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How Imagination Changes the Brain

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Is it possible to get better at playing the piano by simply thinking about playing the piano? Oddly, the answer is yes. (Now, it's better in the long run to actually play the piano -- and that "thinking" activity must be very focused and directed -- but still, that's crazy, right?) It turns out that this phenomenon is actually quite common: by exercising the brain, humans can improve coordination skills (and even strength) in physical tasks.

This actually happened to me when I was learning to type. When I was a pre-teen, I got a job as a typist, transcribing printed magazine articles into text format for posting on a CompuServe bulletin board. Now, I'd had lessons on typing for years in school by that point -- but it never really stuck, and I remained a rapid hunt-and-peck typist, not very sure of where the keys were or how to type quickly. When I had to type page after page of text in, I was suddenly motivated to get better at the task. I began to imagine the keyboard at all times -- when I'd "speak" a thought in my mind, I'd imagine the feeling of typing it. I would not allow myself to think-speak faster than I could t-y-p-e t-h-e l-e-t-t-e-r-s o-n a k-e-y-b-o-a-r-d in my mind. (I was a weird kid, yes.) While this is arguably a little nutty and compulsive, it worked -- I got better at typing largely by thinking about typing.

If you can spare two minutes, check out this video discussing a few good examples of this phenomenon. And if you've experienced something similar to my in-brain typing tutoring, let me know in the comments!

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Belly Flop Physics 101: The Science Behind the Sting
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Belly flops are the least-dignified—yet most painful—way of making a serious splash at the pool. Rarely do they result in serious physical injury, but if you’re wondering why an elegant swan dive feels better for your body than falling stomach-first into the water, you can learn the laws of physics that turn your soft torso a tender pink by watching the SciShow’s video below.

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What's the Saltiest Water in the World?
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Saltwater is common around the world—indeed, salty oceans cover more than two-thirds of the globe. Typical saltwater found in our oceans is about 3.5% salt by weight. But in some areas, we find naturally occurring saltwater that's far saltier. The saltiest water yet discovered is more than 12 times saltier than typical seawater.

Gaet’ale is a pond in Ethiopia which currently holds the record as the most saline water body on Earth. The water in that pond is 43.3% dissolved solids by weight—most of that being salt. This kind of water is called hypersaline for its extreme salt concentration.

In the video below, Professor Martyn Poliakoff explains this natural phenomenon—why it's so salty, how the temperature of the pond affects its salinity, and even why this particular saltwater has a yellow tint. Enjoy:

For the paper Poliakoff describes, check out this abstract.

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