There have been two striking tidbits of news on radio and television in the past 2 days, that I thought I should share.
One is that Rom Houben, a man in Belgium, has "awakened" after supposedly having been in a coma 23 years. Twenty-three years! That outdoes Rip van Winkle.
But there's a twist: it turns out he was fully conscious the whole time. He could see perfectly well and he heard every word anybody said to him. He simply couldn't respond. He had been in a terrible automobile accident and...
It turns out that about ONE THIRD of patients diagnosed with "persistent vegetative state" are misdiagnosed. I think that's stunning in its implications.Doctors at the time diagnosed Mr Houben as being in a persistent vegetative state after running eye, verbal and motor tests and finding him unresponsive.
The diagnosis remained unchallenged until 2006 when neurologist Steven Laureys conducted hi-tech scans and found Mr Houben's brain was functioning normally.
Using a specially-adapted computer to type messages, Mr Houben has been able to describe the ordeal he endured for more than two decades.
"I cried out, but no-one heard me," he said, "I will never forget the day they discovered me - it was my second birth."
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The other fascinating news I heard this morning is that some ants have "pedometers" in their brains. They can count, although not the way you and I do.
How Do Ants Get Home? Most ants get around by leaving smell trails on the forest floor that show other ants how to get home or to food. They squeeze the glands that cover their bodies; those glands release a scent, and the scents in combination create trails the other ants can follow.
That works in the forest, but it doesn't work in a desert. Deserts are sandy and when the wind blows, smells scatter.
So how do desert ants find their way home?
It's already known that ants use celestial clues to establish the general direction home, but how do they know exactly the number of steps to take that will lead them right to the entrance of their nest?
Wolf and Whittlinger trained a bunch of ants to walk across a patch of desert to some food. When the ants began eating, the scientists trapped them and divided them into three groups. They left the first group alone. With the second group, they used superglue to attach pre-cut pig bristles to each of their six legs, essentially putting them on stilts.
The third group had their legs cut off just below the "knees," making each of their six legs shorter.
After the meal and the makeover, the ants were released and all of them headed home to the nest while the scientists watched to see what would happen.
The regular ants walked right to the nest and went inside.
The ants on stilts walked right past the nest, stopped and looked around for their home.
The ants on stumps fell short of the nest, stopped and seemed to be searching for their home.
It turns out that all the ants had walked the same number of steps, but because their gaits had been changed (the stilty ants, like Monty Python creatures, walked with giant steps; the stumpy ants walked in baby steps) they went exactly the distances you'd predict if their brains counted the number of steps out to the food and then reversed direction and counted the same number of steps back. In other words, all the ants counted the same number of steps back!
The ants on "stilts" were tested further, and in time, learned to adjust their "counting" and find their way back to their nest.
Now I don't know about you, but I have a very, very hard time believing this ability is the result of a series of chance mutations. I should think almost anyone would find it easier to believe in God.