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Austria like you’ve never seen it before
And after these 10 surprising maps, the Alpine republic will never look the same again.
- Austria has an almost-exclave, connected to the motherland via a single dot on a mountaintop.
- Habsburgs were so fancy, they were buried in three different locations across Vienna.
- These and other absurd and obscure facts about Austria are the subject of a highly entertaining Twitter account.
Picture-perfect: Schloss Schönbühel. But there's more to Austria than just being pretty.
Image: Uaoei1, CC BY-SA 4.0
Unless you're into skiing, double monarchies or "The Sound of Music," you probably don't give Austria much thought. Yet everybody's second-favorite Alpine republic is a locus of many weird and wonderful facts.
If you don't believe us, check out these infographics produced by @austrianmaps. Here are ten things you'll now never again be able to un-know about Austria.
Stuck in the middle
Image: Austrian Maps
Austria is far from anywhere. Or, comfortably in the middle of everywhere. Which of these two truths rings truer depends on the elasticity of your travel wants (or needs). As this map shows, the Austrian capital Vienna (that's that circular thingy in the top right-hand corner) is almost perfectly equidistant between the two megacities book-ending Europe in the northwest and southeast.
Other maps show Austria just as snugly halfway between Madrid and Moscow (if you're into city trips); and Ibiza and Crimea (if you're more of a beach person).
Image: Austrian Maps
In its mission statement on Twitter, Austrian Maps promises "maps of Austria from moderately interesting to plain terrible." In order to set the bar at the appropriate height, we get Austria's version of the 'Indiana/Outdiana' map.
Don't let this put you off, though: Innsbruck is a lovely city (go check out the Golden Roof, completed in 1500) and close to the Alps (take the funicular Hungerburgbahn from the city centre straight up into the mountains).
Left to right hand traffic
Image: Austrian Maps
A few centuries ago, which side of the road you drove on was political. That's because Napoleon, the great equaliser, introduced right-hand traffic wherever he went. Which may explain why his arch enemies, the Brits, so obstinately clung to the other side of the road. The Austrians weren't too keen on him either, so when he left, they went back to… chaos: right-hand traffic here, left-hand traffic there.
- In 1915, Austria-Hungary generalised left-hand traffic, but protests led to the reintroduction of right-hand traffic in Vorarlberg in 1921. Which was not that much of a bother, because at the time, this state was only connected to the rest of Austria via two mountain passes.
- Following a general pact across Europe in 1927 to go with right-hand traffic, the rest of Austria switched back as well, but not immediately and not all at once, because the states couldn't agree on a unified timetable.
- On 2 April 1930, the west of the country (up to the city of Lend) switched from left to right. Carinthia and Eastern Tyrol made the switch on 15 July 1935.
- Following Austria's annexation by Nazi Germany, on 1 July 1938 the German traffic code came into effect, imposing right-hand traffic.
- Except in Vienna and surrounding areas, where left-hand traffic remained in force until 19 September 1938.
Image: Austrian Maps
Jungholz is an Austrian town, but it's surrounded on all sides by Germany. Does that make it an exclave? It would, if it didn't touch the rest of Austria at a single point – the summit of Mount Sorgschrofen, where four borderlines meet: two German, two Austrian.
Which means Jungholz is a pene-exclave (i.e. an 'almost-exclave', just like a peninsula is an 'almost-island'). Nevertheless, because it can only be reached via German territory, it is cut off from direct access to the rest of Austria, and thus is a 'practical exclave'.
Because of this, the town has been economically aligned with its Bavarian (and later German) neighbors, but those differences have been mostly subsumed within the European Union. It still maintains both a German and an Austrian post code, though.
Ve meet again, Mr Bond!
Image: Austrian Maps
If you're a picturesque enough country, James Bond will come race your city centers to bits, killing any number of Her Majesty's foes and scaring the locals witless. Austria is a particular favorite – visited by no less than four iterations of secret agent 007:
- George Lazenby ("On Her Majesty's Secret Service"),
- Roger Moore ("The Spy Who Loved Me"),
- Timothy Dalton ("The Living Daylights") and
- Daniel Craig ("Spectre," "A Quantum of Solace").
And there's plenty more places to blow up in Austria, the map helpfully suggests. If we were scouting for locations for the next Bond (m/f), the dam at Kaprun and the nuclear plant at Zwentendorf would be on the top of our list, too.
World cities bigger than Austria
Image: Austrian Maps
Austria may be a proper country with a flag and a president and all the other trappings of modern statehood, but it's rather keenly aware of its own diminutiveness. That certainly has to do with the fact that it was once the senior partner in a much grander nation: the Austro-Hungarian Empire, one of Europe's major powers until its demise following World War I.
With a certain masochism (named after Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, an Austrian), this map points out cities around the world – many not even capital cities – that have a larger population than Austria, which has 9 million inhabitants.
