Shrink Exercise: Buster’s Unfolding

Buster Keaton GIF by Maudit

Buster Keaton was a master of visual comedy in the era of the silent movie. His use of props and perspective often brilliantly deflates presumptions on how things are supposed to be. In the opening scene of The High Sign (1921) the simple gesture of unfolding a newspaper turns into a beautiful shrink/growth exercise; in many ways more accurate than our A01 to A07 Exercise. Is the newspaper growing or is Keaton shrinking? And is it a coincidence that a small man appears on the pages?

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Zebrafish Oannes

The zebrafish is one of The Incredible Shrinking Man’s most beloved spirit animals. Being a model organism for endocrinological and genetic research positions it between fact and fiction, the known and the unknown, the present and the future, thus allowing us to follow it to realms of reality yet undiscovered. The series of zebrafish portraits shows how they, as an extension of the human body, have become a space of desire, a mirror of what we want. Yet at the same time they are part of the great unknown, the riddle of life, the majesty of the wild. Lately the zebrafish has become somewhat of an iconic figure in our shamanistic dance routine, the Abun’dance. The dance represents the desire to break free from our dominant paradigm of continuous growth while illustrating and enacting the alternative perspective of shrinking. The fish on our feet perhaps symbolise the above mentioned desire as well as the notion of temperance, sometimes represented in western iconography by fish drawn or painted on feet. Sometimes we wear a lab coat painted (rather amateurish) with fish scales reminiscent of Oannes, the Babylonian fish/man hybrid that taught man the use of letters, sciences, agriculture, law, architecture, and arts of all kinds. And in our mind (not out loud because it is not very good) we hum the Shaman’s Fish Song.

None of this makes direct sense from the perspective of the actual scientific or societal desire to inspire a smaller human species but perhaps when it comes to radical change, making sense is not the best place to start. The Zebrafish Oannes may disrupt comfortable understandings of how we will attain the knowledge to reach abundance for all forms of life by introducing ’something’ we cannot at this moment put into words.

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Several years ago Dutch artist Joep van Lieshout suggested that rather than reduce human height to 50cm (as The Incredible Shrinking Man has investigated) people should shrink to the size of a parasite and live in the stomach of  a cow. It’s an interesting suggestion, not only because it opens up perspectives on collective use of resources, ecological connectivity and community but because it’s been done before, by size-shifting jellyfish also known as myxozoans.

Myxozoans are cnidarians, just like corals, sea anemones and regular sized jellyfish. In the process of shrinking the myxozoans lost their jellyfish characteristics to a degree that hadn’t been thought possible. ”It would be like finding a one-celled creature and discovering that genetically, it’s a mammal that had lost its genes for lactation and keratinaceous hair”, explains team leader Dorothee Huchon of the Department of Zoology Tel Aviv University.  During this process of extreme evolutionary transition they embraced a parasitic life, surrounding themselves with other organism’s organs so they need almost none of their own. Simple, effective, easy; just like Joep van Lieshout suggested.

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8000 Lil’s

Spotify now features over 8,000 artists with “Lil’” at the beginning of their name – from the well-known Lil Wayne and Lil’ Kim,  to Dutch favourite Lil Kleine (which actually translates as Lil Little).  It’s interesting that the seemingly macho world of hip hop seems to have embraced ‘little’ as one of its favourite monikers. In the past year, all these lil ones have made quite an impact on the music industry: being the names behind 33 of the top thousand songs puts the Lil’s at a 106% increase over the same timespan in 2017, and a whopping 725% increase from 2016. While some of this growth can be attributed to breakout artists such as Lil Uzi VertLil Xan and Lil Yachty, legends including Lil’ KimLil’ Troy and Lil Wayne have long represented the “Lil” prefix. Some of its popularity as a prefix may just be the result of the word “‘lil” becoming increasingly used in the everyday vernacular. But no doubt there are copycats who presume the success of the other Lil’s may rub off on them. And then there are those that understand that small is smart.  Smart, beautiful and contagious.

