Think about it! Your brain does it all



Q. It has been electrically probed, electroshocked, gouged out with an icepick, fed alcohol and a pharmacopeia of other drugs for fun and effect, honored with a decade dedicated to it, likened to the multi-leveled, multifaceted workings of a state-of-the-future art computer, lectured on, extracted, dissected, pickled in alcohol, weighed and weighed again. It encompasses the most complex "gadgetry" known to exist anywhere in the universe yet is ignored by most of us most of the time. What is this most marvelous something that you are right now using to such a good end? –J. Jane

A. Right, brainy you got this one easy, the human brain being hard to fool or foil for very long. Luckily the prefrontal icepick lobotomies are now just history, though done until quite recently, even by an enterprising guy named Walter Freeman who drove around in a "lobotomobile" and performed the cortex-damaging operation on the cheap and on the fly and without surgical license. It's a shame what the precious brain has led a few people to do with theirs!


Q. How many whisperers whispering all at once would it take to equal the sound of one jet plane? –A. Librarian

A. A while ago a sound-meter was placed at courtside during a Knicks vs. Bulls basketball game, and registered a rollicking 113 decibels with Michael Jordan's introduction. A reporter characterized the crowd noise this way: "A whisper is 20 decibels, a jet plane at 120 decibels is about 6 times louder than that."

But decibels don't add up that way. They go by multiples of 10 instead: Ten 20-decibel whisperers equal 30 decibels, 100 whisperers equal 40 decibels, 1,000 whisperers equal 50 decibels, etc. Now, extending the string of zeros, you can see it would take 10 billion (10,000,000,000) whisperers, a whole world's worth and more somehow jammed together in one arena, to rival the noise of that jet plane!


Q. In the dating system where 4/4 is April 4, 6/6 is June 6, and so on, what is the likelihood that for any given year 4/4, 6/6, 8/8, 10/10 and 12/12 all fall on the same day of the week? –A. Lilius

A. A common knee-jerk response to this one is "about 1 in 5," due to there being five seemingly disconnected dates, says Alfred Posamentier in Math Charmers. But wrong! The probability is actually 1– a certainty. A closer look will reveal that the above dates are all exactly 9 weeks apart, putting them all on Monday for '05, Tuesday for '06, etc.


Q. Are "Blue Mondays" aptly named? –V. Cabas

A. It seems so. People not only report being least happy and highest in anxiety on these back-to-work days but also Mondays have the highest rates for suicide and cardiac arrest, says human development professor Joel Hektner of North Dakota State University. Other weekdays tend to be a little better until really picking up on Fridays as anticipation builds toward summit Saturdays– tops in overall happiness, activation and excitement– and Sundays– tops in relaxation and contentment! Then the Monday blues return.

Interestingly, Sunday mornings can be the lowest time for people who live by themselves and do not attend church, because with no routine to attend to, they are unable to decide what to do, says psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Generally, by around noon some small decision has been made–"I'll visit the kids" or "I'll watch the baseball game"–and a sense of purpose returns.


Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at