Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Other: Why I Get the Hiccups

Answer: Because my great-great-great-...-great grandma was a frog.

The January issue of Scientific American, through which I am more than halfway, celebrates the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth and the sesquicentennial (evil word -- I get confused by any Latin numerical prefix after "bi-") of the publication of On the Origin of Species, which, of course, first laid out his then-theory of evolution. (Important note: By real scientists, evolution is a scientific law or fact, no longer considered a "theory," which has a different meaning scientifically than it does colloquially anyway. An explanation of a phenomenon cannot be called a theory in academic circles unless it already has a strong, factual underlying basis with no obvious, provable flaws. I have no patience for the ignorance demonstrated when opponents of evolution assume the word "theory" means someone was pulling random ideas out of their ass to explain how living beings got the way they were and that the explanation has no existing proof. See also "Evolution as theory and fact.")

Ahem. The article "This Old Body" discusses scrotum-related hernias, which I have no knowledge of and find it unlikely that I will ever experience first-hand, and, well, the hiccups, as by-products of our evolution from fish and amphibians.

I can get the hiccups when I get a serious case of the giggles. I don't think it happens as often as it did when I was a kid, but it still pops up from time to time. It drives me nuts. They are very loud hiccups which can wrack my body to the point of pain. Fortunately, while the incidents usually seem interminable, they will usually disappear within 15 minutes or less. I've tried all the folk remedies, such as breathing in paper bags, holding my breath, drinking water, or having someone try to scare them out of me. (I don't recommend doing the last two simultaneously. One time when I was a kid, I was visiting my aunt. I was sitting, drinking some water to try to get rid of the things, when my grandmother came up behind me and shouted, "Boo!" She hadn't realized I was drinking water, and the water spewed out. And I still had the hiccups.)

One contributing factor involves the nerves that control the diaphragm. They take a very circuitous route to get there, a legacy of the time when we had gills on the sides of our necks. Instead of becoming more centralized as the muscle used to control breathing moved down our torso, the phrenic nerves now pass either side of the heart. The other major factor involves the glottis. Tadpoles use the glottis to prevent the water that flows across their gills from getting into their lungs. Basically they control their breath by hiccuping. Put the two together, and the disruption of the phrenic nerve signals to the diaphragm by various means (generally laughing in my case, although occasionally carbonated drinks will do it) causes the diaphragm to spasm, creating an abrupt intake of air on each contraction, which causes the epiglottis to close.

The author also gets points for mentioning knitting, although it's in relation to the bones and cartilage of our hands, the underlying basis of which came from our piscine ancestors. We pay the price for the fine control of these adapted features with the possibility of certain injuries caused by performing movements they hadn't originally been designed to handle and haven't completely evolved to handle.

Anyone who argues that such a jury-rigged body constitutes an "intelligent design" doesn't sound too bright to me.

1 comment:

Fluzz said...

The less I've drunk in a day the more likely I am to get hiccups. Mine cause pain from about the third hiccup so I HATE getting hiccups.