from the world's big
10 new things we’ve learned about death
If you don't want to know anything about your death, consider this your spoiler warning.
- For centuries cultures have personified death to give this terrifying mystery a familiar face.
- Modern science has demystified death by divulging its biological processes, yet many questions remain.
- Studying death is not meant to be a morbid reminder of a cruel fate, but a way to improve the lives of the living.
Black cloak. Scythe. Skeletal grin. The Grim Reaper is the classic visage of death in Western society, but it's far from the only one. Ancient societies personified death in a myriad of ways. Greek mythology has the winged nipper Thanatos. Norse mythology the gloomy and reclusive Hel, while Hindu traditions sport the wildly ornate King Yama.
Modern science has de-personified death, pulling back its cloak to discover a complex pattern of biological and physical processes that separate the living from the dead. But with the advent of these discoveries, in some ways, death has become more alien.
1) You are conscious after death
Many of us imagine death will be like drifting to sleep. Your head gets heavy. Your eyes flutter and gently close. A final breath and then… lights out. It sounds perversely pleasant. Too bad it may not be that quick.
Dr. Sam Parnia, the director of critical care and resuscitation research at NYU Langone Medical Center, researches death and has proposed that our consciousness sticks around while we die. This is due to brainwaves firing in the cerebral cortex — the conscious, thinking part of the brain — for roughly 20 seconds after clinical death.
Studies on lab rats have shown their brains surge with activity in the moments after death, resulting in an aroused and hyper-alert state. If such states occur in humans, it may be evidence that the brain maintains a lucid consciousness during death's early stages. It may also explain how patients brought back from the brink can remember events that took place while they were technically dead.
But why study the experience of death if there's no coming back from it?
"In the same way that a group of researchers might be studying the qualitative nature of the human experience of 'love,' for instance, we're trying to understand the exact features that people experience when they go through death, because we understand that this is going to reflect the universal experience we're all going to have when we die," he told LiveScience.
2) Zombie brains are a thing (kind of)
There is life after death if you're a pig...sorta. Image source: Wikimedia Commons)
Recently at the Yale School of Medicine, researchers received 32 dead pig brains from a nearby slaughterhouse. No, it wasn't some Mafia-style intimidation tactic. They'd placed the order in the hopes of giving the brains a physiological resurrection.
The researchers connected the brains to an artificial perfusion system called BrainEx. It pumped a solution through them that mimicked blood flow, bringing oxygen and nutrients to the inert tissues.
This system revitalized the brains and kept some of their cells "alive" for as long as 36 hours postmortem. The cells consumed and metabolized sugars. The brains' immune systems even kicked back in. And some samples were even able to carry electrical signals.
Because the researchers weren't aiming for Animal Farm with Zombies, they included chemicals in the solution that prevented neural activity representative of consciousness from taking place.
Their actual goal was to design a technology that will help us study the brain and its cellular functions longer and more thoroughly. With it, we may be able to develop new treatments for brain injuries and neurodegenerative conditions.
3) Death is not the end for part of you
Researchers used zebrafish to gain insights into postmortem gene expression. Image source: ICHD / Flickr
There is life after death. No, science hasn't discovered proof of an afterlife or how much the soul weighs. But our genes keep going after our demise.
A study published in the Royal Society's Open Biology looked at gene expression in dead mice and zebrafish. The researchers were unsure if gene expression diminished gradually or stopped altogether. What they found surprised them. Over a thousand genes became more active after death. In some cases, these spiked expressions lasted for up to four days.
"We didn't anticipate that," Peter Noble, study author and microbiology professor at the University of Washington, told Newsweek. "Can you imagine, 24 hours after [time of death] you take a sample and the transcripts of the genes are actually increasing in abundance? That was a surprise."
Gene expression was shown for stress and immunity responses but also developmental genes. Noble and his co-authors suggest this shows that the body undergoes a "step-wise shutdown," meaning vertebrates die gradually and not all at once.
4) Your energy lives on
Even our genes will eventually fade, and all that we are will become clay. Do you find such oblivion disheartening? You're not alone, but you may take solace in the fact that part of you will continue on long after your death. Your energy.
According to the first law of thermodynamics, the energy that powers all life continues on and can never be destroyed. It is transformed. As comedian and physicist Aaron Freeman explains in his "Eulogy from a Physicist":
"You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got."
