Are These 10 Things Actually Possible? (Part 3)


One of the most extraordinary things about the internet is that the answer, to virtually any question, is at your fingertips. Knowledge is just one click away. And as the leading search engine in the world (sorry Bing), Google has a unique part to play in a user’s ability to find answers. So we took it upon ourselves to type “is it possible” into Google’s search bar, and let autocomplete do the rest in helping us discover some of the most commonly asked questions (and, hopefully, answers) on the web. Here’s what we found…

10. Is it possible to change your personality?

Research suggests that your personality is formed in the earlier parts of your life, and once formed, it doesn’t change. The personality that we demonstrate as adults evolves out of the temperament we had as toddlers and infants. That same personality can be reinforced as caretakers and other children react to the behavior, reinforcing and solidifying a personality. It is true that someone can have a marked change in personality, if exposed to significant trauma or a life-changing event. One of the most fascinating cases of this is the story of Phineas Gage.

In 1848, 25-year-old Phineas Gage worked as a railroad construction foreman in the US. Gage was in charge of a crew of men who were working railroad construction in New England. As the crew were excavating rocks to make way for the railroad, Gage was making preparations for a demolition, using a tamping iron to compact a explosive charge in a borehole. Before the explosion could take place, the iron produced a spark that ignited the powder, blasting the tamping iron straight through Gage’s head. Doctors who treated him noted that the iron entered “the cranium, passing through the anterior left lobe of the cerebrum… fracturing the parietal and frontal lobes… and protruding the globe of the left eye from its socket.”

Somehow Gage survived the horrific accident, and was conscious and walking within a few minutes. However, after the injury, friends and business associates noticed a complete change in personality. Before the injury he was seen as an efficient and capable foreman, but afterwards he became irritable, rash, and liable to use profanity. Gage also seemed unable to behave properly in social setting, with some reports claiming he was prone to violence. Then again, the guy had an iron rod shot through is head. You’d probably be a little perturbed, too.

9. Is it possible to die of a broken heart?

The sudden death of Debbie Reynolds after her beloved daughter, Carrie Fisher, passed away is one of many examples of “dying from a broken heart.” There’s also the case of Don and Maxine Simpson, who were married for over 60 years and were inseparable after first meeting at a bowling alley in 1952. They died just hours apart. A study conducted by an internal medicine journal found that “the number of people who had a heart attack or a stroke in the month after a loved-one died was double that of a matched control group who were not grieving (50 out of 30,447 in the bereaved group, or 0.16%, compared with 67 out of 83,588 in the non-bereaved group, or 0.08%).”

Dr. Sunhil Shah, one of the authors of the report, believes that while we use the term “broken heart” the study shows that the pain of losing a loved one can have a direct effect on the heart. A medical term has developed to identify the affliction: stress cardiomyopathy, or takotsubo cardiomyopathy. The British Heart Association defines it as a temporary condition where one’s heart becomes suddenly weak, with the left ventricle changing shape. Unlike a heart attack where the arteries are blocked, for those with a “broken heart,” their heart changes shape. For most, the heart will return to its previous shape… but for others, it has led to fatal heart attacks.

8. Is it possible to accidentally unfriend someone on Facebook?

A question of the modern age, many people can certainly relate to this question. You’re thinking of sending a message, or checking someone’s page on Facebook, when you can’t find them. You check to see if you spelled their name correctly, then if they’re on your friends list, and then your mutual friends’ list. But they’re gone. It turns out they’ve unfriended you. How could this have happened? Could it have been an accident? Was it that thing you said about their mother? Didn’t they know you were joking, and in reality think she’s really quite a lovely lady with no discernible odor?

While anything is possible, it’s highly unlikely. Unfriending someone takes several deliberate steps. First, the person must go to your profile page. Second, they they must click on the friends tab and select unfriend. Finally, the person will be asked if they’re sure they want to carry out this action. The likelihood of completing all these steps unknowingly makes us confident that it’s a highly unlikely occurrence.

7. Is it possible to be immortal?

Hahahahahaha… no.

As you can imagine, this is the easiest question on our list to answer. As much as many of us would like to live forever, it’s probably best that the answer is, of course, no, but that might not always be true. Scientists have made progress on greatly reducing the aging process. Utilizing a new technique which reconstitutes adult cells back to their embryonic form, US researchers at the Salk Institute in California demonstrated the ability to  reverse ageing in mice, “allowing the animals to not only look younger, but live for 30 percent longer.”

According to scientists, the technique is based on “stimulating four genes which are particularly active during development in the womb.” Research has also shown its ability to stop the aging process on human skin cells in the lab, making them look and behave younger. The innovations have led several in the scientific community to proclaim that immortality is on the horizon.

