Trivia

Most people know that bees make cells which are hexagonal to store their honey. As it says in the article, this is the most economical structure in terms of the amount of wax that is needed to construct it, as the linked article describes.

Some people go into raptures about how clever the bees are and assume that they have some instinct which guides them in constructing these almost perfect hexagons. In fact the cells start out round and the bees warm them to make the wax mobile and liquid tension does the rest.

The same process occurs in bubbles in a bath. If the bubbles are all roughly the same size, they also form a hexagonal array. This sort of diminishes the mystery of the beehive and the seeming ability of the bees to do geometry, but it seems obvious in retrospect. Bees don’t know geometry but they do know (in some sense) the properties of beeswax.

The above is a prime example of trivia. As defined at Dictionary.com trivia is merely inconsequential information. However, it can be more than that, as while the information is (in most situations) totally useless, many people find it interesting and a few find it fascinating.

A Trivial Pursuit playing piece, with all six ...

A Trivial Pursuit playing piece, with all six wedges filled in. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For a very few people trivia can become lucrative and even a full-time occupation. The prevalence of quiz shows where people are rewarded according to their ability to recall inconsequential facts shows that the human race as a whole appears to have the ability to remember obscure facts which apparently have little to do with their needs as they navigate through their daily lives.

All humans remember items of trivia. Granny might be able to recall what her sister told her on her wedding day, or exactly what Grandpa said when he returned from the war, but these are probably of no relevance to her Grandchildren. Memory is fluid however, and Great Aunt Mary might have totally different memories of the occasion.

Cathy

Cathy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It may be that being able to remember trivia is one of the things that separates us from the rest of the apes. It would presumably be an evolutionary advantage to store great amounts of apparently irrelevant information because one never knows when apparently irrelevant information suddenly becomes relevant.

For instance, staring at the stars and noting their apparently irrelevant patterns suddenly becomes relevant when you notice that about the same time that that particular pattern rises in the sky that the whole river valley becomes flooded and it is time to temporarily move to the hills.

Some people have minds that soak up inconsequential facts and others do not have that ability to the same extent. I know that my mind does so, and this has gained me invitations to join quiz teams and so on, and I’ve even managed to get onto a TV quiz show, though I didn’t do too well on it.

I’m constantly amazed at what trivia my mind has stored in it. When watching a quiz show on TV I quite often know the answer to obscure questions, and I’ve no idea how I picked it up. Sometimes it is something that I could perhaps only have heard once, in passing, and it for some reason stuck in my head.

Memory lane

Memory lane (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Memory is fickle though. Many times I have been asked a question or a question has come up on a TV show and I am sure that I know the answer but I’ve been unable to recall it. When the answer is given there is a sense of “Of course!”.

As I mentioned above, memory can be totally false as well. Often an answer to a trivia question will pop into my head, and I’m certain that it is right, only for it to turn out to be wrong. I’m left with a sense of disappointment that my memory is incorrect.

Some people, call them Quiz Masters, are able to store and remember trivial facts much better than the rest of us. These people star in quiz shows, win prizes and travel the world on the strength of their abilities. It’s not necessarily a sinecure, as they constantly have to top up their knowledge by reading, well, trivia.

On occasions a Quiz Master will mention that they have “just revised” a particular topic. Or that one of their peers has just recently told them something that just happened to occur in a question. A true Quiz Master apparently has to work pretty hard to keep on top of the facts that may occur in a quiz, to the extent of studying facts about something that they have no real interest in.

English: Coronation Stone of the Saxon Kings o...

English: Coronation Stone of the Saxon Kings of England, Kingston Upon Thames, showing the name of Athelstan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I mentioned above that I have no idea why the human race has this ability to store all this useless information. It’s evident that animals remember things, as you would not be able to train your dog if it didn’t remember things. However, it seems to me that other animals do not have this immense capacity to remember seemingly irrelevant information.

Maybe this is part of what leads to out ascendance on this planet. With our vast stores of information about things around us, we can use this information to survive where other animals can’t. Maybe it is this vast store of information, the ability to recall it all, and the ability to use or brains to process and use this information that allowed us to become ascendant.

Information-integration

Information-integration (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe the Quiz Masters are the intellectual descendants of the proto-humans who worked out that when those stars rose in that place in the sky that the animals that were their prey would be migrating around that time, and it was a good time to visit the migration trails.

Whatever the reason that we have the ability to remember information that appears at the moment of remembering to be totally irrelevant, we can nevertheless enjoy that moment when the Quiz Master on the TV gets the trivia question wrong and we can triumphantly claim “I knew that!”, in spite of the fact that we didn’t know the answers to the preceding twenty or thirty questions.

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