Laurens Rademakers


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Project Lilliput: let's shrink the human body

The planet is under stress. Soon there will be 9 billion of us. We're not sure whether our planet can sustain the onslaught on its vital organs - from the atmosphere to its rainforests - that this large group of people will bring.

Many "solutions" have been proposed. The most important of these, but also the most questionable, focuses on reducing our numbers. So that we reduce consumption and destruction of the environment. Another one is simply to reduce consumption and worry less about our sheer numbers. Yet another strategy thinks we can achieve much by increasing the efficiency of production and consumption processes (better energy storage and transmission, etc....).

I suggest an alternative. Shrink the human body.

That way there can be billions more of us, that is, billions more brains. The more people, the more joy.

Think of it: our sedentary lifestyles mean that we don't need big legs, strong hips, long arms and all that other useless flesh that has to be fed, carried around and maintained. In theory we could get rid of our limbs, and then shrink all other organs which are big only because they have to feed our large bodies. Most of our daily practical tasks can be performed by robotic assistants. We don't necessarily need hands, legs and arms. Our bodies should be kept just the right size to have our brains work. Not more than that.

Imagine a Boeing 747 carrying 10,000 "heads" from London to Singapore, instead of a mere 450 ordinary humans. Much more efficient. Much less pollution, depletion of resources and so on. Much more fun too. Less risk of puking, etc... And all of them can be fed by a single cube of sugar.

Obviously there are many question marks to this proposal. Just one: would a limb-less individual ever be capable of developing real knowledge - knowledge being the cumulative effect of all our sensorial experiences? If not, can we engineer our way out of this?

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    Mar 1 2011: this is a joke right?

    lol, I can't tell if I'm supposed to take this seriously or not.

    I'd rather live on a space station than loose my limbs you crazy crazy man.

    Seriously, I'm trying to take you seriously...OK, lets work on better technology to develop and recycle resources before we give up our hands. Lets terraform mars before we chop our legs off.

    what kind of world do you live in?
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    Mar 2 2011: Look, Mr Miller, Ted is a place of exploration. Bizarre, radical ideas may sometimes stimulate creativity.

    The idea of engineering bodies without limbs is actually quite a serious idea, studied by NASA to send people on long deep space missions.

    Project Lilliput is a thought-experiment developed by mathematician Prof Jean-Paul Van Bendegem, long ago. He spoke of the future possibility of shrinking man to such an extent that he disappears while being present. The project is an exploration of mathematics, logic, and engineering. Ted's quite the place for this type of thought experiments, wouldn't you think?

    You are on the "conservative" side, so to speak, limiting the thought experiment to recycling and developing resources. Nothing wrong with that. But not very innovative... :-)
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      Mar 2 2011: not very radical you mean. I would say bio-mimicry is one of the most innovative ideas that has ever arisen and as most truly innovative and helpful ideas - is innately obvious. nature has literally always been around. Its full of cycles and recycles. In order to avoid the problems you cited this is the way we must, in all practicality, go.

      And if it's a thought experiment introduce it as such. unless you seriously think its a direction the human race should go. if that is the case I would reiterate - there are better ways to solve the problems you cited much much better ways. ways in which the quality of life doesn't plummet to a minimum. I say consider every other possibility before (seriously) considering this one.

      But as a thought experiment practicality matters little and I've always been know to entertain strange ideas as theoreticals at least.
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        Mar 2 2011: Well, if you like nature, then perhaps you're aware of the fact that the size of the human body changes very rapidly, depending on ecological factors.

        The Belgians and the Dutch, for example, are now the world's tallest people, only since a single generation got access to plenty of healthy food and excellent health care. Americans on the contrary used to be the world's tallest, but are now rapidly shrinking because of bad food and lack of access to health care. This happens in a single generation.

        There's also the story of the tiny Indonesian fossil skeleton, whose size, some archaeologists and anthropologists think, is the result of ecological constraints (few sources of food on the tiny island on which these people lived).

        Your enthusiasm for bio-mimicry is charming. I'm sure we can learn a lot from nature. Including adapting our bodies to new realities -- a very simple, natural, evolutionary process.