Human, quadruped: Uner Tan Syndrome, part 1

(I am republishing a lot of my ‘legacy content’ from our PLOS Neuroanthropology weblog, which has been taken down, along with many of the other founding PLOS Blogs. Some of these, I am putting up because I teach with them. If you have any requests, don’t hesitate to email me at: greg (dot) downey @ mq (dot) edu (dot) au. I suspect many of the links in this piece will be broken, but I will endeavour to try to slowly rebuild this content. Originally published 3 September 2010.)

The photos that accompanied news releases about quadrupedal people living in Turkey, members of a family that allegedly could not walk except on hands and feet, looked staged when I first saw them. Three women and one man scrambling across rocky ground, the women in brightly coloured clothing, the sky radiant blue behind them, their eyes forward and backsides high in the air – like children engaged in some sort of awkward race at a field day or sporting carnival.

Members of a Turkish family with Uner Tan Syndrome

For an anthropologist interested in human motor variation and adaptation, the family looked too good to be true. Subsequent reports and a string of papers confirmed that the families did exist, and they suffered from a condition that came to be called ‘Uner Tan Syndrome’ (sometimes ‘Unertan Syndrome’ or UTS). This story is not new, having already broken and exhausted itself on the waves of internet enthusiasm, but I’ve been wanting to write a sober reflection on the lessons I take from UTS for a while now, and my first major post on our new site seems like a good place. Continue reading

Human (amphibious model): living in and on the water (originally 3 Feb, 2011)

(I am republishing a lot of my ‘legacy content’ from our PLOS Neuroanthropology weblog, which has been taken down, along with many of the other founding PLOS Blogs. Some of these, I am putting up because I teach with them. If you have any requests, don’t hesitate to email me at: greg (dot) downey @ mq (dot) edu (dot) au. I suspect many of the links in this piece will be broken, but I will endeavour to try to slowly rebuild this content.)

At the beginning of the film clip, Bajau fisherman Sulbin sits on the side of a boat on the coast of Borneo, gulping air, handling his speargun.  And then, he drops into the water.  The footage suddenly changes and becomes arresting: silent, dreamy, slow, and so blue.  Sulbin strokes deliberately and descends until he strides along the bottom of the ocean, holding his breath, and hunts for fish through handmade goggles. [I’ve had to get a new version of the video clip, 2019.]

Finally, after a couple of minutes, he spears a fish and heads for the surface.  The narrator tells us that Sulbin could stay down twice as long and dive deeper if necessary.  Most viewers, unfamiliar with free diving, exceptional if they can hold their breath longer than thirty seconds, are quite likely to be shaking their heads by the end of the clip, wondering at the ability of the human body to adapt to life in water.  Life as an amphibious human can appear so alien that it’s stranger than science fiction, but painfully beautiful to watch.

I stumbled across the video clip in part because of my academic interest in free diving [I have had to embed a new video clip. GD 2019]. Earlier this month, I was supposed to attend a free diving workshop in New Zealand with one of the sport’s world record holder, Will Trubridge (or see the story on the Times Online).  The workshop fell through at almost the same time I was diagnosed with multiple hernias, so my first free diving experience likely wouldn’t have worked out – I’m still hoping to do it as part of my ethnographic research on extraordinary human performance in the near future. Continue reading

David Graeber: anthropologist, anarchist, financial analyst* (originally 2011)

This post was originally published in 2011 on PLOS Neuroanthropology at: https://blogs.plos.org/neuroanthropology/2011/10/15/david-graeber-anthropologist-anarchist-financial-analyst/ (link is to an archived version. PLOS has recently purged their legacy weblogs from PLOS Blogs; we repost here to try to preserve this content. 

Wall Street is in the grips of an ‘occupation,’ and activist and anthropologist, David Graeber, now at Goldsmiths, University of London, is in the centre of the action.  Graeber has been doing a few television and radio interviews of late (check here for his interview on ABC Radio National, Australia), talking about the organization of the Wall Street occupation as well as his new book, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Melville House).

The juxtaposition of Florida Governor Rick Scott’s recent comments about anthropology and the fact that Graeber is offering what may be among the most penetrating and accessible analyses of an important dimension of the current global debt crisis is striking. Of course, maybe clear-eyed analysis of our current economic situation, and the ability to point out that other societies do perfectly well with other sorts of economic and political systems, is precisely the sort of academic work that Gov. Rick Scott thinks universities should give up.  After all, no one needs to understand why US firms are shedding jobs, or take a sober look at the current financial regime in the light of the 5,000-year history of debt.  Students should just put their heads down and do the sorts of degrees that will give them technical jobs.  Pay no attention to The Man behind the curtain! Continue reading

Anth 207: new open education space – update!

If you follow Neuroanthropology, either here or on Facebook, you may have noticed something new. We’ve had a bit of a facelift to this site and added a page: Anth 207 Neuroanth 101. This new venture is an effort to generate open educational resources for people interested in psychological anthropology: students, teachers, researchers, the curious…

The first video for Anth 207  Neuroanth 101 is already posted: WEIRD psychology.

We’ll be adding more videos slowly, as well as suggested readings, other related resources, reflection questions, and notes. The goal is to start building an open resource for those who want to start learning about neuroanthropology.

Check back, or join the Neuroanthropology Interest Group on Facebook to keep up with new developments.

