Slurp city: Rats don't suck it up

Q. If humans drank like rats, how would things be different at a bar? ­Mrs. Frisby

 A. They'd have to turn up the music to drown out the slurping as patrons would be seen lifting their glasses, sticking out their tongues and drinking via "rapid licking" (like a dog). Humans are "suction drinkers," says Cornell psychologist and neurobiologist Bruce Halpern, able to hold liquids in their mouths several seconds before swallowing or spitting out. They can also vomit away their mistakes, whereas a drunk rat would be stuck with whatever hooch went down the hatch.

Q. Why do dogs make such great pets? ­I. Pavlov

 A. Tens of thousands of years ago, wild dogswolves, really– hung out around campsites, feeding on scraps and barking out warning of approaching strangers in return, says Guy Murchie in The Seven Mysteries of Life. Later "domesticated" dogs joined humans in the hunt, serving as finders, retrievers, protectors, and companions. Today, by the tens of millions, we two species live under the same roof– warp and woof!

Fundamentally, our mental make-ups mesh. As wolf-descendants, dogs are pack animals with complicated social patterns, facial signalings, and a strong hierarchy of dominance and submission, says Juliet Clutton-Brock in A Natural History of Domesticated Mammals. Adopt a dog and you become pack "leader."

Out of the complex give-and-take of underdog living with topdogs there grows an empathy so close that a puppy in a smile-a-lot family "will actually mimic this expression by a sideways grin of the lips and muscles around the mouth."

Now hundreds of generations of selective breeding for puppylike features such as tractability, floppy ears, and play, while screening out fear of strangers and unfamiliar situations, have remade dogs closer to our heart's desire– or desires, as 400-800 different breeds attest. "No wonder dogs seem so perfectly matched to humanity's requirements and so perfectly adapted to our lives," says Stanley Coren in The Intelligence of Dogs. "We created them to be so."

 

Q. A man buys two self-winding watches (battery-less), one for his wife and one for his daughter. His wife's watch works fine on her right wrist but stops on her left. Wife and daughter switch watches, and again the wife's left wrist stops the watch. Solve this neuroscience mystery. ­O. Stewart

 A. Three years later the wife developed shaking in her watch-stopping arm, along with rigidity and slowness of movement– early signs of Parkinson's disease, reported the New England Journal of Medicine. Probably the watch was not receiving sufficient fluid movement as required for rewinding, the doctors analyzed, and research is now under way to see if a similar worn device might serve as early diagnosis of the disease.

Q. I have often wondered how far back in time one could travel and eat the food and not get sick. For example, a church picnic in 1870, a buffalo kill on the plains, a medieval feast featuring pigeon pie and fish head soup!? ­ J. Child

A. The only thing you would have to fear would be microorganisms to which you were unaccustomed. That's the same thing to worry about when you go to the next country or town. Except in times and places where everyone suffered chronically from intestinal parasites, you would quickly adapt.

"By the way," says Lynn F. Hoffman, anthropologist and scholar in residence in food and culture at Drexel University, Philadelphia, "buffalo and squab (pigeon pie) are on the menus of the best restaurants." Lynn Martin of Australia's Adelaide University notes, "Fish head soup– or at least a soup that uses fish heads– is the famous bouillabaisse of Marseille. I recommend it."

Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at

strangetrue@compuserve.com.