Friday, June 26, 2015

Fun Friday Facts #112: Same-Sex Marriage in History

Today, the Supreme Court ruled that state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, thus effectively bringing marriage equality to every state in the Union. This made me fantasize about what it would be like to buy a newspaper (for proof), climb into my time machine, and travel back to 1997, where I would interrupt my mother in the middle of her I-don’t-care-if-you-like-women-but-no-one-needs-to-know-about-it speech, and tell her to kiss my ass. But we don’t have time machines yet, and I’m going to hazard a guess that we don’t have them in the future either because I don’t remember Elderly Me showing up waving a photo of the first gay president and First Husband. So in recognition of this wonderful, wonderful day, on which a ray of rainbow-colored hope has emerged to suggest that, as Allie Brosh would say, “Maybe everything isn’t hopeless bullshit,” I’ve decided to dedicate this Friday’s facts to the history of gay marriage.

Image by Benson Cua from Wikimedia Commons

The history of same-sex marriage is one that is along as the history of civilization itself. Same-sex marriages existed in both ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. In Egypt, at least one same-sex couple was buried in a pharaonic tomb, suggesting that the couple enjoyed legal status. In Mesopotamia, which I might point out has been dubbed the cradle of civilization, same-sex marriages were well-documented and were just one of various so-called “non-traditional” forms of marriage practiced. Among some of the other forms was polyandry, the practice of marrying multiple husbands, which sounds like it could simultaneously be both the best and worst thing ever.

As most people know, same-sex unions were common in ancient Greece, where the most common form of the institution involved an older man and a younger boy. Scholars insist that these unions were mostly, ahem, educational in nature, with the older man acting as a teacher and the younger boy as a pupil. Such a relationship certainly didn’t end when the participants both married women, as they were expected to do.

Romans also practiced same-sex unions, and more than a dozen Roman emperors either played for both teams or were outright gay. No less than two Roman emperors are rather famously known for marrying men, including Nero and Elagabalus. At least one of Nero’s cronies, on being asked if he approved of the emperor’s choice of a teenaged eunuch as a spouse, declared, “You do well, Caesar, to seek the company of such wives. Would that your father had had the same ambition and had lived with a similar consort!” Because you know, then Nero wouldn’t have been born. Sick burn.

On the other side of the world, folks in ancient China were gay-marrying it up, too. History brings us the story of Pan Zhang and Wang Zhongxian, two Chinese men who fell in love at first sight and lived together as domestic partners for the rest of their lives thereafter. They were said to be as “affectionate as husband and wife, sharing the same coverlet and pillow with unbounded intimacy for one another.” Legend has it that the two men died simultaneously, and were buried at the peak of Mount Luofu by their grief-stricken neighbors. A tree sprang up from the grave, and its twigs grew wrapped around one another as if embracing.

According to controversial historian John Boswell, a form of same-sex marriage known as “brother-making” existed in premodern Europe, as detailed in his extremely dense tome Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe. Boswell claims that the brother-making ceremony served as a form of religious same-sex marriage in the medieval Catholic Church. 

Saints Sergius and Bacchus were alleged participants.

While church officials and theologians alike dispute this claim, there is some evidence to suggest that a similar practice did exist in late medieval France. Affr√®rement, or “enbrotherment,” allowed two or more unrelated men to establish a household in which all members shared property jointly, as in a marriage, and became one another’s legal heirs. These contracts were entered into via public oath before a notary and witnesses, and while they may not always have been used to formalize a same-sex relationship, the parties involved “frequently testified that they entered into the contract because of their affection for one another.”


In 19th-century and early 20th-century America, a similar practice emerged among women who chose to live together as committed partners instead of taking husbands. These unions were known as Boston marriages. Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake entered into one of the better known Boston marriages. The couple was recognized by their families and community, and to some extent even by the law, as a married couple. They share a tombstone in Weybridge, Vermont. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Fun Friday Facts #111: The History of Eyeglasses

A dear friend who is also blind as hell recently asked me what people did before they invented eyeglasses.

“Well, glasses were invented in like 1300 so they probably just wore glasses,” I said, pulling what I now know was a completely accurate tidbit of information right out of my ass.

“No, I mean, before that,” he replied.

