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“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

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

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.

References
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.

Don’t you know that “48 percent of people say they would bare it all on a nude beach”, but “among those who are more likely to buy the single than buy the album, only 34 percent would bare it all on a nude beach”? (Based on a survey of 178 people who are more likely to buy the single than buy the album and 510 people in general. Correlation #369 on correlated.org by Shaun Gallagher)

It is noteworthy that “57 percent of women think they look fat naked, but 59 percent aren’t afraid to walk around the house in the buff. Perhaps not surprisingly, more men are comfortable walking around naked at home and in gym locker rooms than women, 63 and 27 percent respectively.” (From FITNESS magazine and Yahoo! Shine survey of 1,500 men and women in 2012)

Statistics tells us that you can hardly find pictures of nude men and women in American homes. 44 percent of Americans “prefer the color blue”. 64 percent “like traditional art more than modern”. 88 percent “prefer pictures that show outdoor scenes, in which wild animals such as deer are preferable domestic cats.” Humans should be historical figures or ordinary people, depicted fully clothed.” Only 3 percent of Americans would rather buy a picture with nude content. (From Marttila & Kiley poll completed in 1994)

What about Millennials? 20 percent of the representatives of the millennial generation “have posed for nude photos or taken nude photos of their partner.” (From Euro RSCG’s annual Valentine’s Day study in 2012)

And finally, about nude beaches. “Worldwide, 33 percent of beachgoers “would never” go topless or nude at the beach. <…> Roughly 5 percent of American beachgoers reported having gone nude at the beach.” (Expedia 2013 Flip Flop Report)

“Statistics is a pain. Every normal person who takes it knows that it is (almost always) badly taught, unreadable, and even when you follow the idea, you can’t imagine where to apply it.” (Statistics for Practical People). So some people don’t love statistics.

But even if not everybody loves statistics, there’s something in it. I must admit that I always buy albums and almost never buy singles.

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!

What was the greatest threat for the civilized world in the 1930s? You would be mistaken, if you think about nazism. Actually, it was nudism, at least for someone.

Three hundred thousand men, women, and children, in America alone, are nudists,’ informs Edwin Teale in the article which appeared in the POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY, February, 1938 (pp. 70-71, 126). The author of the article, entitled Science studies the Nudists, points out that the followers of the “back-to-Eden” cult report that, during one ten-month period, members increased at the rate of 10,000 a month. And now America is facing as many as 400 camps, scattered from coast to coast maintained by the faddists for nude sun bathing.

Science studies the Nudists

Science studies the Nudists

The author presumably decided to cut the ground from under the nudist movement and asked: ‘Does nakedness really benefit health? Are the claims of the nudists justified?’ Then he slightly reformulated the question: ‘Can our bodies, if given a chance, inure themselves to cold and inclement weather?’ It was implied that the enthusiasts of the new cult, beyond all doubt, would give a positive answer.

Fortunately, two New York research workers, Dr. Eugene F. DuBois and Dr. James D. Hardy, were already able to give a real scientific answer to the question. In the 1930s they have concluded a long series of tests at the Russell Sage Institute of Pathology to determine how the body regulates its temperature. These heroic men of science spent hours, with clothes removed, sealed in the copper vault of a supersensitive, $10,000 heat-measuring chamber called a clinical calorimeter. Edwin Teale was deeply impressed by this immense apparatus running ice water and high-resistance electric wires balance heat and cold, at the will of an operator. Here is an extract from his article:

During the DuBois-Hardy tests, the scientists have tackled such problems as how the nude body reacts to different temperatures, how efficient human flesh is as an insulating medium, when shivering begins, and whether a fat man can withstand cold better than a thin one. They remained nude in the sealed chamber of the calorimeter at temperatures that ranged from ninety-six to seventy-two degrees Fahrenheit.

The experimentalists accumulated data and reported results:

1. Human flesh is as efficient as an insulating medium against cold as is paper, leather, asbestos, or cork.
2. There is only a small difference between fat and thin persons in their ability to withstand cold for long periods.
3. A quiet subject, without the protection of clothing, will begin to shiver at a surprisingly high temperature, eighty-three degrees Fahrenheit (28° Celsius), approximately ten degrees higher than the average room temperature in a furnace-heated home.

The researchers thus provided a scientific basis for judging some of the claims of nudism.

Without the protection of clothing, the motionless human system is constitutionally unfitted to cope with cold. Only in lands where the temperature never drops below eighty-three degrees, can nudists live in comfort.

For physical reasons, if for no others, man seems destined to continue as the animal that wears clothes,” concluded the author of the article from the 1930s. Nudism was doomed. And who would disagree with that?

Health and Joy

Health and Joy

One small article on ScienceNews (published online yesterday, Thursday, October 22nd, 2009) summarizes all you should know about fat in the light of recent scientific advances.

First. Women and men tend to carry fat in different parts of their bodies: men inside the abdomen near their organs, women in a concentrated layer directly under their skin (in scientific terminology used in an article, in their butts). When women hit menopause, their fat relocates to their bellies.

Second.  Fat could be healthier or dangerous. Belly fat cells (i.e. men’s) go directly into internal organs like the liver and can inflame the organs. Hormones from subcutaneous fat (common to women) go into the bloodstream, where they do less harm.

Third. Male and female … rats have the same fat distribution patterns as humans and can be used as guinea-pigs in scientific research on fat.

Then. Post-menopausal women and men lack a molecule called estrogen receptor alpha that grabs on to estrogen. The studies of human fat cells suggested that when estrogen binds to ER-alpha, the cell is more able to break down fat. Women have more ER-alpha in their bellies than men do and that keeps fat away from that fat depot (The researchers mentioned fat depot at least twice in a small article. I think, they’ve invented a new scientific term.)

The main conclusion. Even in males, estrogen is important for marking the fat tissue to be relatively healthy.

Your belly is putting you at greater health risk. The fat in the butts (forgive me this scientific term) is healthy.

1940 RETOUCHED POSTCARD,,,,,, by twittey on deviantart

1940 RETOUCHED POSTCARD,,,,,, by twittey on deviantart