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Can Wild Animals Really 'Sense' Fear in Other Animals?

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Stefan Pociask:

All too often, some interpret the phrase “They can sense your fear” as something telepathic, some additional non-human sense, or something that is not understood. That, of course, is not it at all. Animals sense fear in others by just using various combinations of the five senses that we are all already familiar with.

Most everyone knows that the majority of vertebrates have at least one sense, if not more, that is more developed and stronger than what humans possess. The nose of a bloodhound, the eyes of an eagle, the ears of an owl, etc. (our sense of taste ranks about average, and our sense of touch is better than most).

In any case, it shouldn’t be surprising that animals can use those heightened senses to sense fear in other animals. No “sixth sense” is required. Actually, only various combinations of three are required: smell, sight, and hearing. I think we can all agree that, if it gets down to an animal tasting your fear or touching your fear, it’s already too late for you, or the prey in question, in any case.

That’s not to say that there are not more than our five senses. Take the sense of navigation in animals like pigeons and other birds; we don’t have that. There’s the sense of echolocation, found in certain bats and whales; we don’t have that, either. Nor the sense related to electroreception, in sharks and other fish. There are several others, scattered about the animal kingdom.

Having said all that … the most brave, fearless, aggressive bunny in the world is still going to feel the jaws of that fox or coyote crush his body, if the predator gets close enough. The fearless dodo bird was still regularly scooped up by sailors and other predators (that being one of the few higher animals who never developed the “fight or flight” response).

The ability to either sense fear or project fear plays a large part in the predator/prey relationship. For a human, not projecting fear won’t necessarily save you from being jumped by that cougar, nor being trampled by that bull elephant, but it might increase your chances of surviving. On the other hand, projecting fear in those situations will almost certainly decrease your chances of surviving. Your adversary in situations like that will surely be using its basic senses (sight, smell, and hearing) to determine its next course of action, in regards to you.

The “other animals” are not the only ones who can and do sense fear. Humans do it, as well. Granted, our level of fear-sensing is not as acute as most other vertebrates. But we still have the ability. Bullies use it. Car salesmen use it. Debt collectors use it. Con men and scam artists use it. Athletes use it. Diplomats use it. And of course, various types of warriors use it.

There’s a related term here: "Never let them see you sweat." That, if applied both figuratively and literally, is what it’s all about. Yet, it’s more than just about sweating.

In the end, it’s not particularly difficult to understand how animals, including us, can sense fear. Actually, it is beneficial that you understand it; that you understand how fear is both projected, and how it is sensed. It can help you to keep from getting bullied, from getting taken advantage of, and indeed, there are times when it can help you to survive. Part of it is instinctual, and part of it is learned. A good part of it is skill. You’d be well served to learn this skill well, both sensing it and controlling the projecting of it. Yet, to learn it best, you must understand it.

To understand it best, I would suggest that you change the phrase from "sensing fear" to "reading fear." It’s not only the wild animals. Most all animals are capable of it ... including you.

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

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Why Are Mugshots Made Public Before a Suspect is Convicted by the Court?
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Jennifer Ellis:

Several reasons.

1. Mugshots can help find people when they have absconded, or warn people when someone is out and dangerous. So there is a good reason to share some mugshots.

2. Our legal system requires openness as per the federal constitution, and I imagine most if not all state constitutions. As such, this sort of information is not considered private and can be shared. Any effort to keep mugshots private would result in lawsuits by the press and lay people. This would be under the First and Sixth Amendments as well as the various Freedom of Information Acts. However, in 2016 a federal court ruled [PDF] that federal mugshots are no longer routinely available under the federal FOIA.

This is partially in recognition of the damage that mugshots can do online. In its opinion, the court noted that “[a] disclosed booking photo casts a long, damaging shadow over the depicted individual.” The court specifically mentions websites that put mugshots online, in its analysis. “In fact, mugshot websites collect and display booking photos from decades-old arrests: BustedMugshots and JustMugshots, to name a couple.” Some states have passed or are looking to pass laws to prevent release of mugshots prior to conviction. New Jersey is one example.

a) As the federal court recognizes, and as we all know, the reality is that if your picture in a mugshot is out there, regardless of whether you were convicted, it can have an unfortunate impact on your life. In the old days, this wasn’t too much of a problem because it really wasn’t easy to find mugshots. Now, with companies allegedly seeking to extort people into paying to get their images off the web, it has become a serious problem. Those companies may get in trouble if it can be proved that they are working in concert, getting paid to take the picture off one site and then putting it on another. But that is rare. In most cases, the picture is just public data to which there is no right of privacy under the law.

b) The underlying purpose of publicity is to avoid the government charging people and abusing the authority to do so. It was believed that the publicity would help protect people. And it does when you have a country that likes to hide what it is up to. But, it also can cause harm in a modern society like ours, where such things end up on the web and can cause permanent damage. Unfortunately, it is a bit of a catch-22. We have the right to know issues and free speech rights smack up against privacy rights and serious damage of reputation for people who have not been convicted of a crime. The law will no doubt continue to shake out over the next few years as it struggles to catch up with the technology.

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

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What Happens When You Flush an Airplane Toilet?
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For millions of people, summer means an opportunity to hop on a plane and experience new and exciting sights, cultures, and food. It also means getting packed into a giant commercial aircraft and then wondering if you can make it to your next layover without submitting to the anxiety of using the onboard bathroom.

Roughly the size of an apartment pantry, these narrow facilities barely accommodate your outstretched knees; turbulence can make expelling waste a harrowing nightmare. Once you’ve successfully managed to complete the task and flush, what happens next?

Unlike our home toilets, planes can’t rely on water tanks to create passive suction to draw waste from the bowl. In addition to the expense of hauling hundreds of gallons of water, it’s impractical to leave standing water in an environment that shakes its contents like a snow globe. Originally, planes used an electronic pump system that moved waste along with a deodorizing liquid called Anotec. That method worked, but carrying the Anotec was undesirable for the same reasons as storing water: It raised fuel costs and added weight to the aircraft that could have been allocated for passengers. (Not surprisingly, airlines prefer to transport paying customers over blobs of poop.)

Beginning in the 1980s, planes used a pneumatic vacuum to suck liquids and solids down and away from the fixture. Once you hit the flush button, a valve at the bottom of the toilet opens, allowing the vacuum to siphon the contents out. (A nonstick coating similar to Teflon reduces the odds of any residue.) It travels to a storage tank near the back of the plane at high speeds, ready for ground crews to drain it once the airplane lands. The tank is then flushed out using a disinfectant.

If you’re also curious about timing your bathroom visit to avoid people waiting in line while you void, flight attendants say the best time to go is right after the captain turns off the seat belt sign and before drink service begins.

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

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