5) Near-death experiences may be extreme dreams
Near-death experiences come in a variety of styles. Some people float above their bodies. Some go to a supernatural realm and meet passed-on relatives. Others enjoy the classic dark-tunnel-bright-light scenario. One thing they all have in common: We don't know what's going on.
A study published in Neurology suggests near-death experiences stem from a type of sleep-wake state. It compared survivors who had near-death experiences with those who did not. The researchers found that people with near-death experiences were more likely to also undergo REM intrusions, states in which sleep intrudes upon wakeful consciousness.
"People who have near-death experiences may have an arousal system that predisposes them to REM intrusion," Kevin Nelson, professor at the University of Kentucky and the study's lead author, told the BBC.
It's worth noting that the study does have its limitations. Only 55 participants were interviewed in each group, and the results relied on anecdotal evidence. These highlight key difficulties in studying near-death experiences. Such experiences are rare and cannot be induced in a controlled setting. (Such a proposal would be a huge red flag for any ethics board.)
The result is sparse data opened to a lot of interpretation, but it is unlikely that the soul enjoys a postmortem romp. One experiment installed pictures on high shelves in 1,000 hospital rooms. These images would only be visible to people whose souls departed the body and returned.
No cardiac arrest survivor reported seeing the images. Then again, if they did manage to sever their fleshy fetters, they may have had more pressing matters to attend to.
6) Animals may mourn the dead too
Elephants form strong familial bonds, and some eye witness accounts suggest they may mourn the dead, too. Image source: Cocoparisienne / Pixabay
We're still not sure, but eye witness accounts suggest the answer may be yes.
Field researchers have witnessed elephants staying with the dead — even if the deceased is not from the same family herd. This observation led the researchers to conclude the elephants had a "generalized response" to death. Dolphins too have been seen guarding deceased members of their species. And chimpanzees maintain social routines with the dead, such as grooming.
No other species has been observed performing human-like memorial rituals, which requires abstract thought, but these events suggest animals possess a unique understanding of and response to death.
As Jason Goldman writes for BBC, "[F]or every facet of life that is unique to our species, there are hundreds that are shared with other animals. As important as it is to avoid projecting our own feelings onto animals, we also need to remember that we are, in an inescapable way, animals ourselves."
7) Who first buried the dead?
Anthropologist Donald Brown has studied human cultures and discovered hundreds of features shared by each and every one. Among them, every culture has its own way to honor and mourn the dead.
But who was the first? Humans or another hominin in our ancestral lineage? That answer is difficult because it is shrouded in the fog of our prehistorical past. However, we do have a candidate: Homo naledi.
Several fossils of this extinct hominin were discovered in a cave chamber at the Rising Star Cave system, Cradle of Humankind, South Africa. To access the chamber required a vertical climb, a few tight fits, and much crawling.
This led researchers to believe it unlikely so many individuals ended up there by accident. They also ruled out geological traps like cave-ins. Given the seemingly deliberate placement, some have concluded the chamber served as a Homo naledi graveyard. Others aren't so sure, and more evidence is needed before we can definitively answer this question.
8) Walking corpse syndrome
The medieval Danse Macabre fresco at the Holy Trinity Church in Hrastovlje, Solvenia. (Photo: Marco Almbauer/Wikimedia Commons)
For most of us, the line between life and death is stark. We are alive; therefore, we are not dead. It's a notion many take for granted, and we should be thankful we can manage it so effortlessly.
People afflicted with Cotard's syndrome don't see the divide so cleanly. This rare condition was first described by Dr. Jules Cotard in 1882 and describes people who believe they are dead, missing body parts, or have lost their soul. This nihilistic delusion manifests in a prevailing sense of hopelessness, neglect of health, and difficulty dealing with external reality.
In one case, a 53-year-old Filipino woman with Cotard's syndrome believed herself to smell like rotting fish and wished to be brought to the morgue so she could be with her kind. Thankfully, a regimen of antipsychotics and antidepressants improved her condition. Others with this debilitating mental disorder have also been known to improve with proper treatment.
9) Do hair and fingernails grow after death?
Nope. This is a myth, but one that does have a biological origin.
The reason hair and fingernails don't grow after death is because new cells can't be produced. Glucose fuels cell division, and cells require oxygen to break down glucose into cellular energy. Death puts an end to the body's ability to intake either one.
