STRANGE BUT TRUE- Fool yourself: Love the one you're with


DRAWING BY DEBORAH DERR McCLINTOCK

Q. Among all lovers, who generally are rated as above average in appearance, intelligence, warmth, and sense of humor, as well as being open-minded, outgoing and confident– i.e., total "winners"? Conversely, who gets tagged as below average in the same categories, not to mention closed-minded, unstable and disagreeable? –G. Casanova

A. The latter are likely our past lovers compared with our current flames, as revealed in surveys by social psychologist Glenn Geher and researcher Faby Gagne, says New Scientist. But these findings must represent distorted perceptions, Geher notes, because "It can't be the case that the 300 people we studied all happened to now be with ideal mating prospects, while all their 300 prior partners were duds."

Yet this self-delusion probably serves a critical purpose: people who dump hardest on their past lovers tend to be the ones happiest with their current partners, says Geher. Adds Gagne, eulogizing the current mate's qualities heightens at "crunch time," such as when deciding whether to have kids.

To UVA-based anthropologist Helen Fisher, dopamine and other brain chemicals seal the deal as positives associated with adoration kick in, even as that part of the brain associated with fear and anger settles down. Those who maintain amour's illusions about their spouses report being more happily married, says Fisher. "In this case, self-deception is one of nature's gifts," she says.

Q. First it was made of silk, then nylon, then Gore-Tex, three million miles of it bought annually in the U.S. alone but not nearly enough, with about a third of us lying about using it. Some unorthodox applications include as shoelaces, cheesecake cutters, kite or ukulele strings, picture hangers, fishing lines. One guy even used it to cut through a wire fence, another to saw through steel bars, a third to braid a rope for scaling a wall. You've probably got some in your bathroom, don't you? –D.J. Bickers

A. Your dentist certainly hopes so. Dental floss, introduced in 1882, is underused for its recommended purpose but "overused" in novel ways, including the ones above from prison archives of attempted inmate escapes. BTW, when floss gets flushed down the toilet (as it often does), it can gum up municipal sewer systems, report American Heritage and University of California Berkeley Wellness Letter.

Q. What was the very first microwaved food? –G. Electric

A. Did you guess a candy bar? It was 1945, and scientist Percy Lebaron Spencer was visiting a magnetron testing laboratory. When he leaned over an operating magnetron (generator of microwaves), the candy in his shirt pocket melted. Immediately recognizing what had happened, he soon had popcorn popping in the lab and even cooked an egg until it exploded, says UVA physicist Louis Bloomfield in How Everything Works: Making Physics Out of the Ordinary. "Cooking has never been the same since," he says.

You can think of an operating microwave as akin to a crowded party where everyone is suddenly told to face the front of the room. People brush against each other as they turn, and the sliding friction creates thermal energy. Now if everyone were told to turn back and forth repeatedly, things would get hotter and hotter. That's basically the way with foods' polar water molecules in a microwave, which twist back and forth billions of times per second in the fluctuating electric field, bumping and bumping. 

Q. Is there anything to the old saying that if you die in a dream, you'll die in your sleep? –S. Freud

 A. There are many forms of death in dreams, and the dreamers live to tell about it the next day, says Dr. Antonio Zadra, of the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory, Montreal Sacre-Coeur Hospital.

There are even attempted suicides in dreams. Some lucid dreamers, who become aware they're in the midst of a dream, have experimented with killing themselves to see what would happen. "As far as I know, none succeeded. What is frequently reported is that something goes wrong," says Zadra. For example, one person tried to shoot himself in the head, but the gun would fire only if it was pointed away. Another tried to jump off a cliff but ended up floating down safely.

 "But I'd also like to add that if you happen to be dreaming when you really die, I would venture to say that you'll die in your dream as well," Zadra adds.

 Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com.

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