Between the mountains and the fields
Image: Austrian Maps
Austria's national anthem is the last melody written by Mozart before he died. That was the official story, but it turns out it's too good to be true: the masonic hymn was probably penned by one of Mozart's fellow lodgers.
The lyrics, of much later origin, describe Austria as "Land der Berge, Land am Strome, Land der Äcker, Land der Dome" ('Land of mountains, land by the river Donau, land of fields, land of cathedral domes').
What does that cover? Quite a lot, as this map shows, but not all of Austria, not by far. But then, "land of bits in between" doesn't quite have that anthemic ring to it.
Having a ball
Image: Austrian Maps
They're not quite on any Unesco world heritage list just yet, but Vienna's balls really should be. If not because they're a spectacular, centuries-old tradition replete with elaborate dresses, genteel manners and shedloads of classical music, then because they are both completely out of place in the modern world – and a wonderful escape from it.
Each winter season, the Hofburg Palace, Vienna's Rathaus (City Hall), the Vienna State Opera and other locations across town are filled with so many dancing debutantes and scheming socialites that you may be forgiven to think the Kaiser is still sitting on his throne.
In all, Vienna counts around 400 annual balls, many hosted by professional guilds, like the academic association, the medical profession or even the real estate sector. As the map shows, even some states have their own ball: Upper and Lower Austria, Tyrol, Styria and Vorarlberg, and… Moscow.
Of course, Moscow is not an Austrian state. Although there are plenty of moneyed Muscovites who wouldn't mind. Not all of Russia's bling gravitates to London. There's plenty to go around, and some of it likes to dress up and dance. And when that happens, it's not that hard to imagine that it's 1815 again, Vienna is the world's largest congregation of diplomats (there to hammer out the Treaty of Vienna), and there's still a Tsar on the throne in Moscow.
Egg-cellence in maps
Image: Austrian Maps
Q: How much fun can mapmakers have? A: As much as their imagination allows. Case in point: this Easter-themed map (hence the bleating lamb) comparing the egg-shapedness of Austria's various states.
Vienna is the state most overlapping with an egg of the same size (0.905), Elongated Burgenland (a.k.a. Austria's Chile) is the least egg-like state (0.521).
And what does this teach us? That it can be fun to follow the data, even if it leads you into a blind alley, where you get robbed of your seriousness. Sometimes, a good laugh is worth taking one on the chin.
Not that kind of church organ
Image: Austrian Maps
There are still emperors in Vienna, but they're all dead and buried. However, just going on the number of burial sites, you could think there are three times as many of the dead blighters as there actually were in real life.
That is because, lugubriously, emperors and other Habsburg royals were traditionally buried in three pieces: their bodies in the Capuchin Crypt, minus their hearts (which went to the Loreto Chapel) and also sans their inner organs (which were preserved – if that's the right word - at St Stephen's Cathedral).
All maps reproduced with kind permission. For more Austrian map madness, check out Austrian Maps on Twitter.
Strange Maps #1029
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Some evidence attributes a certain neurological phenomenon to a near death experience.
Time of death is considered when a person has gone into cardiac arrest. This is the cessation of the electrical impulse that drive the heartbeat. As a result, the heart locks up. The moment the heart stops is considered time of death. But does death overtake our mind immediately afterward or does it slowly creep in?
Some scientists have studied near death experiences (NDEs) to try to gain insights into how death overcomes the brain. What they've found is remarkable, a surge of electricity enters the brain moments before brain death. One 2013 study out of the University of Michigan, which examined electrical signals inside the heads of rats, found they entered a hyper-alert state just before death.
Scientists are beginning to think an NDE is caused by reduced blood flow, coupled with abnormal electrical behavior inside the brain. So the stereotypical tunnel of white light might derive from a surge in neural activity. Dr. Sam Parnia is the director of critical care and resuscitation research, at NYU Langone School of Medicine, in New York City. He and colleagues are investigating exactly how the brain dies.
Our cerebral cortex is likely active 2–20 seconds after cardiac arrest. Credit: Getty Images.
In previous work, he's conducted animal studies looking at the moments before and after death. He's also investigated near death experiences. “Many times, those who have had such experiences talk about floating around the room and being aware of the medical team working on their body," Dr. Parnia told Live Science. “They'll describe watching doctors and nurses working and they'll describe having awareness of full conversations, of visual things that were going on, that would otherwise not be known to them."
Medical staff confirm this, he said. So how could those who were technically dead be cognizant of what's happening around them? Even after our breathing and heartbeat stops, we're conscious for about 2–20 seconds, Dr. Parnia says. That's how long the cerebral cortex is thought to last without oxygen. This is the thinking and decision-making part of the brain. It's also responsible for deciphering the information gathered from our senses.