It also ends the intaking of water, leading to dehydration. As a corpse's skin desiccates, it pulls away from the fingernails (making them look longer) and retracts around the face (giving a dead man's chin a five-o'clock shadow). Anyone unlucky enough to exhume a corpse could easily mistake these changes as signs of growth.
Interestingly, postmortem hair and fingernail growth provoked lore about vampires and other creatures of the night. When our ancestors dug up fresh corpses and found hair growth and blood spots around mouths (the result of natural blood pooling), their minds naturally wandered to undeath.
Not that becoming undead is anything we need to worry about today. (Unless, of course, you donate your brain to the Yale School of Medicine.)
10) Why we die?
People who live to be 110 years old, called super-centenarians, are a rare breed. Those who live to be 120 rarer still. The longest-living human on record was Jeanne Calment, a Frenchwoman who lived an astounding 122 years.
But why do we die in the first place? Setting spiritual and existential responses aside, the simple answer is that nature is done with us after a certain point.
Success in life, evolutionarily speaking, is passing on one's genes to offspring. As such, most species die soon after their fecund days end. Salmon die soon after making their upriver trek to fertilize their eggs. For them, reproduction is a one-way trip.
Humans are a bit different. We invest heavily in our young, so we require a longer lifespan to continue parental care. But human lives outpace their fecundity by many years. This extended lifespan allows us to invest time, care, and resources in grandchildren (who share our genes). This is known as the grandmother effect.
But if grandparents are so useful, why is cap set at 100-some-odd years? Because our evolution did not invest in longevity beyond that. Nerve cells do not replicate, brains shrink, hearts weaken, and we die. If evolution needed us to hang around longer, maybe these kill switches would have been weeded out, but evolution as we know it requires death to promote adaptive life.
At this age, however, it is likely that our children may be entering their grandparent years themselves, and our genes will continue to be cared for in subsequent generations.
- Science Is Starting to Explore the Gray Zone Between Life and Death ›
- Scientists have figured out the speed of death - Big Think ›
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
New book focuses on some of the world's most peculiar borderlines.
- Borders have a simple job: separate different areas from each other.
- But they can get complicated fast, as shown by a new book.
- Here are a few of the bizarre borders it focuses on.
Simple in theory<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM4Mjk1NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTMyMzk1NX0.Qrzz1NidF-34YifuyHPPNg-cw1Fbd1_6iX6O7zGBF3Q/img.jpg?width=980" id="49560" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cdc1c568091fd1c8d52555f6ee96752b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bThe island of M\u00e4rket has a strange border dividing it into a Swedish and a Finnish half. Why? Because of a misplaced lighthouse." />
The island of Märket has a strange border dividing it into a Swedish and a Finnish half. Why? Because of a misplaced Finnish lighthouse (shown on the western half of the island).
Image reproduced by kind permission of HarperCollins<p>What separates us humans from other animals? The use of tools or language? The invention of God or music? The ability to blush? (According to Mark Twain, we're the only animal that can – or needs to). The jury is still out. For a swifter verdict, ask what separates humans from each other. Quite literally, it's borders.</p><p><span></span>Those borders can be the subtle separators of culture and class; the more tangible distinctions of race and gender; or the physical demarcations between this country and that. The job description for political borders is simple and straightforward enough: draw a line between areas with different rules (and rulers). But, as shown in a new book, those lines are not always straight and simple. </p><p>For reasons geographical, dynastic, military or otherwise, things on the ground can get quite complex quite fast. In "<a href="https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780008351779/the-atlas-of-unusual-borders-discover-intriguing-boundaries-territories-and-geographical-curiosities/" target="_blank" style="">The Atlas of Unusual Borders</a>," map enthusiast Zoran Nikolic zooms in on some of the world's most egregious examples of border weirdness. Here are a few samples from the recently published book. <br></p>
The Cypriot puzzle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM4Mjk1NS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMDg5OTYyMX0.hx59ZmkR_zenzDGZPA-M25fhu7OXBgXfSjgqba9z050/img.png?width=980" id="6dcfc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b9c4e878a7b1c682b905b4462c2b6791" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Ideally, \u200bCyprus shouldn't have any internal borders at all." />
Ideally, Cyprus shouldn't have any internal borders at all. Then, history happened.
