“An attitude to life which seeks fulfillment in the single-minded pursuit of height – in short, materialism – does not fit into this world, because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited.” – Fritz Schumacher.

Readyquotes are slightly altered quotes by known thinkers and makers. The spirit of the original quote often is already a reflection of the interests expressed within the research of The Incredible Shrinking Man but may have one or two words changed to allow us to connect its essence to our  vocabulary. We can therefor not really assign these quotes to the authors nor are we its authors. In the spirit of the artist Marcel Duchamp they are assisted readymades, or rather assisted readyquotes that by their re-contextualisation within the desire for a smaller human species may open up new thoughts and insights.

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Haplogroup Hot Switch

Haplogroup I-M170 is a common Y chromosome DNA haplogroup among unnecessary tall males mostly situated in North and South East Europe. The descendants sharing this specific group of identical genetic traits all come from a unique male ancestor, living approximately 22.000 years ago during the Last Glacial Maximum when Europe was a bitterly cold place. Under such circumstances a large-bodied individual may have had a better chance at survival because of his ability to retain more heat than other male competitors, allowing him a better chance at gene proliferation. In warmer climates people tend to be smaller because of faster metabolism and the need to dissipate heat efficiently. Today’s rising temperatures turn greater heat retention from an advantage into a disadvantage, making the large body frame of the I-M170 redundant. Is airconditioning keeping us tall?

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Shrink Exercise: Giant Vegetable Hugging

Hugging a giant vegetable initiates a light-hearted feeling of pleasure and relaxation, as well as the experience of being in the presence of a messenger from the future when the human species has become a lot smaller and the world is again a place of unprecedented abundance. The challenge is making the mental switch where we do not understand the giant vegetable as large but ourselves as small. This can be achieved by repeating a certain sentence such as: This is not a large vegetable, I am a small person. This not a large vegetable. I am a small person. This is not a large vegetable. I am a small person. Suspend disbelief until reality has started to change.

The Incredible Shrinking Man wants to ignite an imagination that will ultimately physically shrink the human species. There are already a number of things people could do to become smaller. If we were to eat differently, feel attracted to smaller partners, or would embrace a number of endocrinological or genetic possibilities the human species would start to shrink. Unfortunately, at the moment, we are not so inclined as a species. In fact we celebrate that we continue to grow taller. Although tallness may in many cases be the result of affluence, being tall itself is not only not great for health but has numerous other undesirable consequences. In a world with dwindling resources, mass species extinctions and increased population, shrink exercises are both symbolic as well as real acts to inspire an alternative desire.

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HPS Axis Pirouette

To soften the pressure of the increasingly dominant genetic profiles for greater human height, humanity at some point may opt to interfere in the cell signaling pathways that induce growth. One such pathway, the hypothalamic–pituitary axis, includes the secretion of growth hormone (GH) into the circulation and the subsequent stimulation of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) production by GH in tissues such as the liver. The HPS Axis also controls the secretion of other hypothalamic–pituitary hormones involved in the control of GH secretion from the pituitary gland such as somatocrinin (GHRH), somatostatin (GHIH), and ghrelin (GHS). Individuals with growth hormone deficiency or GHR insensitivity have short stature and in some cases, such as in the case of the Laron People, are protected from cancer. Conversely, acromegaly and gigantism are conditions of GH and IGF-1 excess and are characterized by overgrowth and tall stature. The physiological mechanisms responsible for the periodicity in the secretion of growth hormone  are believed to involve a dual system of stimulatory or inhibitory inputs of hypothamalic origin. Tweaking the choreography between these two may ultimately lead to an understanding of healthy growth, and where growth moves beyond the desired.

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Degrowth:Buddhist Economics

Buddhist economics, a term coined by Fritz Schumacher, is the systematic study of how to gain given ends with minimum means, or as we at The Incredible Shrinking Man like to ask; How can we shrink towards abundance? In the view of its proponents, buddhist economics aims to clear the confusion about what is harmful and what is beneficial in the range of human activities involving the production and consumption of goods and services, ultimately trying to make human beings ethically mature. It represents a commitment to building an economy that would serve a nation’s culture based on spiritual values instead of being gauged by only GDP. To the buddhist economist there is nothing elegant about complex ways to deal with demand. If it’s not simple it’s probably not worth considering.

In the buddhist economic model of Claire Brown valuation of economic performance is based on how well the economy delivers a high quality of life to everyone while it protects the environment. In addition to consumption, measuring economic performance includes equity, sustainability, and activities that create a meaningful life. A person’s well-being depends on cultivation of spiritual wealth even more than material wealth. Free market economics assumes that the markets produce optimal outcomes and that people have the resources to create satisfying lives. It focusses mainly on income and consumption to see if its presumptions are on track. Buddhist economics asks how we want our economy to work for us and how to maximise social welfare. It’s not about external growth, it’s not about material expansion, but about inner satisfaction and attention to practical basic human needs. Do you live a meaningful life with your relationships, in your community? Do you have health care, education? How well are you able to develop your potential? Buddhist economics is what economics should be about.

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Abundance Fantasies:Evangelical Carrots

In our series on Abundance Fantasies we explore how we can activate our deeply rooted desire for abundance, codified within our language, our myths and religions, to initiate the desire to shrink. There’s an unmistakable relationship between fundamental human desire for abundance and how this desire was appropriated and canonised within religious stories.

