Segments in this Video

Tickling Yourself (06:46)


Alan Alda visits a nursery school to discover what questions children want to know the answers to. Christine Harris studies how subjects react when they think a machine is tickling them versus a human. Tickling is reflex or fixed action pattern where it does not matter.

A Real Tickling Machine (04:16)

When subjects controlled the robot, it stopped feeling ticklish without a built-in delay. Sarah Blakemore scanned the brains of volunteers to see if there was a difference between self-tickling and machine tickling. Harris did not find the warm-up effect made subjects laugh more.

Laughing Matters (07:32)

Bob Provine analyzes laughter of different cultures and discovered a regular pattern of peaks and valleys. Chimpanzee laughter is part of their cycle of breathing. Walking on two legs helped evolve speech.

Cold Comfort (08:53)

After washing a subject's nose out with a saline solution, Ronald Turner places a strain of rhinovirus. He is testing whether herbal extracts prevent or shorten a cold. Researchers question their level of cold and whether the medication was active or inactive.

Attacking Cold Viruses (04:19)

Steve Worland targets a protein called protease, which rhinoviruses use for duplication. Agouron designed a drug molecule that stops it from replicating. The University of Virginia conducted a double-blind clinical trial and the results are promising.

Why Are Peppers Hot? (04:41)

Capsaicinoids cause the heat; the more orange it appears, the hotter the pepper. After eating several chilies, Alda's palate burns out and will not return to normal for several hours. Sylvia King conducts a pepper-tasting panel for McCormick's spice company.

Taste Test (05:07)

Linda Bartoshuk determines that Alan Alda is a supertaster using bitter tasting paper and blue food dyes. Hot peppers numb the pain fibers that nestle around taste buds. Wendye Robbins uses the vegetable to treat Geppetto Apodaca's neuropathy in his feet.

Effects of Capsaicin (02:40)

David Julius and Michael Caterina want to find the molecule in our body that responds to peppers' heat. Capsaicin tricks our cells into thinking they are on fire. Apodaca was able to resume running after being treated and will remain pain-free for months.

Grains of Inspiration (08:48)

As a water bottle is constricted, sand grains move slightly apart and water runs down to fill in the gaps. Large objects remain atop while smaller ones create a convection current when a container is shaken. Sidney Nagel studies the phenomena behind coffee stains.

Credits: Alan Alda in Scientific Frontiers: Life's Little Questions II (00:45)

Credits: Alan Alda in Scientific Frontiers: Life's Little Questions II

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Alan Alda in Scientific American Frontiers: Life's Little Questions II

3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



Once again, Alan Alda discovers that the trivial often yields the profound (or at least the unexpected). Questions examined in this episode include why can't people tickle themselves?, why can't scientists cure the common cold?, and why are peppers hot?

Length: 55 minutes

Item#: BVL151369

Copyright date: ©2001

Closed Captioned

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