A short survey of artists using the somewhat less street savvy ‘Little’ shows there are also many thousands, going as far back as music history will take you. Not surprisingly though, Big, Biggie, and B.I.G. are still quite popular also.

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Original Final Words

Richard Matheson’s novel ‘The shrinking man’ was published in 1956 and soon adapted for film.  In the film the famous last words in are inspiring but quite different from the original final words in Matheson’s book. Supposedly the original text was adapted by director Jack Arnold. Therefor, not to lose any of its visionary potential, we hereby publish Matheson’s equally inspiring last words.

“How could he be less than nothing? The idea came. Last night he’d looked up at the universe without. Then there must be a universe within, too. maybe universes.he stood again. Why had he never thought it; of the microscopic and submicroscopic worlds? That they existed he had always known. Yet never had he made the obvious connection. He’d always thought in term of man’s own world and man’s own limited dimensions. He had presumed upon nature. For the inch was man’s concept, not nature’s. To a man zero inches meant nothing. Zero meant nothing. But to nature there was no zero. Existence went on in endless cycles. It seemed so simple now. He would never disappear, because there was no point of non-existence in the universe. It frightened him at first. The idea of going on endlessly through one level of dimension after another was alien. Then he thought: If nature existed on endless levels, so also might intelligence. he might not have to be alone. Suddenly he began running towards the light. And when he’d reached it, he stood in speechless awe looking at the new world with it’s vivid splashes of vegetation, its scintillant hills, it’s towering trees, it’s sky of shifting hues, as though the sunlight were being filtered through moving layers of pastel glass. It was a wonderland. There was much to be done and more to be thought about. His brain was teeming with questions and ideas and yes- hope again. There was food to be found, water, clothing, shelter. And most important, life. Who knew? It might be, it just might be there. Scott Carey ran into his new world, searching.”

Whe will we run into ours?

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Fisherian Runaway

Fisherian runaway is a mechanism proposed by the mathematical and evolutionary biologist Ronald Fisher, to account for the evolution of exaggerated male ornamentation by persistent, directional female choice. When females are attracted to a certain trait within males, this trait over time gets over-emphasised because males with the trait will be selected by the female. An example is the colourful and elaborate peacock plumage. The bird’s extremely long tail seems incompatible with natural selection because it requires a great deal of energy to grow and maintain, reduces the bird’s agility, and may increase it’s visibility to predators. Yet, the tail has evolved, which indicates that females have a preference to mate with peacocks that possess a longer and more colourful tail. Peahens that select long-tailed males  in turn have male offspring that are more likely to have long tails and thus are more likely to be sexually successful themselves. Equally importantly, the female offspring of these peahens are more likely to have a preference for peacocks with longer tails. However, because the costs for the production of such a tail are so high the absolute fitness levels of all the members of the population (both male and female) is less than it would be if none of the peahens had a preference for a longer or more colorful tail. In his book The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins writes: ” In a society where males compete with each other to be chosen as he-men by females, one of the best things a mother can do for her genes is to make a son who will turn out in his turn to be an attractive he-man. If she can ensure that her son is one of the fortunate few males who wins most of the copulations in the society when he grows up, she will have an enormous number of grandchildren. The result of this is that one of the most desirable qualities a male can have in the eyes of a female is, quite simply, sexual attractiveness itself.”

90 to 95% of women feel more attracted to tall men. Much like the peacock’s tail this means more people are born that are tall and/or have a preference for taller partners. In this Fisherian runaway the human species continues to grow taller while it is abundantly clear that height itself has few, if any, real advantages, is mostly a unnecessary ornament and from a survival perspective ultimately leads to maladaptation.

