Cumulative Default Yielding Response

People continue to grow taller despite the fact that physical dominance is no longer an evident evolutionary advantage and is not very cost-effective. Archaic biological systems have been replaced by confused growth-obsessed cultural values. Despite the evidence that in Western societies being tall continues to be positively related to social status in both men and women, the proximate mechanisms underpinning this phenomenon remain relatively obscure. According to Gert Stulp one potential explanation is that taller individuals are more likely to win a dyadic confrontation with a competitor. In the old days the big bully would get his way. But how did archaic confrontational outcomes turn into widespread contemporary social behaviour where all actors, big and small, continue to play outdated roles. Dominance in the animal kingdom is defined as ‘an attribute of the pattern of repeated, agonistic interactions between two individuals, characterized by a consistent outcome in favour of the same dyad member and a default yielding response of its opponent rather than escalation’. The form and function of such confrontations can be as diverse as the society in which they occur. Although the advantage of winning one confrontation may be small, the cumulative effect of many such advantages creates a default response that facilitates their further rise. Rather then seek confrontation the smaller individual already moves out of the way. They clear the space for the bigger individual to take center stage and are, to a large extent, responsible for the perception of tallness as a success-formula since they are the ones facilitating their ascend rather then the tall having to compete for it. Height-dependent perceptions only contribute to greater dominance of taller individuals if shorter individuals act on their perceptions, and treat those who are taller as more competent, authoritative, and dominant than they are. So they shouldn’t, because they aren’t. In fact, if we agree that a smaller human species is preferred, it’s time men, both big and small, redesign their default behaviour.

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Kuhnian Shift

According to Thomas Kuhn when enough significant anomalies have accrued against a current paradigm, the scientific discipline is thrown into a state of crisis. During this crisis, new ideas, perhaps ones previously discarded, are tried. Eventually a new paradigm is formed, which gains its own new followers, and an intellectual “battle” takes place between the followers of the new paradigm and the hold-outs of the old paradigm.

Currently, one of the most destructive paradigms is that in order to make up for the scarcity our economic system creates we have to produce more. Alternatively, The Incredible Shrinking Man proposes to think of ways to shrink towards abundance. Since 2010 we’ve investigated (and continue to investigate) how such a paradigm shift may be embraced without force. Max Planck said that ”a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” This may be so, but the question is if we have the time to wait for a new generation to value shrinking as much (or more) than growth, and if the new generation will indeed think so. On an evolutionary time-scale there is no doubt scarcity will lead to smaller less needy people. Yet the laws of evolution, powerful as they are, seem too slow. On the other hand Darwin’s Finches show that evolution is not a lineair process and embedded within the human species there probably exist several genetic recipes for smaller body types. Unfortunately in this scenario the process will only kick in when things already got very nasty. If we leave shrinking down to the laws of nature it will be far more violent and painful than if we allow a cultural shift. Let’s not forget that because of the laws of proportion the biggest advantages for the planet are in the first 10% to 20% reduction. Someone of 150cm weighs half of a person of 180cm. That, plus a 10 to 15 year longer life expectancy, increased relative strength, and a much larger planet to walk around on, among plenty of other things, might just push our desire in the right direction.

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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 objectvisiting an Ames room, or gently folding and tearing paper in half. Folding a paper in half, tearing it, then folding and tearing 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? The Incredible Shrinking Man believes such exercises can open up a thought process that allows the embrace of unfamiliar concepts, like shrinking the human species.

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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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