To feed your curiosity tanks this week, I dwelled on 

  1. Why was purple more expensive than gold?
  2. How old are you? The answer is not straightforward…
  3. What is the science behind anger?

1 – Why was purple more expensive than gold?

The first question I had when I saw the University of Manchester’s logo is Why purple? There was no straightforward answer but a convincible analogy. Perhaps since purple was associated with royalty, the university might have wanted to stick to that concept.

Wait, but why did the royal like purple of all the colours?

Manufacturing a purple dye was an arduous process and, therefore, exorbitantly priced. It was so expensive that only a select few among the royals could afford it. 

All physical objects appear in a specific colour because that is the wavelength of the visible spectrum they reflect. Plants are green because Chlorophyll reflects green by absorbing light of other wavelengths. The wavelength corresponding to blue light is regarded to have more energy when compared to the wavelength corresponding to green. Also, an overarching fact is pigments on animals comes from the food they eat. e.g. Flamingoes are pink because their diet consists predominantly of shrimp. Back in the day, nature was the source to extract the dyes from. But the problem was blue was scarce in nature. No blue coloured leaves, and since there is not much blue coloured vegetation, there were not many blue coloured animals. 

However, around 3300 BC, in the city of Tyre, Phoenicia, a new trade was kickstarted after a dog’s mouth was stained purple after it was found biting a washed-up mollusc on a beach. Seeing this colour, Melqart, Tyre’s patron’s mistress, ordered for a garment in that exact colour that had stained the dog’s mouth.

And so the process began.

The Murex Shellfish, if poked, released a liquid. Upon drying the liquid, merchants could extract a dye to give the unique purple colour to cotton or wool. The Roman royals took notice of this discovery and had wanted the same as well.

Image source: https://images.app.goo.gl/QfgxYv31xaG5F24cA

Poking an individual shellfish proved to be an ineffective way to meet the royal’s demands. So, therefore, merchants began fishing these shellfish in large amounts and crushing them in large vats. It was a horrible and smelly process. As many as 10,000 shellfish were needed to obtain 1 gram of dye which would probably suffice to colour a shawl. The dye manufacturing sites were morbid, with the shells stacked up to 40 metres and above. The entire process and the quantity of shellfish that was needed made this dye all the more rare and accessible only to those who can pay for it, i.e. the royals. 

However, things changed in the 19th century. William Henry Perkin accidentally discovered a chemical compound during his quest to find a cure for malaria. Perkin’s Mauveine gave a purple coloured stain when rubbed on a suitable material like wool. There was an enormous market as it was cheap and easy to produce the dye in large quantities. As the colour became more accessible to the public, the Tyrian purple slowly lost its lacklustre.


2 – How old are you?

A simple question may not have a straightforward answer. The way you define your age can turn out to be relative, and it depends on where you are on Earth or in the Universe. 

Let’s say Dave was born on September 1st, 1997. How old is Dave now?

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Dave is currently 23 years old and will turn 24 on September 1st.

But in Korea, Dave is 25 years old until December 31st and will turn 26 on January 1st 2022. 

If one were to ask a Korean their age, one might get two answers: International age (the standard method of telling how old you are) and Korean age. Korea and a couple of other South-East Asian countries say that a kid is 1 year old the day it is born. This is because they account for the 9 months (rounded-off to 12) you spend inside the womb. The origins of this practice are believed to be China. Koreans add one year for every change of the calendar year. So a kid born on New Year’s Eve would be 2 years old the next day. It is a confusing system, especially since the rest of the world is following a different method.

Another school believes that this practice also could have been influenced by the fact that the concept of zero did not exist in the numbering system back then. 

And as I said, that age is relative. Your age can vary based on the planet you are on. Dave will be 95 years old in Mercury, 12 years in Mars, or just over a month old in Pluto.

Go to this link to calculate your age in other planets.


3 – What is the science behind anger?

Anger is one of the basic emotions we experience. Our brains are hardwired with this emotion right since the beginning, and it has helped us survive for many aeons. As anger is one of the foundational units of the fight or flight response mechanism, it has had its perks, but it does not leave a pleasant after-effect. 

The source of anger is deeply rooted in our reward system. Our brains continuously evaluate what we experience against an ideal state. When there is a mismatch between what we experience and what we expect, i.e. no reward, the systems begin firing electrical impulses. The amygdala, our emotional-rich response centre, release catecholamine (adrenaline and testosterone) and reduces cortisol (stress hormone). The amygdala begins to process all information from our senses. The left hemisphere, the analytical half, of our brain shows more activity than our right.

All of the above happens in nanoseconds.

(Add image from – https://www.howitworksdaily.com/the-science-of-anger/)

Because of the sudden change in the system, the consequences of anger are not always pleasant. Anything we process is very emotion-based. Since our left region is more active, we become more attuned to find faults and mistake, and we lose our ability to understand perspectives and emphasise others’ feelings. If you are in a group and prone to mob mentality, this gets worse.

And only 2 seconds later, our prefrontal cortex gets activated. Our prefrontal cortex is our rational-based decision-making centre. Within the span of these 2 seconds, we are most prone to make decisions that we would later regret, like throwing the phone, punching the wall, breaking a pencil, or even hitting someone else. In brain terms, 2 seconds is a very long time. Therefore the age-old adage of count to 10 when you are angry does help.


To feed more to your curiosity tank

Can the heart think?

How is a year calculated?

Can the world’s biggest animal get bigger?

Share here!

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