Don’t Rock the Boat, Baby

As I fly over the beautiful country of Canada, making my way through the airspace above the United States, in to Costa Rica territory, I can’t help but think about the fact that I’m flying. Well, I’m not literally flying, I didn’t chug a red bull and grow wings to aid me in my travelling endeavours. No, instead I boarded an airplane and am currently making my way to Liberia. I’ve been flying since I was in diapers. That’s quite a long time if you ask me. Reminiscing on my past travels, I can’t help but think about the terrible motion sickness I used to get. Not even just in airplanes, I would throw up in cars on road trips and don’t even get me started on my first (and only) cruise.

I could never figure out why I was always getting sick when I was travelling. It never made sense to me. Especially since it seemed that the rest of my family was completely unphased by the idea of moving faster than the average human can run, without actually running. But alas, I have stumbled across a theory in a book titled The Idiotic Brain.

Before I begin explaining this theory to you, there are some things we must establish that are relevant and necessary to the explanation. Firstly, we humans are so incredibly complex it isn’t even funny. A cool phenomenon by the name of Evolution has been shaping and constructing us from day 1 (however long ago that may be). Evolution, natural selection, Darwinism has created a body that is so particular it is mind boggling. Secondly, and probably most shocking, our bodies have been so sophisticatedly crafted to fit our environment that our bodies aren’t event perfect. We are so flawed. And I’m not talking about you lactose intolerant, gluten-free blemishes of society (just kidding), I’m talking our body literally contradicts itself. And Thirdly, by “body” I mean “mind.” Because our entire body can only function because we have a mind that guides it and tells it what to do. So really, without our mind, we are just a corpse. Not even a walking corpse because our brain tells us how to do that.

Next lets establish two very important systems that contribute to the feeling of motion sickness. We have our ocular system, that consists of our eyes, and the occipital lobe at the very back of the brain. We observe everything with our eyes, sending information about what we see to our occipital lobe where that information is processed. From there, it reaches out to the other areas of the brain where it combines with other systems. One of those systems being our vestibular system, which is located within our ear. The vestibular system is our balance and coordination system. It is this system that tells us “hey, champ, your head is leaning in an awkward three degrees down and to the left, fix that before I freak out.” You see, the vestibular system is a set of bones lined with nerves and filled with icky fluid. The fluid is sensitive to gravity and splashes around our inner ear according to the way our body is oriented in space. If we were to hang upside down, the fluid would travel towards the top of the bone structure, triggering the nerves there and telling our brain “we’re upside down.” Even walking moves the fluid in a consistent pattern back and forth, and back and forth. In combination with our eyes perceiving the movement of objects passing us, we can establish that movement is happening. However, our vestibular system has quite the problem when introduced to artificial movement.

When we sit in a car to get from point A to point B, our bodies are not technically moving. As a whole we are travelling through space but our bodies themselves are not making any movements, we’re simply sitting there. Because no movement is occurring, our vestibular system is idle, meaning no movement. However, as we can see when we glance out the window, we are in fact moving. We can tell by the trees and buildings moving past us in a hurry. This poses a problem. Our ocular system is sending messages to our brain saying MOVEMENT, while our vestibular system is saying TIME TO SIT AND QUIT. So what happens when the brain receives two differing signals? If any of you are frequent drinkers than you’ll know about the infamous spins that is a consequence of over drinking. Even though you are standing perfectly still, the entire room is perceived as “spinning.” Well, in both scenarios, the body is still while the ocular system is experiences motion cues. In one case, alcohol is to blame. In the other, we know it isn’t alcohol (or maybe it is, who am I to judge) so what else could it be? Perhaps, we’ve been poisoned – well perhaps our mind thinks we’ve been poisoned. What better way to rid the body of poison than to throw it up?

Now I know what you’re thinking, why would the body think it was poisoned? Frankly, why wouldn’t it? It’s already overwhelmed with the idea that its moving and not moving at the same time. At this point, something is wrong and the body needs to purge whatever is wrong with it the quickest way possible.

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