Thursday, June 07, 2012

Honoring Ray Bradbury ... by Exploring Tomorrow


ray-bradbury_2240966bMy friend Ray Bradbury passed away this morning. While 91 is certainly a ripe and full age, especially for a revered figure who leaves behind a vast and highly esteemed legacy, there is still a certain bittersweet, knowing that he worked until the very end. Science-fiction authors never retire, you see. The need to spin yarns — to weave dreams about tomorrow — is always the last thing to go.

At Salon Magazine's request, I wrote this tribute to Ray Bradbury: American Optimist. It was therapy-solace, on the day that my fellow Los Angeles High School alumnus graduated from our Earthly plane... leaving this particular world less colorful, less passion-filled today.

RememberingRayBradburyRay was the last living member of a “BACH” quartet — writers who transformed science fiction from a pulp magazine ghetto into a genre for hardcover bestsellers. Isaac Asimov, Arthur Clarke and Robert Heinlein helped shatter barriers for the rest of us, establishing the legitimacy of literature that explores possible or plausible tomorrows. But it was Bradbury who made clear to everyone that science fiction can be art. An art form combining boldness and broad horizons with sheer, unadulterated beauty.

BradburyStoriesAnd love. Ray always spoke of it. Love of possibilities and imagination. Love of language, the rolling of phrases off tongue and pen. Also hope, without which, love is sterile.
Ray Douglas Bradbury was born in 1920, in Illinois, but at age 13 became a lifelong resident of Los Angeles, graduating from L.A. High School in 1938 … exactly 30 years before I did. Among many early influences on a fertile young imagination was the (way cool, to a child) fact that one ancestress had been executed as a witch in Salem, Mass., in the 1600s. He described the lasting impressions left by early Lon Chaney films, or when a stage magician touched him on the nose with an electric sword, commanding him to “live forever!” Like my own father, he nurtured his love of writing in free public libraries and while hawking newspapers on Depression-era street corners. And, as did many authors who followed, he got his start writing stories for mimeographed fan publications, climbing gradually upward while honing his craft.

Sometimes luck can strike like lightning. When Ray got the celebrated British expatriate  writer Christopher Isherwood to take a look at the manuscript for The Martian Chronicles, the resulting review launched Bradbury … well … not out of poverty, not yet, but into a career. One that later took him through Hollywood, scripting films like “Moby Dick,” as well as into television and punditry, all while helping raise four daughters and penning one luminous book after another, exploring the edges of the barely plausible.

But I’m not here to write a biography. This is an appreciation and, hence, in keeping with Ray’s own style, let me give way to impulse. To passion.

Indeed, I referred earlier to Ray’s fervent dedication to love and hope and the power of words that yank at us, compelling empathy. But there was another emotion that he would evoke, from time to time. One that always left a lasting impression on audiences, when he gave one of his popular lectures.

Onstage, Ray Bradbury could wax eloquently and vociferously angry at one thing, at one human trait — cynicism. The lazy habit of relishing gloom. The sarcastic playground sneer that used to wound him, and all other bright kids, punishing them for believing, fervently, in a better tomorrow.

Ray had one word for it. Treason. Against a world and humanity that has improved, prodigiously, inarguably, fantastically more than any other generation ever improved, and not just with technological wonders, but in ethics and behavior, at last taking so many nasty habits that our ancestors took for granted — like racism or sexism or class prejudice — and, if not eliminating them, then at least putting them in ill repute. Ray spoke of the way violence has declined, worldwide, long before Harvard professor Steven Pinker clarified the case, in his recent book “The Better Angels of our Nature.”

illustrated-man-1Yes, Bradbury’s stories and novels often plunged fearlessly into dark, foreboding themes. The world ends in The Illustrated Man and we decline into Big Brother levels of dystopia by the unusual path of liberal political correctness in Fahrenheit 451. We are reminded of villainy in Something Wicked This Way Comes. After reading Bradbury's short story, “All Summer in a Day,” the reader knows with utter clarity, how basic is the tendency toward cruelty, and that childhood is neither pure nor innocent.