According to the Pew Research Center Guatemalans have the highest rate of believers that faith reaps success. In the small Guatemalan village of Almolonga the recruitment to become an evangelical christian and the promise of abundance go hand in hand. According to its mayor Siquiná Yac, Almolonga’s giant carrots are the manifestation and proof of the prosperity gospel that faith can bring material reward. God is in the carrot. Is humanity’s destructive relationship with abundance, defined by its readiness to sacrifice the longterm health of the planet, the result of the subconscious need for divine comfort?

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The small have strategies to ensure that their genetic knowledge on how to be small is preserved. Since smaller size within a species often means the individual lacks the physical strength to power their way into the female’s heart they need to outsmart the strong. Like the small dung beatles in research done by Douglas J. Emlen.

Dung beetles show enormous variation in body size and horn size. Large males grow large horns, while small males grow only rudimentary horns and sometimes no horns at all. One would think that having small or no horns gives a disadvantage in competing to find a mate. Yet reality is more poetic. Horned and hornless males turn out to have very different types of reproductive behavior. Females excavate tunnels beneath dung, where they feed, mate and lay eggs. Large, horned males guard the entrances to tunnels containing females where they fight with all other males that attempt to enter. While this show of testosterone is going on, small, hornless males dig new tunnels that intercepted the guarded tunnels below ground. Side-tunneling behavior allows sneaking males to enter tunnels beneath the guarding male, and mate with females undetected.

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The Makhunik Ceiling

There are indications in local architecture, that 100 years ago the average resident of Makhunik in eastern Iran, measured just 100cm in height – some 50cm shorter than the average height at the time. Of the roughly 200 stone and clay houses that make up the ancient village, 70 or 80 are exceptionally low, ranging between 1.5 to 2m – with the ceilings of some as low as 140cm.

Growing crops and keeping animals has always been difficult in this dry, desolate region. Turnips, grain, barley and a date-like fruit called jujube constituted the only farming. People subsisted on simple vegetarian dishes such as kashk-beneh (made from whey and a type of pistachio that is grown in the mountains), and pokhteek (a mixture of dried whey and turnip). If true the Makhunik grew to a similar height as Homo floresiensis, a dwarfed Homo erectus that underwent a process of insular dwarfism on Flores, Indonesia. Although the remote region around Makhunik is not an island, its isolated location made interaction with people from other villages very difficult, if not impossible. Genes inclined for small size could not have travelled far and local conditions may have stimulated these genes to be expressed as wondrously small people. Apart from pathological forms of dwarfism the people of Makhunik would the first and definitely the most recent example of a 100cm Homo sapiens. Perhaps it’s an indication of a genetically embedded ‘natural’ ceiling to how short we could become, once we create the right conditions.

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Idolatry of Giantism

“What I wish to emphasise is the duality of the human requirement when it comes to the question of size: there is no single answer. For his different purposes man needs many different structures, both small one and large ones, some exclusieve and some comprehensive. Yet people find it most difficult to keep two seemingly opposite necessities of truth in their minds at the same time. They always tend to clamour for a final solution, as if in actual life there could ever be a final solution other than death. For constructive work, the principal task is always the restoration of some kind of balance. Today, we suffer from an almost universal idolatry of giantism.”

Fritz Schumacher was an economic thinker and writer. His collection of essays titled “Small is beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered” is an important theoretical source in regards to the desire to shrink.

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The Dehnel Phenomenon

The Dehnel phenomenon, named after its discoverer, Polish zoologist August Dehnel, is the ability of certain species of animals such as shrews and weasels to shrink skull, bones and major organs in order to survive scarce food situations. Interestingly, they shrink in anticipation, before the actual scarcity arrives, unlike the Marine iguana of the Galapagos islands who shrink as a consequence of food scarcity during El Nino global warming events. A recent study of the Dehnel phenomenon in the Common shrew shows an average decrease in skull size of 15 to 20% during autumn, as well as the ability to regrow the skull in spring months by almost 10%, leaving the older adult with a slightly smaller head than juveniles.

Shrews live in seasonal environments with great differences in food availability but they are unable to hibernate or migrate to deal with winter scarcity. Instead they migrate within the body. Shrews need to eat near-constantly to survive so being smaller means they need less food. “If you shrink an organ like the brain which is disproportionally more ‘expensive’ than other kinds of tissue you might save energy,” said Javier Lázaro, one of the authors of the study. An average decrease in body-mass of 19% leads to a winter reduction of 18.2% in a shrew’s absolute resting metabolic rate. According to his co-author Dina Dechmann:  “Normally, animals in colder zones are larger and have a good volume-to-surface ratio to compensate for heat losses. The shrew, on the other hand, has a low volume-to-surface ratio and could possibly save vital energy through shrinking”. Although exceptional “the phenomenon might be more common than we think”. It is unknown why the shrews brain case does not completely regrow in adults in the spring, or how exactly tissue is reabsorbed to generate the shrinkage, and what is driving the effect. Dechmann: “Currently, in collaboration with colleagues of a university hospital, we are looking at changes in the bone substance and observe reversible processes that are reminiscent of lesions in osteoporotic bones. The alterations of the brain and heart also underline medically interesting similarities”.

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