No lie! Trust heart, not detector

 DRAWING BY DEBORAH DERR McCLINTOCK

Q. Rich guy starts doubting his wife's faithfulness and fears for his money. "She loves me, she loves me not...." Tormented, he gets her to agree to take a lie detector (polygraph) test. Now can he be sure? –Othello

 A. Old tale tells of a king worried over his son's listlessness and inexplicable swoons, says University of New Brunswick Saint John psychophysiologist Michael Bradley. A physician took the young man's pulse and had the father's wife (the stepmother) enter the room. The tumultuous rhythm of the young man's heart was clue to a diagnosis of love.

We've all used similar methods, such as the blush or other manifestations. But it's a big leap to conclude love.

The polygraph will betray "arousal," but signifying what? The wife in question might be asked about someone she once loved and show a reaction, but this could signal anything from lingering affection to annoyance at being asked. Escalate to an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), and under questioning, she might display a brainstorm of activity. But there's no way to tell if these hot memories are for a long-ago lover, or something cooking anew.

Or her EEG brain waves might light up like a valentine marquee, but she could just say, "Sure I reacted, because the thought of him repels me," explains Bradley.

Passion, intimacy, commitment– and trust. The need is to trust one another, not put trust in machines.

Q. Generations of baseball players, from Little League on up, have been told, "Keep your eye on the ball," and generations have ignored the advice. Why? –G. Triandos

 A. Because seeing the ball all the way to the plate is impossible, say engineering profs Robert Watts and Terry Bahill in Keep Your Eye on the Ball. The reason has to do with the rapidly shifting eye angles to the approaching ball, forcing faster and faster refocusings until it disappears in a blur. Major league players lose clear sight of a fastball about five feet in front of the plate, but even a slow-pitch softball "disappears" close up.

Many batters will insist they can see the ball hit the bat, but when asked what the ball looks like at impact, they'll say, "a ball." They're clearly missing it, say Watts and Bahill, because the ball gets squashed in instantaneously by nearly an inch!

Q. See if you can de-bug Zeno's famous Paradox, now 25 centuries old: Achilles runs 10 times as fast as a tortoise, which has a 10-meter head start in a race. While Achilles covers this 10 meters, the tortoise advances 1 meter. While Achilles covers this 1 meter, the tortoise advances another .1 meter, etc. Every time Achilles catches up to where the tortoise was, the tortoise has moved ahead. Ergo, Achilles, though faster, can never catch up. –J. Arieti

A. This defied analysis until the 1600s, when Scottish mathematician James Gregory demonstrated "converging series" in which an infinite number of terms add up to a finite sum, says Isaac Asimov's Book of Facts. Here the tortoise's 1 meter plus .1 meter plus .01 meter etc. converges to the sum of 1.11111111... = 1 1/9 meters. That's exactly how far the slowpoke will get before he's passed up.

Q. Do seeing-eye dogs have 20/20 vision? –M. Magoo

A. Dogs typically have only 20/75 vision, but German Shepherds and Labradors in guide dog programs are bred for keener eyesight and probably come closer to 20/20, says Ralph Hamor, veterinary ophthalmologist at the University of Illinois. Still, like other dogs, they're color blind, unable to distinguish among green, yellow, orange, and red. At a traffic light, they must draw from on-signal position, traffic noise, and flow to determine if it's a "go."

Yet the same wide set of canine eyes that weakens acuity enhances peripheral vision, so a dog can see both up and down the street while looking straight ahead.

Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at

strangetrue@compuserve.com

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