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The Whippet #59: "People are 20 times more likely to repeat or rephrase themselves to dogs than to humans"

McKinley Valentine — 7 min read

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Good morning! I hope you're already feeling full of ancient wisdom today because I have none to share.

I am super into minimalism, although not in the sense that I own only what is needed, because, ahhh look, I live in a house not out of a backpack, I can have some stuff. I have two pairs of nail clippers because that's the number you need to actually be able to find a pair of nail clippers when you want them. I don't want to have a capsule wardrobe (where you have only a few items but they all go with each other) because that entails only ever wearing work-appropriate neutrals. But I do like to only have things I recognise, use and like. (Recognise = no "oh I forgot I had that!")

Last weekend I did a big declutter and then did the mildly psychopathic thing of writing down everything I own in a spreadsheet. I own 416 things (not counting consumables). If that seems like a lot, you are probably drastically underestimating how much stuff you own.

The number is deeply flawed as an indicator - I have a built-in wardrobe so I didn't count it, but you wouldn't somehow be more consumerist for wanting your clothes not to be in a pile on the floor. You could make a case for not counting things like bookcases - no one is hoarding empty bookcases, you hoard books and then buy the right number of shelves to store them on. And actually the sign that you are hoarding too much stuff is probably when it's in boxes or piles or hidden, not accessible on shelves. But I decided to go for "comprehensive" instead of "fair" since I'm not even sure what number I'd be comparing myself against.

Plus I counted laptop+charger as one item, "bobby pins" as one, and a bunch of arbitrary stuff like that.

I fully recommend this activity to anyone who finds the idea appealing! If you don't, I don't recommend it to you, I'm pretty sure it was an act with no intrinsic value.

'An inventory of all my possessions, before and after i moved apartments' (The New Yorker)

"I thought I had a decent grasp on the number of things that I owned. But then I moved, and it became clear that I did not. Here is an inventory of my perceived possessions before I moved and what I realized I actually own."

Before: A few books that I re-read often.
After: An entire library of books, some of which I’ve never seen before in my life, on subjects that I didn’t know I was interested in or even existed.

Before: A few necessary paper documents in a folder labelled “important.”
After: A large drawer full of loose, largely unimportant papers—ranging from my 2016 tax return to three copies of my birth certificate, from when I studied abroad—that I will probably get rid of only when my grandchildren are rooting through my garage in fifty years and ask, “What’s this?,” and I respond, “Please, I beg of you, help me get rid of these Ikea receipts from 2013.”

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Acetabularia, or 'Mermaid's Wine Glass'

Each little parasol (rhizoid, stalk and cap) is a single green algal cell, with the nucleus at the base in the rhizoid. [Photo by Ryan Moody].

In 1943 a scientist called Joachim Hämmerling was able to prove, using Acetabularia, that DNA resides in the nucleus of a cell and tells it how to develop: he "exchanged caps between individuals from two species, A. mediterranea and A. crenulata. A. mediterranea has a smooth, disc shaped cap, while A. crenulata has a branched, flower-like cap.

After the exchange, each transplanted cap gradually changed from its original form to the form typical for the species of the base it was now attached to. This showed that the nucleus controlled the form of the cap." [Wikipedia]

Fun fact: if you put a sombrero on Humphrey Bogart's head it will slowly morph into a fedora.

Delightful paragraphs from the Wikipedia article comparing how people talk to pets vs babies

"There are strikingly similar characteristics between Child-Directed Language [babytalk] and pet-speak. People tend to use sentences of around 11 words when talking to another adult; this is reduced to four words when speaking to a dog. People employ more imperatives or commands to a dog, but ask twice as many questions of the dog as of other humans, even though they don't expect the dog to answer.

Recordings show that 90% of pet-talk is spoken mostly in the present tense because people talk to dogs about what is happening now rather than the past or the future, which is twice as much as they do with humans. Also, people are 20 times more likely to repeat or rephrase themselves to dogs than they do to humans.

A significant difference is that CDL contains many more sentences about specific bits of information, such as "This cup is red", because they are intended to teach children about language and the environment. Pet-speech contains perhaps half the sentences of this form, as rather than instructive, its primary purpose is as a social function for humans; whether the dog learns anything does not seem to be a concern."[Wikipedia]

Creation myths

I have been reading a bunch of creation stories and it must be pretty annoying to be an early god. Start crying, tears become an island chain; cut off your hand, hand becomes your new son. "Okay I'm just gonna stand super still and not do anything", now you're the pillar that holds up the night sky, that's your job forever now.

I read this on twitter recently: "In Norse mythology, Odin, the father of all gods, rides on an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir. Many scholars believe that Sleipnir, with his eight legs instead of the usual four, is representative of the shamanic journey." and I'm super annoyed about it. I hate it when scholars tell me something cool and magical was actually symbolic. Let me have my eight-legged horse! This is like when I found out a huge amount of alchemy was religion, and when they were looking for a way to turn lead into gold, it's because they were ultimately looking to perfect the human spirit.

Deeply disappointing.

Insta-frozen honey, nutella and fried egg in Antarctica

via The Antarctic Report on twitter

How the zombie myth arose out of New World slavery

Zombies are an old idea, but this article talks about how they became a prominent myth (over, say, wendigos) in part because it spoke to the fear of Haitian plantation slaves that they wouldn't be able to escape slavery even in death. It's an awful topic so only read if you're up for it, but really interesting (and please don't email me about George Romero).

Unsolicited Advice: How to remember a thought you have while someone is talking so you can bring it up afterwards (rather than derailing them)

Conversational pins! I use this constantly, and I take it so much for granted that I almost never tell people about it (except when they've just seen me do it and I need to explain it), even though it is one of the most practical things I use.

The context here is conversations between people who know the urge to interrupt just comes from being interested and excited about what they're saying, and so you're having spin-off thoughts - but you still want to let them say their thing, because you're genuinely interested in hearing the rest of it.

Basically you just say "pin" and mime pinning the thought to a corkboard. I'm pretty sure you have to do the action for the memory to hold. (If the person doesn't know about pinning, you can say "Oh! I have a thought about that - I'll just pin it [mime]. Please continue") I don't know if this seems goofy, but no one's every reacted strangely to it? I think because the concept of pinning something to a corkboard to remember it is intuitive and instantly understood. I swear this comes across as pretty natural irl. Everyone I've explained it to has started doing it.

Similarly, if you're talking and you see someone light up or look like they want to speak (you know the look of someone who wants to say something but is resisting the urge), you can say "pin that thought" (or explain about pinning), and then finish what you were going to say. Then - "what was your pin?"

The mime seems to make your brain remember the point of the conversation you were at, which then triggers you to think of the thing you wanted to say.

This means: conversations flow better, everybody gets a chance to say their most interesting thoughts, and you listen more (because you're not distracted by resisting the urge to say the thing, or worrying you will forget the thing). And I think it's kind of a nice gift to be able to give the person who wanted to interrupt you but didn't, the gift of ensuring they remember the thing and giving them an opportunity to say it.

If you want solicited advice, send questions to or just reply to this email.

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