I guess “cavepersons” would be more politically correct…

Paul Raven @ 11-01-2010

… but then if you’re trying to revive diets and lifestyles last lived by human beings in the Paleolithic era, you’re probably not too worried about political correctness, AMIRITE?

I kid you not; the latest lifestyle fad to sweep the hipster set in New York (if two handfuls of people can be fairly described as “sweeping”) is the caveman – chasing bodily vitality by eating and working out like hunter-gatherer protohumans would have done before the invention of agriculture [via MetaFilter; image by cote]:

The caveman lifestyle, in Mr. Durant’s interpretation, involves eating large quantities of meat and then fasting between meals to approximate the lean times that his distant ancestors faced between hunts. Vegetables and fruit are fine, but he avoids foods like bread that were unavailable before the invention of agriculture. Mr. Durant believes the human body evolved for a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and his goal is to wean himself off what he sees as many millenniums of bad habits.

These urban cavemen also choose exercise routines focused on sprinting and jumping, to replicate how a prehistoric person might have fled from a mastodon.

One notable New Yorican paleo is Nassim “Black Swan” Taleb, but I suspect even such odd-ball celebrity endorsements are unlikely to popularise a lifestyle that involves eating raw meat, or fasting for 36-hour periods that end in a strenuous workout before your next meal. That said, all it might take to smear it all over the gossip mags is getting some vapid Ashton Kutcher-a-like to try it for a week. Move over, Atkins…

What the paleos seem to be overlooking is that we’ve evolved considerably since the Paleolithic – pre-agricultural man’s body was (if my understanding of anthropology is correct) very different to our more modern meat, albeit in small ways. To truly live like a Paleolithic man, you’d probably need to have your body modified extensively so you could cope with hardships that we’d consider beyond the pale… I wonder how many of the paleos sleep through the New York winter without the benefit of central heating in their loft space, for example?

I’m put in mind of one of my favourite series of sf novels, namely David Zindell’s Requiem for Homo Sapiens, wherein a team of researchers have their bodies retrofitted for the Paleolithic lifestyle in order to seek out ancient spiritual knowledge which may or may not have been hard-coded into humanity by some higher power or another*. By comparison, the paleos in that article are just flirting with the idea… but perhaps, as body modification technology moves beyond simple aesthetic hacks and into the realm of proper re-engineering, people will start revisiting the body-plans and lifestyles of our ancestors more completely, whether for fashion or survival.

[ * That’s a massive oversimplification of one narrative thread of the series, by the way, which drastically short-sells a set of books that I’d recommend without hesitation to anyone who loves a bit of brain-bending high-concept science fiction with added Big Maths and Illuminati references. ]


Should we be thankful for the anti-ageing movement?

Paul Raven @ 27-11-2008

ageing stencilHuman life expectancy keeps increasing steadily, thanks not only to medicine and technology but to social and cultural progress, too. Potential next steps on the ladder could well come from both camps: an example from the med-tech side might be custom-grown replacement organs from pigs; whereas a change in dietary habits could probably be classified as a cultural change informed by science (although drinking ‘heavy water’ sounds a bit too much like snake-oil to me). [image by r000pert]

But the question is: how far should we go? Outspoken longevity evangelists like Aubrey de Gray claim a millennium-long life is not only possible but within our grasp, but such ideas have their opponents as well – some arguing from faith-based perspectives, others not. [via grinding.be]

Would you choose to extend your life-span, and if so how far?


Meat futures redux – just leave the brains out

Paul Raven @ 18-04-2008

BullThe best thing about science is the same as the best thing about science fiction – it’s the lively debates and differing opinions. The vat-grown meat story got some fairly wide coverage beyond science fictional circles, so here’s legendary biology-blogger PZ “Pharyngula” Myers’ angle on the issue:

“The more I think about it, the more I think people are going at it backwards. We shouldn’t be thinking about building muscle from the cells up, to create a purified system to produce meat for the market, we should be going the other way, starting with self-sustaining meat producers and genetically paring away the less commercially viable bits, like the brain. Instead of test-tube meat, we should be working on more efficient organisms that generate muscle tissue with the properties we want.”

OK, now I’m fairly easy with the idea of eating meat that’s just a lump of stuff grown in a petri-dish. But animals engineered to not have a nervous sytem? That really is a pretty queasy thought, even though I can see why (rationally) it shouldn’t be. [image by TwoBlueDay]


All hail the New Flesh – in-vitro meat on sale within a decade

Paul Raven @ 15-04-2008

Blue steakHere’s another item to add to the list of science fictional ideas that are edging close to becoming a reality – in-vitro (or “vat-grown”) meat could be sat on supermarket shelves within ten years.

The technology is already tried and tested, it’s just a case of waiting for the economic cost to become competitive … which, given the sharp (and probably continuing) rise in global food prices, may come sooner than anyone would like to think. [image by Yandle]

I’ve spoken to friends about in-vitro meat and their reaction has usually been disgust. I’m guessing that the economics will change that attitude more effectively than any amount of rational discussion – principles tend to be the first thing that gets eaten when someone’s stomach is empty, and we’re already consuming meat from cloned livestock.

And after all, it’s not quite the same as Soylent Green. Would you move to eating in-vitro meat right now if it cost less than the real thing?

[And we’re back to song lyric references in headlines … 😉 ]