Image reproduced by kind permission of HarperCollins<p>Cyprus is a good example of the distance between theory and practice. As an island nation, it shouldn't even have land borders. Yet the small Mediterranean country is riven with borders, establishing four different political entities.</p><p><span></span>The oldest Cypriot border only goes back to 1960, when the island gained its independence from Britain. The former colonial overlord retained two large military bases, covering a total of 3 percent of the island's territory. Today, Akrotiri and Dhekelia – strategically close to the Middle East – remain under British control. </p><p><span></span>But while Akrotiri, near the city of Limassol, is a single, contiguous lump of land, Dhekelia, the other 'Sovereign Base Area', seems designed to make life difficult for the Cypriots: a tentacle pokes through in the direction of the island's eastern shore, almost touching Varosia, a former jet set hotspot just south of Famagusta, now a dystopian no man's land. The main body of Dhekelia is dotted with numerous exclaves of Cypriot sovereignty, containing two entire villages and one power station.</p><p><span></span>Dystopian no man's land? That goes back to 1974, when Turkey invaded, to help Turkish Cypriots set up their own, internationally unrecognised state in the north of the island. The as yet unresolved nature of that conflict is symbolised by the Green Line, separating the official, Greek-majority south of the island from the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus – recognised only by Turkey itself. That Green Line is not actually a line, but a UN-administered buffer zone, wide enough to contain the island's <a href="https://www.worldabandoned.com/nicosia-airport" target="_blank">former international airport</a>, for example. </p><p>The 1974 conflict has also stranded a Turkish-Cypriot coastal town south of the line. Erenköy (in Turkish; Kokkina in Greek), in the west, is a ghost port, a small Turkish garrison its only occupants. In the east, the Green Line intersects with the already complicated borders of Dhekelia, cutting off a large part of Greek Cyprus from its 'mainland'. However, traffic with the rest of Greek Cyprus is possible via Dhekelia, ensuring a steady flow of tourists to Ayia Napa, the exclave's main resort. <br></p>
Four Corners Canada<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM4Mjk1OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxODU2NjE4MH0.F8WNdQQ30ZwOtXPld9DHo97ZHi-rhYUi3uB6X_QP2aY/img.png?width=980" id="00fee" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f020b8c05f36872ba2935c07261404f8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="'Four Corners Canada': \u200bNorth America's other quadripoint, where the Northwest Territory, Nunavut, Saskatchewan and Manitoba meet." />
'Four Corners Canada': North America's other quadripoint, where the Northwest Territory, Nunavut, Saskatchewan and Manitoba meet.
Image reproduced by kind permission of HarperCollins<p>Quadripoints, where four political entities touch in a single point, are rare. The last international one was extinguished after World War I. There is a tangle of borders in southern Africa that comes close – but misses the mark by about 300 meters. At the sub-national level, the United States has its famous Four Corners. After a serious trek through the desert, tourists arrive at what must be one of the loneliest attractions in North America: the monument to the meeting point of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. </p><p><span></span>Well, that attraction has a potential competitor far north. On April 1 1999, when Canada created the territory of Nunavut, it also created a new quadripoint, where the new territory of Nunavut meets the now reduced Northwest Territories, plus the prairie provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. '<a href="https://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Four_Corners_(Canada)" target="_blank">Four Corners Canada</a>' already has its monument: the metal marker on the (former) Northwest-Saskatchewan-Manitoba tripoint. </p><p>However, pending an official land survey, some doubt remains as to whether the legal definition of Nunavut's border actually aligns with reality. Furthermore, 'Four Corners Canada' is located 1,200 km (725 miles) north by northwest from Winnipeg, which makes it vastly more remote than 'Four Corners USA'. So it's doubtful whether North America's newest quadripoint will ever become a tourist attraction. <br></p>
Looters and poachers<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM4Mjk2MC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MzIzNjczMX0.TPcNF6wC6byuiibkEaa1Xv2ljpHG1Z3sxBgtiYr_jAQ/img.png?width=980" id="c4ada" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="605689dc8256447af08e7c4c3e129c30" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bSo small and insignificant is this Russian exclave that it is left off most maps. But don't count on Russia abandoning it." />
So small and insignificant is this Russian exclave that it is left off most maps. But don't count on Russia abandoning it.
