Lodan Report: Private to Public

Kampung Lodan, Kerapu and Tongkol are 3 riverside villages situated in the north of Jakarta. Shrink-thinking is deeply embedded within the spirit of their people. We’ve visited the community to learn about some of the more practical sides of smaller.

When the inhabitants of the Ciliwung communities arrived in Jakarta in the 60’s and 70’s nobody wanted to live on the dirty, unhealthy river banks that flooded regularly. But the new arrivals had no choice and built their tiny homes right up to the river’s edge. Thirty perhaps forty years later the city governor decided that people could not live along the river because of safety and other reasons (mostly because by now the prices of land had risen considerably). He decided homes were not allowed within 5 meters of the water. The new policy creates an existential threat to the closely knit Ciliwung communities. Most of them were born along the Ciliwung. They work there and are reluctant to move to the new housing projects the government has made available. The inspiration is how they reacted. Rather than leave the communities in the 3 kampungs decided to ’shrink’ their homes by repositioning the front of their house 5 meters from the river’s edge. In the process they gave up more than half of their already small houses. As a result of this creative shrink gesture 5 meters of private space became public space. Public space to meet each other, public space to grow vegetables and fruits, public space to cook and do the dishes (as most inside kitchens became so small one could hardly move in them), and public space for strengthening a sense of community. When something shrinks, something grows.

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Shrink Exercises: A01 to A10

There are BIG things one can do to embrace the idea of shrinking, like finding a short partner, hormone therapy, or gently curbing the excess growth of your children by feeding them growth suppressing foods. And there are SMALL things you can do to embrace the idea of shrinking. Small things like standing next to a very tall person, or object,  visiting an Ames room, or folding and tearing paper in half. The schematic notion of folding something in half, tearing it at the fold, then folding it in half again, and then again until a satisfactory reduction in size has been accomplished embodies notions of scale, of direction, of materiality, and of time. If we consider contemporary man to be an A1, then how far can we go? Although somewhat abstract The Incredible Shrinking Man believes such exercises can open up a thought process that allows the embrace of unfamiliar concepts, like becoming smaller.

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Studio of Suspended Disbelief

Whenever The Incredible Shrinking Man is invited to participate in a public event, such as an exhibition, festival or symposium, we simply pack up the research studio and relocate the investigation to the new space. There we continue reading, writing, discussing and creating new material to inspire the notion of a smaller human species. It’s research in progress, open to the public to engage in. Many of the insights into our relationship with body size were inspired by such coincidental meetings. Each studio setting is slightly different since the investigation continuous to move forward. However, it always contains a presentation of the general ideas, a collection of stories from the website, a library with books and papers, video’s, and objects and images to inspire both the researchers and the public. The public studio is primarily meant to initiate a paradigm shift regarding our species and contains several elements meant to disrupt understanding rather than illustrate what we think we already know. It requests of those that enter to suspend disbelief and to imagine how to embrace the idea of less and shrink towards a world of abundance.

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Trans-species Psychology

Trans-species psychology re-embeds humans within the larger matrix of the animal kingdom by erasing the notion that humans are substantively cognitively and emotionally different from other species. According to the ecologist/psychologist Gay A. Bradshaw, there is a common model of brain, mind and behaviour for humans and nonhuman animals that is conserved in evolution.

The new paradigm creates interesting new perspectives on the possibilities for interspecies learning. Where science has embraced and profited from the idea that all life is genetically similar, creating a multi-billion dollar model-organism industry and expanding our knowledge of the human genome, the notion of trans-species psychology is still in its infancy. But it could very well be this parallel embrace of the ’softer’ side of the fundamental wholeness of all life that brings important new insights in who we are as a species and how to rebalance our place on Earth. In the exploration of the possibilities to downsize the human species and especially how to inspire the intrinsic desire to do so, The Incredible Shrinking Man investigates a number of dwarf animal species such as the pygmy squid, the red-nosed tree frog and the burying beetle. Here survival strategies have created an interesting mating pattern with a female preference for smaller partners. Seen from the psychological framework of these small species perhaps unlocking such desire within Homo sapiens is not be as farfetched as one might at first presume.

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Beyond Phlebotinum

Phlebotinum is the versatile substance or incomprehensible technology that causes an effect needed by a plot. It basically does everything except solve specific limits and dangers required by the plot. Without it, the story would grind to an abrupt halt. The problem with introducing plot fuel into speculations about downsizing the human species is that in doing so it reinforces the prejudice that shrinking our average size is unrealistic and can only be achieved in fairy tales and fantasy stories. It creates a certain blindness for the fact that proof of the real possibility of becoming smaller is everywhere. No need for shrink beams and magic potions. If we are to embrace becoming smaller as a species we must move beyond Phlebotinum, and realise that this is something that could and perhaps should be achieved for real.

