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Why Whales Sing and People Pick Their Noses

It has been said that the surest sign of a truly educated individual is not so much what they know, but the sense of healthy respect they have for what they don’t know.

If this is true then there truly are a well educated bunch running the show at New Scientist magazine.

Today’s London Daily Telegraph highlights their current editorial with the following humble headline:

The 10 mysteries of human behaviour that science

can’t explain

Scientists have split the atom, put men on the moon and discovered the

DNA of which we are made, but there are 10 key mysteries of human

behaviour which they have failed to fully explain.

“There is nothing more fascinating to most of us than ourselves.

“So it is hardly surprising that we have expended large amounts of effort trying to get to the bottom of what it means to be human.

“What is surprising is that there are so many traits that remain enigmatic.

“These range from the sublime, such as art, dreaming and altruism, to the ridiculous,  blushing and nose-picking.

“They may seem quirky but the best explanations for them often have profound implications.”

Among the mysteries that still elude explanation:

Blushing: Charles Darwin struggled to explain why evolution made us turn red when we lie, which alerts others. However, some think it may help diffuse confrontation or foster intimacy by revealing weakness.

Laughter: mood-improving endorphins are released when we laugh, which seems an obvious reason to do it but a 10-year study muddied the waters when it found more laughter is produced by banal comments than jokes.

Dreaming: Sigmund Freud’s theory of dreams expressing our subconscious desires have been generally discredited and it is recognised that they help us process emotions, but the reason why we see such strange visions has not been properly explained.

Picking your nose: the unappealing but common habit of ingesting ‘nasal detritus’ offers almost no nutritional benefit, so why do a quarter of teenagers do it, on average four times a day? Some think it boosts the immune system.


If that’s that price for boosting our immune system, I’ll live with that summer cold thank you very much.

There is no doubt that we live in an age of information and discovery.

Yet isn’t it interesting that with every discovery, there seems to come along at least three new questions?

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit Maui while the humpback whales were there.

I love scuba diving and have seen some amazing things under the water.

But one of the most awesome experiences I have ever had was hearing these whales sing while under water.

The sound is not only eerie, yet beautiful, but it seems to go right through your entire body.

We took a whale watching trip while we were there, hosted by a marine biologist from Princeton.

During a Q and A time I asked her what i thought was a pretty basic question – why do the Humpback whales sing?

She smiled and said, “That’s a really good question.”

“We know that only the males sing.”

“We also know that the females aren’t interested in it at all.”

“We know that it’s not used for echo location or for marking out territory.”

“Basically, we have no idea why they sing.”

I asked, “Could it be because they enjoy it?”

She laughed and said, “That is as valid an explanation as any we have today.”

The bottom line?

Life is a glorious mystery.

And the inherent, almost hard wired capacity to wonder, to explore our natural world is designed to lead us to consider another mystery:

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;

that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—

to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:15-19)

Now that is something worth singing about!


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