UPDATE: After a quick consultation with partner-in-online Daniel Lende, we’ve decided to go whole hog with the new look, new feel, and all-neuroanthropology message. I’ve done a quick rename to ‘Neuroanthropology 101’ with the goal of making it clear what we’re doing, and hopefully making a space to which other neuroanthropologists will want to contribute.

Almost Here! The Encultured Brain: An Introduction to Neuroanthropology

It started on this blog. In 2007, Greg and I co-founded Neuroanthropology. Five years later our book is out! “The Encultured Brain” will be published by MIT Press this Friday, August 24th, 2012. You can already order itat Amazon!

The brain and the nervous system are our most cultural organs. Our nervous system is especially immature at birth, our brain disproportionately small in relation to its adult size and open to cultural sculpting at multiple levels. Recognizing this, the new field of neuroanthropology places the brain at the center of discussions about human nature and culture.

Anthropology offers brain science more robust accounts of enculturation to explain observable difference in brain function; neuroscience offers anthropology evidence of neuroplasticity’s role in social and cultural dynamics. This book provides a foundational text for neuroanthropology, offering basic concepts and case studies at the intersection of brain and culture.

“The Encultured Brain” is really two books in one – the approach Greg and I have built to neuroanthropology, and other researchers using neuroanthropology in their own work. So at under $40 on Amazon, it’s a great deal!

#1: Our comprehensive take on neuroanthropology – an introduction to the field and the book, an in-depth statement on what neuroanthropology is, the evolutionary background to this approach, an outline for future research, and our own expert examples on balance and addiction.

#2: Nine case studies by other researchers, covering memory, PTSD, primates, skill acquisition, humor, autism, male vitality, smoking, and depression. These additional chapters really push “The Encultured Brain” into a new space, for they show how scholars are already using neuroanthropology to address an array of research problems.

Greg and I both hope you go order The Encultured Brain: An Introduction to Neuroanthropology

Neuroanthropology Now on Facebook

Neuroanthropology now comes in two forms on Facebook!

The Blog – With Extra Content

If you want to follow everything that we’re doing on the Neuroanthropology PLOS blog, and you also want short, fun posts that Greg and I have specifically written for Facebook, then head over to the Neuroanthropology Blog Facebook Page. I just stuck the great photo featured here up on Facebook – just a sample!

Neuroanthropology Interest Group

An active interest group – with lots of shared links and discussion – is growing quickly on Facebook. Here you can share and discover news stories and journal articles, and engage with like-minded people who want to explore the intersection of neuroscience and anthropology.

So two choices for more Neuroanthropology:

Link to Neuroanthropology Blog on Facebook

Link to Facebook Interest Group

Neuroanthropology on PLoS – Best of 2011

The last year was a great one for us over at Neuroanthropology’s new home on the Public Library of Science – our first full year as part of PLoS Blogs, a lot of great writing, and a vivid sense that anthropology online is developing into a robust arena.

Here is a quick run-down of the most read 2011 posts by Greg and by Daniel, as well as a selection of other notable posts.

Greg – Top Five

‘The last free people on the planet’
*Greg’s comprehensive take on media hype over “uncontacted” Indian tribes, and how these groups truly challenge those of us living in the West

Human (amphibious model): Living in and on the water
*How humans really do adapt to life in, on, and under the sea

David Graeber: Anthropologist, anarchist, financial analyst
*Graeber is one of the main intellectual inspirations between the Occupy movement, and an important critic of Western economic models

Slipping into psychosis: Living in the prodrome
*What it is like to live with schizophrenia, and what that tells us about ourselves

Getting around by sound: Human echolocation
*Being blind and learning to echolocate, including how the visual cortices come to handle the processing of auditory-become-visuospatial information

Daniel – Top Five

Florida Governor: Anthropology Not Needed Here
*FL Gov. Rick Scott singled out anthropology as a major that supposedly didn’t have job prospects, and that didn’t deserve state funding. Here is coverage of the vociferous reaction that shows how wrong Scott was

John Shea, Human Evolution, and Behavioral Variability – Not Behavioral Modernity
*Get your favorite – and mistaken – graph of human evolution, as well as a discussion of how a view that emphasizes variation over progress is a better fit for understanding our evolutionary history

Jared Lee Loughner – Is Mental Illness the Explanation for What He Did?
*Loughner’s vicious attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and how we explain, often mistakenly, such senseless violence

Francis Fukuyama – The Origins of Political Order
*Fukyama’s new tome, where he engages culture, history, and politics and aims to create the complement to his provocative The End of History

Jared Loughner Has a Violence Problem, Not a Mental Health Problem
*An alternative account of what the real problem is behind Loughner’s terrible attack

Notable Posts

Why We Protest
*Evolution, human nature, and why we protest inequality

Blogging for promotion: An immodest proposal
*Getting academic credit for this new form of scholarship

Brand anthropology: New and improved, with extra diversity!
*How to best promote anthropology

A Vision of Anthropology Today – and Tomorrow
*After the controversy over science in anthropology, a proposal for how the field goes towards the future

Digital Anthropology: Projects and Platforms
*Discover some incredible initiatives in digital anthropology

Beyond the Drug War: Drug Policy, Social Interventions, and the Future
*Why the Drug War has failed, and more importantly, what we can do differently