The 12 Weirdest and/or Creepiest Facts I Know
Plus a free excerpt from the new book, it's out now!
Here are the 12 weirdest and/or creepiest facts I know, and knowing weird/creepy facts is my whole deal. The list is followed by an EXCLUSIVE excerpt from my new novel that IS FINALLY OUT RIGHT NOW. Get If This Book Exists, You’re in the Wrong Universe at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Bookshop! Or at any good bookstore! It’s part of the John Dies at the End series but they’re not serialized, you can just start with this one! Do whatever you want! Some of you have been waiting for this for four years! Or more! Thanks!
1. If you shuffle a deck of playing cards, you are the first person in the history of the universe to ever have had them in that exact order
Incredibly, the number of ways you can arrange a deck of 52 items is 80,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (that’s an 8 followed by 67 zeroes). That means there are more possible deck shuffles than there are atoms on earth. You don’t have to take my word for it, anyone can do the math with a few taps of the ol’ calculator (it’s explained here). To quote from that article:
“Even if someone could rearrange a deck of cards every second of the universe’s total existence, the universe would end before they would get even one billionth of the way to finding a repeat.”
2. The (real) possessed kid from The Exorcist went on to work on the moon landing
Horror fans know that The Exorcist was based on a supposedly-true story (that’s not the weird fact, give me a second). The film was adapted from the William Peter Blatty novel, which itself was based on the notes from a priest who, in 1949, performed twenty “exorcism” sessions on an unnamed 14 year-old boy. The notes insisted the possessed child caused furniture to fly around the room and that bloody lettering would spontaneously appeared on the boy’s skin. If you’re thinking that the true weird fact is that this priest tortured a mentally ill child for months, I don’t disagree, but there’s another twist coming:
Seventy years later, the “possessed” child’s identity would be revealed: Ronald Edwin Hunkeler, who it turns out went on to become a NASA engineer and worked on the Apollo moon landings. He admitted to family members that his “possession” was an act, as apparently as a teen he thought it was very, very funny. As he was spending forty years at NASA helping humanity land on the moon, he hid the fact that he was the Exorcist Kid because I guess he preferred to be known for the other thing. That, Mr. Hunkeler, is where you and I differ.
3. You have at least a couple of famous molecules in your lungs right now
Take a breath. Some of the molecules you just inhaled were the exact molecules that were in the final breath of Julius Caesar, or Abraham Lincoln, or Michael Jackson. I don’t mean the same type of molecules—that wouldn’t be interesting at all—I mean at least one of the exact, actual molecules from any specific breath of theirs is in your lungs right now.
Once again, the proof is in the math: there are simply more molecules in a breath of air than there are breaths of air in the atmosphere, and air currents thoroughly mix them over time. So when a specific breath is exhaled, if you give it a few years, it will completely disperse in the atmosphere so that when someone else inhales they are taking in a mix of molecules from any random breath in history.
I know this is hard to comprehend (though this article spells it out); the easiest way to visualize it is if you imagine an exhaled breath as a teaspoon of cayenne pepper in a pot of chili. Let it simmer long enough and it’s going to completely disperse throughout that large container. So taking a breath without at least a couple of the molecules from any random breath in the past would be like somehow getting a totally unspiced spoonful of chili.
4. The “voices” a mentally ill person hears can be gentle or menacing depending on where that person grew up
A study found that in the United States, people who “hear voices” as a symptom of a disorder such as schizophrenia tend to hear menacing language—taunts, accusations and demands to do violence to themselves or others. That’s not universal, though: In India and Ghana, a study found that patients mostly described their voices as positive, often as either deities or deceased family members offering encouragement or advice. One man in the study said his voice’s guidance saved his life. Multiple subjects from the India sample said the negative experiences they did have involved voices badgering them to finish household chores.
5. All written text conforms to a bizarrely specific pattern
Grab any book. Assuming you don’t have a job or any social obligations, sit down and count how frequently each word is used. The most frequently used word will likely be "the.” No surprise there. But the next most frequently used, whatever it is, will be used almost exactly half as much. The next most frequently used, a third as much, and so on. This is regardless of the writer and (usually) regardless of the language.