Could anyone reconcile this chain of chillers with overall optimism?  Ray did. Human beings are fretful creatures, he said. Our skulking worries often cause us to shine light in dismal corners, and thus help us to do better! To be better.

Good literature has that power.  Indeed, science fiction offers writers a chance to create that most potent work, of which “Fahrenheit 451″ is a prime example. The self-preventing prophecy that so shakes up readers that millions of them gird themselves to prevent the nightmare from ever coming true. That’s power.

fahrenheit-451Moreover, even someday, when we’ve tamed our surface selves, growing up in our fair interactions and behaviors, partaking of a mature civilization, there will still endure, below the patina, a roiling, molten species, fevered with impulses and wild dreams. Far from becoming pallid beings, we’ll love to tell ghost stories by firelight and shiver at the touch of chill fingers up the spine. Why would we ever give that up?

Ray Bradbury saw optimistic progress and dark fantasy as partners, not opposites. On camera, during the moon landings, he could not stay in his seat! And he demanded that others get out of theirs. Long before Peter Finch did it in “Network,” Ray demanded that viewers stand up, step outside and shout!  Only, instead of cynical resentment, he insisted that we “get” what had just happened, how we had – all of us – just become a bit more like gods.

Those who yawn at such achievements, he denounced, calling them “ingrates.” And ingratitude he deemed one of the lowest human vices.

Ray was grateful, always, for what life had allowed a geeky youngster to do. I am thankful that he was my friend. And we who love both words and freedom of the mind should all feel gratitude today. For all those wonderful words.

And so long, Ray.  Thanks for all the stories.

=====
Speaking of Salon, my author's page as a columnist-contributor offers a review of articles that range in topic from transparency and freedom to Tolkien and Star Wars. From how to help Haiti to "Why Johnny can't code." From admiring Ray Bradbury to how the internet may be turning us into "gods." Unlike blog entries, these articles were crafted with meticulous and provocative (and eloquent!) care.

== Book Tour Events ==

In the coming newsletter and at davidbrin.com you’ll find a schedule of both live events and chances to meet/chat with me online. Virtual channels will range from Twitter to Reddit to a vivid new (beta) video chat room. Hope to either see or "see" you soon!

==Also in the Realm of Science Fiction == 

NewYOrker
The New Yorker magazine published "The Science Fiction Issue," with stories and essays by Jonathan Lethem, Ray Bradbury, Ursula Le Guin, China Mieville, Junot Diaz, Margaret Atwood, Jennifer Egan, William Gibson, and others. Has the literary mainstream changed its collective mind about SF and its readers? Judging by its selections, what does The New Yorker think Science Fiction is all about?

=Was The Uplift War also good anthropology?=


Are human beings natural athletes? In All Men Can't Jump, on Slate, David Stipp contends that our greatest leapers, jumpers, sprinters and so on would seem hilarious to the animals out there whose four-legged gallops nearly always leave us in a cloud of dust.  Stipp goes on to make a point that I illustrated with Robert Onmeagle’s race across a continent in The Uplift War, that humans excel at one sport, above all - long distance running.  For about a dozen reasons, we are the masters at this art and it may have been crucial in both our survival and evolution.


Still, I must quibble with Stipp’s exaggeration, his claim that long distance running is our only physical species superlative.  Wrong.  To that you must add anything having to do with precision that a few (not all) humans can achieve. From the delicate movements controlled by finger and thumb, to tonal-sound control more accurate than any bird or whale, to the cosmically difficult task of accurate throwing.  Indeed, University of Washington researcher William Calvin, in The Throwing Madonna, shows just how special this last trait is, how difficult, and how it might even have pushed brain development toward capability for language.

Indeed, the maligned American pastime of baseball may be by-far the greatest and best sport by one criterion, when it comes to emulating and training for genuinely useful Neolithic skills! Think about it.  The game consists of lots of patient waiting and watching (stalking), throwing with incredible accuracy and speed, sprinting, dodging... and hitting moving objects real hard with clubs!  And arguing. Hey, what else could you possibly need?  Now, tell me, how do soccer or basketball prepare you to survive in the wild, hm?