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Temperance is defined as moderation or voluntary self-restraint and characterized as the control over excess. It is what an individual voluntarily refrains from doing. This includes restraint from retaliation in the form of non-violence and forgiveness, restraint from arrogance in the form of humility and modesty, and restraint from excesses such as conspicuous consumption in the form of prudence. Temperance was one of the cardinal virtues in Greek philosophy and christianity, as well as buddhism and hinduism. Some ague that the limitation of human height should not be included within the categories of self-restraint since it is outside our individual control. This is debatable. First, virtues are mostly the result of our upbringing. Small stature as a vessel of physical modesty could be included in a shared value system. Secondly, although height is a heritable trait, environmental conditions such as food and climate influence it greatly: up to 20% of our size is the result of non-genetic factors. Thirdly, even if adult people cannot become smaller themselves they can still make choices that allow their children to embrace a lifestyle that keeps them smaller. One might also argue that because this is really about a turnaround for the entire species that it is not so much about the individual as it is about humanity at large. If so, finding political support towards a small-stature-promoting organisation of society needs to be taken into consideration.

Temperance is often depicted as a woman transferring water from one vessel to another. In this case from a tall vessel to a smaller one.

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Growth Chart Resilience Exercise

The human species is obsessed with growth. Even without specific context, any decline or absence of growth mostly inspires a negative response while an increase creates a feeling of positivity. Through a series of simple exercises we intend to build resilience against our default response that growth is always good. The Growth Chart Resilience Exercise combines declining charts with the color green. The paradox represented in the color green is that it symbolises qualities like life, renewal, harmony and environment as well as greed, money, growth, and jealousy. Rather than provide us with a clear illustration of our desire for less, the Growth Chart Resilience Exercise presents us with the challenge of having to reconcile seemingly disparate notions of growth and decline, as well as the different emotions inspired by the color green.

Image by Jeroen van Kempen.

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Shaq Sequence

Shaquille O’Neal is an American retired professional basketball player. At 2.16 m tall and 147 kg, he was one of the heaviest players ever to play in the NBA. His size inspired the Shaq Sequence, an number of images used by The Incredible Shrinking Man to illustrate the ramifications of human height and how shrinking would translate into a lighter and less needy human species. O’Neill perfectly illustrates that we have a clear choice: continue to grow towards Shaquillian height and much greater resource needs, or shrink and need much less. At 150cm Shaquille O’Neill would lose 30% of his height but 66%, (97kg) of his weight (0,7 height x 0,7 width x 0,7 depth=0,34 weight). While we continue to speculate on an average human height of 50cm this is mainly a theoretical goal as we already know the human species can be as short as 54,6cm. By putting our goal a little beyond this we can be sure not to miss out on any new and exciting developments in regards to the extremely short. At the same time humanity has most to gain from the first 10% to 30% of shrinkage since this is where we give up most of our size. The first cuts are the deepest.

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The Growth Hormone Jungle

Image result for growth hormoneImage result for growth hormoneImage result for growth hormoneImage result for growth hormoneImage result for growth hormoneImage result for growth hormone

Growth hormone is a peptide hormone that stimulates growth, cell reproduction and cell regeneration in humans and other animals. As with all hormonal pathways the path concerning the promotion and secretion of growth hormone leads right into a dense jungle of interrelated secretions of life. If we are to learn where growth transforms into unnecessary or malignant growth, we must enter.

Once secreted, growth hormone remains active in the bloodstream for just a few minutes, allowing enough time for the liver to convert it into growth factors, especially insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which has growth-promoting properties on every cell in the body. An elevation in growth hormone increases the available nutrients by promoting the mobilization of tissue stores with a wide range of biochemical processes. Some biological effects of growth hormone are 1. An increase in cell division and DNA polimerase activity, necessary for DNA replication. 2. Protein anabolism, the uptake and synthesis of amino acids, RNA. 3. Lipid metabolism, the release and oxidation of fatty acids. 4. Carbohydrate metabolism, glycogen deposition, change blood sugar level, insuline release, peripheral insulin resistance (glucose intolerance, which precedes the development of type 2 diabetes by several years). 5. Mineral metabolism, calcium and phosphate deposition in bone, calcium turnover. There exist several hypothalamic hormones that control growth hormone release. The most major of these secretion stimuli is the growth hormone release factor (GHRH). In contrast, the hormone known as somatostatin (GHIH) is known to suppress the release of GH. Studies have shown that glucocorticoids are also able to suppress the release of GHRH as well as reduce GHRH receptor responsiveness.

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