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Strange but True: The stuff of your life

Strange but true
By Bill Sones and Rich Sones, Ph.D. Published: July 8, 2014


Q: Our possessions tend to define us as a species, and our ability to imbue them with meaning is a universal human trait that develops early in life. So, can you put rough numbers on “the stuff” of your life?

A: By one British estimate, you will likely go through 310 pairs of shoes in your walk through life (U.K. National Statistics), as reported by “New Scientist” magazine.

175: the pairs of jeans you will “love and leave” before you die (U.K. National Statistics).

544: “the deodorants that will disappear under your arms” (U.K. National Statistics).

13: the number of cars the average American will own in his or her lifetime (U.S. automotive statistics).

12: the different homes most Western people will live in during their lifetime (U.S. Census Bureau).

And 1.3 million is the number of “sheets of toilet paper that you'll flush before you fade away” (U.S. data from Kimberly Clark, the Wall Street Journal and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Our relationship to the things we own goes far beyond utility and aesthetics, says the magazine's Michael Bond. Simply put, we love our stuff. As the 19th-century psychologist William James argued, our possessions define who we are: “Between what a man calls me and what he simply calls mine, the line is difficult to draw.”

Q: What are scientists suggesting when they say that “elephants know the subtleties of the human voice”?

A: According to new research in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, elephants can distinguish certain human languages and even determine human gender and relative ages, “Science” magazine reports. For example, they've learned to differentiate the speech of adult male Kamba farmers from those of adult male Maasai hunters, who often spear elephants in retaliation for their tusking and trampling of people or cattle.

When behavioral ecologist Karen McComb of the University of Sussex used concealed loudspeakers to play the voices of the two different ethnic groups, the animals seemed to know the difference. The elephant family groups were more likely to retreat and gather together when hearing the Maasai voices than when the Kamba voices were played. The elephants were much less fearful of the voices of Maasai women or boys. “Young elephants likely learn this sensitivity by watching,” say the researchers, “in a dramatic example of a human threat changing natural behaviors.”

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