=== And an Old Sci Fi Theme - Marching Morons? ===


Are electronic media and devices lobotomizing the new generation?  Or empowering all of us to reach ever-higher levels of awareness and effective citizenship? Read an excellent perspective on the pros and cons of the modern, wired lifestyle -  The Information: How the Internet gets inside us, by Adam Gopnik.


This New Yorker essay dissecting the debate between cyber transcendentalists techno-grouches covers much the same ground as my Salon Magazine feature, Is the Web Helping Us Evolve? comparing the technology pessimists to those who think the Internet is turning us into gods. Only Gopnik then forges into different territory, offering both greater erudition and some well-crafted insights that - honestly - I never contemplated before.


Compare the two. It is a tall wave that we're surfing.

42 comments:

David Brin said...

But at least Ray got to see this. How many of us ever pass through life honored in this unique way?

http://www.geeksaresexy.net/2012/06/06/ray-bradbury-rachel bloom-music-video/

http://www.geeksaresexy.net/2012/06/06/
ray-bradbury-rachel bloom-music-video/

Roger Kent said...

Thanks for remembering Ray Bradbury, who wrote prose that was like poetry. Even though film makers tried to adapt his work, they could not find the images and music that would match the beauty of his words. In one interview, he was asked if he suffered from writer's block. He said no, because he was friendly to his subconscious. His mind was interested in the same things I was curious about: space ships, dinosaurs, robots, and time travel. He was one of the last Grandmasters of science fiction.

I agree with you about his optimism. When I read, "There Will Come Rains," I understood the warning about nuclear war, but there was no wallowing in despair, which our current young generation would call "going emo." What a great man who lived a good life.

Ian Gould said...

A quick observation about the human capacity for throwing stuff: as a kid I learned that most dogs, even quite aggressive ones, will keep their distance if you bend down as if to pick up a stone - even if there are no stones around.

I've long wondered if that response is learned or instinctive.

Paul451 said...

Re: Why Johnny Can't Code.

Slate has an article on hands on creation vs standardised tests.

American kids should be building rockets and robots not taking standardized tests

Larry (I think),
Re: Prove you are not a robot.
Sorry, I misunderstood your point. You are asking what happens to a robot given an impossible order. It must, but it cannot. I hereby change my answer to "dunno". Judging by early Asimov, the results would be "implementation dependent", depending on the exact type of robot, level of linguistic skill, programming, and the precise phrasing (and interpretation) of the order, and could result in anything from permanent seizure to a simple "I cannot", to bizarre and dangerous behaviour that requires USR assistance.

Paul451 said...

David,
Re: hierarchical Second Law.
Asimov's early stuff wasn't consistent with this. Powell and Donovan‎ were always dealing with robots that wouldn't obey them to override an earlier (poorly worded) order, even though they were senior company reps. And implicit in them being called in, was that an order from a supervisor failed to override a (poorly worded) order from a regular worker or technician.

Re: Neolithic baseball vs the world...
Baseball is a neolithic play-hunting (**), it's interesting that it divides the game-play into separate elements, very little PvP, as if they are not even on opposite sides, just using different skills in "hunting" the ball. Scaring up game, hitting it with a "club", catching it in a "net", or cutting it off as it tried to escape along the ground. Small game hunting, rabbits and birds, sort of thing kids would enjoy.

(** though without long-distance running, perhaps baseball should be changed so that both teams must run a half-marathon before play.)

Most other team sports are ritualised warfare, two tribes facing each other down. Capture and defend territory. Secondary warriors protect the flanks of the lead warriors in tactical formations, planned but improvising and adapting in the face of enemy action.

Ian Gould said...

Paul, you could argue that cricket is even more "neolithic" than baseball.

Hitting a baseball may be harder than hitting a cricket ball but baseball players aren't expected to successfully hit a baseball several dozen times in the course of a match.

Then too in cricket you hve the bowler bowling on the fly rather than from a stationary position.

Tony Fisk said...

My Dad was stationed in Ethiopia after the war (ie WWII). I recall him once mentioning that on patrol the local baboon troupes could be inquisitive and annoying, but you soon learned not to scare them off with stones: they'd come right back at you!