Image reproduced by kind permission of HarperCollins<p>Russia's most famous exclave is Kaliningrad, the northern half of what used to be East Prussia. After the disintegration of the USSR and the independence of the Baltic states, it got separated from Mother Russia – yet another burden for the fledgling post-communist state. Amid the confusion and economic collapse of the early 1990s, there was even some talk of just selling it back to Germany. <a href="https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2014/03/20/if-russia-gets-crimea-should-germany-get-kaliningrad-a33194" target="_blank">No more</a>. A resurgent Russia will no longer tolerate territorial shrinkage. The <a href="https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/663-nil-crimeariver-painting-putin-pouting" target="_blank">annexation of the Crimea</a> was a symbol of the turning tide. </p><p><span></span>So don't expect Russia to give up this little exclave either. Even though, unlike Kaliningrad, it has no strategic value. Sankovo-Medvezhye is a small fragment of Russia misplaced just across its border with Belarus – 35 km east of Gomel, 530 km southwest of Moscow. The two small villages making up the exclave were abandoned after Chernobyl. The population at present is zero. </p><p>Most Russians have never even heard of this particular exclave, and it's so small that it's left off most maps. The only people remotely interested in Sankovo-Medvezhye are looters, who by now have stripped both villages of almost anything of value; and poachers, who use the exclave as a sanctuary both from the Belarus authorities, who can't go there; and the Russian ones, who don't bother. <br></p>
Hamburg-by-the-Sea<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM4Mjk2My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTMzNTgxOX0.fGzTtjTB4LRtpqY19kGjtn__KZGWSxCtSis9yhLLP_Q/img.png?width=980" id="a3fbb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f2e10c4ed7f2fb78cb707fec98fd42a1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bBremen has a coastal exclave? Then Hamburg wants one too!" />
Bremen has a coastal exclave? Then Hamburg wants one too!
Image reproduced by kind permission of HarperCollins<p>Germany is composed of 16 <em>Bundesländer</em> – federal states that typically are big enough to be a small European country on their own, like Bavaria or Brandenburg. Three, however, are Singapore-sized city-states: the capital Berlin, and the North Sea port cities of Hamburg and Bremen – the latter being smallest of all <em>Länder</em>. </p><p><span></span>Those two rival states are mirror images of each other: proud and ancient trading centers, landlocked in or between larger states, accessible to seagoing vessels via their respective rivers. Bremen has the Weser, Hamburg the Elbe. But zoom in further, as this map does, and they're even more alike. </p><p><span></span>At the 1815 Vienna Congress, Bremen obtained direct access to the sea in the shape of an exclave called Bremerhaven – big enough to be visible on most maps of Germany. (Actually, Bremen consists of three separate bits of land: Fehmoor is separated from Bremerhaven by a narrow strip of Lower Saxony. But let's not get distracted).</p><p>What's not so visible, is that Hamburg too has its own sea enclave. In fact, it has three: islands so small they usually don't appear on any map. Thinking it would need a coastal toehold to develop a deep-draft port, Hamburg acquired <a href="https://www.hamburg-tourism.de/das-ist-hamburg/stadtteile/neuwerk/" target="_blank">Neuwerk</a> (current population: 40) and its uninhabited sister island of Scharhörn after the Second World War. </p><p>Those deep-draft plans were eventually shelved, due to cost and environmental protests. A third island, Nigehörn, was created artificially to protect the bird sanctuary on Scharhörn. The three islands are still part of Hamburg, 120 km (75 miles) further up the Elbe, but they are now the anchors of a national park rather than a busy port. <br></p>
From no man's land to microstate<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM4Mjk2NS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNzczMDQxMX0.r6i3Sm4dsHlZ4fj9SjbHCQs18NSlBP0l1ohXq_z7Pt4/img.png?width=980" id="c3a97" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="142b1ed2c886bf272dee38beda8f50b4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="In a region fought over so bitterly, Siga Island presents a remarkable exception: it is claimed by neither Croatia nor Serbia." />
In a region fought over so bitterly, Siga Island presents a remarkable exception: it is claimed by neither Croatia nor Serbia.
