On Shrinking Skulls, Squash Shaping, & Science at Home

We tend to discuss unusual topics here. Things like sarcastic fringehead fish, cave burritos, declassified Russian psi experiments, cube-shaped wombat poo, and salamander stickiness.

We indulge in a strange array of podcasts and publications, and my family generally tolerates the way I read aloud intriguing passages from whatever book is currently captivating me. (Right now it’s Rob Dunn’s Never Home Alone.)

Even when my kids were small, none of them got much out of science kits. The only kit-like thing I saved from that time were several large, firm plastic molds meant to be snapped around immature squash in the garden. Presumably, once trapped in these molds, the poor squash would have no option but to grow into grimacing squashed faces. I could never bring myself to do that to any of nature’s perfect fruiting plants, yet for some reason still have those unused molds in a cupboard.

Instead, my family has a long history of doing whatever weird thing interests us. Our garage and front yard have hosted quite a few entirely youth-run projects such as building a hand-cranked forge, welding together a desk out of saw blades, carving runic greetings into stone, and assembling bones back into a skeleton. I guess things here may seem a bit odd. We’ve even scared our mail carrier.

The oldest evidence of the questing minds around here is a list of stats still posted on our frig. It started with a long-ago dinner table discussion about head size and ended when we measured each other’s head circumference. My daughter carefully wrote each person’s winning number. The list was updated as the youngest reached their late teen years, and the list has remained on our frig for nearly 20 years, proud reminder to all that my head is smaller than the heads of the man I married and the four children we spawned.

Because we’re a strange topic household, I wasn’t surprised this morning when my husband insisted his head had morphed. “These bumps weren’t here when I was younger,” he insisted, “and I swear my skull shrunk.”

I assured him that was unlikely. “I’m shorter than I used to be,” he reminded me, “so why can’t my skull shrink?”

I have no medical training at all, but am a whiz at speculation. I noted that spines and skulls are constructed differently, reminded him his height is surely affected by the spinal surgeries he’s had, and generally dismissed the possibility that one’s skull can shrink. He tends to be skeptical of my speculations.

So at 5:30 this morning I found myself measuring my husband’s head and letting him measure mine. Because we have that handy list of what our skulls measured nearly two decades years ago, we were horrified to find both our measurements were somewhat smaller. I tried to question the variables —- were we using the same measuring tape, was our hair substantially thinner, were we checking the exact same location on our heads?

He consulted his phone and quickly reported that, yes, as we get older bones in our faces slide and bones in our skulls shift. (Because life is vastly unfair, age-related changes happen much sooner in women than men.)

I insisted our skulls have to stay the same because they are the right size for our brains. “No,” he said sadly while continuing to Google. “Our brains shrink too, about five percent every decade after age 40.”

We texted each other bad jokes about our shrunken heads the rest of the day.

As my sliding skull bones and I slide through what’s left of my 50’s and beyond, I may take another look at those squash molds. Maybe if I wear one to bed each night, my shifting bony structure will take on the expression of a startled squash in yet another home science project.

Tips for Keeping One’s Brain From Shrinking

Avoid the blood sugar spikes common with processed food to avoid consequences of inflammation.

Avoid smoking, keep your blood pressure down, stay in a healthy weight range.

Keep alcohol consumption moderate and eat a diet rich in vegetables and fruits.

Get regular exercise, even increasing the daily distance walked helps (park farther away, take the stairs, etc).

Maintain strong, positive social ties with others.

15 thoughts on “On Shrinking Skulls, Squash Shaping, & Science at Home

  1. Hi Laura, I enjoy your posts.

    I haven’t commented before, but at your mention of using Google, I wanted to mention an alternative search engine: https://www.ecosia.org/. Ecosia uses its profits to plant trees where they’ll benefit people, the environment, and local economies.

    For example:
    “We plant native acacia trees because they make the soil more fertile. With our earnings, we started a communal savings account for women to borrow and start their own businesses.”
    Sara, 42, Mechisho, Ethiopia

    And unlike Google, Ecosia respects the privacy of its users. I hope you’ll check them out.

    Thanks again for your informative and enjoyable posts.

    All the best,
    Kate

    Like

  2. I agree, shrinking of skulls is completely counter-intuitive. They’re basically a box, the sides of which have nowhere to go. Or so I thought. I wonder if this process would slow down if the human race ends up living much longer on average. Or would we end up as 150-year-old pinheads, with brains to match? I think you guys should continue to maintain that particular set of statistics and let us know if the shrinkage slows at any point. If you remember, that is…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kate, please join us in this citizen science venture. Measure your skulls right this moment, put the results right where you can see them, then check your skulls in 20 years. Or 10. I remain fascinated even with my tiny skull….

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      • I’m happy to measure, but can pretty much guarantee that sufficient rot/shrinkage has set in already that I won’t remember what I did with the measurement in even 1 year, let alone 20 or even 10. If we’re both still blogging then, do remind me that my head was 22.75 inches around the bumpiest part…?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Let us put our faith in the interweb’s allegedly long memory shall we? And let me say now, at this point in my skull’s relentless move inward, that I’m impressed by your skull which is many eighths of inches larger than my currently much smaller skull. May the archaeologists who might find us pause in their excavation to wonder what brought us joy and meaning.

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          • I wonder if my impressive extra eighths contain merely fresh air, though… It can be a pain in the backside finding headwear to fit, I can’t just buy sunhats off the peg, I have to buy adjustable ones or even hats for men. Do you think we might be classified differently in ages to come? I’d be closer to our Neanderthal ancestors, perhaps…

            Liked by 1 person

            • I mostly hope archaeologists of the future aren’t living in a climate-induced hellscape left to them by our era’s bad choices. But I prefer to imagine they are living in a verdant and sustainable future with time to contemplate our skulls.

              As for our skull differences being traceable to our Neanderthal ancestors, I’m guessing that’s not likely. I married a very large-headed, large-jawed man who I used to joke was closer to the cave man past. That was disproven when we both did DNA ancestry tests. He’s got only two percent Neanderthal DNA. Me, with my small head, tested at three percent!

              Liked by 1 person

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