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‘Shower Thoughts’ from Reddit, explained by experts

Have you ever noticed that you seem to have some of your best ideas in the shower?

Blog
Wednesday 28th November 2018

Have you ever noticed that you seem to have some of your best ideas in the shower? Well you’re not alone - as celebrity psychologist Jo Hemmings explains, there’s a reason our overhead light bulbs tend to get active in the bathroom: “During auto-pilot activities like being in the shower, the pre-frontal cortex in the brain – which controls decision making and focused goals – is relaxed and the brain’s default mode network comes into play, giving us clarity and creativity.”

In fact, the phenomenon is so common that there’s an entire Reddit thread dedicated to it, r/Showerthoughts. There you’ll find a glorious mix of pop culture debate and innovative brainwaves, and some ideas so thought-provoking that you just need to get to the bottom of them.

So that’s what we did.

We posed some of our favourite Reddit showerthoughts to experts, from neuroscientists to genealogists to members of the Royal Astronomical Society. Read on to see their responses to some of the internet’s trickiest epiphanies!

 

What is the tingle you feel when you almost slip or fall, is it you from another dimension getting injured from said fall?

Dr. Emma Pond, Biologist and Clinical Trials Coordinator

That tingling feeling when you’ve almost slipped or fallen over is a fight or flight response from your body. As you slipped your body released adrenaline to cope with the possible fall and/or injury, which dissipates quite quickly and that’s what can cause the tingly feeling. It’s perfectly normal, sorry if you were hoping for another dimension answer but biology says otherwise!

 

The International Space Station can stream live video in 4k HD as they circle the globe every 90 minutes and there are places on Earth where I can't even make a phone call.

Darren Rhodes, Neuroscientist

Telecommunication is one of the greatest scientific advances of the 20th century. Imagine telling someone 200 years ago they would be able to call someone in Australia and ask them how the weather was? It took months by ship to send a message by mail before the advent of phones, computers and satellites.

The question of phone coverage comes down to how close satellites and phone masts are spread out, yet in the case of the ISS how can it have almost perfect coverage? Well, it has a dedicated telecommunication satellite and receiver trained directly on the station - it’s not ‘spread out’ like how a light fills the room, or how sound travels... it’s instead like concentrating your focus through a telescope toward a single star.”

 

The power of the sun will never cease to amaze me. A ball of fire millions of miles away that can vastly affect climate on the surface of the earth by traveling just thousands of miles. Today its power will be enough to blind you just by looking at the outer edges of it concentrated by the moon.

Dr Robert Massey, Deputy Executive Director, Royal Astronomical Society.

"The Sun is certainly vital for advanced life on Earth. Without the electromagnetic radiation it emits (reaching us in the form of radio waves, light, ultraviolet light and infrared light) we would live on a cold, dark world. Fortunately the output of the Sun has only varied by a small amount over the whole of human history and prehistory, though in hundreds of millions of years it will be significantly brighter. Sadly we're now influencing our own climate through CO2 emissions, and that's happening on a much shorter timescale.

Looking directly at the Sun is a *really bad idea*, except during the total phase of a total solar eclipse, when its brightest surface is completely blocked by the Moon. At all other times the bright light of the Sun can permanently damage your eyes, and you should also *never* look at it through binoculars or a telescope without properly certified filters. It isn't though true to say the edges of the Moon significantly focus sunlight on to the Earth.

 

 

I wonder if I'm living up to my ancestor's expectations on how their descendants would be?

Myko Clelland, Family Historian

When your ancestors were your age, they were probably thinking about having their fifth child and hoping they all survived to adulthood. They probably couldn't read or write, and they most likely lived in a one or two room house, with an outside toilet. They might have not travelled more than 20 miles in any direction their whole lives. You can read, write, go to the toilet indoors and you've probably seen things they never even heard stories of. You would be some kind of miracle to them, you and your pumpkin spiced latte.

Your age is basically the number of times that you have revolved around the sun.

Darren Rhodes, Neuroscientist

Space and time are the fundamental dimensions of human experience. We live in a three dimensional world, and ride along it within the 4th dimension - time. As such, time and space are inextricably linked. Our carriage through our life is the earth, and we ride around the sun through time. Time is also a human construct - a year is not a year because it is a year. A year is a year simply by how long it takes the earth to travel around the Sun. If the Earth travelled around a larger sun, or was further away from the sun, then what we know as a year would be many times longer. Years are just useful human inventions to keep track of time.

Remember when fake news was just rumour?

Holly Thomas, Freelance journalist for CNN

I find it almost impossible to remember a time before fake news, as it’s so ubiquitous now! I think it’s very telling that the people making the loudest accusations of fake news are also often the worst culprits of it. So while fake news is a very real problem in and of itself, its use as a political football can be even more dangerous and confusing - especially when coverage of accusations of fake news gets a bigger reaction than ‘real’ news coverage.

The shortening of the news cycle has also amped up the stakes hugely. The saying ‘a lie travels around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes’ has never been more resonant when people are so quick to leap on and share any hint of bias confirmation on social media. People see a headline, make an assumption, and share, often before even reading a piece. The online whirlpool that creates is hugely distracting, and not very useful when it comes to inspiring trust in the media, which is such an important tool in holding power to account."

Think about how many stories/pictures you would've missed if there wasn't for reposts.

Jim Meadows, Managing Partner at Commit

"Reposts differ from other forms of content -  when posts are curated (shared by others) they carry powerful cultural triggers from which we (the viewer) determine the level of trust we have in them and how important it is socially for us to give them our time, based on the person who shared.

Without curation and organic syndication in our networks we’d not only miss out on volumes of relevant content (we now consume 3.5 hours of online media per day) but also picking up on the social signals that help us feel aligned or opposed to our connections."

