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Why endurance running is humanity's surprising hidden talent
As enjoyable as it is to be a couch potato, humans were built to run.
- We usually think of our intellect as our strong suit, while our physical bodies seem terribly frail compared to other animals.
- While humans aren't the fastest animals out there, research has shown that humans are the best endurance runners on the planet.
- Understanding why our bodies work so well with running helps us understand where we fit in the animal kingdom and might even work as a little extra motivation to get in some cardio exercise.
Cheetahs are the fastest land animal, the mantis shrimp has four times as many color receptors as humans, and tortoises can live for hundreds of years. But humans? Sure, we're the most intelligent creatures out there, but we're pathetically squishy compared to some of the other animals on the planet. Wouldn't it be nice to have some of these borderline superpowers that other animals have? Maybe flight, infrared-vision, being able to swim underwater?
Well, it turns out we do have another quality that surpasses all other creatures on Earth. Humans are the best endurance runners out there.
Some of you will instantly cry, "But what about horses!?" Horses may be faster than humans, but they can't outlast them. In a standard marathon (about 26 miles or 42 kilometers), humans regularly beat horses, although the horses tend to win most of the time. But the marathon is an arbitrary distance. Humans can go way longer without stopping.
For the Tarahumara, an indigenous tribe from Central America, running 200 miles over the course of several days without stopping to rest is par for the course. They call themselves the Rarámrui, or "those who run fast." They smoke cigarettes, drink Coca-Cola and cactus moonshine, wear sandals, and still run like they were born for it. Because they were.
What's so special about humans
A Tarahumara woman runs in the "Ultra maraton de los Canones 2017," a 100 km race in a Mexican mountain range.
Photo by HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images
We're able to run so far because of another uniquely human feature — albeit one decidedly ickier and less cool than being able to run very far. We sweat in an entirely unique way. We've got between two and four million sweat glands on our bodies. Compared to other animals, our freakish absence of fur makes the evaporation of that sweat an excellent way to cool down. Other animals — notably horses — also sweat, but their sweat is composed of different materials, and they don't sweat anywhere near the amount humans do. It's our main way to cool down, and it works like a charm.
Researchers theorize that early humans capitalized on their sweatiness and endurance to engage in persistence hunting. Before we had spears and arrows to hunt from afar, we used to simply chase animals down until they collapsed and died. Early humans likely targeted animals during the hottest part of the day. On account of our superior cooling system, we could chase animals on and on, never allowing them to stop to pant — which is the typical cooling system found in most other mammals. Eventually, the prey would collapse, and our disgustingly stinky ancestor could grab a meal.
Our tendons also give us an edge when racing over long distances. Human tendons are arranged in such a way that they store energy like springs. In particular, our Achilles tendon appears to be much of the work in conserving energy between steps. Our springy legs also end in a relatively thick butt, which provides support for our torso as we run through the savannah or the forest in pursuit of prey.
Early humans likely engaged in persistence hunting to catch prey. In this image, members of the Zulu tribe run with African dogs, although for fun rather than for food.
Like other animals, we have a fluid-filled portion in our ears called the semi-circular canal. The movement of the fluid inside helps animals detect acceleration and keep a sense of balance. Humans have an unusually large semi-circular canal compared to others, which ultimately helps us keep track of all that bouncing and bounding around we do when running long distance.
There's a psychological component, too. The "runner's high" is a well-known phenomenon, although its precise nature is still a little unclear. Researchers contend that it's a combination of the natural satisfaction of having accomplished a goal and the release of dopamine and endorphins, which together produce a sense of euphoria and dampen the pain associated with running. As a result, we're both motivated to run and feel less of the hurt from essentially kicking the ground over and over.
Between our freakishly fur-less bodies, our bizarrely complicated legs, and our masochistic brains, humans are veritable running machines. So, pull out your dusty sneakers from their closet and lace up; it's what you were born to do.
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What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.
- A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
- This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
- The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
The process for measuring the fine-structure constant involved a beam of light from a laser that caused an atom to recoil. The red and blue colors indicate the light wave's peaks and troughs, respectively.
Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.
- Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
- Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
- The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.