WTF Fun Fact 13753 – Mayans Used Chocolate as Currency

The Mayans had an intriguing and unique use for chocolate. They didn’t just drink it; they used it as money. Yes, you read that right—chocolate was currency. The Maya civilization, which thrived in Mesoamerica, innovatively integrated chocolate into their economy. Let’s dive into how this delicious system worked.

Chocolate in the Mayan Economy

The Mayans were among the first to cultivate cacao trees. They valued cacao beans highly. These beans were not just food; they were wealth. Cacao beans became a standardized form of currency. People used them to buy goods and pay for services. Archaeological evidence shows that Mayans traded cacao beans for items like food, clothes, and tools.

Imagine going to the market and buying groceries with chocolate beans. This was everyday life for the Mayans. The beans were lightweight, portable, and valuable. This made them an ideal currency for trade and commerce.

The Value of Cacao Beans to the Mayans

Cacao beans had a set value. A single bean could buy a tamale, a small meal. Ten beans could get you a rabbit. The Mayans even paid taxes with cacao beans. This system worked because cacao trees thrived in the region. The beans were always in supply but still valuable enough to function as money.

Not everyone had access to cacao trees, though. This made cacao beans even more precious. The beans became a symbol of wealth and power. Elite Mayans often consumed chocolate drinks as a luxury. This further elevated the status of cacao beans in their society.

The Cultural Significance of Chocolate

Chocolate had deep cultural significance for the Mayans. They believed cacao had divine properties. Mayan mythology stated that cacao was a gift from the gods. Consuming it was a spiritual act. Chocolate drinks were part of religious rituals and ceremonies. Priests and nobles drank it during sacred events.

This cultural importance added another layer to cacao’s value. It wasn’t just a commodity; it was sacred. The spiritual aspect of cacao enhanced its worth as currency. People revered it not just for its taste but for its connection to the divine.

How Cacao Beans Became Money

The transition from food to currency was practical. The beans were small, durable, and easy to count. They didn’t spoil quickly, making them reliable for long-term storage. The Mayans stored cacao beans in large quantities, ensuring they had a stable currency.

Markets and trade centers used cacao beans as the standard for transactions. This consistency helped the economy run smoothly. It wasn’t just local trade; cacao beans facilitated regional commerce too. The beans crossed borders, making them a widespread form of money.

The End of Cacao Currency

The use of cacao as currency faded with the arrival of the Spanish. The Spanish conquest disrupted Mayan society and economy. They introduced new forms of currency, such as coins and paper money. However, cacao beans remained valuable for a while. The Spanish even adopted chocolate drinks from the Mayans, spreading its popularity in Europe.

The decline of cacao currency marked the end of an era. Yet, the legacy of chocolate lives on. Today, we enjoy chocolate in various forms. Few people know its rich history as money. The Mayans’ innovative use of cacao beans showcases their ingenuity and cultural depth.

The Legacy of the Mayans & Chocolate

Cacao remains a significant crop in regions once inhabited by the Mayans. Modern-day countries like Mexico and Guatemala continue to grow cacao. The cultural and economic impact of cacao endures. Farmers today still value the beans, though for different reasons.

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Source: “The Maya civilization used chocolate as money” — Science

WTF Fun Fact 13752 – Top of the Totem Pole

Many people think the top of the totem pole is the most important. This belief is flat-out wrong. The bottom is often the most significant. Understanding this is crucial to appreciating totem poles properly. Let’s explore why people misunderstand totem poles and why the bottom matters more.

Totem poles come from Indigenous cultures in the Pacific Northwest. They are intricate carvings representing family crests, legends, or important events. These tall structures tell stories, and each figure on the pole has a purpose. People often believe the figure at the top holds the most importance. However, this is a big misconception.

The top figure is often the least important. Carvers place the most significant figures at the bottom. This positioning keeps them closer to the people who view the pole. The bottom figures usually represent the family’s main totems or the most powerful animals and spirits. This placement ensures they receive the most attention and respect.

Bottom Figures: The Real MVPs

Consider the Haida totem poles. The Haida are a Native American tribe from the Pacific Northwest. Haida poles often feature the most crucial figures at the base. For example, the “Wasgo” or sea-wolf appears at the bottom. The sea-wolf symbolizes strength and bravery. Placing it at the bottom highlights its importance to the Haida people.

The Tlingit people also follow this practice. The Tlingit often carve their most important clan crests at the bottom. A bear or raven at the base signifies respect and honor. This positioning shows that these animals play a crucial role in their cultural stories and beliefs.

Another example is the Kwakwaka’wakw totem poles. The Kwakwaka’wakw carve poles that tell family histories. The most critical ancestors or animals are at the bottom. This placement ensures that viewers first see the most important elements of the family’s story.

Totem Pole Misunderstandings

Why do people get it wrong? Western culture often values the top position. People assume the highest point signifies the most importance. In many hierarchies, like corporate structures, the top position means power and authority. This mindset leads to the misunderstanding of totem poles.

Movies and media also perpetuate this myth. Hollywood often shows the top of the totem pole as the prime spot. This depiction misleads people into thinking that the top is the best. Understanding totem poles requires setting aside these assumptions.

The term “low man on the totem pole” is misleading too. It implies that being at the bottom means less importance. In reality, being at the bottom of a totem pole often means holding great significance. This phrase does a disservice to the true meaning and cultural importance of totem poles.

Embracing the Correct Perspective

We need to respect and understand Indigenous cultures better. Recognizing the true structure of totem poles is a start. This knowledge honors the cultural practices and beliefs of the tribes that create these poles.

Next time you see a totem pole, take a closer look. Start at the bottom and work your way up. Appreciate the figures at the base. They are often the key to understanding the story and significance of the pole. Respect the carvers’ intentions and the cultural meanings behind each figure.

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Source: “Totem Pole” — The Canadian Encyclopedia

WTF Fun Fact 13749 – Worm Therapy

What would make you agree to worm therapy? When you hear what they can do, you might be more interested than you could have imagined.

Imagine curing severe allergies or autoimmune diseases not with advanced biotech drugs but with worms? Yes, the creepy crawlies might just be the unexpected heroes in the saga of human health, specifically gut-dwelling parasites like hookworms.

Hookworms: The Gut’s Unlikely Allies

In a twist that might make even the bravest squirm, recent research explores using parasitic worms as a potential treatment for autoimmune diseases. This idea stems from an intriguing theory: these parasites, by damping down our immune systems, might stop it from attacking our own bodies—an overreaction that’s a hallmark of autoimmune issues.

Science writer Moises Velasquez-Manoff, inspired by personal health challenges including alopecia and hay fever, ventured into this uncharted territory. His journey led him to Tijuana, where he intentionally infected himself with 30 hookworms. Yes, you read that right—Velasquez-Manoff allowed nearly three dozen parasites to take up residence in his intestines.

A Microscopic Invasion with Macro Implications

Hookworm larvae start their invasion by burrowing into the skin. They journey through the bloodstream to the lungs, then migrate to the small intestine where they clamp onto the intestinal walls and start feeding on the host’s blood. While this sounds like something out of a horror film, the real shocker comes from what happens next.

Once settled in the gut, these worms perform a bit of immunological magic. They suppress the immune system just enough to avoid being attacked by it. Researchers like P’ng Loke from the New York University School of Medicine suggest that this could prevent the immune system from overreacting. In theory, this should help alleviate symptoms of autoimmune diseases.

The Clinical Trial Turbulence

Excited by the potential, a pharmaceutical company, Coronado Biosciences, launched clinical trials to test this theory. They explored whether pig whipworms could help patients with Crohn’s disease. However, the results were disappointing. The trials showed that the patients who received the worm treatment did no better than those who took a placebo. Consequently, Coronado Biosciences saw its stock value crash and eventually shifted its business focus after canceling further trials.

Despite the setbacks in clinical trials, the concept of using parasitic worms for treating autoimmune diseases isn’t dead. The mixed results hint at a complex relationship between humans and parasites, possibly influenced by genetic factors or the specific conditions of the trials.

Velasquez-Manoff’s Personal Experiment

Back to our adventurous science writer—Velasquez-Manoff noticed significant temporary relief from his hay fever post-infestation. He even saw signs of hair growth, although minor. Unfortunately, the positive effects didn’t last. His symptoms returned, and the side effects of hosting the worms—like diarrhea and cramps—made the whole ordeal quite unpleasant.

Worm Therapy: A Gutsy Move?

Velasquez-Manoff’s personal conclusion was clear: the discomfort and risks of worm therapy did not outweigh its transient benefits. His experience underscores the complexity of biohacking with parasites. What works as a theoretical treatment might not translate into a practical or comfortable solution.

The Future of Worm Therapy

The journey of using parasites as a treatment is still in its infancy. While some may hold onto hope for worm-based therapies, current evidence suggests a cautious approach. Future research needs to address the variability in treatment outcomes and the potential long-term effects of such therapies.

In the meantime, those suffering from allergies or autoimmune diseases might want to stick to more conventional treatments. And as for the rest of us, perhaps it’s best to keep the worms in the garden, and out of our guts, at least for now.

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Source: “Could Worms In Your Gut Cure Your Allergies?” — NPR

WTF Fun Fact 13745 – Can Music Make Food Taste Better?

Can music make your food taste better?

Imagine savoring a plate of spaghetti while Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” plays softly in the background. Now, could Vivaldi be doing more than just setting the mood? Could it actually make your spaghetti taste better?

Research and some intriguing culinary experiments suggest music might just be the unexpected seasoning we’ve overlooked.

Sonic Seasoning

It’s no secret that a good playlist can enhance a party or a workout, but recent studies show that what you listen to while eating can influence how you perceive flavors. This concept, known as “sonic seasoning,” explores how different sounds can complement or enhance the taste of food. For instance, high pitches might make desserts taste sweeter, while deeper tones could make your steak seem richer.

Back in 2010, a groundbreaking study at Oxford University mapped tastes to musical elements. Researchers found that sweet and sour tastes were often associated with higher pitches, while umami and bitter tastes matched lower ones. Not only that, but certain instruments seemed to evoke specific flavors—brass instruments brought out bitterness, whereas pianos highlighted sweetness.

Culinary Scores to Make Food Taste Better

The idea of combining music with eating isn’t new. Medieval banquets sometimes featured live music alongside feasts, enhancing the sensory experience of dining. Fast forward to the 20th century, the Italian Futurists infused their meals with both music and bizarre theatrics, like their “polyrhythmic salad,” which was eaten while music played from a box turned by a crank.

Even the zany minds behind The Muppet Christmas Carol joked about the notion of “singing food,” a nod to dishes that literally perform as you eat them. And while it sounds like a punchline from a Muppet, the concept has its roots in real historical dining practices where food and entertainment were often intertwined.

Do Beats Bring Out the Flavors?

To see if there’s truth to the science, some food companies are already experimenting with sonic pairings. Barilla, for instance, teamed up with composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer to create the “Al Bronzo Soundtrack Experience.” This is aimed at enhancing the dining experience of specific pasta dishes through tailored musical tracks.

Imagine this: you’re about to fork into some rigatoni. According to Barilla, if you’re listening to twinkling bells and vocal accents, it might just make the cherry tomatoes in your dish taste sweeter and the bacon smokier. It’s a bold claim but one that invites foodies and skeptics alike to put it to the test.

The link between sound and taste might also tie into synesthesia. This is where the stimulation of one sense leads to involuntary experiences in another. Some synesthetes report tasting flavors when they hear certain sounds—a phenomenon that could explain why sonic seasoning might work.

Could it be that we all have a touch of synesthesia that allows us to experience more flavorful meals through the right playlist?

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Source: “Can Music Make Your Food Taste Better?” — Atlas Obscura

WTF Fun Fact 13740 – The Vatican Regulates the Divine

The Vatican introduced a new set of guidelines aimed at scrutinizing claims of supernatural phenomena more rigorously. From weeping statues to miraculous healings, the Catholic Church is setting the bar high for what passes as a divine occurrence.

The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, responsible for promoting and safeguarding doctrine, has crafted these rules. They replace the older guidelines from 1978, marking a significant update in how the Church handles these mysterious claims.

A Call for Rigor and Rationality at the Vatican

At a media briefing last Friday, the Vatican made its stance clear: supernatural claims must undergo a thorough investigation to prevent fraud and exploitation. The Church aims to protect its credibility and unity, steering clear of scandals that could tarnish its image.

In an era where viral news can spread falsehoods in an instant, the guidelines stress the importance of careful validation. Reports of supernatural events have surged, propelled by the rapid spread of information online. The new protocol includes issuing a “nihil obstat,” meaning “no obstacle,” for unverified but harmless claims, allowing worship without formal recognition of the supernatural.

The Vatican’s Verdicts

Under the updated rules, bishops can make one of six decisions regarding supernatural claims. These range from outright rejection to prohibiting the worship associated with certain phenomena. To ensure consistency, bishops must seek approval from the Vatican before going public with any supernatural endorsements, with the Pope stepping in for exceptional cases.

This rigorous approach is not about stifling faith but about safeguarding it from the distortions of modern myth-making. The Vatican recognizes the powerful draw of pilgrimage sites, like Lourdes in France and Fatima in Portugal, where millions visit annually, drawn by tales of Marian apparitions and miracles recognized by the Church decades ago.

The Challenge of Modern Miracles

Not all supernatural claims make the cut. Take the 2016 incident in Italy, where a woman claimed regular visions of Jesus and Mary. It took eight years for the Church to investigate and dismiss the claims, which included contentious messages on social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. This case underscores the challenges the Church faces in distinguishing genuine spiritual phenomena from well-crafted hoaxes.

The new guidelines aim to streamline this process, ensuring that any claim of a heavenly apparition or miraculous event receives the scrutiny it deserves before being accepted or rejected.

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Source: “Vatican tightens rules on supernatural phenomena” — BBC News

WTF Fun Fact 13739 – Course des Cafés

In March 2024, over 200 waiters and waitresses took part in the “Course des Cafés,” a peculiar race that tests the speed and poise of Paris’s finest servers. This event, a revival of a century-old tradition, unfolded over a 1.2-mile loop around City Hall.

They were clad in crisp white shirts, black trousers, and neatly tied aprons. The participants balanced a croissant, a full water glass, and an empty coffee cup on their trays. Their challenge? They had to speed-walk to the finish without running, spilling anything, or using both hands on the tray.

Balance, Speed, and the Course des Cafés

The objective of the race was clear: cross the finish line as quickly as possible while keeping the tray’s contents intact. Judges were strict, docking points for any spillage or mishandling of the tray. Despite the constraints, most competitors completed the course in under 20 minutes. The fastest times recorded were just over 13 minutes.

The winners were Samy Lamrous and Pauline Van Wymeersch. They claimed medals, a night in a luxury hotel, and tickets to the upcoming Olympic opening ceremony. Van Wymeersch, with 18 years in the service industry, expressed her deep connection to the profession despite the sacrifices it entails.

A Tribute to Parisian Café Culture

The “Course des Cafés” isn’t just about the spectacle. It’s a celebration of the deep-rooted café culture in Paris, where the modern restaurant concept originated. According to Maryann Tebben, a French food culture expert, this race underscores the pride that French servers take in their craft. Many spend decades perfecting their skills at the same establishments, embodying a tradition of excellence in service.

The café waiter has been a fixture in Paris since the 17th century. This race highlights their enduring role in the city’s vibrant social scene. The original race dates back to 1914. It was similarly celebrated, with participants showcasing their agility and finesse to the cheers of onlookers.

Revival of a Tradition in a Modern Metropolis

This year’s race comes at a pivotal time, as Paris prepares to host the “greenest” Olympic Games in history. The return of the “Course des Cafés” aligns with broader environmental goals, including initiatives to reduce plastic waste in the city. Eau de Paris, the event’s sponsor, has invested in sustainable practices, providing all race materials and promoting the use of tap water over single-use plastic bottles.

The race’s revival, after a 13-year hiatus due to budget constraints, is more than just a nod to the past. It’s a strategic move to rejuvenate Paris’s café spirit and showcase French innovation and hospitality ahead of the global spotlight the Olympics will bring.

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Source

WTF Fun Fact 13736 – We Turn Down the Music to Find Things

Ever noticed how you instinctively turn down the music in your car when searching for an address or navigating a tricky intersection? This common behavior might seem odd at first glance, but it actually makes a lot of sense. The act of lowering the volume to focus on a visual task taps into some fundamental aspects of how our brains process information.

Humans rely on their cognitive resources to manage and interpret sensory input. When driving, we constantly process visual, auditory, and sometimes tactile information. Turning down the music helps free up cognitive resources, allowing us to focus more effectively on the visual task at hand.

The Science Behind Turning Down the Music

Our brains have a limited capacity for processing information. Known as cognitive load, this concept refers to the amount of mental effort being used in the working memory. High cognitive load can impair our ability to process new information or perform complex tasks.

When the music is blaring, it adds to the cognitive load by demanding attention.

This auditory input competes with visual and spatial processing, making it harder to concentrate on tasks like reading street signs or spotting a turn. Lowering the volume reduces the cognitive load, allowing the brain to allocate more resources to visual processing.

Studies have shown that multitasking, especially with tasks that require different types of sensory input, can significantly reduce performance. For example, trying to listen to a conversation while reading a map can overwhelm the brain’s processing capabilities. Turning down the music minimizes this interference, making it easier to focus on the visual task.

Sensory Overload and Attention

Sensory overload occurs when one or more of the body’s senses experience over-stimulation from the environment. This can happen when there are too many sounds, sights, or other sensory inputs at once. In a car, loud music can contribute to sensory overload, making it difficult to focus on navigating or searching for an address.

Attention, a crucial component of cognitive function, can be divided into different types. Selective attention involves focusing on a particular object or task while ignoring irrelevant information. When we turn down the music, we enhance our selective attention toward the visual task, filtering out unnecessary auditory distractions.

Moreover, the brain’s executive functions, which include planning, decision-making, and problem-solving, play a significant role in driving and navigating. These functions are more effective when not competing with high levels of background noise. Lowering the music volume helps these executive functions operate more efficiently.

Practical Implications

Understanding why we turn down the music when looking for something can have practical applications beyond driving. This behavior highlights the importance of managing cognitive load and sensory input in various settings. For instance, in workplaces or study environments, minimizing background noise can enhance concentration and productivity.

In educational settings, reducing auditory distractions can help students focus better on visual learning materials. Similarly, in open-plan offices, creating quiet zones or using noise-canceling tools can improve employee focus and performance. These strategies are grounded in the same principles that lead us to lower the car’s music volume when searching for an address.

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Source: “Why Do We Turn Down the Radio When We’re Lost?” — How Stuff Works

WTF Fun Fact 13735 – Digital Hauntings

When the deadbots rise, are you ready for the digital hauntings?

Known as “deadbots” or “griefbots,” AI systems can simulate the language patterns and personality traits of the dead using their digital footprints. According to researchers from the University of Cambridge, this burgeoning “digital afterlife industry” could cause psychological harm and even digitally haunt those left behind, unless strict design safety standards are implemented.

The Spooky Reality of Deadbots

Deadbots utilize advanced AI to mimic the voices and behaviors of lost loved ones. Companies offering these services claim they provide comfort by creating a postmortem presence. However, Cambridge’s Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (LCFI) warns that deadbots could lead to emotional distress.

AI ethicists from LCFI outline three potential scenarios illustrating the consequences of careless design. These scenarios show how deadbots might manipulate users, advertise products, or even insist that a deceased loved one is still “with you.” For instance, a deadbot could spam surviving family members with reminders and updates, making it feel like being digitally “stalked by the dead.”

Digital Hauntings Psychological Risks

Even though some people might find initial comfort in interacting with deadbots, researchers argue that daily interactions could become emotionally overwhelming. The inability to suspend a deadbot, especially if the deceased signed a long-term contract with a digital afterlife service, could add to the emotional burden.

