Personal Musings of

DANIEL HELSTEN

Have you ever watched a dancer flow through a routine with effortless grace and then seen a second dancer, do all the same moves, but it just didn’t look the same?

Could this be explained if there were more than were more than one way to activate voluntary muscles?

Conventional theory has it that our muscles are controlled by the brain and the central nervous system. A central commander, firing each muscle fiber as needed. Life is never simple. Consider the millipede. It has hundreds of legs moving in a mesmerizing wave-like motion. Or a snake that make me feel a visceral reaction as it seems to move in ways that defy the laws of physics. Millipedes are far less complex than humans and are not known for their big brains. A central command wiring to hundreds of legs and then calculating the cadence of each doesn’t seem like a likely configuration.

What if there is a primitive way of activating muscle is not brain to muscle based, but rather, neighbor-to-neighbor-based. If my neighbor fires, I will fire slightly later. This type of activation would account for the wave like motion of a snake. (By the way I have never read a single article on any of this so everything I’m writing here is just my conjecture.) Muscles firing, then with some delay, signalling their neighboring muscle to fire. To regulate the overall speed of the animal, perhaps the delay could be set by some general hormone or other global signal. Then, to operate such a system, you only need to trigger the first muscle then all the others will follow.

Eels, I think are the most primitive decedents of the first vertebrae’s [need to verify], operate in a similar fashion. Evolution generally works in an additive way, layering, with new functions modifying old. Aspects of the old are not removed from the system, but rather modified or made dormant.

So if this is true, then our spines have within them latent neighbor-to-neighbor based ways of moving.

So now let’s look a human development. One of the most unique features of humans is our giant head. It evolved rather quickly, I suspect because I think the theory of Sexual Selection, which Darwin I think actually advocated and that I read about in the book The Red Queen promoted its quick growth in evolutionary-time. We have this head that wants to get bigger racing against a woman’s hips that can’t get much wider with the only available degree of freedom for accommodation being the gestation period of the fetus.

I heard somewhere [need to verify] that humans, based on our head size, should gestate far longer than we do if we were to fit the rest of the animals gestation times. From what I remember they said that the time should 1.5 to 2 times longer than what it is. That is 4 to 9 months if I remember right. But instead of gestating, we come out into the world and remain helpless for this period. We don’t really become close to mobile until 6 months with some crawling.

Helplessness doesn’t go over well in the survival department which is the harsh reality that evolution filters against. There must be some big payoff and price to pay for this time of helplessness.

Let’s pause for a moment to consider the marvel of what a human is. Our spines originated on bottom of the ocean in creatures that moved in water. Under these conditions, gravity has no effect, other than to keep the ocean from floating out into space. Life is very enterprising. It has managed to take this row of muscle and bone called a vertebrae and not only expose it to gravity in the form of 4 legged creatures. The human spine is the ultimate “fuck you” to gravity that says, “we are not only going to face you but will go upright and do it directly to the sky.” Life has a lot of balls. And humans, right now at least, seem to be life’s balls. We throw all kinds of shit up against gravity. Including balls and rockets that will escape the solar system. But, lets get back and attend to the baby.

So we have a baby that leaves its mother’s liquid anti-gravity shield a bit sooner than it should. It pops out, which in of itself is quite an ordeal, but when it gets here it says, “Ah, fuck! what is this gravity shit? I’m pinned to the ground. Not only that, I’ve got this giant gourd on top of my body.”

And survival is a mean bitch. To survive in the animal kingdom, movement is the name of the game. Things that don’t move quick enough have either figured out how to be poisonous and not taste good or are dead. Here is yet another bottleneck of evolution. Big head, big benefit, but walking, we need to get on that and get on it quick. So as soon as a baby gets out of its mother, its primary mission is to become mobile and keep up.

It struggles and struggles, using every resource it has to figure out how to move more quickly. In a twist, one benefit of this bigger brain is more computing power. Maybe this bigger brain can help out with this mobility issue. So the brain, which has more visual data gathering capacity than any other created to date gets on task to solve this mobility problem. It uses all the data it can, watching other similar creatures walking. learning patterns.

Let’s back up a bit though. This baby needs to walk ASAP. It has access to this nice slithering motion down the spine, that came built in a previous version of the software, but slithering isn’t very helpful in the walking department, especially in the two-legged version of walking. To expedite walking the brain takes over and manually controls each of the muscles directly and overrides the neighbor-to-neighbor form of movement. Having muscles talk to each other makes too much noise. We need silence and for everyone to listen to the main commander to get this job done.

With the commander in charge, the commander learns the multitude of commands needed to directly order each one to do its job at the right time. This gets the job done and the baby wins the war. Walking is achieved!

I’ve painted a strong picture that a baby has to walk ASAP. But what if that is not actually the case. What if the speed needed to learn to walk has a few variables. What if, for example, the baby isn’t moved a lot, is swaddled, held close, shielded from oppressing gravity. Might it then not feel the urgency to override all the systems an make walking happen via central command. With more time, perhaps the muscles get to know their neighbors and share movement. Later, when the commander insist on walking, rather than needing to tell each soldier what to do, it issues a few commands to groups of muscles. Who then work, talking with each other, creating a much more fluid motion, that resembles a snake or an eel.

We’ve all seen dancers who flow in magical ways. There is an effortlessness to how they move that is mesmerizing. We’ve also seen dancers who, get all the moves right, but it appears labored, I’m convinced that this is the difference. The dancers who appear effortless are using this neighbor-to-neighbor network.

So if this story is true, then we would find that each muscle fiber has two modes of communication. One central command and one from each neighbor. Muscles will generally listen to central command first, but they prefer to listen to their neighbors unless they are told not to by central command.

Ah, and here’s the rub. These eel and snake-like motions, while efficient and elegant looking, tend are not the quickest way from A to B when a baby needs to walk. If there are addition stressors in the environment, then central command gets even more power to dictate how to get the job done. This generally results in orders that tell each soldier to shut up, ignore their neighbors, and just listen to central command.

So what is the result of this? We notice that many if not a majority of people move and walk in a robotic way. We celebrate dancers who can move in a fluid way as uncommon spectacles to be admired. these

By the way, I haven’t even gone into how this neighbor-to-neighbor mechanism works (mostly because I’m making this all up and have no researched it at all.) But what if neighbors can also be outside of the body. Music, sound, touch, can each also directly touch these networks, bypassing central command creating movement that move in time, like fish in a school, moving together as one.

To wrap this up, here is the summary. We evolved in a way such that our muscles have multiple ways of being triggered including from a neighbor and from central command. Various pressures encourage central command to take control instead of the neighbor network. We need to get the baby walking so central command tells everyone to stop talking to each other. Final result, most humans have tight backs and dance like robots.

Thanks for reading, and as always, I welcome comments and feedback.

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