“In order to exploit the environment all organisms adapt their bodies to meet specialized environmental conditions,”

wrote Edward T. Hall [1], the anthropologist and cross-cultural researcher, in his book “The Silent Language” [2], in which he analyzed “the many ways in which people “talk” to one another without the use of words”. He gives a few examples of adaptations:

“the long neck of the giraffe (adapted to high foliage of trees), the teeth of the saber-toothed tiger, toes of the tree sloth, hoof of the horse, and man’s opposable thumb”.

The adaptation of the body is not the end of the story. The author continues:

“Occasionally organisms have developed specialized extensions of their bodies to take the place of what the body itself might do and thereby free the body for other things. Among these ingenious natural developments are the web of the spider, cocoons, nests of birds and fish.” [italics added]

Fieldfare by Andreas Trepte

The man “with his specialized body” is not an exception. (The passage below is cited by Marshall McLuhan in The Gutenberg Galaxy [3].)

“Today man has developed extensions for practically everything he used to do with his body. The evolution of weapons begins with the teeth and the fist and ends with the atom bomb. Clothes and houses are extensions of man’s biological temperature-control mechanisms. Furniture takes the place of squatting and sitting on the ground. Power tools, glasses, TV, telephones, and books which carry the voice across both time and space are examples of material extensions. Money is a way of extending and storing labor. Our transportation networks now do what we used to do with our feet and backs. In fact, all man-made material things can be treated as extensions of what man once did with his body or some specialized part of his body.”

Farmer in rocking-chair reading The Progressive Farmer. “Farmer reading his farm paper” By George W. Ackerman, Coryell County, Texas, September 1931

This can be summarized in the table:

Function Body Body Extensions
Weapons teeth, fist atom bomb
Temperature control biological mechanisms clothes, houses
Rest, recreation, relaxation squatting, sitting on the ground furniture
Communication voice TV, telephones, books
Transportation feet and backs transportation networks

What I learned from this list is that one specialized extension of the human body stands out against the other developments. It is neither shameful nor illegal to squat or sit on the ground, to carry something on your back or to use your voice without touching the phone. But it is extremely undesirable to control your body temperature without clothes on even at comfortable ambient temperatures. It seems ridiculous, especially when one takes into account that the purpose of developing specialized extensions of the body is to free the body.

According to Edward T. Hall, “culture controls behavior in deep and persisting ways, many of which are outside of awareness and therefore beyond conscious control of the individual”. The rich experience taught anthropologists one thing, namely that

“culture is more than mere custom that can be shed or changed like a suit of clothes.”

Posing in the Sun | Vadim aka t-maker | Flickr

[1] Edward T. Hall – Wikipedia
[2] Edward T. Hall. The Silent Language (Anchor Books, 1973)
[3] The Gutenberg Galaxy – Wikipedia

Animals don’t wear clothes. We learnt it from early childhood. At three years old, you could keep asking why your cat didn’t wear “some clothes” [1]. You could even get a scientific answer: “animals don’t wear clothes because, for the most part, they are still restricted to climates where they don’t need them” [2]. If you are a little older, you may begin to ask yourself whether taking off clothes brings a man or a woman closer to an animal or even “crosses border” between a human being and an animal.

Once Jacques Derrida [3], a French philosopher, found himself frontally naked “faced with cat’s eyes looking” at him “from head to toe” [4]. He started thinking about “the property unique to animals, what in the last instance distinguishes them from man, is their being naked without knowing it”. The philosopher continued, “naked without knowing it, animals would not be, in truth, naked. They wouldn’t be naked because they are naked. In principle, with the exception of man, no animal has ever thought to dress itself”. It appears that clothing “would be proper to man, one of the “properties” of man”. “There is no nudity “in nature”. Then new questions arose: “Before the cat that looks at me naked, would I be ashamed like an animal that no longer has the sense of nudity? Or on the contrary, like a man who retains the sense of his nudity?” [4]

Leaving all these childish and philosophical questions aside, we can specify what indeed “distinguishes humans from other animals” [5]. The answer lies in the sphere of mind and it is not restricted to awareness of nudity. According to modern scientific studies,”mounting evidence indicates that, in contrast to Darwin’s theory of a continuity of mind between humans and other species, a profound gap separates our intellect from the animal kind”.