Larry C. Lyons said...

No stops on the east coast, as in the DC area or New York. Pity I would have like to have attended on of the sessions.

Robert said...

As the transit of Venus has shown, things are becoming increasingly virtual. While it isn't as much fun as shaking the hand of a favorite author in person... virtual events still allow fans and authors to connect on some level. Or for that matter participate in science... I know that while I didn't see Venus transit directly with my eyes due to cloudy weather (that cleared right at sundown), I did participate online by watching it up 'til the end of the transit. (Even if I was exhausted the next day!)

Rob H.

Paul451 said...

Ian, I was going to include cricket along with baseball, as examples of neolithic play-hunting rather than play-war, but thought it would be lost on an American audience. Are there are other team sports that are hunting, not war? Is polo closer to small game hunting (fox-hunting) than to horseback warfare?

On that thought, is there a sport that mimics pre-gunpowder warfare without using a ball as a scoring-device/flag/focal-point/hot-potato? Ie, two sides charge in, somehow mark or disable their opponents directly, team with the last man standing wins?

(Dodgeball? It uses balls, but it uses them purely as neolithic weapons.)

Given the modern electronic hit-scoring in fencing, perhaps someone should create team "field fencing". I hear people talk about being on the "fencing team" and for just a moment I get my hopes up... but no, they still fight individually.

Oooh, combat archery! Soft arrow-heads filled with a dye-pellet, body-armour and helmets, shooting at each other in a paintball-like arena.

Combat yachting! Two teams of yachts with air-powered cannons to take out the other team's yachts.

Sorry, what were we talking about again?

Pat Mathews said...

Judging from the list of authors, I'd say they think science fiction is a branch of literature - these are all people the literary establishment has accepted as literary.

Another endurance sport human beings do very, very well in -- for land mammals -- is swimming. Especially long distance swimming. We can't beat the totally aquatic mammals at it, but we're way ahead of those who aren't totally aquatic.

Robert said...

Um, science fiction is a branch of literature. It tends to be lumped together with fantasy fiction but it's taught in colleges and high school as its own literary genre, has its own section in bookstores (lumped together with fantasy, albeit), and I believe is a literary branch according to the Library of Congress.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Paul, I love combat yachting! In fact, that is exactly what happens (in space) in EXISTENCE!

Pat: Elaine Morgan hypothesized that an evolution driver was that humans became "aquatic apes" for a million years, since living at the shore gave us access to seafoods with hands and eyes that others couldn't get. And women/kids could evade lions while the men were away, by wading into the surf and swimming. Helped us be upright?

Ian Gould said...

There's an interesting theory abotu human evolution that argues that humans evolved around the time the Great Rift Valley in East Africa was opening up.

The Rift Valley created lots of uneven terrain - hillsides, valleys, cliffs.

As well as long distance running on flat terrain, humans apparently are relatively good at going up and down hills and rock-climbing - not as good as mountain-adapted animals like mountain goats but better than many other animals like horses, dogs and African predators like lions.

We're also good at exploiting that osrt of terrain - by throwing rocks down on prey below for example and at using caves fro shelter.

So the theory is we evolved bipedalism to assist in rock-climbing and we evolved larger brains to assist in exploiting the terrain to our advantage.

They aren't typically thought of as team sports but foot relays and marathons and long-distance bike racing all have a strong resemblance to cursorial hunting.

Relays can be seen as a pretty obvious replication of the practise of handing off the pursuit to new fresh hunters.

In marathons and biek racing, teams have strategies like having one team member force the pace while other team members sit back with the pack (a telling expression) and having one member act as a wind-breaker with a second member following close behind them and then taking the lead at the finish line.

There's an interesting - if deeply unpleasant by our cultural standards - form of exhaustion hunting practised in the jungle areas of Africa. A hunting party will target an elephant or other large game. The quarry is wounded with an arrow or even by someone sneaking up behind it and stabbing it in the leg.

The initial wound isn't fatal but it does slow the quarry down. Then the hunters harass the animal to death over several days - shouting, throwing rocks, spears and burning sticks; blowing horns and beating drums. The animal isn't allowed to sleep and if possible its kept from drinking or eating. The point of the initial wound is to slow the prey down enough that it can't charge people who go in within throwing distance.

