Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Winks and blinks

As we all know, we blink to keep our eyes moist and clean. But here are some facts, trivia, and weird news that may surprise you.
We blink an average of 10 times a minute as adults (only 1-2 times a minute as infants) for 300-400 milliseconds at a time, controlled by a "blinking center" in the brain and multiple muscles that control the eyelid. Blinking is affected by many medical conditions, for instance Parkinson's disease slows the rate down and schizoprenia speeds it up. Excessive blinking may indicate Tourette syndrome, stroke, or nervous disorders. Blinking slows way down when we are focused on an object - for instance, a book - for an extended period of time. To combat the fatigue and possible vision problems associated with staring at the computer screen, a Japanese company has developed "wink glasses," which ensure that the wearer blinks every 5 seconds. When watching a 150-minute movie, our eyes will be closed for a total of 15 minutes - and researchers have determined that not only do we time our blinks subconsciously so as not to miss any of the action, everyone else is doing the same thing and so we blink in unison. Unfortunately, we do not practice synchronized blinking while having our photograph taken, but Canon is working on a camera feature called "Blink Shot" that won't take the picture until everyone's eyes are open.
Winking is usually flirtatious or indicative of a shared secret. When we blink one eye, it is intended as a signal, but when tortoises, hamsters, and some other animals appear to wink, it is because they blink their eyes independently of each other. Nigerians wink to signal children to leave the room, many Chinese find it impossible to wink, and people in many Asian countries find it offensive. Cyborgs edge closer to being human by winking in the 1927 film Metropolis (pictured) and the 2004 film I, Robot. But most remarkable is a book written with winks: French journalist, author, and editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (1952-1997) was left unable to move anything but his left eyelid after a stroke in 1997, so he dictated his memoir by blinking that eye repeatedly to indicate the letters of the alphabet. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was published in 1997; Bauby died 2 days later.

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