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Uncovering the science behind the internet’s best viral video trends

How often do you think about the sheer coincidence of your existence? The fact that that you were the sperm that reached the egg, that you were born to your specific family in that country in this time period?

Your life is a mixture of very specific moments in history coming together to create right now. Ready to take that concept and make it less deep? The same is true for viral videos.

And while we can’t explain all of the random events that led to their existence, we can explain (or give educated guesses on) some of the science. So here’s what we know of some viral video trends.

Dogs singing along to music

Buddy Mercury in the video above is but one of the many viral videos of dogs singing along to music — here’s another one of actor Chris Evans’ dog Dodger singing with his toy lion.

But are these dogs following a passion for the arts? As much as I’d love to say so, it seems unlikely.

More likely is that these dogs are trying to talk back to whatever is making the sound. The high-pitched quality in a lot of music is similar to that of a howling wolf, the dog’s ancestor, and the dog is howling back to acknowledge its presence.

Another potential reason? The dog is responding to something we can’t hear.

“The upper limit of a dog’s hearing varies a great deal, which means that when dogs howl they could be responding to sounds in the music that only they can hear,” says Dr Jill Villarreal, who studied biology, behavior and neuroscience.

Fun fact about dogs singing: according to Dr Stanley Coren, research suggests that dogs have a sense of pitch, but the purposefully remain off key.

“Recordings of wolves have shown that each will change its tone when others join the chorus,” he wrote. “No wolf seems to want to end up on the same note as any other in the choir.”

Anaesthesia “intoxication”

Here’s a fun fact about general anaesthesia! Scientists aren’t exactly sure how it works. They know that it works, and how to use it safely, but the actual chemical reactions happening in your brain? Not so sure.

Another reason we can’t be completely sure why patients like young David above would take a dive into existentialism is that everyone’s brain responds to chemicals differently — just like how alcohol makes some people cry, others want to fight, and others want to dance.

What we do know about general anaesthesia (the kind that knocks you out) is that it fiddles with your brain’s neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that keep our brain and bodies functioning. They’re the reason our heart beats, our eyes blink, and our kidneys filter blood.

They also regulate the more abstract parts of us like emotions and memory.

So what some anaesthesia does (there are a few different kinds) is work with our neurotransmitters into putting us into a reversible coma. And sometimes we wake up before our brain has successfully brought us back to normal, resulting in the weird ways we interpret and interact with the world before the drugs completely wear off.

Cats pushing things off edges

As sad as it is to say, there just isn’t enough research into why cats like pushing things from high places. Are scientists working on any more noble a scientific endeavour? I’m not so sure there even is one.

But even without solid evidence, learned individuals can still make educated guesses as to cats’ mischievous behaviour — which is exactly what some animal experts had to tell petMD.

They said that it could be that the cats are tapping into their evolutionary instinct to hunt for food. But it could also be their natural instinct to explore the objects around them.

“Cats use their paws to test and explore objects, and the movement, sound, and touch or feel of the object helps them understand what might be safe or not,” certified animal behavior consultant Amy Shojai said.

But there are more adorable explanations.

The first? Cats like fast objects — just look at how they react to moving lasers or string toys. Dr Wailani Sung, a behaviour counselor, writes that they may just enjoy watching the speed of falling objects.

And finally, perhaps the most believable theory is that cats love attention, both good and bad. So as soon as they notice that breaking things turns your eye to them? They’re golden.

Art restoration

Phillip Mould, presenter of BBC talk show Fake or Fortune?, recently went viral on Twitter with this satisfying video of but one of the steps of art restoration — but the process is a lot more complicated than the minute-long video shows.

To remove the varnish without sullying the underlying paint, Mould had to create a solvent mixture that would only react with the protective overcoat.

“A mixture of gel and solvent was created, specifically just to remove the varnish and not to damage the underlying paint,” the art dealer told TelegraphThe gel is key: Mould says that it’s been developed substantially over the past few years, and helps conservators work with more control.

Often, the composition of varnish is found through a process, called Raman spectroscopy, that shoots a monochromatic wavelength at a surface and analyses the way it is transmitted or reflected. The way the wavelength changes helps scientists decipher which molecules make up the varnish — and thus which molecules will help remove it.

Art restoration is about more than just removing yellowed varnish, though.

Many centuries-old paintings have been restored multiple times over the years. This restoration largely consisted of art conservators painting over the original to touch it up or alter it to “match the taste of the time”, writes Matthew Chalkley for Yale Scientific.

One Vermeer painting, “The View of Delft”, was found to have been modified 50 times.

So when conservators want to get to the very first edition of a painting, they have to use x-rays and infrared imaging to get a better understanding of what that is. They can then do their best to imitate what the original looked like — like in the video above.

Let us know in the comments below if we missed any important sciencey points — or if you have interesting insight into any other of the internet’s strange viral videos.

Featured image: screenshots, Buddy Mercury via YouTube, booba1234 via YouTube, Philip Mould via Twitter, Hollywood or Die via YouTube

Author | Julia Breakey

Julia Breakey
Julia is a UCT film graduate with a passion for dogs, media, and dog-centric media. If she's not gushing about the new television show that you need to watch, she's rewatching The Good Place (which you need to watch). More

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