Friday, August 22, 2003

It’s Getting Hairy

The headline of an article, apparently supplied by the New York Times, in our local newspaper this week caught my eye, it read: “Hair: It separates us from the apes.” Of course, I found this idea immediately intriguing since I am a kind and optimistic fellow and bear a rather high view of my fellow human beings. I had not thought of hair as being one of the primary factors separating them from apes, in fact, if asked, I would have made a number of other more important distinctions. For example, I don’t know of any blogs published by monkeys. I know of no great works of art produced by apes in the last few centuries, nor have I seen any chimps driving on the Interstate to work each morning (well, maybe one or two but that is beside the point). As for science, I know of no great contributions to the field by apes other than substantial confusion.

In any case, our author very confidently asserts that it is precisely at the point at which we humans started losing our body hair that we parted company with our simian ancestors, this based on a study of the subject done by a group of professors in England. The article is remarkable on a number of different levels. First is the rather blind acceptance of the “fact” of evolution that underlies much of the nonsense in the rest of the article. I’m sure the possibility that the theory of evolution itself might be questionable never crossed the authors mind, judging by the pap found in the rest of the article, perhaps there is good reason for this – personal experience may be at work here.

In any case, it seems that the great question left unanswered by this scholarly study is why humans should have lost their hair as part of the evolutionary process. The article points out that this is “a question that long has been beyond the reach of archeology and paleontology.” Little wonder, judging by the results of this study. Among the possible reasons for hair loss is that we humans, in the process of transitioning from ape to human, went through a semi-aquatic stage (the webbing in our hands provides the evidence for this idea) and shed hair in order to improve speed under water. Have you ever seen an ape go for a swim? Another theory is that loss of hair helped our ancestors keep cool as they “ventured beyond the forest’s shade and across the hot African savannah – though naked skin absorbs more energy during the day and loses more during the night.” Lets see, we left the forest and decided to go bare so we could burn to a crisp in the hot sun and find no relief at night. Ummmm.

Another researcher poses another possible solution – we lost our body hair to free ourselves from external parasites, this trait becoming subject to sexual selection. “Among newly furless humans, bare skin would have served as a signal of fitness. The pains women take to keep their bodies free from hair may be no mere fashion statement but the latest echo of an ancient instinct.” I get it, we decided to go “furless” so we could be sexy and girls would look good in Playboy.

I guess I’d like to know just how our ancient ancestors decided to lose their hair. It seems that no other animal on earth (except for the Cornish Rex which, I believe, is the work of a deranged ape) has gone through the same transformation because there are more advantages to having fur than not having fur. Why would some fool ape have made such a decision? A more important question, though, is how we can reverse the situation. As I grow older that question becomes more critical day by day.

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