Image reproduced by kind permission of HarperCollins<p>Never set a border in a river. The river will shift, and then you're stuck with a mess made by two lines meandering all over each other. For some prime examples, check out the U.S. states who trusted the Mississippi to provide a neat and easy demarcation between them. </p><p><span></span>It gets worse when international borders are involved, as is the case between Croatia and Serbia. Of course, that border wasn't international until Yugoslavia bloodily tore itself apart in the 1990s. Much of that border is formed by the Danube. And both countries have different opinions of how that river should be used to demarcate the border. </p><p><span></span>Right down the middle, Serbia says. Following old cadastral borders, Croatia maintains. Those cadastral borders follow a previous course of the river, which is why Croatia claims 10,000 hectares on the 'Serbian' side of the river. It also explains why Croatia doesn't claim the 2,000-hectare Siga Island on 'its' side of the Danube – an area not claimed by Serbia either.</p><p><span></span>And there you have it: terra nullius. That's legalese for No Man's Land. However, like nature, geopolitics abhors a vacuum. Rather than wait or both countries to come to a compromise, various parties have sought to lay claim to the grey zone between them, and proclaimed it to be the Free Republic of Liberland, or the Kingdom of Enclava. </p><p>How will this end? While our hearts are with the micro-nationalists trying to do something new here, attempts at secession have generally not gone down well in this part of the world. Get ready to migrate your dreams to cyberspace, Liberlanders. (<a href="https://liberland.org/en/" target="_blank">OK, check!</a>)<br></p>
Room(s) for the Resistance<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM4Mjk2OC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwOTQzOTg3N30.zivB3Dz8jm0fywQ8jlxdGceWKQnWWATDZNrmQRrfelc/img.png?width=980" id="21848" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0714f6a2d5bbf09ab14dd0a8b0e19c00" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bDuring the Second World War, Hotel Arbez could simultaneously host both German solders (on the French side) and members of the French Resistance (on the Swiss side)." />
During the Second World War, Hotel Arbez could simultaneously host both German solders (on the French side) and members of the French Resistance (on the Swiss side).
Image reproduced by kind permission of HarperCollins<p>About 30 km (20 miles) north of Geneva, La Cure is a small village slap bang on the Franco-Swiss border. Quite literally so: half the village is French, the other half Swiss. The same goes for a bunch of buildings in town: the international border runs right through it. </p><p>One of those is the Hotel Arbez, and while that curiosity might have been a selling point for some of its earlier guests – the border passes through the double bed in the honeymoon suite, for example – during the Second World War, it became a major geopolitical fault line. While France was occupied by the Germans, Switzerland stayed neutral, independent and unoccupied.</p><p>It is said that during the war, on several occasions the French side of the hotel hosted German soldiers and officers, dining on the fine fare of the hotel's kitchen; while members of the French Resistance stayed in rooms on the Swiss side. Naturally, if the Germans had caught the Resistance fighters on the 'French' side of the hotel, it would have ended in an arrest, or worse: a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2Xu6T5gIns" target="_blank">BBC comedy</a>. But as long as they stayed on the Swiss side, they were untouchable – a very practical benefit of Switzerland's famed neutrality. <span></span></p>
A republic of monks<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM4Mjk2OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMDA2NDM2Mn0.XoQaDkyZs-1Xo-cujHSeTDNF_d3v_UyipQDWpDazjPc/img.png?width=980" id="394c7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ff22c40777660427fb02397fa9bd0e47" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Athos is a monastic republic, with some peculiar rules. Only men are allowed - exceptions are made for female cats and chickens." />
Athos is a monastic republic, with some peculiar rules. Only men are allowed - exceptions are made for female cats and chickens.
Image reproduced by kind permission of HarperCollins<p>Greece is not one country, but two. The more familiar one, simply called 'Greece', is a medium-sized modern European democracy with its capital in Athens. The other is a religion-based microstate on the easternmost of the three peninsulas of Chalkidiki – the only country in the world inhabited only by men. Its name? <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mXl8C4-M_4" target="_blank">Mount Athos</a>. </p><p><span></span>Named after its highest peak, Athos is sometimes also simply called 'Holy Mountain', because of the 20 monasteries and 2,000 monks on its territory. The monks have been here since the 8th century and have survived centuries of war and occupation (not the exact same monks, obviously). The Greek constitution recognises the Monastic State as a self-governing territory of the Greek state. The governor it sends to Athos is merely an observer. </p><p>For Athos is run by a religious council, made up of one representative per monastery. It has an executive body of four members (the 'Holy Administration'), headed by a CEO (the 'protos'). The monasteries attract monks from all over the orthodox world; residence at Athos gets them automatic Greek citizenship. In order not to disturb the contemplative life of the monks, no females are allowed on Athos. This includes female animals, with two exceptions: hens (to lay eggs) and cats (to catch mice; although one suspects the mice are co-eds too). <br></p>
Where Tasmania meets Victoria<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM4Mjk3MC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyODE5MzUzNH0.7Yp1jG6Mu_s3oExba9OK1cY06LXAvIw3gwzrkscMJug/img.png?width=980" id="7956c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ad4fae249406dc801ce166f4a91f5fe" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bTasmania is Australia's only island state, yet it does share a land border with the rest of the country." />
Tasmania is Australia's only island state, yet it does share a land border with the rest of the country.