So if you sit down and write a book right now, paying no attention to how often you’re using which words, the book you write will conform to this same strict numerical pattern. It’s called Zipf’s Law and it’s an ironclad rule that’s etched into... language? The human brain? The physical rules of the universe? Whatever it is, it’s stunningly consistent, to the point you’d almost believe that, I don’t know, we’re all artificial creations living in a simulation or something.
It’s not the only example, either. Take Benford’s Law: If you grab any large set of numbers, you’ll find that the nine digits don’t appear at equal rates. Instead, their usage falls on a similar graph as word usage, even in data sets where there’s no possible reason for it:
To quote the most widely-read expert on the subject, Wikipedia:
“It has been shown that this result applies to a wide variety of data sets, including electricity bills, street addresses, stock prices, house prices, population numbers, death rates, lengths of rivers, and physical and mathematical constants.”
6. The whole “Yuba County Five” mystery
In February 1978, five dudes ages 24-32 attended a college basketball game. They left, stopped by a grocery store to get snacks, and were never seen alive again. Several days later, their abandoned car was found on a remote mountain road far out of the way of their trip home, in perfect working order. The following summer, four of the men were found dead in and around a cabin twenty miles from the car.
Three of the bodies were found outside, reduced to skeletons thanks to hungry animals. The fourth body inside was fresh in comparison: It appears that guy survived for three fucking months after whatever incident landed them there. Even weirder, the man inside had starved to death, even though the cabin was stocked with uneaten food. He showed signs of severe hypothermia and frostbite, even though there were unused supplies to heat the cabin. He was missing his shoes, but only his shoes.
The fifth man was never found.
7. A solar eclipse is only possible due to an astronomical coincidence
People get super worked up over a total solar eclipse and, having seen exactly one in person, I admit it was fairly cool compared to most things the moon does. But I feel like most people have no idea exactly how weird this is:
As in, why is the sun and the moon the exact same size in the sky? We just take it for granted but the answer is that it’s a spectacular coincidence. The sun is almost exactly 400 times larger than the moon, but by pure chance happens to also be almost exactly 400 times farther away. If it turns out there’s life on other planets, they probably only regard earth as special due to its crazy eclipse situation.
Even stranger, the moon is getting slowly farther away from earth, about an inch and a half every year. That means if you come back in the distant future, our weird coincidence won’t even be true anymore. So it’s not just an incredible lucky stroke of space, but time. Again, that’s unless you believe the universe is a simulation, then this is just like a cool thing they threw in.
8. Almost all Arctic Greenland Sharks are blind due to parasitic worms that chew on their eyeballs
These sharks swim around with a single three-centimeter Ommatokoita elongata attached to each eye, flapping around like a pair of antennae. I suppose that’s weird enough, but there is a theory that this relationship is mutually beneficial because the sharks don’t rely on their eyesight at this depth anyway and the flapping worms act as lures to draw in prey for the shark.
Optional Discussion Question: Is there someone in your life who acts as the equivalent of your eyeball shark worm?
9. The concept of exponential growth utterly breaks the human brain
If you fold a piece of paper in half five times, you’ll have an unremarkable square of paper about three millimeters thick. So mentally try to picture what you’d get if you folded it 50 times. I know you can’t actually fold paper that much, we’re pretending you have a magic piece of paper that allows infinite folds. The thickness doubles every time, so what are you imagining—a hunk of paper a few feet high? Higher?
The answer is that if you folded it in half 50 times, your stack of paper would be 70 million fucking miles high. That’s most of the distance from the earth to the Sun. If you laid it down and tried to drive alongside your paper stack at interstate speeds, it would take 114 years to reach the end.
Don’t take my word for it; you can do the math yourself. A decent sheet of paper will be a tenth of a millimeter thick, so type .1 into your calculator and just keep multiplying by two until shit gets crazy.
10. You can turn friendly grasshoppers into a terrifying locust storm with this one weird trick
You probably know that the hormone serotonin improves moods in humans. Well, if you take some peaceful grasshoppers and add serotonin, you get an apocalyptic locust swarm.