Eventually it simply collapses.

This isn't a principal feeding strategy - it's done no more than a few times a year. But each time its done it provides a massive amount of high-protein food that can keep a band eating for a week or more.

This strategy requires complex organization and planning (arranging for people to keep up the harassment continuously night and day, prepositioning people near water-holes to scare the prey off).

It also encourages co-operation between groups and inter-group trade (because people need to dispose of the meat surplus before it goes bad.)

SteveO said...

The aquatic ape hypothesis has been pretty conclusively dismantled (e.g. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0047248497901469) Piers Anthony used it in at least one if his novels (Isle of Woman IIRC).

And Ray Bradbury - Dandelion Wine is one of the most beautiful stories I have ever read, and his short story All Summer In A Day haunts me still. He was a truly gifted writer and storyteller (the two do not always go together!).

Unknown said...

I think you might have chosen the wrong picture for your paragraph about The Information... article.

The current image is for an excellent book about the history and concepts of Information Therory, not the necessarily the recent changes in how we access information. This image (link) might be better.

Matt Grimaldi said...

Another thing to note in Human vs. Animal athletes is the range of variety -- while we may suck at any given activity when compared to an animal that is adapted to be "good" at it, there are very few animals that could do all of the physical activities that humans can.

Tony Fisk said...

Our vision* is superior to most animals as well.

*(in more ways than one!;-)

duncan cairncross said...

Hi SteveO
"The aquatic ape hypothesis has been pretty conclusively dismantled"

This sounded like the beautiful theory killed by an ugly fact

Until you read articles - then it becomes
A beautiful theory injured by some ugly theories

IMHO
The "all of the changes were caused by seaside living hypothesis" (which was not what Elaine Morgan said) has been refuted

The - some of the changes were caused by seaside living hypothesis has not been refuted and still makes sense

Ian Gould said...

Compared to other primates, humans have an overactive Myostatin gene.

Myostatin is the protein that signals muscles to stop growing.

Our high levels of Myostatin producetion and high sensitivity to Myostatin are why a 50 kilogram chimpanzee can more or less literally rip a 100 kilo adult human in two.

The German "superbaby" who was in the press a few years ago had two defective Myostatin genes. Many athletes especially in power sports like weight-lifting have a single defective myostatin gene or a defective myostatin-receptor gene.

What I'm curious about in the current context is whether anyone knows when in human evolution our myostatin production deviated from the priamte norm.

Fairly obviously at some point, tool use or greater group size and co-operation meant that it was no longer cost-effective to carry aroudn all that extra muscle.

Kelsey said...

I think it is possible that greater myostatin production is one of the factors that helps humans live longer than our primate cousins.

According to what I've seen so far, myostatin inhibitors increase muscle at the cost of producing fat which we need and greater chance of injury to tendons.

So by increasing myostatin production humans traded greater strength (not as essential to social animals who could work together) for less chance of injury, possibly meaning a greater chance of an individual living long enough to transfer knowledge to younger generations.

Ian said...

This week;s New Scientist ahs an article on human evolution which doesn't mention myostatin but does talk about another gene which codes for a protein involved in glucose from the bloodstream

The human version of that potein is much more active in the brain and much less active in the muscles than the equivalent protein in other primates.

Brain tissue is surprisingly energy-hungry. The human brain uses around 20% of resting metabolic energy compared with 8% in Chimpanzees.

So it looks like we diverted energy from our muscles to our brains meaning we couldn;t make as effective use of large muscles.

Jumper said...

Hollywood wises up; consults scientists for SF
http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/reel-geniuses-program-gives-hollywood-writers-access-to-scientists/2012/06/08/gJQAsVAbNV_story.html

SteveO said...

Hi Duncan,

Yes, I have read numerous articles on aspects of the aquatic ape theory, that was one that talked about the theory as a whole, with the larger context being that there is probably no one "reason" why humans turned out they way they did. There are lots more on the specific predictions. Really the only thing at this point that seems to hold water (pun intended) is that at least some of our ancestors, and some Neanderthals, found the coast to provide an easy source of food, which in turn nourished our oversized brains (and provided a constant source of iodine).

