The One With Neuroscience Fun Facts And Roman Prostitutes
There’s nothing quite like an obligatory unfunny nerd joke to inaugurate an equally nerdy column. Why did the nervous system defy the authorities despite the potentially catastrophic repercussions? Because he had the nerve to.
Fact 1: The fornix, a part of the limbic system, is a C-shaped bundle of nerve fibers in the brain that carries signals from the hippocampus to the mammillary bodies and then to the anterior nuclei of thalamus.
Fact 2: Arches are the foundation of Rome’s architectural mastery.
Fact 3: If you think the two aforementioned statements aren’t related, you’re wrong.
Made by Jiyeon Yoo
Fornix is a Latin word that means “arch”, which satisfyingly explains why the bundle of nerves in your limbic system forms a C-shaped arch. What is interesting, however, is why the neuroanatomical term bears resemblance to one that is synonymous with adultery: fornication. The answer lies with the fact that arched passages in public buildings such as the Stadium and Colosseum were popular with Roman prostitutes for soliciting, making these arches the place to be for men to go fornicate under. Clearly, the arches that Rome is famous for aren’t purely architectural.
Neuroscience, with it’s scope ranging from explaining complex behaviours to earth shattering etymological revelations and everything in between, has slowly in my eyes, become the answer to everything. Have you ever grown tired of people moronically preaching the seemingly fake deep chant of “just breathe” in an attempt to calm you down? Such too was my plight before I encountered this academic discipline. Deep diaphragmatic breathing—with a long, slow exhale—is key to stimulating a nerve, widely distributed and rooted in the brain stem, that in turn activates the parasympathetic nervous system resulting in slowing heart rate and blood pressure, especially in times of performance anxiety.
This nerve which is the precise neurobiological equivalent of the phrase “grace under pressure” is interestingly named vagus, a Latin word meaning “wandering”, so named because its multiple branches wander to the lowest viscera of your abdomen touching most major organs along the way. It might seem obvious to some now that the words vague, vagrant and yes, vagabond are somewhat first cousins if not siblings to the vagus nerve. If the realization just dawned upon you, then congratulations, you have now successfully experienced what one of my teachers aptly terms a “ting moment”. I bear the promise that it won’t be the last.
Striking realizations and a deep rooted existential crisis are just some of the many bittersweet side-effects of etymology. Did you ever think a pneumogastric nerve could have any connection with a word that obnoxious hipsters use way too often? Are you, as the millennials would call it, shook? Just remember two things:
1. As the obnoxious hipsters would say, not all who wander are lost.
2. As the neuro-scientifically woke would say, just breathe.
Aditi Wakhlu, The First Of Her Name, Breaker of Societal Norms, Queen of Sarcasm, Master of Puns, etymology freak, debater, videographer, violinist. This spoken-word-fanatic, who is an unusual combination of a lazy perfectionist, has a wonderfully appeasing sense of aesthetics. Her sense of political correctness and taste in music is in its most literal sense of the term, award-worthy.
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