Fittingly, one year after these WHAT talks were started to on the birthday of the great Elaine Morgan, her son, Gareth gave a talk about his fascinating idea that contrary to popular belief that human skin is waterproof, it may actually be able to take on water from its surroundings. It's a controversial idea but it has one deliciously redeeming feature: it makes a very simple, testable prediction. Here Gareth reports the fascinating results of a short pilot study which supports the hypothesis.
Sunday November 13th 2022 (9 pm West Australian Time; 2pm UK)
Gareth is Elaine Morgan’s middle son, which explains his interest in aquatic theories of human evolution and he has done a considerable amount of original research on the subject.
He has written for various publications including New Scientist, SCUBA, and Philosophy Today and his papers on different aspects of human evolution have kept him in the top 0.3% of researchers on Academia.edu, while his ranking reached the top 0.1% in both virology and atmospheric science last year on the strength of his work in other fields.
He brings this multi-disciplinary approach to his interest in human evolution, where it found practical application in his recent experiments on salt water immersion in humans.
The Talk: Taking On Water
There has been a great deal of research into the diet of early hominins that clearly indicates their dependence on marine food sources, but very little thought has been given to what they drank. If their time was spent foraging in the sea, what did they do for fresh water?
A series of immersion experiments was carried out to test the hypothesis that modern humans retain the ability to extract fresh water from sea water through the eccrine sweat glands by reverse osmosis.
Professor Tom Brenna tells the story of the peculiar cheesy wax, called vernix caseosa, which is often found covering newborn human babies but very few other mammals. A notable exception is the harbour seal. Tom’s team studied the substance in that species and received the attention of a BBC documentary, presented by Sir David Attenborough. They showed that the chemical profile of vernix in seals is very similar to that in humans, indicating it probably has a common function.
Sunday November 11th 2022 (10 pm West Australian Time; 3pm UK)
Tom Brenna, PhD, is Professor of Pediatrics, of Chemistry, and of Human Nutrition at the Dell Medical School and College of Natural Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, and Professor Emeritus of Human Nutrition, of Food Science, and of Chemistry after 28 years as an active faculty member at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. His group’s basic research into the chemical, biochemical, metabolic, genetic and ecological aspects of fatty acids have had a decisive influence on modern knowledge of these key nutrients. Their work has led to modification of the accepted biochemical pathways for endogenous synthesis of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA). Recent research has clarified the molecular biology of human synthesis of branched chain fatty acids as well as food sources of these compounds. This work has been in concert with many ongoing contributions to the analytical mass spectrometry of fatty acids and related lipids.
His decade of research on the PUFA content of Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods used to rehabilitate children afflicted with severe acute malnutrition showed improved long term neurocognitive development, leading to 2021 changes in WHO international food policy. In the 1990s, his group’s basic research studies on omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids contributed to the US FDA’s approval of DHA and arachidonic acid in US infant formulas. He has contributed to numerous policy efforts, including being a member of the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, and the most recent (2011) FAO/WHO Expert Panel on Fats and Fatty Acids. He was President of the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL), serving on its executive committee until 2021. He will receive the 2023 Supelco AOCS Research Award recognizing outstanding original research in fats, oils, lipid chemistry or biochemistry; previously he was honored with the Ralph Holman (2021) and the Herbert Dutton (2020) Awards, all by the American Oil Chemists Society. He is the fourth scientist to be honored with both American Society for Nutrition’s Osborne and Mendel Award for outstanding contributions to basic research in nutrition (2017) and the ASN’s Robert Herman Award for advancement of clinical nutrition (2013).
Tom featured on the two-part documentary on BBC Radio 4 broadcast in 2016 presented by Sir David Attenborough. Link : https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b07v0hhm
Bert is a research software engineer at Google Brain Tokyo, specialising in artificial life and evolutionary algorithms, so his perspective on waterside hypotheses is refreshingly forward-looking. In this beautiful, content-rich, succinct and balanced talk, Bert takes us on his journey from his first “dip” into the subject, a master’s degree on human cognition leading to a study on human colour perception. He summarises the peculiar human condition by focusing in on his wonderful info-graphics.
Sunday January 8th 2023 (9 pm West Australian Time; 2pm UK)
Bert Chan is a researcher in artificial life and evolutionary algorithms. He is currently a research software engineer at Google Brain Tokyo, also an external collaborator at Inria Bordeaux, and a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. He’s worked in the IT industry for over 20 years.