There just isn't any major part of the aquatic ape theory which is parsimonious. If you think there is one, let me know. I mean, women have larger fat content in thighs and breasts so that they float in the water when hiding from predators? Yeesh...

SteveO said...

Ian,

What little I know about human physiology as compared to other primates is that we are significantly weaker not so much because of our muscles but because of where the anchor points are. In chimps, the anchor points give a lot more leverage since they are farther from the joint, but muscles contract fairly slowly, so they can't have as quick a reaction as we humans do even though they are stronger. Whereas with our anchor points closer to the joints, a small muscle contraction moves the limb faster, but more weakly.

So in addition to long-distance running, we have faster reactions, which must have also benefited our ancestors.

Evolution: the ultimate mosaic.

David Brin said...

The thing I found plausible was that beachcombing in tide pools and looking for clam bubbles gave humans with free, agile hand (guiding sticks) a huge advantage in digging up and prying loose shellfish, a niche available to no one else. We know many tribes did this.

Earlier, the emergency food supply was the marrow inside big animal bones, after the scavengers departed.

duncan cairncross said...

Aquatic apes

I found the human fat allocation very interesting
Land animals normally store the vast majority of the fat store in the abdomen - as do chimps

Humans store fat under the skin spread across the entire body
as do marine mammals and things like hippos

Interestingly enough pigs store the fat under the skin

Humans and pigs also are a bit lacking in the fur department
(as are hippos)

Mammals in hot places still have fur

Fur seems to be OK for getting wet - but maybe not for getting wet and muddy

The is idea that we had a beachcomber - paddling stage

and that pigs had a squishing about in the mud at the edges of rivers stage makes sense to me

The higher fat for women - I won't go into where (that may be sexual selection) also makes sense - we know from hunter-gatherer societies that the women do most of the food gathering

Another thought just struck me - we think of the seashore as the beaches (sand)
These are actually like deserts in some ways not a lot of food there
- mud flats may not appeal to us but there is hugely more food available there

Maybe our ancestors did their "beach-combing" in the mud

Tony Fisk said...

...if the bone crunching hyenas left you any. Or the vultures who used gravity as their cracker...although those might be chased off, our ancestors weren't all that big.

Tony Fisk said...

Not much food at the beach? Midden heaps suggest otherwise! Then again, discerning omnivores would probably sample a variety of environments.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Once you factor in tools, even primitive ones like pointy sticks, all sorts of options open up. A sharp stone or bone or shell flake lets you pry loose limpets and cut seaweed fronds, as well as cutting up fish and scraping out shells. Tools also make possible the transition from scavenging and gathering only, to actively hunting. Enough fish school in shallow water close to shore that spearing is an option.

Most primitive peoples wouldn't restrict themselves to only one place; they would range out as an area became depleted of food. Hunger is a powerful motivation!

TheMadLibrarian
6 tsorur: The Six Troubles of Legend

duncan cairncross said...

I was thinking about variation in human shapes

Polynesians tend to - get fat all over - you end up with big guys with thick limbs

As probably the most "aquatic" human primitives this would tend to add weight to the aquatic = fat under the skin theory

The midden heaps would show primitives did spend some time at the beach - are there beach midden heaps for pre-man or just for Homo Sapiens?

Ian Gould said...

In nonhuman primates and monkeys, there's a close correlation between brain size and social group size.

If the same applies to our ancestors, then our attempts to imagine one or two Australopithecines driving off scavengers or hunting prey are incorrect.

Instead we should imagine a pack of a dozen or more, screaming and throwing stones.

Tony Fisk said...

From a brief online check, the earliest known shell middens go back about 140000 years: a little earlier than H Sap.

rewinn said...

The shore of the Salish Sea (from Puget Sound up to Vancouver Island) may have had too much food for the development of a civilization oriented around either technology or property rights.
The Duwamish looked pretty darn primitive to the settlers of present-day Seattle, but they were very well fed for when the tide was out, they were "surrounded by acres of clams". More recently father-in-law grew up along Hood's Canal and remembers being told as a child to go pick something for dinner ... so he'd row out, dive in, and come back with a load of protein. Then there's the salmon ...

