The Short Date Paradox

The Incredible Shrinking Man has advocated the idea that it would be a positive thing if more women feel attracted to shorter men, much in the same way most men feel attracted to shorter women. Eventually this would result in shorter offspring. But here’s the catch: If both men and women would be attracted to shorter partners than at least one is not satisfied. You can’t have it both ways. If women develop a desire for shorter men then in order to both be satisfied the guy would need to desire taller women. But if they would, the average size of people wouldn’t change because the advantages of women dating shorter guys would be neutralised by the shorter guys dating taller women (and subsequently some of those having taller children).

While we ponder the paradox let’s remind ourselves of the fact that the tales about tall men are tall tales indeed.

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The Incredible shrinking Man desires a more ecological human existence. We’ve outgrown our naturally given space on Earth and are starting to experience the consequences, or even consider exit strategies. But rather than fantasising about a departure from the planet that designed us, we investigate the possibilities to retrofit humanity back into Earth’s future plans. In this quest we’ve been inspired more than once by other than human species, like the pygmy squid, the Pseudis paradoxa or any of the many other dwarf species we’ve listed in the Dwarf Zoo. But it is not just fauna that helps us reprogram our thinking. Often it’s flora as well. Plants have all sorts of interesting strategies to limit size if necessary or desirable. Like jasmonates, the phyto-hormones that keep bonsai trees from growing beyond the possibilities of a limited environment. Almost since the beginning of this investigation we’ve tried to envision a man that understands the bonsai tree, perhaps even better then himself. We’ve wanted to carve out a space where man, flora and fauna re-merge into shared consciousness. A sort of mental mandragora.

The roots of the mandragora often look like a little man, even to those without any fantasy for such things. Combined with its hallucinogenic properties it was an obvious receptor for archetypical animistic beliefs and bestowed with fantastic properties. It has its modest place in folklore but not far beyond. Perhaps suggesting we consider the mandragora as a model for future man is still too intuitive, still too immature and part of some wishful thinking but we need to start investigating it more within the public eye. In the end this is obviously not be about a little man with branches for arms, or a walking and talking bonsai. It is about a shared consciousness that could allow us to find our rightful place in all of life. Can we look at a muddy root and learn something about ourselves?

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Minidampf Monorails

One of the most straightforward consequences of shrinking the human species is that most of our built environment would have to be re-designed. Our cities, production facilities, agriculture and transport systems would all need to be downsized to fit our down-sized needs. And some things can stay the way they are. 8000 passengers would fit into a regular sized Boeing 747, traffic jams would be a thing of the past, and railway track capacity will double, re-fitting them to facilitate minidampf monorail trains: one going on the left rail, and one on the right.

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The Simple Growth Obsession Test

We’re obsessed with growth. The Simple Growth Obsession Test is a simple test to check for yourself how much growth and our deeply embedded sensitivity for signs of growth create an emotional response when confronted with signs of its absence or presence. The test itself is a simple animation of an arrow going up alternating with an arrow going down. Click HERE to do the test. Even without providing a context for the arrow most people respond positively to the arrow facing upward and register a negative response when the arrow points down. Although it is just an arrow, a graphic rendition of direction, it connects to a complex variety of mental and physical sensors, programmed either culturally, genetically or epigenetically, to be repulsed by the earthbound direction, and delighted by the skybound one. The Incredible Shrinking Man wants to intimately know and understand what constitutes and drives this response and how it ultimately determines behaviour.

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700 Genetic Factors (for now)

Since 2007 researchers of the Genetic Investigation of Anthropometric Traits (GIANT) consortium are quickly uncovering the polygenic traits that influence human height.  Recently they analysed data from the genomes of another 253,288 subjects and were able to identify 697 gene variants, the pieces of DNA that vary from person to person, in 424 gene regions as related to height. The variants were enriched for genes, pathways and tissue types known to be involved in growth and together implicated genes and pathways not highlighted in earlier efforts, such as signaling by fibroblast growth factors, WNT/β-catenin and chondroitin sulfate–related genes. They identified several genes and pathways not previously connected with human skeletal growth, including mTOR, OGN and binding of hyaluronan. The results indicate a genetic architecture for human height that is characterized by a very large but finite number (several thousands) of causal variants.  Soon we’ll have a map of all genes related to height, at which point it’s possible to learn how these genes express themselves under different circumstances.

If we know how we grow, we’ll know how to shrink.

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Abundance Fantasies: Fish Story

In our series on Abundance Fantasies we explore how a deeply rooted desire for abundance manifests itself in our vocabulary, our myths and legends, and our cultural artefacts. The question is how we can activate these cultural pathways to initiate the desire to become smaller. In this post we discuss fish stories.

Fish stories are called fish stories because they relate to the tendency of anglers to exaggerate the size of their catch: “That fish was so big, why I tell ya’, it nearly sank the boat when I pulled it in!” In most cases the listener is aware that the claim made in such stories is a little, or a lot, besides the truth. Most often such conversations turn into a friendly argument about the truth of the claim. But truth is besides the point here. What a fish story really expresses is a deeply rooted desire for abundance, or its fictive possibility. We all want to catch the big fish, or at least imagine it’s out there. In fish stories we pull ourselves from the perilous swamp of life and dream of heroic feats of control and ability to provide for ourselves and others, much Like Baron von Münchausen did. Unfortunately in reality stories about catching enormous fish are further from the truth than ever. Not only is there much less fish in the ocean because of overfishing but global warming causes the fish to get smaller. Unless we shrink the human species to 50cm: in that case almost every caught fish will be a fish worth bragging about and we’ll all be heroic fishermen.