Abraham Maslow [6], an American psychologist, introduced the notion of peak experience, “the most wonderful experience or experiences of your life; happiest moments, ecstatic moments, moments of rapture, perhaps from being in love, or from listening to music or suddenly “being hit” by a book or a painting, or from some great creative moment” [7]. Peak experiences can be described “as moments of maximum psychological functioning”, when a person “feels more intelligent, more perceptive, wittier, stronger, or more graceful than at other times” [7,8].

Maslow considered “the taboos on nudity to be entirely a matter of folkways and customs rather than a matter of ethical or moral principle in any cross-cultural sense” [9]. He “had an established but purely theoretical interest in whether nudity would make people in therapy “an awful lot freer, a lot more spontaneous, less guarded” [10].

In the late 1960s, basing, in part, on Maslow’s ideas about peak experiences, it was supposed that nudism can be “a viable path to personal growth, authenticity and transcendence”. The therapy called nude psychotherapy was developed. The naked body was considered “as a metaphor of the “psychological soul”. “Uninhibited exhibition of the nude body revealed that which was most fundamental, truthful, and real” [8,10-12]. “Although nude therapy has an indisputable tabloid character, it is also rooted in a long-standing academic search for authenticity and ultimate meaning through science” [11].

Despite the controversy concerning nude therapy, it gives an insight that nudity does not interfere, but rather helps to realize the human potential.

[1] Clare Painter, Learning Through Language in Early Childhood, A&C Black, 2005
[2] Question: why don’t other animals wear clothes?
[3] Jacques Derrida – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[4] Jacques Derrida, The Animal That Therefore I Am, Fordham Univ Press, 2009, see also Critical Inquiry, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Winter, 2002), pp. 369-418
[5] What Distinguishes Humans from Other Animals?
[6] Abraham Maslow – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[7] Abraham H. Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being, Start Publishing, 2013
[8] Margarita Tartakovsky, The History of Nude Psychotherapy – World of Psychology
[9] Jessica Lynn Grogan, A Cultural History of the Humanistic Psychology Movement in America, ProQuest, 2008
[10] Nude psychotherapy and the quest for inner peace – Mind Hacks
[11] Ian Nicholson, Baring the soul: Paul Bindrim, Abraham Maslow and ‘Nude psychotherapy’, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, Volume 43, Issue 4, pages 337–359, 2007
[12] Nude psychotherapy – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sometimes some interesting stuff escapes your attention. Only recently I read about the work by Frans de Waal and Jennifer Pokorny which won an Ig Nobel Prize in 2012 for “discovering that chimpanzees can identify other chimpanzees individually by seeing photographs of their anogenital regions (their behinds)” [1,2]. Chimpanzees “were not only seeing the photographs as representations of chimps they knew, but linked the face and behind by drawing upon a mental representation of the whole body of those chimps” [3,4].

When I pushed a vision of respectable scientists, taking photos of chimps’ behinds in order to share them with other chimps, away from my imagination, I came to understanding that this discovery might hold a key to understanding the purpose of clothing. Among the Hominidae, chimpanzees are the closest living relatives to humans [5]. Someone even calls humans the “third chimpanzee” [6]. Though, one may ask, “What about humans?”

A psychological study done at the University of Texas in 2013 revealed that “people do better at facial recognition when the whole person, not just the face, is presented”. It appears that “when faces are partially obscured or difficult to differentiate, subtle body cues allow people to identify others with surprising accuracy”. “Our work shows that the body can be surprisingly useful for identification, especially when the face fails to provide the necessary identity information,” project supervisor said [7].

It should be taken into account that in the time-scale of evolution clothing is “a relatively new invention”. “Earliest recorded signs of clothing date to 36,000 BCE”. Considering that the use of clothing has a relatively short history, two scientists have assumed that it is possible “that the responses of the brain networks specialized in body perception could show attenuated responses towards bodies wearing clothing” [8]. It indeed turned out that “the human brain showed enhanced visual processing of nude over clothed bodies”. Human visual system has been found to be particularly sensitive to detecting nude bodies. The experimenters discovered that “brain mechanisms specifically devoted to processing visual information” worked more effectively as the amount of clothing on images shown to healthy male and female volunteers decreased from full clothing via swimsuits to nude bodies. The response traditionally assumed to be most pronounced to human faces proved to be even greater to nude bodies than to faces [8].

