Celebrating our fingerprints – hands off, criminals!

Today is a celebration only for those of us without criminal intentions – we commemorate the day in 1858 that fingerprints were used for the first time for identification purposes.

The little ridges on our skin that constitute our fingerprints. Not only are their patterns unique to each individual, but they also help with our sense of touch, and enable us to grip smooth and slippery surfaces.
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The story goes that Sir Wiliam James Herschel, British Chief Magistrate of the Hooghly district in Jungipoor, India, began using fingerprints in contracts with the native people. On this day in 1858 he decided, on a whim, to get a local business man to make a hand-print on a contract, to “frighten [him] out of all thought of repudiating his signature.” This made a big impression on the signee, and Herschel ended up using the hand-print technique on all his contracts. In later contracts he scaled down the process, taking only the prints of the index and middle fingers. People who had their hand-prints captured on contracts, believed that it somehow bound them tighter to the contract than simply placing their signatures on the paper. So, interestingly, the first use of fingerprints were motivated more by superstition than by science.

Since these early, superstitious beginnings, things have of course changed a lot, with fingerprint-recognition developing into a precise science, and with personal identification technologies becoming the stuff science fiction fantasies are made of, including DNA profiling, also known as genetic fingerprinting..

A fingerprint, in the most basic sense, is an impression left by the friction ridges (raised portions of the epidermis) on the finger. These ridges exist on the skin to assist in our sense of touch – they help, for example, to amplify the sensation of a finger brushing against some surface, transmitting the sensory signals to the nerves. The friction ridges also assist us in gripping smooth and slippery surfaces.

The discovery that the little patterns on our fingers are unique, and that the prints we leave at a scene can identify us after the fact, was not good news to criminals, who were suddenly faced with the extra hassle of wiping off weapons, wearing gloves and more, to avoid identification. I guess some career criminals would give anything to contract the medical condition known as adermatoglyphia. People suffering from this condition have completely smooth fingertips, palms, toes and soles, without suffering any other known problems. While this must be a terrible affliction if you want to go through certain legal procedures that require fingerprint identification, it does equip you well for a life of crime. I am sure that law enforcers the world over would be happy to know that only four families suffering from  this condition have so far been identified.

For the rest of us, I guess staying on the right side of the law remains the best option. And at least our fingerprints make us better equipped to pick up smooth, slippery objects like an ice cold beer!

Celebration of the Senses Day – taste, smell, hear, see, touch (and more)

Today is Celebration of the Senses Day – a day to remind yourself of your body’s amazing sensory abilities.

Given that, at any moment in time, we are bombarded by such a diverse combination of sensory experiences, our appreciation of the individual senses can become somewhat muddled. Our taste experience is affected by the smell, texture and temperature of our food. Similarly, our hearing is said to decrease after overeating, and our sight is affected by noises around us. Sight can also be hampered after eating fatty foods.

On Celebration of the Senses Day, how about conducting a couple of in-house experiments to give your senses a shake up?  Have a blindfolded smell-a-thon of items in the fridge. Listen to a piece of music in a pitch dark room. While you’re at it, dance around in the dark! Mix up your food experience by mashing, freezing or colouring different foods to create new and surprising sensory variations. Look at things around you through a looking glass. In short, utilise your senses to experience the world anew.

Here’s another interesting snippet – if a sad, depressed person tells you their world is dull and grey, and flowers have lost their smell, they’re not just speaking metaphorically. Research shows that sensory perception can actually be diminished in depressed individuals.

So focussing on a renewed appreciation of your senses can actually even help you to get out of that emotional rut you’re in.

Focusing on your sensory experiences can help make you a happier person.
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Five senses? Try ten!
The categorisation of our five primary senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch) is attributed to Aristotle. While this categorisation is still valid, humans have a number of additional ‘sensory abilities’ not covered by the above. These secondary senses include:

  • Sense of balance and acceleration – the ability to sense body movement, direction and acceleration, and to maintain balance and equilibrium.
  • Temperature sense – the ability to sense heat and the absence of heat (cold).
  • Kinesthetic sense – the ability of the brain to be aware of the relative positions of various parts of the body without sensing these via the ‘normal’ senses (like being able to touch your nose with your finger, with your eyes closed).
  • Sense of Pain – the sense of pain was previously believed to be an overloading of pressure receptors, but it has since been identified as a distinct phenomenon that intertwines with the other senses, including touch.
  • Sense of Time – the ability to perceive the passage of time, both short passages as well as longer time cycles.
    (Source: Wikipedia)

Cool, isn’t it?  Even more senses to experiment with on Celebration of the Senses Day… Have fun!