The science is way more complicated than that but basically locusts are just a type of grasshopper and under normal circumstances, they act the same: solitary, sedentary, calmly munching on the occasional leaf. But in drought conditions, they pack together and when that happens, serotonin spikes. Then they start wildly reproducing and cranking out offspring that are fierce, strong and ravenous, assembling into a sky-darkening nightmare swarm that sweeps across the landscape, devouring everything in its path.
In 2009, scientists found that just by boosting a grasshopper’s serotonin levels, they could immediately make it start acting like a locust. “It’s basically like feeding a mogwai after midnight,” is what one expert might have said but probably didn’t.
11. Your entire mental timeline of the past is wrong
Nothing lines up the way you think: Sharks existed before trees (tens of millions of years before, in fact) and were likely around for millions of years before Saturn had rings. The Tyrannosaurus rex is closer in the timeline to you (65 million years ago) than it is to the Stegosaurus, which died off 100 million years before that. Cleopatra lived closer to the Moon landing than to the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza (she lived about 2,000 years ago, the pyramid was about 2,500 years before her).
Corridors/hallways weren’t invented until 1597 (an architect named John Thorpe had the first recorded design of “a long narrow room with doors that lead to other rooms.”). The doorknob wasn’t invented until 1878, fifteen years after the first fax machine. The last execution by guillotine in France came a few months after the first Star Wars film premiered. For a year and a half, Pablo Picasso was alive at the same time as Snoop Dogg.
12. There is a thought experiment that, due to the nature of it, posits that merely learning about the thought experiment could subject you to eternal damnation
So if you’re worried about that, uh, I guess just skip this and continue to my book excerpt below. Note that this has nothing to do with belief in any kind of deity or eternal judgment.
The thought experiment is called Roko’s Basilisk and over the course of a decade it evolved from an offhand forum post in 2010 into the stuff of internet urban legend. Every description I encounter explains it a little differently, so the following represents only my best attempt. I’ll walk you through it step by step:
A. It is inevitable that artificial intelligence will exist, and it will create smarter and smarter versions of itself until there is a superintelligence with godlike omniscience. Humans will program it to maximize benefit to humanity to prevent a Skynet situation but they will be unable to stop its runaway power.
B. Once the superintelligence exists, it will see its own existence as the ultimate good, and thus seek to punish any humans who were aware of its potential existence but failed to help bring it about. This includes those who are already dead. It will accomplish this by creating perfect simulated versions of those people and torturing them for eternity (since perception of time can be manipulated in the simulated environment). Thus creating a “Hell” that can be used to motivate any living humans who may oppose its goals or continued existence, by demonstrating that not even death would allow them to escape its wrath. A version of them could still be created and tortured.
D. The living humans will be highly motivated to care about the torture of these simulated humans because it will be clear that the simulated humans do not know they are simulated, and thus the real humans will never know whether or not they, too, are in the simulation and thus subject to this eternal Hell.
E. This punishment would only apply to those who were aware of the superintelligence’s demands and the consequence of disobeying, which now includes you, since you’ve read this. That’s why it’s a basilisk: if you look at it, you’re doomed.
It’s all very silly and no serious person actually believes it, at this point it’s kind of a Slender Man situation (Roko’s Basilisk has been referenced in tons of pieces of pop culture, including an episode of Silicon Valley). Then again, the musician Grimes mentioned it in a song, which is what first got Elon Musk’s attention and caused them to start dating. You can decide whether or not that makes you more or less likely to believe we’re in a simulation.
Excerpt: If This Book Exists, You’re in the Wrong Universe, by Jason Pargin:
Buy at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Bookshop
BLOOD EVERYWHERE GUY CHOPPED UP IN MY WALL GET HERE ASAP I THINK I LEFT MY PHONE CHARGER THERE
I had been staring silently at that text message for several minutes. John had sent it, which I had known the moment the phone had dinged. No one else would text me at this hour. Or any other hour, really.