According to Parnia during this period, "You lose all your brain stem reflexes — your gag reflex, your pupil reflex, all that is gone." Brain waves from the cerebral cortex soon become undetectable. Even so, it can take hours for our thinking organ to fully shut down.
Usually, when the heart stops beating, someone performs CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). This will provide about 15% of the oxygen needed to perform normal brain function. "If you manage to restart the heart, which is what CPR attempts to do, you'll gradually start to get the brain functioning again," Parnia said. “The longer you're doing CPR, those brain cell death pathways are still happening — they're just happening at a slightly slower rate."
CPR may help retain some brain function for longer. Credit: Getty Images.
Dr. Parnia's latest, ongoing study looks at large numbers of Europeans and Americans who have experienced cardiac arrest and survived. "In the same way that a group of researchers might be studying the qualitative nature of the human experience of 'love,'" he said, "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."
One of the objectives is to observe how the brain acts and reacts during cardiac arrest, through the process of death, and during revival. How much oxygen exactly does it take to reboot the brain? How is the brain affected after revival? Learning where the lines are drawn might improve resuscitation techniques, which could save countless lives per year.
"At the same time, we also study the human mind and consciousness in the context of death," Parnia said, “to understand whether consciousness becomes annihilated or whether it continues after you've died for some period of time — and how that relates to what's happening inside the brain in real time."
For more on the scientific perspective on a near death experience, click here:
That's as fast as a bullet train in Japan.
The way an elephant manipulates its trunk to eat and drink could lead to better robots, researchers say.
Elephants dilate their nostrils to create more space in their trunks, allowing them to store up to 5.5 liters (1.45 gallons) of water, according to their new study.
They can also suck up three liters (0.79 gallons) per second—a speed 30 times faster than a human sneeze (150 meters per second/330 mph), the researchers found.
The researchers wanted to better understand the physics of how elephants use their trunks to move and manipulate air, water, food, and other objects. They also wanted to learn if the mechanics could inspire the creation of more efficient robots that use air motion to hold and move things.
Photo by David Clode on Unsplash
While octopuses use jets of water to propel themselves and archer fish shoot water above the surface to catch insects, elephants are the only animals able to use suction both on land and underwater.
"An elephant eats about 400 pounds of food a day, but very little is known about how they use their trunks to pick up lightweight food and water for 18 hours, every day," says lead author Andrew Schulz, a mechanical engineering PhD student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "It turns out their trunks act like suitcases, capable of expanding when necessary."
Sucking up tortilla chips without breaking them
Schulz and his colleagues worked with veterinarians at Zoo Atlanta, studying elephants as they ate various foods. For large rutabaga cubes, for example, the animal grabbed and collected them. It sucked up smaller cubes and made a loud vacuuming sound, like the sound of a person slurping noodles, before transferring the vegetables to its mouth.
To learn more about suction, the researchers gave elephants a tortilla chip and measured the applied force. Sometimes the animal pressed down on the chip and breathed in, suspending the chip on the tip of its trunk without breaking it, similar to a person inhaling a piece of paper onto their mouth. Other times the elephant applied suction from a distance, drawing the chip to the edge of its trunk.
Elephants inhale at speeds comparable to Japan's 300 mph bullet trains.
"An elephant uses its trunk like a Swiss Army knife," says David Hu, Schulz's advisor and a professor in Georgia Tech's School of Mechanical Engineering. "It can detect scents and grab things. Other times it blows objects away like a leaf blower or sniffs them in like a vacuum."
By watching elephants inhale liquid from an aquarium, the team was able to time the durations and measure volume. In just 1.5 seconds, the trunk sucked up 3.7 liters (just shy of 1 gallon), the equivalent of 20 toilets flushing simultaneously.
Soft robots and elephant conservation
The researchers used an ultrasonic probe to take trunk wall measurements and see how the trunk's inner muscles work. By contracting those muscles, the animal dilates its nostrils up to 30%. This decreases the thickness of the walls and expands nasal volume by 64%.
"At first it didn't make sense: an elephant's nasal passage is relatively small and it was inhaling more water than it should," Schulz says. "It wasn't until we saw the ultrasonographic images and watched the nostrils expand that we realized how they did it. Air makes the walls open, and the animal can store far more water than we originally estimated."
Based on the pressures applied, Schulz and the team suggest that elephants inhale at speeds comparable to Japan's 300-mph bullet trains.
"By investigating the mechanics and physics behind trunk muscle movements, we can apply the physical mechanisms—combinations of suction and grasping—to find new ways to build robots," Schulz says.
"In the meantime, the African elephant is now listed as endangered because of poaching and loss of habitat. Its trunk makes it a unique species to study. By learning more about them, we can learn how to better conserve elephants in the wild."
The paper appears in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. The US Army Research Laboratory and the US Army Research Oﬃce 294 Mechanical Sciences Division, Complex Dynamics and Systems Program, funded the work. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the sponsoring agency.