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Kleiber’s Law

Larger animals have relatively slower metabolisms than small ones. A mouse must eat about a third of its body mass every day not to starve whereas a human can survive on only 2%. The relationship follows a power law: basal metabolic rate (R) is proportional to the ¾ power of an animal’s mass (M). This relationship, the Kleiber Law, can be drawn as a straight line on a log-log plot. This relationship holds, from simple organisms to most complex ones, from microbes to whales and even forests, across 27 orders of magnitude in body mass. Small adults of one species respire more per unit of weight than large adults of another species because a larger fraction of their body mass consists of structure rather than reserve; structural mass involves maintenance costs, reserve mass does not.

Smaller people need considerably less calories than tall people, but perhaps not as much less as one would expect. An individual of 150cm in height needs approximately 23% less calories than a person of 180cm in height: still an extremely significant decrease.

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Hyperthermal Shrinking

Image result for global warming led to dwarfism twice

Global warming has the potential to shrink the human species. As we’ve discussed before mammals, and many species of birds and fish, shrink when the climate heats up. During the last two hyperthermals, the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (55 million years ago) and the Eocene Thermal Maximum 2 (53 million years ago), temperatures rose as much as 8 degrees celsius. A 2013 study of ancient horses found that it caused mammal body size to decrease up to 30%. The paper suggests a similar outcome is possible in response to human-caused climate change. Perhaps humanity is already in the process of creating a global shrink climate.

Gingerich, professor emeritus of earth sciences, evolutionary biology and anthropology at the University of Michigan said that “decreased body size seems to be a common evolutionary response” in mammals to extreme global warming events, known as hyperthermals, “and thus may be a predictable natural response for some lineages to future global warming.”. “Developing a better understanding of the relationship between mammalian body size change and greenhouse gas-induced global warming during the geological past may help us predict ecological changes that may occur in response to current changes in Earth’s climate”. After both hyperthermal events, body sizes of all mammals rebounded. Results have been confirmed in a 2017 study by the University of New Hampshire.

(In 2006, Gingerich proposed that mammalian dwarfing could be a response to the lower nutritional value of plants grown under elevated carbon dioxide levels. Under such conditions, plants grow quickly but are less nutritious than they would normally be. Animals eating such plants might adapt by becoming smaller over time.)

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Fear of the Vegetarian

Brian Langerhans and Thomas deWitt of the department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences at Texas A&M University examined the specificity with which freshwater snails use environmental cues to induce defensive phenotypes such as shrinking. In one environment they introduced a species of sunfish that eats snails, In the other a non-molluscivorous, plant-eating, sunfish. Despite the lack of appetite in the latter species snails in both environments developed predator avoidance behaviour, either by developing more rotund shells that are harder to crack, or by becoming smaller, making it more difficult and less calorie-efficient for the sunfish to hunt for them.

The research shows that size-reduction in snails can be induced without exposure to real danger. They just need to believe they are in danger. Perhaps inducing such a response through environmental cues could work for people as well? Yet, people are not snails. Who, or perhaps what, is our sunfish? Is there a friendly danger signal to help us shrink before the ecosystem collapses?

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The Long Tail of the Human Genome

If the human species embraces a desire to become smaller, as it embraced the desire to become taller in the past and present, then it is of some interest to know how fast this desire could influence human size and if desire alone is enough. How fast would evolution respond to a smaller-sized ideal? Will we be able to downsize fast enough that it will have a profound positive effect on man’s ecological footprint?

The work of the evolutionary biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant on Darwin’s finches on the Galapagos islands shows that natural selection can be a surprisingly speedy process. The average beak size of Medium and Small Ground Finches on the island of Daphne Major changes almost from year to year in relation to the available food sources. Bigger beaks win in times of drought while smaller beaks win during wetter times. Beak size sort of jojo’s up and down showing evolution is not necessarily a lineair process. In fact it quite often moves back and forth between known phenotypes. It is one of life’s many ways to deal with changing circumstances. The human species, it would seem, has moved towards the taller type long enough. Perhaps it is time to return to any of the other much smaller expressions still available on the long tail of the human genome.

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Top 5 Shrinking Superheroes

#5 Shrinking Violet (Salu Digby):  Violet is from the planet Imsk. Originally, she could only shrink down to subatomic sizes, if necessary. Later she is able to grow to giant sizes as well.

#4 The Atom (Ray Palmer): Dr. Raymond Palmer is a physicist and professor specializing in matter compression as a means to fight overpopulation, famine and other world problems. Using white dwarf star matter he finds after it lands on Earth, Palmer fashions a lens that enables him to shrink any object to any degree he wishes.

#3 Wasp (Janet van Dyne): She is usually depicted as having the ability to shrink to a height of several centimeters, fly by means of insectoid wings, and fire bioelectric energy blasts.

#2 Doll Man (Darrel Dane):  Doll Man is the first comic book superhero with a shrinking power. “The World’s Mightiest Mite,” is research chemist Darrel Dane, who invents a formula that enables him to shrink to the height of six inches while retaining the full strength of his normal size.

#1 Ant-Man (Hank Pym): Dr. Henry Pym is the original iteration of Ant-Man and married to the afore mentioned Janet van Dyne. Biochemist Dr. Henry “Hank” Pym discovers an unusual set of subatomic particles he labels “Pym particles“. Entrapping these within two separate serums, he creates a size-altering formula and a reversal formula, testing them on himself.

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