Skin Deep

When asked to describe ourselves, we all have a tendency to exaggerate our good features and downplay (or even completely forget) the bad stuff. Ask random people to describe themselves and how profound they are, and chances are they'll describe themselves as very deep and thoughtful, regardless of how far that answer is from the actual truth.

When you think about it, however, we are all extremely shallow: we go no further than skin-depth. Forget about philosophical concerns or abstract reasoning, the stuff that separate really deep thinkers from the rest of the population.

In matters as ordinary as physical attraction, for instance, when we first meet someone and are physically attracted to that person, we go no further than their bare surface. We may rationalize to ourselves that there is more to our attraction, but rationalization is rationalization, and it doesn't change the fact that we found ourselves attracted first, and then tried to create a narrative to explain that attraction. In fact, I'd wager that if we were to see someone beyond their skin, as the hottie on the left (from the awesome Bodies Exhibition), our original reaction would be to feel pretty grossed out. That's just part of who we are...

So, given that most of our human concerns are only skin-deep, why don't we learn a little bit about the largest organ in our bodies: our skin?

I wish they had explained what goose bumps are... For those of you who don't know, goose bumps are created by the contraction of tiny muscles in our skin. It's one of those remnants of our evolutionary history, when our ancestors had full coats of fur protecting them. The way they work is that the muscle contraction at the base of each hair makes the hair stand up; when you put together a whole bunch of such erect hairs, you trap heat, and this can keep you warm.

So, next time you get cold and develop goosebumps, realize that your ape ancestors are sort of travelling through time and saying hi...
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