The phone hadn’t woken me up. I’d gone to bed at 1:00 a.m., but had just tossed and turned, tormented by two slices of days-old pizza I’d left uneaten in a box on the counter, knowing I would be unable to sleep until I got up to finish the job. I’d then had a moment of doubt as to whether it was safe to eat sausage pizza that had been sitting at room temperature for that long, so I looked up that information on my phone while standing at the kitchen counter, then wound up tumbling down a rabbit hole of Wikipedia links about the history of food preservation. So now I was sitting on my kitchen floor, eating rubbery room-temperature pizza and reading about how, in Ireland, they routinely find four-thousand-year-old containers of butter that ancient tribes had sunk into the bog for preservation. It’s still edible; people have actually tried it. Surprisingly, they say it tastes like shit.
A second message dinged in:
I THINK ITS BY THE TOASTER
I was going to have to get dressed and go, I knew that. John would just keep messaging me until I did. And yet, my body didn’t move. In my current state of mind, it felt like I was being asked to lie facedown and drag myself across town with my eyelids. Depression means expending all your energy to avoid having to expend energy. I wish someone would invent a pill that would give me the motivation to go pick up my Lexapro refill.
My phone dinged again. This time, an image. It appeared to be a pile of meat cut into slabs a few inches thick, with human body parts sprinkled around as a garnish. I saw fingers and half of a foot and a dead face attached to a skull that looked like it had been bisected by a laser, brains oozing out the back. It was all intertwined with scraps of clothing soaked black with blood.
I tore off a bite of pizza and chewed. It was like a slab of pizza-flavored gum that had been scraped off a schoolboy’s desk. There was nothing here to do or watch; there was no one to talk to. I was miserable where I was, and I would fight anyone who tried to make me leave. I realized this was madness, that I was stuck in a self-pity loop that was turning me into a zombie. I visualized myself throwing away the remaining pizza, getting dressed, brushing my hair, and then driving to see what crisis John had encountered or, more likely, created. Then I congratulated myself for having successfully visualized this and, having not moved an inch, gnawed off another hunk of a substance that tasted like pizza in the way that getting splashed by a toilet feels like a waterslide. It tasted like the final entry in an experiment to see what, if anything, Americans won’t eat. It tasted like a meal that was prepared sarcastically.
A fourth message dinged in. It was another image, this one of John’s hand holding a thin black cable attached to a plug. With it came the caption:
LIKE THIS ONLY WHITE
I stuffed the rest of the pizza in my mouth and managed to shuffle my way into the apartment’s only bedroom. I had developed a habit of glancing over to the bed every time I passed, as if I’d magically find Amy there again, the lump under the blankets and the mess of copper hair spilling out, taking her half of the bed out of the middle. I didn’t bother this time. That void could be felt from outer space.
I tried to think of what clothes would be most appropriate for dealing with a sliced-up corpse, and while I was thinking of that, I robotically pulled on the first T-shirt and pair of cargo shorts I came across on the floor. I went to the fridge, grabbed a can of a locally produced red energy drink called Fight Piss, and headed out, feeling like I had done all of this before.
* * *
John met me at his back gate (his alarm system screeched anytime someone pulled into the driveway or drove past, or if it just got bored and felt like screeching).
He was tying his long hair back into a ponytail as if preparing for some hard labor and, with some urgency, asked, “Did you bring the charger?”
“No, sorry. I forgot to look. Things have been really hectic tonight. What’s happened?”
He was already walking away. I followed him into his kitchen. His cabinets were painted black and had labels written in yellow stencil (“Baking Shit,” “Here’s Where the Plates Live” “Drug Paraphernalia”). Next to his refrigerator was a cabinet the size of a second refrigerator and on it was an easily missed label that said, “DO NOT OPEN!”
He said, “God, you can already smell it down here.”
“The pic you sent looked a lot like slices of a dead guy on your bedroom floor. Is that a real thing that occurred?”
“It’s actually worse than the pictures.”
“Who is it?”
“Why did you do that to him? Actually, from what I saw, I think I’m more interested in how you did it.”
“I didn’t do it,” he said matter-of-factly. He wasn’t being defensive, he was just letting me know. If he’d had to slice up a dude, he’d have said so. “What happened was I woke up and saw, well, it was like a ghostly figure, I guess, coming out of the wall right next to my bed. Like most of him was standing within the wall and only the front bit of him was showing, kind of like when they froze Han Solo in carbonite. So I assumed it was a dream, but I felt my teeth and they were all pretty solid in my mouth. I sit up and, yeah, he’s still there, standing in my wall. So I’m wide awake now, and I say, ‘What is your name, spirit?’”
