Saturday, October 20, 2012

Humans Have Brains For Running

Why do humans have brains so much bigger than our bodies, relative to other animals?  As it turns out, maybe not so we can be so smart.  Most theories have to do with the physiology of bipedalism.  You may have heard of similar hypotheses before (the most famous being the radiator hypothesis) but the go-to guy for "human brains are adapted for (bipedal) running" theories is Daniel Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard.  Both transcript and video at link with him explaining this increasingly well-supported theory, it but unfortunately the video is not embeddable. 

Brains are very costly. Right now, just sitting here, my brain (even though I'm not doing much other than talking) is consuming about 20- 25 percent of my resting metabolic rate. That's an enormous amount of energy, and to pay for that, I need to eat quite a lot of calories a day, maybe about 600 calories a day, which back in the Paleolithic was quite a difficult amount of energy to acquire. So having a brain of 1,400 cubic centimeters, about the size of my brain, is a fairly recent event and very costly.

The idea then is at what point did our brains become so important that we got the idea that brain size and intelligence really mattered more than our bodies? I contend that the answer was never, and certainly not until the Industrial Revolution.
What is the answer then?  Bipedal locomotion over long distance.  Remarkable that this is part of what made us able to start asking other questions about our existence.  There's a lot more but here's another telling passage.

The other reason we often discount the importance of brawn in our lives is that we have a very strange idea of what constitutes athleticism. Think about the events that we care about most in the Olympics. They're the power sports. They're the 100-meter dash, the 100-meter freestyle events. Most athletes, the ones we really value the most, are physically very powerful. But if you think about it this way, most humans are wimps.

Usain Bolt, who is the world's fastest human being today, can run about 10.4 meters a second, and he can do so for about ten or 20 seconds. My dog, any goat, any sheep I can study in my lab, can run about twice as fast as Usain Bolt without any training, without any practice, any special technology, any drugs or whatever. Humans, the very fastest human beings, are incredibly slow compared to most mammals. Not only in terms of brute speed, but also in terms of how long they can go at a given speed. Usain Bolt can go 10.4 meters a second for about ten to 20 seconds. My dog or a goat or a lion or a gazelle or some antelope in Africa can run 20 meters a second for about four minutes. So there's no way Usain Bolt could ever outrun any lion or for that matter run down any animal.

A typical chimpanzee is between about two and five times more powerful than a human being. A chimpanzee, who weighs less than a human, can just rip somebody's arm off or rip their face off (as recently happened in Connecticut). It's not that the chimpanzee is remarkably strong, it's that we are remarkably weak. We have this notion that humans are terrible natural athletes. But we've been looking at the wrong kind of athleticism. What we're really good at is not power, what we're really phenomenal at is endurance. We're the tortoises of the animal world, not the hares of the animal world. Humans can actually outrun most animals over very, very long distances. 
The marathon, of course, is a very interesting example. A lot of people think marathons are extraordinary, and they wonder how many people can run marathons. At least a million people run a marathon every year. If you watch any major marathon, you realize that most of those folks aren't extraordinary athletes, they're just average moms and dads. A lot of them are charity runners who decided to raise money for some cancer cause or diabetes or something. I think that proves that really your average human being can run 26.2 miles without that much training, or much ability to be a great athlete. Of course, to run a marathon at really fast speeds is remarkable, but again, it just takes some practice and training. It's not something that's really extraordinary.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Oct 20 - Riparian Habitat Restoration With the US Bureau of Land Management

Last October volunteers planted coast live oaks in the drainage of a canyon in the BLM's Sycamore Canyon area, off Highway 94.  This area was hit by both the Otay Fire in '03 and the Harris Fire in '07, and the BLM needs the public's help bringing back the oak, willow, and sycamore trees that supported the wildlife in this remaining natural area.  The history is pretty cool - Rancho Jamul was used by the Kumayaay Indians for thousands of years for forage and living purposes, Spanish missionaries for grazing land (using the Kumeyaay Indians for labor), then owned by a series of private individuals, most notably Pio Pico, the last Mexican Governor of California. Prior to acquisition by DFG, the property was used for farming and grazing by the well-known Daley Family of San Diego.

Details: meet at Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve at 8:30a.m. for orientation. Wear long pants, a hat, and sturdy shoes. Bring water and a water bottle if you have one. Water and snacks will be provided. To RSVP, and for directions or for more information contact Cathy Chadwick, Be sure to let her know you heard about the event here at MDK10outside!

General Location: Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve is located in the eastern part of San Diego County between the towns of Jamul and Dulzura; Rancho Jamul can be found by following Eastbound Highway 94 (AKA Campo Road) from Spring Valley.

Directions: Directions from Downtown San Diego are as follows: I-5 south to I-94 east, follow Highway 94 east through the town of Jamul and look for a Rancho Jamul sign immediately following the Rural Fire Station. After approximately two miles, you will find the entrance on the south/west side of Highway 94.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Baseball/Football Ratio Predicts a State's Political Orientation

I know you're not already getting enough politics so here's the article. What's really interesting is that polls move in concert with people's ticket purchases, ie when baseball ticket sales rise in a state, the party favored by baseball improves at the polls. (Have to read it to find out which is which. Too bad Americans can only afford two though.)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mountain Lions

At Point Reyes:

Amazing one from earlier this year in Yosemite:

But sometimes they're just damn cute:

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mount San Miguel

Saturday I ran up to the top of San Miguel Mountain from Rolling Hills Estates on the south side. Imagine something halfway between Black Mountain and Woodson, probaby closer to Black Mountain. The hill itself is little-known, like of a lot of San Diego south of the 8 - if you've been in Hillcrest Hospital and looked southwest and noticed a peak with radio towers on it straight past the opposing toward of Scripps Mercy, that's it. (That's why I wanted to run it.)

The mountain itself is not particularly pretty, BUT the views of downtown and the bay are excellent - reminded me of San Francisco actually - AND the place is just deserted. For being equidistant from downtown as Cowles and closer than Iron or Woodson, that's kind of cool. I felt like I was in old California driving out there.

Scorpion Hunting Fail

Part of my bucket list is seeing certain critters in the wild. I have yet to see a manta ray, great white shark, gila monster, or wolf running around loose. But one I thought that would be easier to cross off was scorpions. So thanks to James who went in halfsies with me on a UV light, I set out to Mission Trails one night last week to find some. Fail! Scorpions love hot weather and needless to say, after this ridiculous hot summer and fall, that night San Diego decided to be cool and overcast. The first time I've ever wanted it to be hot here!

As a final insult, while I'm out tramping around the sage in the dark, buddy Garron finds a Centuroides (bark scorpion) right in his office.

But the lesson here is that all living things have a defense mechanism. Mine is a vanishingly short attention span. Scorpions are now off my bucket list. That's one way to do it! In the meantime enjoy this Arizona fellow who was more succesful than me.

Monday, October 8, 2012

San Diego Foundation Preserves North County Land

$651,000 to a number of organizations to assemble protected areas. Trails and preserves! Great job, thanks guys!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

This Will Make You Feel Good

Marines in a triathon carrying a kid whose prosthetic legs failed during the race: