STRANGE BUT TRUE- Baby face: Big head tot is no monster


Q. Baby in the house? Have you ever noticed how different her head looks from your own? –B. Spock

A. Baby's head is big for her size, and her eyes are proportionally huge, reason for the wide-eyed look, says Leslie Zebrowitz in Reading Faces: Window to the Soul?

The eyes grow very little after birth, with the face continuing to grow "into the eyes," so to speak. Baby's larger pupils may compensate for the inefficiency of the immature retinas in capturing light.

Soft, chubby cheeks are another hallmark, possibly adaptive for aiding suckling– and indeed even starving, emaciated babies have "sucking pads" in their cheeks. All this sucking tends to redden and enlarge the lips. Looking up at you, Baby also displays high eyebrows (for easier upward gazing), and a classic pug nose.

"One never sees a baby with low, bushy eyebrows, or a 'hook' nose." says Zebrowitz. Such babyish looks are believed to elicit care-taking and disarmed feelings of tenderness, protection, and love.

Q. Oh, sad! Your cat Fluffy has cancer and is dying. Couldn't you have her cryonically preserved (frozen) and hope for a cure and reanimation sometime down the road? –Morris

A.A better bet might be cloning, since cryonics has never been known to save a single soul, human or otherwise. On the other hand, sheep, cattle, goats and mice have been successfully cloned, with more on the way. Cats and dogs are under scrutiny at Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), and "we anticipate success soon," reports ACT's Robert Lanza in Scientific American. A surprising number of people are interested in cloning theirdeceased pet, hoping for Fluffy II or Rover II, since a good deal of a cat or dog's demeanor is thought to be genetically determined and therefore reproducible.

Start with a pet cloning kit that a veterinarian uses to preserve skin samples that are sent back to a lab. Living cells are best, but dead will likely work too, so long as they're not too-long dead, because DNA deteriorates. Forget "Jurassic Park," but researchers in Australia are attempting to "revive" the Tasmanian tiger (a wolf-like marsupial that died out in the 1930s). One promising pup was preserved in alcohol in 1866.

Cloning is more efficient than traditional breeding, and is obviously the only way for dead or non-reproducing pets. Another use would be for "service" pets, like seeing-eye dogs which are neutered early but turn out to do great work. Going by the physiology, says Lanza, cat cloning will be here sooner than dog cloning– tomorrow, 200_?

Q. Does the heart really stop briefly during a sneeze? Is this the origin of "God bless you"? –M. Damon

A. A sneeze is physiologically fascinating but no threat to the heart. Almost anything that tickles the brain's "sneeze center" can bring one on, including eating too much, shivering, eyebrow plucking, hair pulling, sexual excitement. Even a sudden burst of bright sunlight can be a trigger, for the estimated 1/3 who are "photic sneezers."

Sneezing may, of course, signal infection or illness, and it was at the height of the plague in 6th century Italy that Pope Gregory the Great initiated the custom of saying "Godbless you!" or– if the sneezer was alone– "God help me!" says Charles Panati in Extraordinary Origins of EverydayThings. As these post-sneeze supplications spread throughout Europe along with the plague itself, another expression captured the seriousness: "Not to be sneezed at."

Q. Imagine at 11am a single bacterium enters a bottle, then divides into 2 bacteria by 11:01, 4 by 11:02, 8 by 11:03, and so on. Suppose the bottle is full by noon. That's 2 to the 60th power bacteria– a colossal number! The colony overwhelms its resources and is doomed. Now figure: if the bottle was full at noon, when was it half full? –L. Pasteur

A. Because it took an hour to fill the bottle, many people guess it took half the time– till 11:30– to half fill it, says Jeffrey Bennett in Using and Understanding Mathematics. But do you see the fallacy? In fact the bacteria doubled from 11:59 to 12:00, so the bottle was half full at 11:59. That was just a minute before the disaster!

Question 2: Now further imagine at 11:59 some math-savvy bacteria see the problem and start a space program, sending out bacterial ships in search of new bottles. They discover 3 new bottles, and away go migrants to fill these 3. "Given that the bacteria now have 4 bottles rather than just one, how much time have they gained for their civilization?"

Answer 2: Not much, because if they fill one bottle at noon, they fill 2 bottles by 12:01, all 4 by 12:02. "The discovery of 3 new bottles gives them only 2 additional minutes." (A parable on exponential growth in the world, from Albert A. Bartlett.)
Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com,#