With all these in mind, we can now suppose that one of the purposes of clothing is to hide one’s true identity and “fool other’s into believing that he or she has is actually someone else”. In culture, the putting on masks attempting to hide one’s true identity is often considered as suspect or even criminal (see, for instance, [9]).  Of course, under certain circumstances, there might be reasons to disguise one’s identity [10]. But, despite the fact that you may “enjoy being someone different”, it’s nice to know you’re still yourself at the end of the day [11].

Siu Ding nude project #1 by Jesse Clockwork | Flickr – Photo Sharing!

Siu Ding nude project #1 by Jesse Clockwork | Flickr – Photo Sharing! (Creative Commons License)

[1] Frans B. M. de Waal, Jennifer J. Pokorny, Faces and Behinds: Chimpanzee Sex Perception, Advanced Science Letters, Volume 1, Number 1, June 2008, pp. 99-103(5)
[2] List of Ig Nobel Prize winners – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[3] Chimps can recognise friends by their behinds – New Scientist
[4] Butts, Faces Help Chimps Identify Friends – National Geographic News
[5] Chimpanzee – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[6] Jared M. Diamond, The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal, Harper Perennial, 2006
[7] Study: People use body cues to help identify faces
[8] J.K. Hietanen, L. Nummenmaa, The naked truth: the face and body sensitive N170 response is enhanced for nude bodies, PLoS One. 2011;6(11):e24408
[9] Christine Matzke, Susanne Muehleisen, Postcolonial Postmortems: Crime Fiction from a Transcultural Perspective, Rodopi, 2006
[10] What are some reasons why someone would want to hide their identity?
[11] David Numeroff, Laura Joffe Numeroff, Why a Disguise, Turtleback Books, 1999.

A modified version of the post with some speculations on human evolution can be found on or DeviantArt.

There is one mystery that continues to evade scientists of numerous disciplines like “archaeology, anthropology, and zoology, as well as the evolutionary, psychological, and sociological branches of biology”: “why, comparatively, man’s penis is so disproportionately large” [1,2]?

It is true that “virtually all human penises are big in comparison with those of the other 192 primate species. Flaccid, the penis of the gorilla and the orangutan, both with much bigger bodies, is virtually invisible; erect, it reaches 1.5 inches or less; the chimpanzee, man’s closest relative (sharing 98 percent of his DNA) achieves an erection twice that of the other two apes but still only one-half the average human one” [2]. It seems obvious that this human superiority cannot be explained solely by the requirements of sexual reproduction, since “the male ape successfully propagates his kind with much less”. So another theory is put forward that “the human penis has also become an organ of display, like a peacock’s tail or a lion’s mane” [3].

Jared Diamond states in [3] that “the human penis is an organ of display … intended not for women but for fellow men” and the main role of this organ is to pose a threat or emphasize a status. But, I think, there is one problem with this explanation. Not only human males are generously endowed by the nature. “Human females are unique in their breasts, which are considerably larger than those of apes even before the first pregnancy” [3]. The simple rough charts below demonstrate that men and women show the same tendency in exceeding their ape counterparts.

Image: The length of the erect men’s penis and size of the women's breasts in comparison with primates, respectively

Image: The length of the erect men’s penis and size of the women’s breasts in comparison with great apes, respectively

The real explanation must be applicable to both genders. It is highly unlikely that women’s breasts are organs of display for “fellow women”. It is probable that men’s and women’s organs are indeed intended to be displayed, that is why, their sizes are so noticeable. Also it is notable that here we are dealing with primary and secondary sex characteristic, which allow to distinguish with certainty one gender from another. So, in my opinion, the display in both cases is addressed to both genders and it has some social function. There might be definite scientific grounds for nudist practices not to cover the body with clothes from time to time, since man and woman have evolved to be nude and not afraid to show it.

1. Thomas Hickman, God’s Doodle: The Life and Times of the Penis, Soft Skull Press, Berkeley, 2013.
2. Thomas Hickman, Slate: Average penis size
3. Jared Diamond, The rise and fall of the third chimpanzee, Vintage, London, 2002.

Sometimes, it is difficult to find a source of a particular delusion. For example, when did nakedness become a source of embarrassment? It was not always that way.

