Tuesday, April 21, 2009

If you doubt this is possible, how is it there are PYGMIES + DWARFS??*

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, in 1718, a member of the French Academy, the Abbé Henrion, wrote that, as a consequence of Eve's original sin, there had been a progressive reduction of the height of man since the time of Adam. Conservatives in all ages find a way to blame icky girls for their shortcomings. According to Henrion's calculations Adam was 124 feet high, Noah 104, Abraham 28, Moses 13, Alexander the Great 6, Julius Caesar 5, and the Abbé himself was no bigger than your thumb and slept in a snuff box. Okay, I made up that last part. Henrion realized that his decidedly non thumb-like stature was a flaw in his scheme that needed to be explained. Fortunately, as a man of the cloth, the good Abbé was able to find solace and answers in his faith. The advent of Jesus, he explained, created a new dispensation during which the shrinkage would halt. For this gift he thanked Providence.

But was it a gift or was Henrion being shortsighted? A big population that was smaller would be better than small population that was bigger. If we were tiny we could have all the benefits of a large productive workforce without putting as much strain on our resources. In Adam's day a side of beef would have been no more filling than a couple of cocktail wienies are today. But if we were tiny, the Irish famine of the 1840s could have been ended with a bushel of spuds. Sure, there might have been some inconvenience if the domestic animals had stayed the same size, but that wouldn't have been an insurmountable problem for our ancestors. The same people who turned timber wolves into chihuahuas wouldn't have had a problem making those schnauzer sized cattle from the Jack-in-the-Box ads. All of the energy a family four uses in a year could be provided by a single lump of coal. We could be completely irresponsible about our carbon footprint for another thousand years before tipping the whole planet into the crapper.

I have a post involving giants coming. It was getting too long, so I cut this digression out.

* We are aware of all science blogging traditions.

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