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Non hopping Kangaroo

When asked what defines a kangaroo, most people would probably say it’s the fact that they hop. Christine Janis of Brown University was studying a species of giant kangaroo, the Procoptodon goliah when it occurred to her that its weight of 240 kg, it’s bone structure and the fact that its spine showed signs of arthritis, probably meant that this kangaroo was unable to hop. Unlike its smaller cousins it probably walked in a bipedal motion on two hind legs, much like humans do.

When a species becomes larger, fundamental aspects such as metabolism, relative and absolute strength and locomotion change. When we take a look at the tallest people that ever lived one of the first things we notice apart from their towering height is that their movements, much like the giant kangaroo, are different from the movements of shorter members of the species. To a regular sized person these movements might look clumsy, slow and uncoordinated. People with acromegaly often need the assistance of canes, leg braces or other forms of support because their relative strength in relation to body weight has decreased so much that they can’t walk by themselves. Without support they’d have to crawl, perhaps sparking evolutionary processes that would transform us into an entirely new species. Throughout evolution size has often initiated such change. Is a kangaroo that doesn’t hop, still a kangaroo?

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Hara Hachi Bu

In the west we start a meal by saying  ”Have a nice dinner” or “Bon appetite”. We refer to the quality of the eating experience but never to the quantity. In contrast, on the Japansese island of Okinawa, they say “Hara Hachi Bu” which means “Eat until you’re only 80% full”. It wishes us to eat until we’re no longer hungry rather then eating until you can eat no more.

Hara Hachi Bu can be viewed as a culturally embedded manifestation of calorie restriction and the only known voluntary act of structurally eating less within an affluent situation. Its effects among elderly Okinawans are well known. They are healthier and get older then any other specific population. They’re also amongst the shortest populations, another reason why The Incredible shrinking Man is interested. Hara hachi bu, while related to the intake of food specifically, could well be translated into a universal principle of embracing scarcity. What if we’d stop wanting to fill up on everything, all the time? What benefits can be expected from doing with just 80% in general? Will it represent a first step towards shrinking?

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Savage Scale Models

In his structuralist anthropological study The Savage Mind Claude Lévi-Strauss writes: ” To understand a real object in its totality we always tend to work from its parts. Reduction in scale reverses this situation…in the case of scale models, in contrast to what happens when we try to understand an object or living creature of real dimensions, knowledge of the whole precedes knowledge of the parts.”

In regards to our undertaking of downsizing the human species to 50 cm these words regain a sense of urgency. Not because we regard a smaller human species as a scale model, but because the enormous benefits of the reduction in human size would create the possibility of seeing some of the consequences of human existence for our planet as a whole again, instead of being paralysed by the complexity of its parts. At 50 cm humanity would only need about 2 to 5% of the resources it needs now. Such reduction would completely all but neutralise the claim we have on the environment. Not only would we have all the renewable energy we’d need but there wouldn’t be much of a problem in the continuation of the use of fossil fuels since we’d emit CO2 into the atmosphere in such low quantities that reforestation rates would easily absorb all of it, and more. So although that living creature of real dimensions whom Lévi-Strauss mentions in the second part of this quote perhaps isn’t a scale model, it definitely is a model for scaling Earth’s challenges. The paradox being that a “knowledge of the whole” as Lévi-Strauss calls it, probably needs to precede the immense step it’ll take to actually decide to become smaller.

Thanks Ronald van Tienhoven.

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Females to Mars

Women in Mars.

Last year Kate Greene took part in a NASA-funded research project called HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation). It required that she and five other crewmembers live as astronauts on the surface of Mars. For four months they were cooped up in a geodesic dome on the side of the very Mars-like Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. The unsurprising result: it would be a lot more economic if we send smaller people to Mars. In fact Kate argues, they should be women, because women are smaller. The three female crew members in the Hawaii experiment expended less than half the calories of the three male crew members. During one week, the most metabolically active male burned an average of 3,450 calories per day, while the least metabolically active female expended 1,475 calories per day.

In the early 2000s, Alan Drysdale, a former systems analyst in advanced life support with NASA, was thinking about the problem of astronaut bodies. He turned to a NASA document on physiological metrics called STD-3001, Man-Systems Integration Standards, which details needs and effluents for a range of body types. Drysdale also found that most women need way less. Drysdale says his calculations suggest all things being equal, a female crew would launch for half the payload cost. “Small women haven’t been demonstrated to be appreciably dumber than big women or big men, so there’s no reason to choose larger people for a flight crew when it’s brain power you want,” says Drysdale. “The logical thing to do is to fly small women.”

The Incredible Shrinking Man believes it is even more logical to fly small people. Our previous work with Donald Platt suggests NASA is already in the know.

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