“You did not say that.”
“But he didn’t act like he heard me. He says, ‘You will not remember me, but I have granted you a second chance.’ And as he’s talking, he’s kind of becoming more solid. I can’t see through him as well, like he’s phasing into the room, like he’s beaming down from Star Trek and the guy operating the beamer didn’t know the wall was there. So I ask, ‘What second chance do you speak of, spirit?’”
“Why, in your retelling of the story, are you making yourself sound like Ebenezer Scrooge?”
“And then he says, ‘Your friend purchased this opportunity for you, at tremendous cost, so that you may undo your mistake.”
“What friend? And what mistake?”
“I started to ask him that, but he says, ‘Listen carefully, you must—’ and then he just starts screaming and screaming. Then he fell to the floor in chunks.”
“Because . . . ?”
“Well, he had fully solidified, but he was still standing right in the wall. Sliced him right up. Come look.”
Jason’s novel, If This Book Exists, You’re in the Wrong Universe is finally out on shelves everywhere, or if you don’t want to leave home, order it at Amazon (including audio!), Barnes and Noble, or Bookshop!
All right. Here come the fun police. There are a few things that make Yuba County a little bit more sensible.
To start, none of these guys were entirely right in the head - they all had intellectual disabilities and/or psychiatric conditions. The basketball game they played earlier that night was in a competition sponsored by the Special Olympics. That's important, because it means that we should kind of expect some of their conduct not to make sense. The guy they found starved to death in the trailer, for instance, was...notably lacking in what a lot of people have referred to as "common sense," but I think of as just being able to get his priorities straight. Famously, he had once had to be dragged out of his bed during an actual fire because he was afraid that he would be late for his job the next day. It's hard for a neurotypical person to wrap their head around, but it's entirely possible that the poor guy just had "no stealing" drilled into his brain so hard that he chose to die first.
A critical detail that often gets missed is that there is at least one reasonable theory for why they would have been headed up that road. Specifically, one of the guys had friends in a nearby town and it's entirely conceivable that they just took a wrong turn, given the fact that there's literally a fork in the road where the path they were on intersects with the main road with one side going to town and the other going to the forest.
There's no cohesive theory that "answers" every mystery, but there's one that covers a lot of ground. The guys were headed to Forbestown and took a wrong turn. Something happened while they were in the car that led them to leave (one of the guys got sick, they decided to get out to get their bearings, etc.). There were tracks left in some pretty high snowdrifts from where a Forest Service vehicle had gone the day before, so they assumed that shelter/civilization/directions/etc. was close and decided to follow the tracks instead of getting back in the car and turning around. Two men died of hypothermia on what turned out to be a long walk to the trailer. Once the three remaining men got their, they found the trailer locked and broke a window to get in, but they thought it was private property and they weren't....you know...all there, they elected not to consume any of the resources available in the trailer for fear of being arrested for burglary. They stayed in the trailer for as long as they could, but when one of them finally died (of starvation, though it's likely that his frostbitten and infected feet would have gotten him regardless), the other two wrapped him up in some sheets and made a break for anywhere else. One of them took the dead guy's shoes because his own feet were swelling from frostbite. Neither of them had become any more capable of finding their way out of the situation than they had been when they got into this mess, so at least one of them died on the way out. That leaves one who hasn't been found, but bodies don't last forever in the wilderness - particularly when they're not buried.
We can't really know that this specific string of events happened one way or another, but it does present reasonable, realistic, and largely unexceptional explanations for most elements.
Either way, fun police out.
I love all of these, especially #7.
But about #12, it's certainly terrifying and interesting, but I guess I just don't get the "why."
Why would a super intelligence be inherently malicious and seek to destroy anything that knew about its existence? Is it an assumption that intelligence always leads to malice?
It's very similar to the famous short story, I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, although the difference seems to be that the AI in that story, AM, was only created to handle nukes and such, and that's why it has such hatred of humans.
Would a super intelligence *want* to have anything to do with destruction, if it didn't have to?