6. Is it possible to get shorter?

Even we were surprised at the answer to this one. While it’s common to tease a parent or grandparent about their shrinking stature, it’s not something most people would believe affect them until they get quite old. The truth is that people begin shrinking from age 30. Studies have shown that from age 30 to 70, men get at least an inch shorter, while women decrease in size by two inches. Shrinking in size, at too fast a rate, is not normal; and those who experience this are demonstrating signs of potential health issues. For example, the Wall Street Journal has found that men age 70 or older who shrink more than two inches in two years are 54 percent more likely to break their hip bone than men who don’t shrink as fast.

A similar phenomenon was found for women, with an “increased fracture risk of 21 percent.”  The correlation between shrinking height and one’s health is very surprising. Additional research by the AARP has found that “men who, over a 20-year-period, lose at least 1.2 inches off their height have a 46 percent higher risk of suffering heart disease and a 64 percent higher risk of dying, compared with men who lose 1.2 inches over a 30 to 40-year time span.”

5. Is it possible to curve a bullet?

A lot of questions are most likely inspired by movies… like this one, for example. In the action flick Wanted, Angelina Jolie’s character swings her arms, curving bullets to kill men lined in a circle. The debate of curving bullets didn’t originate in the film, and hasn’t died with it either. The possibility of curving bullets with one’s arms has continued to garner interest with a MythBusters episode dedicated to answering the question.

The MythBusters found what Sir Isaac Newton realized centuries ago, “that every body remains in a state of rest or uniform motion (in a straight line) unless acted upon by an external unbalanced force.” The only chance for a curve in a bullet is over a long distance, or if there is enough external force on the bullet. Either way, swinging one’s arms won’t lead to miraculous curved bullet. Better luck next time, James McAvoy.

4. Is it possible to live on Mars?

The film The Martian has inspired many people to wonder about the possibilities of life on Mars. The truth is that it’s an extremely difficult proposition. Just a simulated voyage to Mars was enough to drive some would-be travelers to the point of insanity. The planet is no less forgiving. Mars’ atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide, and the surface of the planet is too cold to sustain human life. Not the best place to raise a family.

Successfully landing on Mars would be a feat in itself, as scientists have struggled to formulate a game plan for how humans could survive a landing on the Red Planet. Assuming a proper landing strategy is developed, living on Mars could only occur if sophisticated pressurized inflatable shelters” were deployed and “covered with Martian soil to beef up radiation shielding.” Only under such a scenario could people remove their space suits and breathe the air.

Another major difficulty, which was addressed in The Martian, is food supply. Martian soil is toxic, making a prolonged stay on the planet dependent on a decontamination process. A possible solution for food cultivation is to supplement the soil, and remove its harshest chemicals. It’d take minds much smarter than ours to devise such a plan, but apparently NASA’s extensive experience in hydroponics would make Mars’ first voyagers up to the task.

3. Is it possible to die from stress?

It’s difficult to conclusively say that someone can die directly from stress, but studies have started to reveal the startling connection between stress and heart problems. If someone already has a heart condition, stress can be a significant factor in leading to a heart attack. Studies have shown that activity in ”the amygdala, a region of the brain associated with fear and stress, can predict heart attack and stroke.”

According to scientists, the study was the first to directly connect amygdala activity (brought on by stress) with cardiovascular disease. Research shows that stress may activate the amygdala, which causes extra immune cell production by the bone marrow, impacting the arteries, and causing inflammation, which ultimately can lead to a cardiovascular disease event like a heart attack or stroke.

2. Is it possible for a human to fly?

Absolutely not, but that doesn’t mean we’ve stopped trying. For thousands of years, we’ve attempted to create contraptions or told stories that depict humans flying. The truth is that our bodies simply aren’t built for it. Put simply, we weigh too much, and we’re not nearly strong enough to fight off the forces of gravity. Basic physics tells us that in order to leave the ground, the forces driving a body upward must overcome the downward force of the body’s weight.”  

Jumping shows that by pushing your feet down into the ground, the Earth will provide an equal and opposite reaction, forcing the body upward. How do flying creatures and machines do it? By pushing air down into the ground, instead of pushing on the ground itself. We may end up developing devices that allow for flight, but it’ll always be a stretch for us to claim the ability to fly. It turns out those wings that birds have? Yeah, they serve a pretty important purpose for flight, after all. Who knew?

1. Is it possible to get pregnant without having sex?

It’s possible, but highly unlikely. Unless you’re the Virgin Mary, the only way to get pregnant is if the semen from your partner travels up the vaginal canal through the cervix, and into the uterus, where it will try to fertilize an egg. Because of how resilient sperm is, it’s possible that during various forms of foreplay, if the male ejaculates close enough to the vulva, the sperm can travel into the vagina.

Sperm can actually survive for several minutes after being exposed to air, giving it time to make its way into the vagina. Other possibilities include if your partner has pre-ejaculate or semen on his fingers and touches areas around your vagina. While it may seem unrealistic and unlikely to become pregnant without ejaculation during actual… ya know, intercourse… don’t underestimate the evolutionary instincts of sperm.

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