“Oh, I don’t know, squinted a lot I guess,” is what I would have said if I were half as clever as I let on. According to Quora.com poster Kathleen Grace, “They didn’t do much, they just tried to cope as well as they could.” While ordinary people may well have been reduced to squinting, holding things really close to their face, and feeling around for stuff on tables, but lucky for them, there weren’t a lot of things in their daily lives that required sharp vision. Books were uncommon and widespread illiteracy meant that most people didn’t need to write, either. Neither was there any driving. But now that I think of it, I wonder if all those alleged “blind people” that Jesus healed in the Bible weren’t just really, really myopic.

Seneca the Younger noted that “Letters, however small and indistinct, are seen enlarged and more clearly through a globe or glass filled with water.” The Roman Emperor Nero used an emerald as a corrective lens to watch the gladiatorial contests. Lenses made of rock crystal, such as the Nimrud lens, have been in use for at least 3,000 years, but it is unclear whether these ancient lenses were used for magnification or simply as burning lenses √† la Lord of the Flies.

Both uses are legit:
Photo of the Nimrud lens in the British Museum by user Geni from Wikipedia Commons.


The first mention of a convex lens used to produce a magnified image appears in 1021 in Alhazen’s Book of Optics. By the 11th or 12th century, Vikings were crafting rock crystal lenses capable of producing imaging quality on a par with 1950s technology. “Reading stones” made of glass became common in the scriptoriums of European monasteries between the 11th and 13th centuries, as they helped nearsighted monks work on illuminated manuscripts.

By the early 1200s, the imaging properties of lenses were well-known. In China, sunglasses made of smoky quartz had already been invented, and in the Arctic, the Inuit were already using snow goggles. Eyeglasses were invented in Italy sometime between 1286 and 1306, according to a 1306 sermon by Dominican friar Giordano de Pisa, who mentioned that “It is not yet twenty years since there was found the art of making eyeglasses.” It should be noted that Marco Polo claims to have seen glasses in China as early as 1275, though it is unclear whether those glasses were for vision correction or just to look cool. By 1301, guilds in the glass making city of Venice had established regulations governing the lawful sale of eyeglasses.

Earpieces would not be invented until much later. Early pairs of glasses had to be held in place with the hand, as depicted in this Renaissance-era painting, Seated Apostle Reading While Feeling Annoyed as Hell:

"I wish Jesus would heal me of my blindness already so I could hold this anachronistic book with both hands."

Pince-nez style glasses stayed in place on their own by pinching the nose, hence the name (which is French for “pinch nose” for you non-Francophones readers). Modern-style glasses with clearly superior temple earpieces had been invented by at least the 17th century, as they were depicted in this circa-1600 El Greco painting of Fernando Nino de Guevara:



However, the modern style of glasses did not catch on immediately due to what many considered their sheer ugliness. Four-eyed freaks like George Washington, Napoleon, and Lafayette preferred ornate French-style binocles-ciseaux (“scissor glasses”) like these, which date from 1805:



Lorgnettes, or spectacles with a long handle, became popular in the 19th century, especially among fashionable ladies, although these were considered more like jewelry than corrective eyewear. Today, Wikipedia notes that “glasses remain very common, as their technology has improved.”

No shit.




Friday, June 12, 2015

Fun Friday Facts #110: What Makes a Person a Cat Person or a Dog Person?

I don’t want to write this blog post, because: a) I’m tired, OMFG, what was I thinking when I decided FRIDAY would be a good day to write a regular blog post? Past Me was about as sharp as a marble sometimes; and b) I’m now pissed off after spending the past 45 minutes doing research, which in this case amounts to reading generalization after generalization about how dog people are friendly, extraverted, and conscientious, while cat people are cold, aloof, and introverted, and dog people should never, ever marry cat people because we are so deeply, horribly, and fundamentally flawed.  

I don't want your smelly dog in my house anyway. *pout*

According to research performed at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI, dog and cat owners do tend to have differences in personality. In a survey of 600 college students, the researchers found that dog lovers are “more energetic,” extraverted, and more likely to follow the rules. Cat lovers, on the other hand, are non-conformists who tend to introversion, sensitivity, and open-mindedness. Cat lovers are, somewhat perplexingly, both more neurotic and more open to new experiences – adventures, art, new ideas, etc. Cat lovers are also smarter, BECAUSE OF COURSE WE ARE.

Carroll University researcher Denise Guastello believes that extraverted people may decide they prefer dogs because they believe that dogs’ supposed personality traits make them an ideal pet for an active, extraverted person, while introverted or shy people may choose cats for themselves for a similar reason. The study also suggests that dog and cat people want different things out of their pets – dog people say they want “companionship” from their dogs, while cat people claim to want “affection” from their cats. That’s all well and good, but if you want companionship, cats are the reason why bathroom doors have locks.