I doubt that shore living can be casually linked to absence of hair, if only because the only marine mammals that aren't hairy are those with piscine shapes, but shores would seem to be a very comfortable niche for hominids who prefer strolling to running.

Paul451 said...

Re: Aquatic ape theory

Hiding from predators by going into the water? Wha'?

I would think the killer for the aquatic ape theory was to just look at how utterly rubbish humans are in the water, how badly designed we are. Our nostrils don't close, and point downwards making it hard to snorkel, our eyes are in the wrong spot for swimming, our head is a stupid drag-inducing shape in the water (ditto shoulders). And we're so slow. Oh, and if we fall asleep in the water, we drown. Meaning we have to sleep on land. With the predators.

I get that we'd use the water, because adaptability is kind of our whole thing, but we clearly didn't evolve in the water.

Ian,
"humans have an overactive Myostatin gene. [...] at some point, tool use or greater group size and co-operation meant that it was no longer cost-effective to carry aroudn all that extra muscle."

Interestingly, since we (in the west) have an over-abundance of calories, we could now carry the extra cost of more muscle. Are there other costs (re: Kelsey's comment about lifespan) that would outweigh the benefits of added strength and, I assume, easier to maintain fitness?

(1 udityli - with extra ude.)

Ian Gould said...

Paul, there are a number of animal examples of abnormal myostatin regulation.

Apparently it does tend to cause health problems but I donlt knwo the details.

Currently there are two examples of children with abnormal myostatin regulation- one boy in Germany who inherited a defective myostatin gene from both his parensts and one kid in the US who has a non-operative gene for the myostatin receptor.

Until they grow up we really won't know what the health implications for humans are.

(It occurs to me that the extinct Titanthopus lineage might have found another way aroudn this problem. Get big enough and you can support a human-sized brain on 8% of metabolic energy.)

Rob said...

Re @rewinn's comment, there are people not that much older than I am (only 20, 25 years or so, one generation) who can remember why a local waterway called "Salmon Creek" had its name. As late as 1940-1950 the spawning runs in every Columbia River Valley creek were as thick with salmon as they were with water. You could spear two fish just by thrusting six spears at random into the water.

Ugly fish, though. Coho have these nasty faces... :-)

David Brin said...

rather wry review of Prometheus.
http://digitaldigging.net/prometheus-an-archaeological-perspective/

David Brin said...

HEAP BIG ANNOUNCEMENT to the blogmunity!

I am about to send out my generally one a year newsletter to my fan list. Some of you are already on the stack of email addresses. Others not. If you are unsure and want a copy sent to you, Drop me a line RIGHT AWAY at

davidbrin@sbcglobal.net

Other announcements forthcoming...

My Shindig videoconference... sign up in advance at Shindig.com

A tweet extravaganza 6/20 at 1pm Pacific #TorChat

And a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" tentatively scheduled for June 26, 3pm Pacific (6pm Eastern and 2300GMT) Until... whenever!

Paper cup making machine said...

it's a wonderful article, please continue post the interesting writing! thank you.

David Brin said...

onward!


(Oh, you can sign up for the newsletter easy, at the bottom of the main page at http://www.davidbrin.com

duncan cairncross said...

I would think the killer for the aquatic ape theory was to just look at how utterly rubbish humans are in the water, how badly designed we are.

It's funny how two different people can see the same facts

I see a creature that works well in the water with;
Funny nose - only good in water
The ability to consciously control breathing - something no terrestrial animal seems to have
A well developed "diving reflex"

I will go into that further - if you bath your face in cold water a whole series of changes happen - the net result is that your scuba tank lasts a lot longer
Originally this was not an issue!

I see a terrestrial animal with a lot of aquatic traits

A skin diving human is not going to chase fish - but lots of bottom dwellers are delicious
And the eye location means that when floating on your tummy you are placed to reach down and grab them

People are much better in the water than other terrestrial animals - a period of littoral development makes more sense than a whole lot of coincidences