In San Francisco last week, I saw a woman wildly swinging her arms back and forth in a kind of extreme double Sieg Heil as she speed-walked (sped-walk?) down Geary Street. Everybody in the neighborhood must know her as the crazy arm-swinging lady.
But we almost all do it—just less furiously. As humans walk through life, we're always whipping our arms forward and back in a motion that funks up our armpits and suggests the animalistic gait of a quadruped. A few years ago in “Presently Tense” (Nov. 22, 2006), I drew attention to a family in Turkey who walked on all fours. Scientists were studying them to see if they could make some claims about evolution, but what the family really wanted was some physical therapy.
Now the science-mongers are at it again, this time trying to tell us that arm swinging is natural, when what we all really need, like the Turkish hand-walkers, is some physical therapy to get us to stop acting like animals. That's right. I said it. You're all a bunch of disgusting primitives, a few feet away from full-fledged knuckle draggers, swinging your arms like apes up and down the roads, sidewalks, hiking trails and halls of our global village. The scientists say you're saving energy; I say stop it!
Reporting their findings in the British royal society journal Biological Sciences last week, Steven Collins from the University of Michigan and his team of Dutch human-haters at Delft University in the Netherlands demonstrated that people swing their arms with little effort and that not swinging your arms uses more energy than it takes to swing them.
On one hand, the study at least pokes a hole in the common argument that arm-swinging is a vestigial evolutionary trait from our days walking on all fours.
If humans descended from monkeys, then how come my friend Hank thinks bananas taste like wallpaper paste?On the other hand, even though Collins is not arguing that arm-swinging is evidence of primate ancestry—like Hank's liberal wife says Hank's tail is—these scientists are keeping us down by using sinister robot experiments to prove that arm-swinging is perfectly natural and actually beneficial.
To test their radical ideas, Collins and his clog-wearing cohorts used a robotic model and 10 human subjects who walked with different arm positions—the so-called normal position, the more graceful and spiritual walking-with-their-arms-at-their-sides, and even the difficult swinging-the-same-arm-as-the-stepping-leg—an extremely ugly walk that would make the anarchists of Monty Python proud.
The scientists measured how much energy and muscle power was required to swing the arms and whether there was an effect on forces exerted by the ground.
“Arms are easily swung by exploiting natural dynamics, with significant benefits to gait economy due to reduced ground reaction moments,” said Collins. “Passive dynamics appear to make arm swinging easy, while indirect benefits from reduced vertical moments make it worthwhile overall.” Huh? Why do they always talk like that? And he's the American!
According to the report, the silly walk took the most energy to do, though the subjects had “the most fun” doing it, while the “normal” arm-swinging “demonstrated an overall advantage.” In what I consider the best-case scenario, subjects who had their arms literally strapped to their sides used up 12-percent more energy than those allowed to swing. So what's wrong with that?
Is everything natural really better? It may not be natural to carefully dispose of your boogers in your car's ashtray, and it certainly takes more effort than just flicking them out the window, but can't we admit that it's more important to be civilized than natural? We already had a whole decade devoted to going au natural called the 1960s, and all it got us was granola, quick-zoom shots and a bunch of rights.
Just because arm-swinging gives advantages to one particular robot doesn't mean we can't design a robot to walk quite effectively without swinging its arms. Why waste perfectly good robot arms on swinging when they could be carrying our drinks or pointing ray guns? On the other hand, a robot swinging its arms might be designed to look like it's making fun of us, and that could be a good incentive for keeping your hands in your pockets or, less creepily, dangling inoffensively at your side.
And consider the danger of arm-swinging: On the crowded streets of cities like New York, arm-swingers often hit children in the face with briefcases, knock lit cigarettes into the air and use their “natural” movement as a pretense for copping a feel.
Now consider the harmonious and romantic precision of the North Korean army, parading through the main plaza of Pyongyang with arms like solid, erect missiles at their sides. No mistaking those well-trained and serious fighting machines for slovenly naked apes.
Just because humans didn't evolve from lower species, but, rather, were magically formed one day from a hunk of clay by our mighty imaginary friend, that doesn't mean we don't need to distance ourselves from the appearance of having evolved. Playing the djembe, chewing with your mouth open, ordering a “sex on the beach” cocktail, reading science journals, voting Democrat, swinging your arms when you walk and all other aspects of primitive, simian-like behavior need to be wiped out. Then and only then can we aspire to the highest of human cultural expressions: Riverdance!Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.