Why Stuff Works

Because who cares how?

Q: Why is yawning contagious?

A: You know how it happens. No matter how many times you swore you wouldn’t, no matter how many times you’ve given it up. You get a tickle in your throat and the urge to drop your jaw way down and take in lots of air and feel a whooshing in your ears. You yawn. We all do.

The origins of the yawn are quite fascinating (would we at WSW.com write about them if they weren’t?). Dogs and cats yawn. Horses yawn. Monkeys yawn. Babies yawn. But how is this possible? Is it some sort of vestigial reaction to group behavior that somehow many mammalian species share? Is it related to the tides, or to biological effects previously unknown?

To find the birth of the story, we have to go back to Africa. Specifically to the Old Kingdom of Egypt, circa 3rd millennium BCE, when the pharaohs ruled and pyramids first rose over the shifting sands.

Modern Egyptologists place the first through the eighth dynasties of pharaohs into the “Old Kingdom” designation. Of the 25 pharaohs, none is more important to the history of yawning than Sneferu (who reigned from 2575-2551 BCE). Sneferu was the founder of the Fourth Dynasty, and was generally perceived in contemporary documents to be a wise and just ruler. But you know what they say, history is written by the victors. In this case, history was written by a madman.

Sneferu rose to power in an uncertain time. Numerous political disputes between the pharaohs and the record keepers were preventing effective governance from being promulgated in the upper and lower provinces outside the capital city of Memphis. Peasants were resistant to acquiesce to the demands of the tyrannical rulers of the Third Dynasty, this same hesitation arose as Sneferu engineered the largest movement of stone and brick that the world had yet seen. Revolts arose and small scale looting became the norm in many villages.

As a result of this political upheaval and some other stresses (Egyptian women were famed for their intractable temperaments and jealous rages) that often plagued Egyptian rulers, Sneferu fell into a deep depression and fell under the influence of a court priest who worshipped the god Nefertem. Nefertem was the god of healing, and it was he who brought the healing blue lotus flower to ease the suffering of Ra.

On the advice of this unnamed priest, Sneferu began taking large amounts of the etheogen blue lotus. A hypnotic sedative much like marijuana, blue lotus (Nymphaea caerulea) causes euphoric sensations and tranquilization in high doses. Judging from sketchy heiroglyphics from the time, it appears that Sneferu began taking large quantities of the drug, which permanently affected his memory and his abilities to rule.

During one of the first drug trips known to man, Sneferu determined that the blue lotus should be the greatest crop source of Egyptian agriculture. And thus the first drug trade began. Far from being considered a tyrant, the populations of Upper and Lower Egypt were to narcotized to complain to a large degree. So long as blue lotus was sowed into the River Nile, everyone was happy and good tempered. Sneferu passed this secret to success onto future rulers. For many hundreds of years, the Nile was planted liberally with blue lotus.

The water of the Nile cycled through the water system of Africa and was carried into all corners of the earth through the rain cycle. As a result, most mammalian species currently in existence were exposed to blue lotus effects. By drinking liberally from local water sources, they were eventually adapted to the narcoleptic effects of blue lotus.

Due to an unusual chemical configuration that has only recently been uncovered by scientists, the drug was never fully seperated from a covalent bond with the hydrogen molecules of water. As a result, blue lotus has remained a silent and potent addition to all water.

Because most mammals are made up mostly by water, the urge to yawn is a direct response to the latent chemical of blue lotus that has not yet been separated from our water sources. Also, as an adaptation, the sympathetic effect of yawning became the biological signal to find more water, key to group dynamics of most mammalian groups.

Scientists are currently feverishly working on a cleansing process and lobbyist groups are beginning a world-wide D.A.R.E. campaign specifically to target blue lotus abuse. For the time being, though, that’s why we yawn. And why yawning is contagious. Blame Sneferu and his drugged stupor.

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