Original image

Why Does Hot Water Sometimes Feel Cold?

Original image

Home experiment time! Go run some hot water, either in a sink or tub, and stick your hand under it.

Some of you might be mad at me—the water was hot and you have no idea why I asked you to scald yourself. (We'll work through this.) Some of you, though, are going to be a little confused. You know the water was hot, but when you put your hand under it, it felt ice cold.

All together now, in your best Jerry Seinfeld voice: "What's the deal with that?"

Feeling Spots

Our hands have a mess of sensory receptors that all receive different sensations. These receptors send signals to the brain to help us make sense of what we're touching. We've got some receptors that receive sensations of cold (cold spots) and others that receive warmth (warm spots).

Neither of these temperature receptors pull double-duty. If you touch a cold spot with something hot, it's still going to do what it's supposed to do: send a cold signal. If you touch a warm spot with something cold, it's still going to tell the brain that you're touching something warm.

Mixed Signals

Neurologists call instances when these spots send the "wrong" signal in response to a stimulus paradoxical cold and paradoxical warmth. If you want to try another experiment (and you still trust me after the hot water thing), grab a pen and lightly poke the point around between your knuckles. In some spots it will feel cold, in some it will feel warm.

Of course, when you run your hand under hot water, the water touches both warm and cold spots. In cases like this, where the stimulus is strong enough, the receptors get confused and sometimes the wrong signal gets sent to the brain, even though both temperature receptors are being stimulated. Sometimes it only takes a second for things to correct themselves; sometimes it takes a few minutes.

How did the hot water experiment turn out for you?

Original image
Big Questions
How Does Autopilot Work on an Airplane?
Original image

How does autopilot work on an airplane?

Joe Shelton:

David Micklewhyte’s answer is a good one. There are essentially a few types of features that different autopilots have. Some autopilots only have some of these features, while the more powerful autopilots do it all.

  • Heading Hold: There’s a small indicator that the pilot can set on the desired heading and the airplane will fly that heading. This feature doesn’t take the need for wind correction to desired routing into account; that’s left to the pilot.
  • Heading and Navigation: In addition to holding a heading, this version will take an electronic navigation input (e.g. GPS or VOR) and will follow (fly) that navigation reference. It’s sort of like an automated car in that it follows the navigator’s input and the pilot monitors.
  • Altitude Hold: Again, in addition to the above, a desired altitude can be set and the aircraft will fly at that altitude. Some autopilots have the capability for the pilot to select a desired altitude and a climb or descent rate and the aircraft will automatically climb or descend to that altitude and then hold the altitude.
  • Instrument Approaches: Autopilots with this capability will fly preprogrammed instrument approaches to the point where the pilot either takes control and lands or has the autopilot execute a missed approach.

The autopilot is a powerful computer that takes input from either the pilot or a navigation device and essentially does what it is told to do. GPS navigators, for example, can have a full flight plan entered from departure to destination, and the autopilot will follow the navigator’s guidance.

These are the majority of the controls on the autopilot installed in my airplane:

HDG Knob = Heading knob (Used to set the desired heading)

AP = Autopilot (Pressing this turns the autopilot on)

FD = Flight Director (A form of navigational display that the pilot uses)

HDG = Heading (Tells the autopilot to fly the heading set by the Heading Knob)

NAV = Tells the autopilot to follow the input from the selected navigator

APR = Tells the autopilot to fly the chosen approach

ALT = Tells the autopilot to manage the altitude, controlled by the following:

VS = Vertical Speed (Tells the autopilot to climb or descend at the chosen rate)

Nose UP / Nose DN = Sets the climb/descent rate in feet per minute

FLC = Flight Level Change (An easy manual way to set the autopilot)

ALT Knob = Used to enter the desired altitude

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Original image
Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
Original image

While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at


More from mental floss studios