Tuesday, January 15, 2013

You are a Transformer

You know how there's always this character on the comic-book superhero teams, the character who can change the shape of his or her body, and they make these cool shapes out of their hands to whack supervillains with? Well, in a small way, you can do that. Change the shape of your fingers to accomplish a certain task, that is. Not whack supervillains. But that's OK as long as you aren't presently being harrassed by supervillains.

All this from the humble beginnings of wrinkly, bath-soaked fingers. It used to be described as an accident -- that your outer skin would swell up by absorbing more water, making wrinkles. This is wrong. It is actually a specific, encoded, nerve-driven response, not a swelling accident at all. Now the purpose of this specific response has been made clear. This paper shows that winkled fingers can grip wet, slippery things much better, and so you can hold onto surfaces and tools without losing them in the mire.

Ergo, you have your own superpower. Soak your fingertips in water and non-slip pads develop. That's not quite Mr. Fantastic but it's a lot more interesting that an accidental swelling of the skin. The moral of the story: wait a little while before calling something an accident. Purpose is still purpose even if it's unseen.

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