Image reproduced by kind permission of HarperCollins<p>A small island beyond the island-continent's south-eastern shore, Tasmania is Australia's afterthought; Down Under's own Down Under. It is the only state of Australia that is also an island. And yet Tasmania manages to share a land border with Victoria, the southernmost state on the Australian mainland. </p><p><span></span>It does so entirely by accident. When Tasmania's sea border with Victoria was drawn at a latitude of 39°12' South, it was thought the line crossed open water only. Upon closer inspection, however, the line did cross a tiny island, which an earlier survey had misplaced somewhat. </p><p>Too small and barren to be of any other interest, the rock, originally called North East Islet, was rechristened Boundary Islet, and its sole raison d'être now is to be a geopolitical footnote: the only land border of the island state of Tasmania, and the shortest of all land borders between Australian states: all of 85 m (93 yards). <br></p>
Asterix in the North-West Atlantic<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM4Mjk3Mi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTU1Nzk4NX0.tYI0GZmKkN_83hodOmUFSKmQWBgExbjBUPB0Oy2gRpk/img.png?width=980" id="80ecb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="92e31b6bb260da7681bcfe60ba248744" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bSt Pierre and Miquelon is the last surviving fragment of what was once the vast North American dominion of 'New France'." />
St Pierre and Miquelon is the last surviving fragment of what was once the vast North American dominion of 'New France'.
Image reproduced by kind permission of HarperCollins<p>Until the mid-18th century, it was the French who were winning North America. They controlled New Orleans in the south, Acadia in the north, and a vast, unbroken stretch of territory in between. Then the Brits kicked them out of Canada, courtesy of the French and Indian War (1754-63), and the Americans bought the remainder off Napoleon in the Louisiana Purchase (1803).</p><p>But did the French give up all their possessions in North America? No! Like Asterix's Gallic village that bravely holds out against the Roman invasion, there is one part of the formerly vast dominion of 'New France' that remains French to this day – St Pierre and Miquelon, two small islands in the North-West Atlantic, 25 km (15 miles) off the coast of Newfoundland (and 3,800 km - 2,350 miles - west of the Metropolitan France). </p><p>If it isn't weird enough to find a slice of France stuck on Canada's eastern seaboard, a look at the territory's Exclusive Economic Zone raises eyebrows even further. The EEZ is the part of the sea over which a state has special rights (without having total sovereignty). The size and shape of St Pierre and Miquelon's EEZ was long an object of dispute between Canada and France. In 1992, an international panel granted the islands the EEZ you see on this map. Extremely elongated, the 200 km (125 miles) long, 10 km (6 miles) wide zone has been compared to a key, a mushroom and (perhaps inevitably) a French <em>baguette</em>. <br></p><p>The reason given for the shape is that it would provide a corridor for French ships to have unhindered access to St Pierre and Miquelon from international waters. However, Canada later exercised its right to extend its own EEZ, stranding the baguette within Canadian waters. Game over, you might think; but only if you're not French.</p><p><br></p><p><em>Zoran Nikolic: </em><a href="https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780008351779/the-atlas-of-unusual-borders-discover-intriguing-boundaries-territories-and-geographical-curiosities/" target="_blank">The Atlas of Unusual Borders</a><em>, published by <a href="https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/" target="_blank">HarperCollins</a>. </em></p><p><span></span>Images reproduced with kind permission.</p><p><strong><span></span>Strange Maps #1033</strong></p><p><strong><span></span></strong><em>Got a strange map? Let me know at </em><a href="mailto:email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a><em>.</em></p>
The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.
- The terms 'education' and 'learning' are often used interchangeably, but there is a cultural connotation to the former that can be limiting. Education naturally links to schooling, which is only one form of learning.
- Gregg Behr, founder and co-chair of Remake Learning, believes that this small word shift opens up the possibilities in terms of how and where learning can happen. It also becomes a more inclusive practice, welcoming in a larger, more diverse group of thinkers.
- Post-COVID, the way we think about what learning looks like will inevitably change, so it's crucial to adjust and begin building the necessary support systems today.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.