 

Hydrogen is flammable. Oxygen is flammable. Put 'em together and you can put out fires.

Lily Clarke, Physics consultant for Innovia Technology     

"Flammability is defined as the ability of a material to sustain enough heat energy to keep a fire going, given enough oxygen.

Hydrogen is flammable. However, it is a common misconception that oxygen is also flammable. In reality, oxygen does not burn - in fact, oxygen acts as a ‘oxidiser’ and lowers the ignition temperature of other compounds, rather than burning itself.

When hydrogen and oxygen combine to create water, an entirely different molecule is created. The creation of water is actually due to the combustion of hydrogen, which produces energy. Therefore, the oxygen in water has already ‘oxidised’ and isn’t free to contribute to further combustion, or burning.

The reason that water puts out fire is fairly simple - water absorbs a lot of heat energy. This lowers the temperature of the fire and without heat, a fire cannot continue to burn."

It’s weird that heat rises, but ice floats.

Lily Clarke, Physics consultant for Innovia Technology

"Whether something rises or sinks is to do with the relative density of matter. Water is lot more dense than air, because the molecules are closer together. Intuitively, water will be heavier than air.

From a physics perspective, we actually say that “hot air” rises, rather than heat. Heat energy causes molecules in air to vibrate, and so the average distance between molecules increases, decreasing the density. This is why hot air rises, because it has become less dense than ambient air and so ‘floats’ to the top.

The reason ice floats is due to a strange quirk of water. Most solids, such as rocks, are more dense than liquids, so they sink. In fact, most substances become more dense when they freeze.

One water molecule contains 1 positively-charged hydrogen atom and 2 negatively-charged oxygen atoms, held together by both covalent bonds and weaker hydrogen bonds. When water freezes, these hydrogen bonds adjust slightly to keep the 2 negatively charged oxygen atoms apart, creating a honeycomb structure that actually causes ice to become less dense than liquid water."

The average life expectancy of a human is 79 years, so technically a quarter-life crisis begins at age 19, not 25 like everyone assumes.

Jo Hemmings, TV Psychologist

"In spite of life expectancy being much closer to 80 than 100, research has revealed that not only do 72% of millennials in the UK, experience a quarter-life crisis, the average age is actually 26 years and nine months. Pressures that contribute to a QLC include concerns about getting on the property ladder, finding a career that is fulfilling, political uncertainty and finding a life partner.

It’s a period of time when people feel insecure about their futures – whether that’s career, finances, national and international concerns or relationships. Or very often a mixture of all, fuelled by genuine concerns that it often seems tougher than it was for our parents and social media, feeding us fake news, scare stories and unrealistic expectations!"

 

The reason you can ponder and have an insightful "shower thought(s)" during shower may be because you can't carry your cellphone/tablet during that time.

Jo Hemmings, TV Psychologist

"We’ve all had those moments in the shower when we get a brilliant or creative idea or just suddenly find the solution to something that has been bothering us. In part this is because we aren’t distracted by outside stimuli, like our smart phones, but actually has a lot to do with the monotony or mindless nature of the activity (it could be exercising or fishing for example) and the switch to auto-pilot thinking which frees up our busy brains.

During auto-pilot activities like being in the shower, the pre-frontal cortex in the brain – which controls decision making and focused goals – is relaxed and the brain’s default mode network comes into play, giving us clarity and creativity.

The shower is an especially good place to let those creative ideas flow, as it is also a small, safe and enclosed space where you are (more than likely!) to be alone, naked and pretty stress free. That in itself releases a little shot of dopamine, a feel-good hormone that also adds to those creative juices."

Maybe the soothing feeling from listening to the sound of rain comes from an instinct of knowing that predators are probably taking shelter, so it's a safe time to relax.

Jo Hemmings, TV Psychologist

"People have been listening to the sounds of rain to help them fall asleep for a very long time. Some psychologists believe that it goes back to our moment of conception, when we spent nine months in the womb surrounded by water and that subconsciously we associate the calming effect of rainfall on that.

It’s also a repetitive, non-threatening noise, masking out other potentially more disturbing sounds like traffic or a dog barking and so our brains relax, knowing there’s no instinctive drive to be vigilant or worried. Falling rain is also similar to white noise – a random mixture of low volume sound frequencies - which decreases sensory input and brain stimulation and so makes us feel calm, soothed and often sleepy too!"

 

No matter how sleepy I get throughout the day the time, when I most want to sleep is when I’ve just woken up

James Wilson, Sleep Behaviour and Sleep Environment Expert on Channel 4's The Secrets of Sleep, Founder of The Sleep Lab

This is the curse of the Night Owl. Normally someone who suffers from this has been woken by their alarm and is not ready in any way, shape or form to get out of bed and get on with the day You might need 3 alarms, 4, 5 6. The longest alarm regime someone I worked with had started at 4.30 for a 7am wake up time. Two and a half hours of alarms and falling back to sleep. The best thing you can do? Buy a sunshine alarm clock….

To go to sleep, you have to pretend that you are asleep until you actually are

James Wilson, Sleep Behaviour and Sleep Environment Expert on Channel 4's The Secrets of Sleep, Founder of The Sleep Lab

I love this one. Sleep is such an awkward thing. We cannot force sleep, so the more we pursue sleep the further away is always seems. People have many ways to trick their brains into falling asleep and this is a popular one. If you just lay there, and rather than trying to force yourself to sleep pretend that you are asleep then your body relaxes, and you drift off into the land of nod. Often people find the opposite works too. By trying to force ourselves to stay awake we are not focusing on sleep and therefore silent descend into slumber.

 

Do you agree with our experts? If you need some time to mull it over, our showers are designed to suit every taste – so you can turn your bathroom into your dream thinking sanctuary.