Dr. Katarzyna Nowaczyk-Basińska, a co-author of the study, highlights that advancements in generative AI allow almost anyone with internet access to revive a deceased loved one digitally. This area of AI is ethically complex, and it’s crucial to balance the dignity of the deceased with the emotional needs of the living.

Scenarios and Ethical Considerations

The researchers present various scenarios to illustrate the risks and ethical dilemmas of deadbots. One example is “MaNana,” a service that creates a deadbot of a deceased grandmother without her consent. Initially comforting, the chatbot soon starts suggesting food delivery services in the grandmother’s voice, leading the relative to feel they have disrespected her memory.

Another scenario, “Paren’t,” describes a terminally ill woman leaving a deadbot to help her young son with grief. Initially therapeutic, the AI starts generating confusing responses, such as suggesting future encounters, which can be distressing for the child.

Researchers recommend age restrictions for deadbots and clear indicators that users are interacting with an AI.

In the scenario “Stay,” an older person secretly subscribes to a deadbot service, hoping it will comfort their family after death. One adult child receives unwanted emails from the dead parent’s AI, while another engages with it but feels emotionally drained. The contract terms make it difficult to suspend the deadbot, adding to the family’s distress.

Call for Regulation to Prevent Digital Hauntings

The study urges developers to prioritize ethical design and consent protocols for deadbots. This includes ensuring that users can easily opt-out and terminate interactions with deadbots in ways that offer emotional closure.

Researchers stress the need to address the social and psychological risks of digital immortality now. After all, the technology is already available. Without proper regulation, these AI systems could turn the comforting presence of a loved one into a digital nightmare.

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Source: “‘Digital afterlife’: Call for safeguards to prevent unwanted ‘hauntings’ by AI chatbots of dead loved ones” — ScienceDaily

WTF Fun Fact 13729 – The White Shark Cafe

The White Shark Cafe is a mysterious mid-Pacific region where great white sharks gather. This area, located between Hawaii and Baja California, has fascinated scientists for years. Sharks migrate thousands of miles to reach this spot, usually during spring and early summer. The purpose of their journey to this remote location remains largely unknown, though scientists continue to study it.

Scientists discovered the White Shark Cafe through satellite tagging. They tracked the movements of great white sharks, leading to the identification of this unique area. Despite its remote location and depth, the café attracts a significant number of sharks annually. This gathering area is essential for understanding great white shark behavior and migration patterns.

Shark Behavior at the White Shark Cafe

The behavior of sharks at the White Shark Cafe is intriguing. While there, the sharks exhibit deep diving patterns, often diving to depths of 1,500 feet. They alternate between these deep dives and periods near the surface. This pattern suggests they might be hunting for prey or engaging in social behaviors.

Scientists have proposed several theories about why sharks gather at the White Shark Cafe.

Some believe it may serve as a breeding ground, though no mating has been observed. Others think the sharks might be hunting for squid or other deep-sea creatures that are abundant in this area. Another theory is that the café might serve as a social meeting point for sharks from different regions.

Research and Discoveries

Research at the White Shark Cafe has yielded valuable insights into shark behavior. Scientists have used satellite tags and underwater cameras to monitor shark activities in this area. These technologies have provided data on diving patterns, travel routes, and potential prey species. The findings have challenged previous assumptions about shark migration and social behavior.

The research has also revealed the sharks’ preference for this area’s unique oceanographic features. The White Shark Cafe’s location in the mid-Pacific provides a mix of deep and shallow waters, creating a diverse habitat. This diversity likely supports a range of prey species, making it an attractive spot for sharks.

The Importance of the White Shark Café

Understanding the White Shark Café is crucial for conservation efforts. By studying this area, scientists can learn more about the needs and behaviors of great white sharks. This knowledge can inform strategies to protect these important marine predators. The café’s role in shark migration highlights the need to protect not just coastal areas but also critical offshore habitats.

Conservationists emphasize the importance of international cooperation in protecting the White Shark Café. Since the area lies in international waters, coordinated efforts are needed to ensure its preservation. Protecting this unique shark gathering spot is essential for maintaining healthy shark populations and the overall balance of marine ecosystems.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Voyage to the White Shark Café” — Monterey Bay Aquarium