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Physicist, Startup Founder, Blogger, Dad

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Paleo man

Dan and I were Junior Fellows at the same time (even in the same year, IIRC). I was never that interested in "bone-diggin-ology" but Dan was always a good person to talk to about the subject. I wonder if Dan follows a paleo diet.

NYTimes: Among his academic peers, Daniel Lieberman, 47, is known as a “hoof and mouth” man.

That’s because Dr. Lieberman, an evolutionary biology professor at Harvard, spends his time studying how the human head and foot have evolved over the millenniums. In January, Harvard University Press published his treatise, “The Evolution of the Human Head.” ...

Q. Why heads?

A. Our heads are what make our species interesting. If you were to meet a Neanderthal or a Homo erectus, you’d see that they are the same as us — except from the neck up. We’re different in our noses, ears, teeth, how we swallow and chew. When you think about what makes us human, it’s our big brains, complex thought and language. We speak with our heads, breathe and smell with our heads. So understanding how we got these heads is vital for knowing who we are and what we are doing on this planet.

Q. Are there any practical benefits to your research?

A. There are. A majority of the undergraduates who register for my evolutionary anatomy and physiology class here at Harvard are pre-medical students. Learning this will help them become better doctors. Many of the conditions they’ll be treating are rooted in the mismatch between the world we live in today and the Paleolithic bodies we’ve inherited.

For example, impacted wisdom teeth and malocclusions are very recent problems. They arise because we now process our food so much that we chew with little force. These interactions affect how our faces grow, which causes previously unknown dental problems. Hunter-gatherers — who live in ways similar to our ancestors — don’t have impacted wisdom teeth or cavities. There are many other conditions rooted in the mismatch — fallen arches, osteoporosis, cancer, myopia, diabetes and back trouble. So understanding evolutionary biology will definitely help my students when they become orthopedists, orthodontists and craniofacial surgeons. ...

Q. Do you run barefoot?

A. Only in the summer. Obviously, you cannot run barefoot in a New England winter! Then, I use a shoe that brings me more toward the barefoot style. It’s called a “minimal shoe,” and it’s more like a glove for the foot. Some people tell me it looks silly. But I like the way it feels. And I love running barefoot when I can. You get all this wonderful sensory pleasure from your feet. You feel the grass and the sensation of the earth. You get bathed by sensation. There are a lot of sensory nerves in the feet.

Right now, every sports gear company is now developing a line of these minimal shoes. One company, I should inform you, has helped fund some of my laboratory research, though I’ve not had anything to do with their product.

Q. Is your research part of a trend?

A. It’s part of this movement to try to listen to evolution in our bodies. We evolved to eat different diets, to run differently and live differently from the ways we do today. People are looking to evolution to find out how our bodies adapted and what might be healthier for us. That’s good.

10 comments:

MtMoru said...

When is Harvard going to change its name to Cambridge Yeshiva?

Harvard and elite education generally int eh United States has become like Roman seminaries. The bad money drives out the good. The homosexuals and pedophiles drive out the honest vocations.

ben_g said...

Aside from there being a lot of Jewish professors at Harvard do you have a substantive point?  Studying how humans have evolved over time seems like a worthy and important vocation to me.

Anonymous_IV said...

Ironically Harvard, and some of Harvard's peer institutions, started out as seminaries - though neither Jewish nor (at least in Harvard's case) Roman Catholic.  Harvard's original motto, still occasionally seen 375 years later, was *Christo et Ecclesiae* [for Christ and Church]!   Later amended to "Veritas pro Christo et Ecclesiae", and now thankfully all but the first word have been dropped.  But of course Harvard is still no hotbed of pilpul, which in turn has nothing to do with homosexuality or pedophilia...

5371 said...

That would be 'Veritas pro Christo et Ecclesia' - too much even in the age of Cambridge Unitarianism, famously described as the doctrine that there is at most one God.

MtMoru said...

"But of course Harvard is still no hotbed of pilpul, which in turn has nothing to do with homosexuality or pedophilia..."

Didn't get me, maybe.

"...no hotbed of pilpul..." Are you joking? Those from a culture which values the academic (or pilpul) will be at home and others will feel like aliens. 

Steve, a pilpulist himself, has commented on the very narrow specialization of academics in the natural sciences. Publish or perish doesn't mean publish something useful or perish. Harvard's engineering department is crap.

esmith said...

I have a pair of those minimal shoes, they are nice. Not quite as good as running barefoot, though. The soles are still significantly firmer than socks or gloves (but maybe it's just my model.)

whatisgoingon whatisgoingon said...

Did you post this just so I would laugh?

yulva said...

Dr. Michio Kaku is very upset here. He seems to believe Americans lack intelligence...

http://www.wimp.com/kakusecret/

MtMoru said...

"That's not true. That's technology."

Absolutely right. The steam engine came a long time before thermodynamics. Kaku is a moron.
Now I know to never listen to anything he says.

The same is true for another Japanese-American intellectual, Francis Fukuyama. Couldn't get past the first ten pages in his End of History without seeing he was a moron in 10 foot neon lights.

Richard Seiter said...

It's always interesting to see how people can look at similar data and come up with different conclusions.

From above: "For example, impacted wisdom teeth and malocclusions are very recent problems. They arise because we now process our food so much that we chew with little force. These interactions affect how our faces grow, which causes previously unknown dental problems. Hunter-gatherers — who live in ways similar to our ancestors — don’t have impacted wisdom teeth or cavities. There are many other conditions rooted in the mismatch — fallen arches, osteoporosis, cancer, myopia, diabetes and back trouble. So understanding evolutionary biology will definitely help my students when they become orthopedists, orthodontists and craniofacial surgeons. ... "

Weston A. Price DDS wrote a book in the 1930's about diet and primitive cultures in transition towards modernity in which he attributes these dental changes to dietary changes (the nutritional effect rather than the mechanical effect).  Book title "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration"
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0916764206/ I find Price's arguments (and pictures!) compelling for the dental conditions (though I haven't read Dan's book, has anyone here?  It sounds interesting).  I wonder about the relative balance of nutritional and other environmental effects for the other conditions mentioned.

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