If The United States Retires The Penny, Where Will All The Old Ones Go?

The debate over the penny's worth (as in its right to exist, not monetary worth, which, of course, is 1/100th of a dollar) is a recurring theme in modern American politics. The first piece of legislation introduced to Congress regarding the matter was the Price Rounding Act of 1989, which was brought forth "to provide a method for removing one-cent pieces from cash transactions." It failed, and Abe Lincoln's shiny head was spared, but the issue is still raised time and time again.

By every measure, minting pennies is a waste of money and resources for the U.S. government. In 2011, the U.S. lost $60.2 million making and circulating the coin and, in 2013, the U.S. Mint estimated that it cost 1.8 cents to produce each penny (not including distribution costs). There are arguments for keeping the coin, but evidence suggests that the penny's existence is pointless.

Were the government to tell the one cent coin to get lost, where would all the pennies go? For answers, it's always best to look to our sane cousins to the north, Canada. Because the two countries' coinage distribution is so similar, the results of a phase-out would likely look the same.

In 2012, Canada's Economic Action Plan started the process of stopping penny production. According to a New York Times article about the phase-out, Canadians were "encouraged to bring [pennies] to banks for eventual melting or to donate them to charities—which will presumably bring them in for melting." Retailers were told to start rounding up or down to the nearest five cent mark starting on February 4, 2013. Still, the government allowed pennies to "be used in cash transactions indefinitely with businesses that choose to accept them."

The U.S. mints a lot of pennies per year—the estimate for 2014's haul is 6,848,400,000—and, were production to cease today, the government would have minted some 300 billion since 1787. Of that, only 140 to 200 billion pennies are actually in circulation today. That's because the coin doesn't have a high usage rate—substantial numbers get thrown into fountains, lost in couch cushions, dropped down subway grates, etc. Should the government enact a phase-out, this will continue to happen to the nation's limited supply of existing pennies (that haven't been voluntarily melted down) until the numbers dwindle enough for collectors to really take notice. How long will this be? Considering you can buy a 5 lb. pile of Canadian pennies for a little over five bucks U.S., chances are it'll take longer than a year.

Cameron Spencer, Getty Images
Big Questions
How Do Aerial Skiers Perfect Their Jumps?
Cameron Spencer, Getty Images
Cameron Spencer, Getty Images

If you've ever watched an aerial skier in action, you know that some of the maneuvers these athletes pull off are downright jaw-dropping—and you've probably seen more than a few of these skiers land on their rear ends at some point. The jumps are incredible, but they're also so technical that one seemingly insignificant motion can drop a skier on his or her tail.

Given that the skiers can fly up to 60 feet in the air and come down on a 37-degree grade, it seems like just going out and trying a new trick would be a good way to break your neck. That's why you'll need one unexpected piece of equipment if you want to start training for aerials: a towel.

Instead of perfecting their flips and twists over the snow, aerial skiers try out their new maneuvers on ramps that launch them over huge swimming pools. The U.S. national team has facilities in Park City, Utah and Lake Placid, New York that include specially designed pools to help competitors perfect their next big moves. The pools have highly aerated patches of bubbles in their centers that decrease the surface tension to make the water a bit softer for the skiers' landings.

If you're an aspiring aerial skier, expect to get fairly wet. New skiers have to make a minimum of 200 successful jumps into water before they even get their first crack at the snow, and these jumps have to get a thumbs up from coaches in order for the skier to move on.

This sort of meticulous preparation doesn't end once you hit the big-time, either. American Ashley Caldwell, one of the most decorated athletes in the sport, is competing in her third Olympics in Pyeongchang, but failed to advance past the qualifiers on February 15, as she wasn't able to land either one of the two triple-flipping jumps she attempted. Still, it's this very sort of risk-taking that has brought her to the top of her game, and caused friction with more than one of her past coaches.

"Why win with less when you can win with more?" Caldwell said of her competition mentality. “I don’t want to go out there and show the world my easiest trick. I want to show the world my best trick, me putting everything on the line to be the best.”

You can check out some of Team USA's moves in the video below:

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Big Questions
Is There Really Such Thing As 'Muscle Memory'?

Is there really such a thing as 'muscle memory'? For example, in the sense of your fingers remembering where the keys of the keyboard are?

C Stuart Hardwick:

Yes and no. There is no literal memory in the muscles, but the thing people call “muscle memory” exists, though the name is a misnomer.

A better name might be “subconscious memory,” as the information is stored in the brain, but is most readily accessible—or only accessible—by non-conscious means.

What “non-conscious” refers to here is the brain’s enormous capacity to train up what might almost be called “subroutines,” that exist outside our conscious experience. I like the term for this that at least one researcher in the field uses: “zombie agency.”

Zombie agents are non-conscious, or sub-conscious (in the literal, not the Freudian sense) that can do essentially everything you can do except make value judgments. So, for example, you don’t consciously know how to control your muscles in order to walk —in all likelihood, you wouldn’t know where to begin—but your zombie agents do, and they’ll take you wherever you want to go, dodging curbs and puppies, and “waking you” when appropriate to decide which babies to stop and kiss.

Zombie agents can be rather startling things. When you suddenly become aware that you’ve driven halfway across town in the direction of the office instead of going to the shoe store Saturday morning, you have zombie agents to thank. You “wake” as if from slumber, and with the frightening realization that you’ve been flying down the highway at prodigious speed while your mind was on other things. You feel as if you’ve been asleep, and in a way you have—but a very funny kind of sleep in which it is only the uppermost layer of abstract reason that is disassociated from the rest of conscious experience. Your zombie agents have been driving to work, responding to traffic, adjusting the radio, noting the check engine light, all the things you think of as “you, driving the car,” except the big one: deciding where to go. That part was on automatic pilot (which is another good way to think of this).

This is at the advanced end of the spectrum. Typing your friend’s phone number using “muscle memory” is at the other, but it’s the same phenomenon.

We didn’t evolve to remember phone numbers, so we aren’t very good at it. In fact, we are so bad at it, we invent all sorts of mnemonic devices (memory aids) to help us [in] relating numbers to words or spacial memory, either of which are closer to the hunting and gathering we are evolved for. The illusion of “muscle memory” arises because we are supremely well adapted to manual manipulation and tool-making. We don’t need to invent a memory aid to help us remember what we do with our hands, we only have to practice.

So the conscious mind says “dial Tabby’s number,” and our fingers—or more correctly, the zombie agent which learned that task—do it. Similarly, after sufficient training, we can do the same thing with tasks like “play a major fifth,” "drive to work,” or “pull an Airbus A380 up for a go-around.”

It feels like muscle memory because the conscious mind—the part you experience as being you—is acting like a coach driver, steering the efforts of a team of zombie agents, all harnesses to collective action. But it isn’t muscle memory, it's just memory—though it may be stored (or at least some of it) in the deeper, motor cortex parts of the brain.

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


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