Completely Useless Trivia

Can someone please tell me what the evolutionary advantage is of knowing what a group of hummingbirds is called versus where I left my car keys? (It’s a “charm,” by the way.) And why is it that my brain would rather remind me that ducks have more neck bones than humans rather than remember when all of my friends’ birthdays are? And while we’re on the subject, is it necessary that I know that Tennessee Williams was born in Mississippi but not where my own grandparents were raised?

Yup. Just about everyone knows a little bit of useless trivia, tucked and filed away in the deep recesses of their brain. But why isn’t there enough room up there for important things, too?

I mean, it isn’t like we really get a chance to use any of these tidbits. That’s why it’s called “useless” trivia. I’m sorry to crush your hopes, but a criminal isn’t going to mug you and then say, “okay, if you call tell me all of the Jackson 5 members, I’ll give you back your wallet.” Unless you are dealing with the Sphinx, there isn’t a situation where any of this information is going to work in your favor.

So, why is it that we choose to remember useless things? Well, there’s the simple fact that they interest us. When we hear something we don’t know or when we learn something about our world, a neuron in our brain reaches out to touch another neuron. And that connection excites us. Our brains don’t care that we need to hold tight to that number for Chinese takeout. That’s practical and easy. Instead, our gray matter wants a challenge, a stimulant. That way, it can grow and better serve us.

But I think there’s an even less concrete reason, a less logical explanation, for why we retain useless facts way past their due date. For me, it simply comes down to sharing. I love being able to trade knowledge, and play “Did you know…?” with someone.  And it’s great to see someone else’s face light up with understanding and awareness about something new in their world. It’s a gift that you don’t have to pay for, and one that you’ll love to receive.

In the end, we all have to remember that life doesn’t have to have a deeper meaning. Sometimes, it is beautiful and exciting simply because it is there. I think this is the way that brains see the world when we find out a new fact: we are simply amazed that the knowledge exists and could care less about the “real world” application of it all.

So, keep learning and feed your head. Your facts may be useless, but they prove that you’ve been paying attention in a rather blissfully ignorant world.

To Be Human

Here are some fun facts about animals:

A cheetah can go from 0 to 60 in three seconds.

Electric eels can deliver up to 600 volts. That’s enough to kill an adult horse. 

Peregrine falcons can reach up to 200 MPH in a dive for prey.

Ostriches can kill a lion with a single kick. 

Elephants can smell water from miles away.

Honey badgers are well, honey badgers. But they can also crack a tortoise shell with their teeth.

Most animals are nothing short of amazing. Evolution has sharpened its knives and has carved most of them into efficient machines with powers to outlast their environment and their predators. They are stream-lined and made with progress in mind.

And humans?


We have the power to order high-priced coffee and remember embarrassing things that happened to us years ago.

So, okay. Maybe we are the species that evolution forgot. And maybe the cool stuff is coming in the next couple of centuries??? (Honestly, I could use a couple more arms. Or laser beams that come out of my eyes. Whichever comes first.)

But we have to remember that we already have our distinguishing factor. It’s not top speed, or powerful senses, or strong bodies. It’s our faults. It’s our flaws. It’s our mistakes.

I mean, think about it. If any other animal in the wild makes a mistake, slips up once, they could be a meal for another animal. But humans make mistakes all the time. In fact, we are defined by the flaws in our character and our behavior. We mess up, and we apologize, and we learn. It’s a constant cycle that we rely on to live, really. If we didn’t make mistakes and learn from them, we could never evolve. In fact, it is the only way that we can.

For example, our primal ancestors had to learn the hard way that sometimes a cave could act as a shelter for you, and sometimes it could act as a shelter for another predator. It probably didn’t take us long to realize that we weren’t always on top of the food chain, and it certainly took a couple of human lives to realize that some animals should be feared. But once we did, we learned how to avoid them or kill them for our own food. We made mistakes, and we learned without having to wait until evolution equipped us with something to protect ourselves. We made tools and weapons, and we fought back.

So, the next time you get frustrated with yourself for doing something incorrectly, remember that you are actually fulfilling your role as a human. Your flaws are only an indication of your species, as much as tigers have stripes and honey badgers have bad atttitudes.