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Conserve energy, walk upright August 21, 2007

Posted by apetrov in Funny, Near Physics, Science.

There is a curious article that I read on CNN’s website. It is called “Chimps on treadmills offer evolution insight” (given here via Reuters, as CNN promptly removed it from its website (to conserve diskspace?)). The basic premise of this investigation (here is the original article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) was to study energy consumption of humans vs. primates in a treadmill exercise. The conclusion was that “…people walking on a treadmill used just a quarter of the energy relative to their size compared to chimpanzees knuckle-walking on four legs.” Which in turns implies that this reduced energy consumption steered pre-humans to evolve into bipedal humans.

As far as physics is concerned, the conclusion of this study is “nearly flawless.” An analogy can be found in quantum mechanics: a particle trapped in a “false vacuum” state will eventually leak out into a lower-energy “true vacuum” state. So, in a sense, it is nice to have minimization of energy as a guiding principle of evolution. But surely not a dominant one. Otherwise people would still have been jumping on trees — why walk (and use more energy) if you can just sit on a tree! Well, maybe that is how prehistoric sloths evolved into modern-day sloths… but yet again, maybe all technological evolution is built on a principle of Total Laziness (minimization of energy) — people got tired of walking — so they invented horseback riding; they got tired of rough riding on those smelly horses — so they invented cars; … well, you got the idea…

There is a lesson that can be applied to everyday life: if you exercise regularily and want to use your treadmill time more effciently, walk on all four of your limbs. And don’t tell me that evolution is not applicable to today’s world. 🙂


1. Anonymous - August 21, 2007

I’m going to begin knuckle-walking at home and in the physics department. If anyone asks me about it, I’ll pound my chest. Maybe I’ll start a trend!

2. apetrov - August 22, 2007


I’d only recommend doing it if yo want to stay fit more efficiently! But speaking about strating the trend — hey, this thing must be more efficient than Tae Bo! Beware, Billy Blanks, here we come!

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