, they fit the definition of "organism" only on a most basic level. You're just ... you're fuckin' dumb, plants. There, we said it. God, it feels so good to just get that out there, you know?

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We pee on you.

But Really ...

What if we told you that plants are better at arithmetic than you are? Or ... better than we are, at least. Researchers at the John Innes Centre in Norwich recently discovered that plants have an innate ability to calculate mathematical equations. They do this in order to figure out how much starch they have in reserve overnight -- because plants generate food for themselves only in sunlight. They take stock every evening to make sure they have enough food to last the night and adjust their rations accordingly.

Of course, they still don't have brains, so they're not doing this consciously. Don't worry, the plants aren't plotting against you -- or at least they're not very good at it, and you will likely escape. But it doesn't change the fact that their cells are like tiny calculators with an impressive degree of sophistication. You could probably even spell boobs on them, if you flipped the leaf upside down. We, uh ... we don't have much use for calculators, ourselves.

At least not until we hire someone named "Debbie."

And although plants may not have a language, that doesn't mean that they don't communicate. You know the fragrant aroma of freshly cut grass? Perhaps the chief indicator that tells you summer has finally arrived? That sweet, nostalgic scent that warms your soul? That's actually wounded grass screaming for help. You are rejoicing at the torturous screeches of another living creature, you sick bastard. See, plants don't communicate through sounds, but smells. And although they don't have a nervous system in the same way that we do, they do have a rudimentary nerve structure that allows them to feel a kind of pain. That fresh grass smell is your lawn warning the neighbor's lawn that there's a madman with some kind of medieval torture device slashing into it. It's telling all the other grass in the area to run, for god's sake, leave it -- it's already dead -- but save yourselves! LIVE!

The great tragedy, of course, is that grass is not very good at running.

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