In 1939 Norbert Elias [1], a German sociologist, has published ‘The Civilizing Process’ [2]. The book “remained largely unknown and unread among both the German and English speaking public for thirty years”. The goal of the author was to explore “the civilizing of manners and personality in Western Europe since the late Middle Ages”, and to show “how that was related to the formation of states and monopolization of power within them” [3]. “Elias traced how post-medieval European standards regarding violence, sexual behaviour, bodily functions, table manners and forms of speech were gradually transformed by increasing thresholds of shame and repugnance, working outward from a nucleus in court etiquette” [4].

“Elias has argued that the development of civil society in Europe was predicated on codes of etiquette as the basis of social intercourse. One component of the new etiquette was the emergence of the ‘shame frontier’. Until the sixteenth century, ‘the sight of total nakedness was the everyday rule’ for bathing and for sleeping <…> Moral conduct and codes of etiquette were not attached to the sight of the naked body” [5,6].

“In the ‘manners books’ or guides to conduct that appeared especially in the period between the 1300s and the 1700s, Elias identified changing emotional attitudes to the basic physical realities of human existence. <…> For example, being discovered naked became a source of embarrassment. What had once been permissible became forbidden” [7].

It seems to have been common practice, at least in the towns, to undress at home before going to the bathhouse. “How often,” says an observer, “the father wearing nothing but his breeches, with his naked wife and children runs through the streets from his house to the baths … (N. Elias)

[1] Norbert Elias – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[2] Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process, Vol.I. The History of Manners, Oxford: Blackwell, 1969.
[3] Stephen Mennell, Norbert Elias (1897-1990), A Biographical Sketch
[4] The Civilizing Process – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
[5] Jennifer Craik, The face of fashion, London: Routledge, 1993.
[6] Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave, New York: Bantam Books, 1980.
[7] Andrew Linklater, Norbert Elias, Process Sociology and International Relations

Bare facts on blood pressure
It’s possible there are more benefits from nudism than readily meet the eye. Results of a recent American Heart Assn. study indicate that residents of a Maryland nudist camp have a much lower incidence of high blood pressure than occurs among the general population.

SourcePopular Mechanics, Volume 148, No 6 (Dec 1977) p. 30

Project 365 #134: 140511 Under Pressure! By comedy_nose | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Project 365 #134: 140511 Under Pressure! By comedy_nose | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

ImageProject 365 #134: 140511 Under Pressure! | Flickr – Photo Sharing! (under Creative Commons license)

Recently I’ve read about an experiment in nudity, which was filmed by the BBC’s Horizon programme, “to test some of the scientific theories that explain why naked bodies make us so uncomfortable“. The first thing I’ve learned from the article entitled “Can people unlearn their naked shame?” which appeared some time ago on the BBC NEWS site (BBC NEWS | UK | Magazine) is that “a naked human is just that bit more naked than other primates“.  Some anthropologists believe “that evolutionary step towards nudity had huge implications for the human race“, because it helped human ancestors to cool quicker (“our ancestors’ unique ability to sweat“) and led to development of bigger brains and than “to culture, tools, fire, and language“.

In addition to explaining a very peculiar quirk of our appearance, the scenario suggests that naked skin itself played a crucial role in the evolution of other characteristic human traits, including our large brain and dependence on language. (see Scientific American Magazine: The Naked Truth: Why Humans Have No Fur By Nina G. Jablonski)

However, it is clear that “our nudity arose out of practical need, but that doesn’t answer why we’re so ashamed by it“. After a series of experiments, researchers have discovered that “we are not born with a shame of nudity. Instead we learn it, as an important behavioural code that allows us to operate in human society“. But what are the social benefits of a shame of nudity? A psychologist explains that adult humans need to form a stable pair because of “the long immature period of a young human“. Whereas “showing off a naked body sends out sexual signals that threaten the security of mating pairs“.

Of course, it is possible to give absolutely different explanations. For instance, the nearly hairless state of the human body may be explained by the so-called aquatic phase hypothesis according to which human ancestors have lost most of body hair and gained a layer of body fat under the skin because they spent much time in water (cp. Skin: A Natural History by Nina G. Jablonski). A shame of nudity, in its turn, may origin from the fact that from the early stages of human civilizations clothes – its style and design – used to symbolize the position (ranking) of an individual within a society (in a hierarchy). So, a lack of clothes may be considered as humiliating (a naked person is a person without a rank). Here nothing can be proved, since there is no verification mechanism.

Tired by Liz_D.S on Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Tired by Liz_D.S on Flickr - Photo Sharing!