I took this picture while I was writing this.

One sociologist has a different theory about cat people and dog people – and it’s one I like, because I’m a feminist killjoy. Lisa Wade PhD, writing for the blog Sociological Images at The Society Pages, asserts that the cat person/dog person debate is really a discussion about one’s perceived masculinity – or lack thereof. She writes,

After all, don’t we stereotype women as cat people and men as dog people? And don’t we think men with cats are a little femmy, or, at minimum, sweeter than most…even, maybe, gay? And don’t we imagine that chicks with dogs are a little less girly than most, a little more rough and tumble? The cat person/dog person dichotomy is gendered.

Dr. Wade goes on to point out that, while dogs are considered a “manly” pet, this is only true if the dogs in question fulfill an arbitrary size requirement. A large dog is a “real” man’s perfect companion; it is loyal, dependent, obedient, and perhaps crucially, doesn’t talk back. A small dog, on the other hand, emasculates its male owner more and more with each high-pitched yap. I would take this a step further and venture to suggest that the breed is important as well; I recently got into an argument with some man somewhere (I can’t remember who or where) about whether or not a standard poodle makes an appropriate “man pet.” Apparently it doesn’t, because despite the fact that standard poodles are huge and also a hunting breed, the word “poodle” alone is enough to make a red-blooded man’s balls just shrivel up and drop right off. Even so, Dr. Wade points out that cat owners are considered “less cool” than dog owners and “no one ever fears ending up a ‘crazy dog lady,’” although that might have at least as much to do with the lowered risk of toxoplasmosis as with the gendering of pet preferences. In any case, one thing is clear: men who love cats (and small dogs) need feminism, too.




Friday, June 5, 2015

Fun Friday Facts #109: Why Do We Laugh?



In another Friday Facts column long, long ago, I answered the question “Why Do We Cry?” – or failed to answer it, as the case may be, because as it turns out NO ONE KNOWS (dun dun DUN). Now, literally like two years later, it finally occurred to me to address the opposite emotional response. Why do we laugh?

According to Robert R. Provine, a University of Maryland Baltimore County professor of psychology and neuroscience and author of the book Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, laughter’s primary function is to strengthen social relationships. Provine and his students studied “laughter in the wild” by eavesdropping on conversations taking place in public. A full 80 to 90 percent of the 1,200 laughs Provine and his students recorded occurred in response to thoroughly unfunny remarks like “I see your point” or “It was nice meeting you, too.” A mere 10 to 20 percent of the laughs were in response to intentional jokes.

Provine believes that laughter is the oldest form of human communication, predating the first spoken languages by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. Though animals don’t seem to have a sense of humor, they laugh, too. The evolutionary origins of human laughter can perhaps be seen in the laughter of apes, which takes the form of a distinctive facial expression and a rapid, open-mouthed panting. Apes laugh during play and have been known to laugh at many of the same things that human babies laugh at. Other animals, particularly rats, will laugh in response to being tickled.

Of course, there’s more than one type of laughter – laughter researchers have identified two types, which originate in two different parts of the brain. Spontaneous laughter, such as that connected to humor or being tickled, is uncontrollable and comes from an evolutionarily older part of the brain; it is most likely the original form of human laughter. Non-spontaneous laughter, such as forced or nervous laughter, originates in a different, more recent, part of the brain. Both types of laughter may be used to solidify social bonds.

It is possible to die from laughter. Excessive laughter has been known to cause heart attacks, embolisms, and strokes. Some famous people alleged to have died from laughter include:

  • Zeuxis, a Greek painter who died laughing in the 5th century BC, after an old woman commissioned a portion of the goddess Aphrodite and insisted on modeling for it herself. Way to be an asshole, Zeuxis.
  • Chrysippus, a Greek Stoic philosopher who laughed himself to death in the 3rd century BC having watched a donkey hilariously eat too many figs and drink too much wine. Sounds like that donkey wasn’t the only one who had too much wine that night.
  • King Martin of Aragon, who “died from a combination of indigestion and uncontrollable laughter” in 1410. Back in the day, just about anything could kill you.
  • Thomas Urquhart, a Scottish aristocrat who died laughing in 1660 when he heard that Charles II was king. I mean, that doesn’t sound too funny.