Source: Georgia Tech
Original Study DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2021.0215
The experience of life flashing before one's eyes has been reported for well over a century, but where's the science behind it?
At the age of 16, when Tony Kofi was an apprentice builder living in Nottingham, he fell from the third story of a building. Time seemed to slow down massively, and he saw a complex series of images flash before his eyes.
As he described it, “In my mind's eye I saw many, many things: children that I hadn't even had yet, friends that I had never seen but are now my friends. The thing that really stuck in my mind was playing an instrument". Then Tony landed on his head and lost consciousness.
When he came to at the hospital, he felt like a different person and didn't want to return to his previous life. Over the following weeks, the images kept flashing back into his mind. He felt that he was “being shown something" and that the images represented his future.
Later, Tony saw a picture of a saxophone and recognized it as the instrument he'd seen himself playing. He used his compensation money from the accident to buy one. Now, Tony Kofi is one of the UK's most successful jazz musicians, having won the BBC Jazz awards twice, in 2005 and 2008.
Though Tony's belief that he saw into his future is uncommon, it's by no means uncommon for people to report witnessing multiple scenes from their past during split-second emergency situations. After all, this is where the phrase “my life flashed before my eyes" comes from.
But what explains this phenomenon? Psychologists have proposed a number of explanations, but I'd argue the key to understanding Tony's experience lies in a different interpretation of time itself.
When life flashes before our eyes
The experience of life flashing before one's eyes has been reported for well over a century. In 1892, a Swiss geologist named Albert Heim fell from a precipice while mountain climbing. In his account of the fall, he wrote is was “as if on a distant stage, my whole past life [was] playing itself out in numerous scenes".
More recently, in July 2005, a young woman called Gill Hicks was sitting near one of the bombs that exploded on the London Underground. In the minutes after the accident, she hovered on the brink of death where, as she describes it: “my life was flashing before my eyes, flickering through every scene, every happy and sad moment, everything I have ever done, said, experienced".
In some cases, people don't see a review of their whole lives, but a series of past experiences and events that have special significance to them.
Explaining life reviews
Perhaps surprisingly, given how common it is, the “life review experience" has been studied very little. A handful of theories have been put forward, but they're understandably tentative and rather vague.
For example, a group of Israeli researchers suggested in 2017 that our life events may exist as a continuum in our minds, and may come to the forefront in extreme conditions of psychological and physiological stress.
Another theory is that, when we're close to death, our memories suddenly “unload" themselves, like the contents of a skip being dumped. This could be related to “cortical disinhibition" – a breaking down of the normal regulatory processes of the brain – in highly stressful or dangerous situations, causing a “cascade" of mental impressions.
But the life review is usually reported as a serene and ordered experience, completely unlike the kind of chaotic cascade of experiences associated with cortical disinhibition. And none of these theories explain how it's possible for such a vast amount of information – in many cases, all the events of a person's life – to manifest themselves in a period of a few seconds, and often far less.
Thinking in 'spatial' time
An alternative explanation is to think of time in a “spatial" sense. Our commonsense view of time is as an arrow that moves from the past through the present towards the future, in which we only have direct access to the present. But modern physics has cast doubt on this simple linear view of time.
Indeed, since Einstein's theory of relativity, some physicists have adopted a “spatial" view of time. They argue we live in a static “block universe" in which time is spread out in a kind of panorama where the past, the present and the future co-exist simultaneously.
The modern physicist Carlo Rovelli – author of the best-selling The Order of Time – also holds the view that linear time doesn't exist as a universal fact. This idea reflects the view of the philosopher Immanuel Kant, who argued that time is not an objectively real phenomenon, but a construct of the human mind.
This could explain why some people are able to review the events of their whole lives in an instant. A good deal of previous research – including my own – has suggested that our normal perception of time is simply a product of our normal state of consciousness.
In many altered states of consciousness, time slows down so dramatically that seconds seem to stretch out into minutes. This is a common feature of emergency situations, as well as states of deep meditation, experiences on psychedelic drugs and when athletes are “in the zone".
The limits of understanding
But what about Tony Kofi's apparent visions of his future? Did he really glimpse scenes from his future life? Did he see himself playing the saxophone because somehow his future as a musician was already established?
There are obviously some mundane interpretations of Tony's experience. Perhaps, for instance, he became a saxophone player simply because he saw himself playing it in his vision. But I don't think it's impossible that Tony did glimpse future events.
If time really does exist in a spatial sense – and if it's true that time is a construct of the human mind – then perhaps in some way future events may already be present, just as past events are still present.
Admittedly, this is very difficult to make sense of. But why should everything make sense to us? As I have suggested in a recent book, there must be some aspects of reality that are beyond our comprehension. After all, we're just animals, with a limited awareness of reality. And perhaps more than any other phenomenon, this is especially true of time.