Random fact roundup, March 11th—18th, 2018!

What do Finland, bacon, and basketball have in common? They're all part of our new series, the Random Fact Roundup.

It's Sunday, and you know what that means! Actually, you don't, because this is the first time we're doing this. Welcome to Big Think's inaugural random fact roundup, where we take 3 subjects and give you some great facts about each. 

First up...


— There are 2.2 million saunas in Finland, which averages to 1 sauna for every 2.5 Finnish people. It's not unheard of for Finnish men to conduct informal business meetings within a sauna, sometimes seeing who can withstand the heat the longest. 

— Finland celebrates an annual "Day of Failure" every year on October 13th. While this sounds pretty depressing, the point of doing so is to accentuate that one must appreciate failure to truly understand success. Pretty poetic, huh?

— Finnish speeding tickets vary according to income. Reima Kuisla, a Finnish businessman, was fined about $60,000 for going 64mph in a 50mph zone outside of Helsinki. 

— Finland has the highest coffee consumption in Europe. On average, a Finnish citizen drinks twice as much coffee as an Italian, and three times more than an American. 

— Finland is home to the World Wife Carrying Championship. Yes, you read that right. A man carries his wife (or his neighbor's wife, per the rules) down a track with one water obstacle. The sport is called "Eukonkanto" there, and the official track length is about 850ft, or 2.5 football fields. The still-standing world record is 55.5 seconds. 


— Basketball was invented by a bored gym teacher, James Naismith, in 1891. He wanted to keep his class occupied on a rainy day. As a kid, he'd played a game called "duck on a rock" where you tried to knock a rock off a tree stump by throwing smaller rocks at it. Most players just threw the rocks straight, but Naismith found that lobbing the rock up and over — like how basketball players still shoot today — give him a much higher chance of winning. He nailed a peach basket to a post to create the first hoop, and the game was born. 

— Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has scored 38,327 points in his career. That's 24 points a game. 

— On March 2nd, 1962, Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game. 

— The shortest player in NBA history was Muggsy Bogues, who was 5ft 3in. 

— Basketball got a big overhaul in the 1950's. The shot clock was introduced in 1953, which sped up the game and made it perfect for the new medium of TV. Dribbling rules were also introduced. Before that, players could stop and hold the ball and even take a few steps while holding it. 


— Bacon grease was used for explosives during WW2. Rendered bacon fat is used to make glycerin, which is an ingredient in explosives (nitroglycerin, etc). 

— The average American eats about 18lbs of bacon a year. 

— Oscar Meyer made two apps about bacon: a bacon dating app called Sizzlr, and an alarm clock app that woke you up to the smell of bacon via a phone attachment. Sadly, neither are around today. 

— A 250lb pig makes about 12lbs of bacon. 

— There's a (real) church — the United Church of Bacon — that worships bacon. In 2014, it had about 13,000 members worldwide. 

— The phrase "bringing home the bacon" was actually coined in 1104 in the town of Dunmow, UK, after a couple apparently impressed the clergy at a local church so much that they awarded the couple, who it is said had not fought for a year and a day, with a side of bacon. Don't believe us? Author Geoffrey Chaucer even mentions it in The Wife of Bath's Tale and Prologue, published in 1395: "But never for us the flitch of bacon though, that some may win in Essex at Dunmow."


And there you have it. See you next week! 

Big Think Edge
  • The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
  • Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
  • Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.

To boost your self-esteem, write about chapters of your life

If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.

Personal Growth

In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
  • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
  • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
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