Never fear; people are still dropping dead from laughter, because it turns out it’s not the best medicine after all. Englishman Alex Mitchell died on 24 March 1975 while watching an episode of “Kung Fu Kapers” in which a traditionally-clad Scotsman battled a man wielding a black pudding. He was later found to have had a heart condition. In 1989, Danish audiologist Ole Bentzen died laughing while watching “A Fish Called Wanda,” and in 2003, Thai ice cream man (that’s an ice cream man who was Thai, not a man who sold Thai ice cream) Damnoen Saen-um died in his sleep after two full minutes of sleep-laughter. He was 52.

Tickling has been used as a form of torture in the past – in the Han Dynasty, where it was considered a dignified form of torture fit for members of the nobility. In ancient Rome, torturers allegedly dipped a person's feet in salt and allowed a goat to lick it off. Once all the salt was gone, the feet would be re-salted, until eventually, the person’s feet would become blistered and raw and eventually the flesh itself would begin to come off.

That doesn't sound too funny either.
Image by Jon Stammers from Flickr.



Heinz Heger, a gay German imprisoned by the Nazis for his homosexuality, wrote in his book The Men with the Pink Triangle of an incident in which SS soldiers tortured a fellow prisoner viciously by tickling him. In research for his book Sibling Abuse, Vernon Wiehle discovered that tickling is a common form of abuse between siblings that is capable of engendering such extreme reactions as loss of consciousness and vomiting. While it is unknown whether or not anyone has been tickle-tortured to death, WebMD admits that the physical exertion and stress of being tickled could be sufficient to cause a brain hemorrhage or heart attack, if continued long enough.


Friday, May 29, 2015

Fun Friday Facts #108: Chewing Gum

Last week, I offered my friend Theodore Webb a stick of gum and he suggested that I write this blog post. So here it is. You’re all welcome to suggest ideas, btw. It’s not always easy to come up with these things.

As I’ve mentioned before, the oldest known piece of gum is 5,000 years old. It was discovered Kierikki, Yli-li, Finland, by archeology student Sarah Pickin, age 23. Professor Trevor Brown told the BBC that the lump of ancient gum bears “well-defined tooth imprints.” This Neolithic chewing gum was made from birch bark tar, which contains antiseptic compounds. The gum may have been used for medicinal properties or at the very least, may have offered unintentional health benefits to the ancient chewer.

Other ancient societies, including the ancient Aztecs and the ancient Greeks, also chewed gum. The ancient Greeks chewed the aromatic resin of the mastic tree. The ancient Aztecs chewed gum made from chicle, which is made from the sap of several Mesoamerican trees and became prized among European settlers for its high sugar content and flavor. The word chicle has found its way into modern Spanish and is reflected in the Portuguese, chiclete, and in the Chiclets brand of chewing gum.

#themoreyouknow

In North America, native peoples made chewing gum from the sap of spruce trees. That sounds disgusting, but the stoic settlers of New England adopted the custom, which led to the development of the first (probably disgusting) commercial chewing gum, dubbed The State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum, which went on sale in 1848. Other early commercial gums were made with chicle or paraffin wax, which also sounds less than agreeable. When I was a little girl my Grandpa used to give me bits of honeycomb to chew, so I know what chewing on wax is like, but I guess it was the olden days when people had to wipe their asses with corn cobs and go around chewing on lumps of wax. That’s the kind of thing that drives progress, amirite?

Today, most chewing gums are made with synthetic polymers, including styrene-butadiene rubber, isobutylene, and isoprene copolymer, as well as petroleum and paraffin waxes. Sugar-free gum sweetened with xylitol can help prevent tooth decay when chewed after a meal, because it stimulates the production of saliva. Don’t let your cats eat it, however; xylitol is toxic to cats.

No gum for Fatty.

While chewing gum may be good for your teeth, it may be bad for your GI tract. Excessive gum chewing could cause you to swallow too much air, and experience pain and bloating, according to Dr. Patrick Takahashi of LA’s St. Vincent Medical Center, who has apparently never heard of burping. Artificial sweeteners can cause diarrhea or gas. Chewing gum could also contribute to ulcers, since it stimulates the creation of unnecessary digestive acids. None of these are an issue, however, unless you chew a lot of gum. On the plus side, gum chewing tends to both increase saliva production (as mentioned) and boost swallowing, which could neutralize stomach acid in the esophagus to combat the effects of gastroesophageal reflux disease.

