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4 Burning Questions We Just Can’t Answer

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Alaub Ruazuelo via NASA

Despite all of the incredible things humans have figured out, we don’t know everything.

1. What’s inside a black hole?

We’ll probably never know. Nothing can communicate from inside of one—light, radio waves, anything. Even if we could send something (like a signal) into a black hole, we couldn’t get it back. The closest thing we have to an answer employs two established theories (gravity and quantum mechanics). Scientists even have a name for this combined theory—quantum gravity—but they still don’t get how it works. For now, they think everything sucked into a black hole is bunched up and stacked on top of itself in its center, like a big, galactic dogpile. Other people think black holes could be a gate to another universe. But until someone goes into one and comes back? No idea.

2. Why do we have an appendix?

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Total mystery! It’s just there (unless you had it removed). A 2007 issue of the Journal of Theoretical Biology posited that the vestigial organ once acted as a storehouse for “good” bacteria, so when pre-medicine bodies were hit with dire illnesses affecting the gut, an appendix could help repopulate the stomach with disease-fighting bacteria. Scientists agree that this guess is as good as they come, but the author of the study admitted there’s no way to confirm it without a “very expensive, heinous” experiment that might involve infecting people who don’t have access to modern medicine with dysentery. No thanks!

3. What’s the CIA hiding about JFK’s assassination?

Abbie Rowe. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Maybe nothing—or not. In 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald applied for a visa to travel to Cuba, via the Soviet embassy in Mexico City. The CIA picked up on it. Five senior CIA officers signed off on a cable basically saying Oswald wasn’t a concern (whoops). Of the approximately 3,600 JFK files that remain sealed in the National Archives, 1,100 concern the CIA. And while the JFK Records Act of ’92 mandated all files related to the assassination be released in 2017, it also holds provisions that if the files could potentially compromise national security upon release, they can remain classified ... of course.

4. Does Tony die in The Sopranos finale?

Alamy

In the most infamous last scene in TV, Tony Soprano eats onion rings to “Don’t Stop Believin’” in a sketchy New Jersey diner, then...nothing. It cut to black. Outrage and conspiracy theories abounded! Show creator David Chase was mostly mum on it until an April 2015 Directors Guild of America interview: “I never considered the black a shot. I just thought that what we see is black. The biggest feeling I was going for ... was don’t stop believing. Life is short. Either it ends here for Tony or some other time. But in spite of that, it’s really worth it.” In other words: You’ll never know.


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Big Questions
Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?
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Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Basketball and hockey coaches wear business suits on the sidelines. Football coaches wear team-branded shirts and jackets and often ill-fitting pleated khakis. Why are baseball managers the only guys who wear the same outfit as their players?

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball since 2011, it goes back to the earliest days of the game. Back then, the person known as the manager was the business manager: the guy who kept the books in order and the road trips on schedule. Meanwhile, the guy we call the manager today, the one who arranges the roster and decides when to pull a pitcher, was known as the captain. In addition to managing the team on the field, he was usually also on the team as a player. For many years, the “manager” wore a player’s uniform simply because he was a player. There were also a few captains who didn’t play for the team and stuck to making decisions in the dugout, and they usually wore suits.

With the passing of time, it became less common for the captain to play, and on most teams they took on strictly managerial roles. Instead of suits proliferating throughout America’s dugouts, though, non-playing captains largely hung on to the tradition of wearing a player's uniform. By the early to mid 20th century, wearing the uniform was the norm for managers, with a few notable exceptions. The Philadelphia Athletics’s Connie Mack and the Brooklyn Dodgers’s Burt Shotton continued to wear suits and ties to games long after it fell out of favor (though Shotton sometimes liked to layer a team jacket on top of his street clothes). Once those two retired, it’s been uniforms as far as the eye can see.

The adherence to the uniform among managers in the second half of the 20th century leads some people to think that MLB mandates it, but a look through the official major league rules [PDF] doesn’t turn up much on a manager’s dress. Rule 1.11(a) (1) says that “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs" and rule 2.00 states that a coach is a "team member in uniform appointed by the manager to perform such duties as the manager may designate, such as but not limited to acting as base coach."

While Rule 2.00 gives a rundown of the manager’s role and some rules that apply to them, it doesn’t specify that they’re uniformed. Further down, Rule 3.15 says that "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Again, nothing about the managers being uniformed.

All that said, Rule 2.00 defines the bench or dugout as “the seating facilities reserved for players, substitutes and other team members in uniform when they are not actively engaged on the playing field," and makes no exceptions for managers or anyone else. While the managers’ duds are never addressed anywhere else, this definition does seem to necessitate, in a roundabout way, that managers wear a uniform—at least if they want to have access to the dugout. And, really, where else would they sit?

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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Big Questions
How Long Could a Person Survive With an Unlimited Supply of Water, But No Food at All?
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How long could a person survive if he had unlimited supply of water, but no food at all?

Richard Lee Fulgham:

I happen to know the answer because I have studied starvation, its course, and its utility in committing a painless suicide. (No, I’m not suicidal.)

A healthy human being can live approximately 45 to 65 days without food of any kind, so long as he or she keeps hydrated.

You could survive without any severe symptoms [for] about 30 to 35 days, but after that you would probably experience skin rashes, diarrhea, and of course substantial weight loss.

The body—as you must know—begins eating itself, beginning with adipose tissue (i.e. fat) and next the muscle tissue.

Google Mahatma Gandhi, who starved himself almost to death during 14 voluntary hunger strikes to bring attention to India’s independence movement.

Strangely, there is much evidence that starvation is a painless way to die. In fact, you experience a wonderful euphoria when the body realizes it is about to die. Whether this is a divine gift or merely secretions of the brain is not known.

Of course, the picture is not so pretty for all reports. Some victims of starvation have experienced extreme irritability, unbearably itchy skin rashes, unceasing diarrhea, painful swallowing, and edema.

In most cases, death comes when the organs begin to shut down after six to nine weeks. Usually the heart simply stops.

(Here is a detailed medical report of the longest known fast: 382 days.)

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

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