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Garth SundemRSS Feed of this column.

Garth Sundem is a Science, Math and general Geek Culture writer, TED speaker, and author of books including Brain Trust: 93 Top Scientists Dish the Lab-Tested Secrets of Surfing, Dating, Dieting... Read More »

For many hundreds of years, people in Eastern Europe have treated epileptic seizures with the quick administration of shoe smell. This smell (and specifically this smell) has the power to arrest the seizure, or so says the folk wisdom.

Fact or fiction?
Imagine you wanted to predict when sheep would chew. (Don't ask why...just imagine.) Here's how you would do it: attach speakers to the tops of sheep heads to broadcast chewing sounds. Collect chewing sounds and their times in a massive database. Feed these data into a neural net, which would recognize input (times) and output (chewing or not chewing) and eventually learn to predict when one leads to the other.

This is what neural nets do: they predict the future by quantifying the past.
Yesterday I posted the highly insightful and scientifically bullet proof (wink-wink, nod-nod) Robin Hood Morality Quiz—you shoulda ranked Robin, Maid Marion, Little John and the good sheriff of Nottingham from most-to-least moral. Check the chart below to see how disturbed you are. Percentages are of total respondents.

•  RH, LJ, MM, SN: A moralist with conventional ideas. Old fashioned. 5% total.
•  RH, LJ, SN, MM: Massively puritanical. Women conspire against men. 2% total.
•  RH, MM, LJ, SN: Your philosophy is a confused mix of romanticism and moralism. 4% total.
Read the following story and then rank Robin, Maid Marion, the sheriff of Nottingham and Little John from most to least moral (I'll post interpretation instructions tomorrow):

The sheriff of Nottingham has finally caught Robin Hood and Little John! Instead of killing them immediately, he makes the mistake of all storybook villains in simply stashing them in the dungeon. Despite their track record of heroics, there the two benevolent outlaws rot--until Maid Marion shows up pleading her love for Robin and begging for his release. Sure, says the sheriff, if Marion will sleep with him.
If you're thirsty and you drink, your brain feels pleasure. You feel this same pleasure, borne of satisfying a physical need, when someone you envy is brought low. We call this feeling schadenfreude, but researchers at the National Institute of Radiology in Japan call it dopamine release in the ventral striatum.
I've been a blog slacker and for that I deserve a spanking. My vote is from the capable hands of the UCLA women's volleyball team. But that's another story. Here's the real story: country music kills.

I've long known that country music makes me want to grab a lariat and hang myself from the nearest old elm tree. And now I find I'm not alone: social psychologists Steven Stack and Jim Grundlach found that the more a city's radio stations play country music, the higher the white suicide rate(1).