The popular urban legend that swallowed gum will stay in your stomach for seven years is, as you might guess, simply not true. For the most part, gum passes through the digestive tract at the same rate as anything else you might swallow. However, if you swallow enough gum at once, you could run into problems. This often happens with young children, who may swallow multiple pieces of gum in one day, and who may also make matters worse by swallowing other things at the same time. When swallowed together with small objects, gum can form a bezoar, or indigestible mass, in the stomach that could cause a GI blockage. This happened to an 18-month-old girl who had to have a bezoar consisting of a blob of gum and four coins removed from her digestive tract. Other children have been known to swallow so much gum in such a short period of time that the gum itself coalesces into a massive “taffylike” ball that causes a blockage. Another child swallowed sunflower seeds, shells and all, along with his gum, which created a mass that surgeons described as “prickly…like a porcupine.” This is why you shouldn’t give gum to young children, or if you do, you should regale them with stories of how it will stay in their stomach for seven years if they are so imprudent as to swallow it.


Put it on the Gum Wall, as God intended.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Remembering Sergeant Stubby, Hero Dog of World War I


I’ve blogged about Sergeant Stubby before, but that post was published all the way back in 2012 which, in Internet years, is so long ago that it might as well not even exist anymore. Since today is Memorial Day I wanted to blog about Sergeant Stubby again, because he was awesome. I mean, you really can’t write enough blog posts about Sergeant Stubby IMO. I would make this whole blog about Sergeant Stubby if I thought you guys would let me get away with it. Just kidding…not really.

Sergeant Stubby’s military career began when he befriended Corporal Robert Conroy, a member of the 102nd Infantry. The unit trained on the parade grounds of Yale University, where the dog lived as a stray. Conroy named the stray “Stubby” on account of its short, stubby tail, and as he and the other men got to know the animal, they realized it was smarter than the average dog. According to accounts, Stubby learned to identify the bugle calls, and taught himself to execute marching maneuvers alongside the men. Corporal Conroy even taught Stubby to salute his superior officers by raising his adorable little paw to his adorable little forehead – a trick that would eventually earn Stubby an official place with the 102nd, when he used it to charm Corporal Conroy’s own CO.



When the company shipped out, Conroy smuggled the dog aboard the troop ship and, when the ship reached France, Conroy smuggled the dog off again by stuffing him under his greatcoat. Stubby quickly became the official mascot of the 102nd, and while he certainly did his part to raise morale among the troops, that’s far from the only thing Stubby did. By the time he returned home at war’s end, Sergeant Stubby had become the most decorated dog of the entire war and remains, to this day, the only dog to achieve the rank of Sergeant through feats of heroism performed during combat.

During the 18 months that Stubby served in the trenches of France, he took part in 17 battles and four offensives, including those at Meuse-Argonne, St. Mihel, Champagne Marne, and Aisne-Marne. During February of 1918, Stubby found himself under heavy artillery and sniper fire for a full month; he became known for flying into “a battle rage,” barking and howling when enemy shots were fired. He sustained his first wound that very month, when he inhaled mustard gas and nearly died.

But Stubby didn’t die; instead, he became a badass mustard-gas-sniffing machine, taking it upon himself to warn the men whenever he smelled mustard gas in the trenches. No one knows how many lives Stubby saved by running through the trenches, barking and biting the soldiers to prompt them to put their gas masks on. Thanks to his ultrasensitive dog ears, Stubby saved countless more lives by warning the men of incoming artillery fire before the shells had a chance to explode. Stubby also learned to warn the American sentry when German troops were closing in for a ground attack. How did he do it? History insists that Stubby learned to tell the difference between the sounds of English and German being spoken, an ability he also used to help rescue wounded American soldiers stranded in No Man’s Land.

Stubby sustained his second wound in April 1918, when a German grenade peppered his chest and forelegs with shrapnel. He survived, and spent some time boosting morale in the field hospital during his convalescence. The French women of Chateau Thierry presented Stubby with his very own chamois coat, decorated with the flags of the Allied countries, to show their gratitude when the dog helped liberate the town. The men of his unit outfitted him with his very own American military uniform, from which he hung his many medals, including a Purple Heart, the Medal of Verdun, the Republic of France Grande War Medal.



Once, during the Meuse-Argonne campaign in September 1918, Stubby (literally) sniffed out a German spy on a mission to map the Allied trenches for the enemy. Stubby barked wildly, and when the German spy tried to run for it, Stubby chased the man down, dropped him with a bite to the leg, and then sank his teeth into the man’s rear end, holding him there he could be arrested. That’s how Stubby earned his promotion to Sergeant – and claimed the soldier’s German Iron Cross for his medal collection.



Corporal Conroy smuggled his dog/superior officer back to the States after the war, where fame and glory awaited him. Sergeant Stubby met three presidents, visited the White House twice, joined the American Legion, and enjoyed a lifetime supply of free dog food bestowed on him by the YMCA. When Corporal Conroy attended law school at Georgetown University, Sergeant Stubby accompanied him. He became the school football team’s mascot and inspired the team’s present-day mascot, a bulldog. During halftime at the team’s games, Sergeant Stubby entertained the crowd by pushing the ball around the field with his adorable nose. Some call this diversion the first-ever halftime show.




Sergeant Stubby died at the age of about 10 in 1926. His obituary in the New York Times was longer than those of many famous humans of the era. Corporal Conroy had the dog preserved via the magic of taxidermy, and donated him to the Smithsonian in 1956. Today, he can be seen at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. 


Friday, May 22, 2015

Fun Friday Facts #107: What Causes Heartbreak?


As some of you may have noticed, several months ago now I got a new boyfriend. Well, that new boyfriend is now an old boyfriend because we broke up. As usual, I was super-fucking-stoked about the relationship, and also as usual, I was super-fucking-wrong. I chose to respond to the crushing feelings of despair in the only logical way – by eating a banana split for dinner. And then I decided to blog about it.

According to a 2005 study led by neurologist Lucy Brown, psychologist Art Aron, and anthropologist Helen Fisher, romantic love causes a rush of dopamine into the region of the brain associated with goal-seeking behavior and feelings of motivation. The process of falling in love is neurologically identical to the process of becoming addicted to drugs. Love is not a feeling; it is what scientists refer to as a “goal-oriented motivational state” or, to put it bluntly, an addiction. Perhaps unsurprisingly, learning this does not make me feel any better.

In 2010, the researchers set out to discover what causes the sobbing, wailing, drinking too much, eating of banana splits for dinner, etc. that occurs in the wake of a breakup. They gathered up several people who had just been dumped and who reported spending at least 85 percent of their time thinking about the lost object of their affection and pining for reconciliation. These people admitted to an inability to control their emotions and behavior, resulting in everything from crying for hours, to getting drunk, to calling, texting, or emailing the ex, to turning up at the ex’s place of work to have a go at them. I’ve been on the receiving end of that last one before, though not this time around, so there’s that to be thankful for.

After popping the heartbroken individuals into fMRI machines like slices of weepy bread into a big magnetic toaster, the researchers discovered that the lovelorn test subjects were still showing plenty of activity in the reward centers of their brains. Like a newly ex-smoker chewing desperately at a lollipop, the lovelorn study participants were still seeking the “fix” of their lover’s affection. The researchers also found signs of activity in other parts of the brain, such as those linked to controlling emotions and behavior. Someone was lying in that fMRI machine fighting off the urge to take a big revenge dump on the hood of someone’s Porsche. Let’s hope they were successful.

But what causes the feelings of physical pain so commonly referred to as a “broken heart”? Well, the short answer is, no one knows. But according to a 2009 study from researchers at the University of Maryland and the University of Arizona, activity in the parts of the brain related to emotional reactivity, especially related to a particularly stressful experience like heartbreak, can cause a “biological cascade” that overstimulates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve begins in the brain stem and travels down the neck into the chest and abdomen. The researchers believe that overstimulation of this nerve is responsible for the chest pain and nausea called “heartbreak.”

Still others think that the emotional pain of a breakup could simultaneously trigger both the fight-or-flight response and the lesser known opposite response, hilariously dubbed the rest-and-digest response. The chest pain, then, would be a result of the heart struggling to cope with hormonal commands to speed up and slow down at the same time. It’s worth noting that it’s possible to die of a broken heart, perhaps due to the hormonal effects of emotional stress. While science doesn’t yet fully understand the cause of the physical sensation of heartbreak, it’s clear that the pain of social rejection originates in the same part of the brain as physical pain, so that, in the words of author Meghan Laslocky, “As far as your brain is concerned, the pain you feel is no different from a stab wound.”

I know how you feel, Tesco Pineapple juice.
Image by NOGG3R5 from Flickr.com