Bert discovered a dynamical complex system called Lenia, software that generates like life-like cellular automata (see this link for a demo video). Initially a personal project circa 2015, it has been evolved into an extensive research framework, attracting international collaborations with universities and research labs. His work received the Outstanding Publication of 2019 award from the International Society for Artificial Life.
Bert became interested in the topic of human evolution through browsing Wikipedia. He did a master's degree in human cognition in Sweden, specialising in the phenomenon of synaesthesia where one sense is perceived as another. In 2011, drew on his studies by contributing a chapter for the edited book "Was Man More Aquatic in the Past?" on human aquatic vision. He also designed a few graphical posters summarizing the diverse arguments in the waterside model / aquatic ape hypothesis, one won the third prize poster at the "Human Evolution Past, Present & Future" conference in London 2013.
The Talk: The Future of the Waterside Model
Why is the waterside model (aka the aquatic ape hypothesis), being such a rich and sensible set of ideas about human origins, not taught in schools and universities? Or more broadly, why is the current state of palaeoanthropology so fragmented that there is not yet a well-supported, textbook-worthy theory of human physical evolution?
Starting with an unconventional study of human vision, we delve into a wealth of ideas about possible semi-aquatic adaptations in the human body, along with associated world maps and timelines of our hypothetical riverine-coastal past. However, as imaginative and unconventional as it is, one wonders why this small research community itself has stagnated since Alister Hardy and Elaine Morgan spoke out more than 50 years ago. Perhaps what is missing are foundational tools that can help formulate and scrutinize the waterside ideas, elevating speculations into testable hypotheses. How can we benefit from modern technologies such as data science, machine learning, and computer simulations?
On the other hand, the stagnation may also be caused by a disconnect or even hostility between the waterside community and other researchers. Granted that different discourses are not necessarily mutually exclusive, how can we formulate a "grand unified theory" of human origins? Contrary to popular belief, Homo sapiens may not be "generalists", but rather "multi-specialists" who specialize in multiple areas, like apnoea diving, endurance running, tool use, and vocal communication.
Andrea changed career from a geological engineer to a successful swimming teacher after giving birth to two daughters. Using an amazingly rich tapestry of slides, Andrea draws upon her experience helping people overcome their fear of water in general and swimming in particular to give an insight into the many, highly complex, issues that many people have with overcoming their phobia of water and a glimpse of the freedom and joy that is awaiting them in water, if they manage to do so. As she sa
Sunday February 12th 2023 (1 pm UK, 9pm West Australian)
Andrea received a BSc (Hons) Geography / Geology Degree from College of St Paul & St Mary, Cheltenham, UK in 1986 & MSc in Hydrogeology & Groundwater Chemistry from Reading University in 1993. She worked as an engineering geologist in the UK until 1998 when she became a mother of two girls and then returned to work as a fully qualified swimming teacher in 2003.
She had grown up with an idyllic childhood exploring waterscapes inside and outside in the Isle of Purbeck UK and lengthy summer holidays with her younger brother visiting the water bodies of Europe; mainly France. Her deep interest in a career as a swimming teacher first came to the fore in 2002 when her eldest daughter swam spontaneously towards her and she has been on a long journey ever since to try and reveal why some people appear to have a natural affinity with water and others really struggle to cope in swimming lessons.
To cut a long story short, she has spent many water hours teaching all ages to swim in mainstream lessons & owned and run two small swimming businesses:
· Adult & child lessons, as Starfishes at Trinity Trainer Pool in Henley-On-Thames, Oxfordshire, UK.
· Courses for fearful adults, in partnership with Zoe Cheale, as A2Z Swim in Cheltenham, Glos & Didcot, Oxfordshire, UK. Now it is only a Facebook page.
· She has written lots of published articles since 2011 on the nature of ordinary human engagement with water:
· 27+ articles for Aquatic industry magazine ‘The Swimming Times’ & ‘The Leisure Review’.
· ‘How to Help People Float’, International Journal of Aquatic Research & Education, Https://scholarworks.bgsu.edu/ijare/vol11/iss4/1
· ‘The Challenge of Water Entries’, International Journal of Aquatic Research & Education, Https://scholarworks.bgsu.edu/ijare/vol13/iss3/2
· A director of the Lifesaving Foundation of Ireland CLG since 2021.
· Tutor, trainer & research advisor for the Institute of Aquaphobia.
· Seeks, mentors & supports aquatic professionals with an ‘aquatic mind set’.
In 2013 at the Human Evolution, Past, Present & Future Conference in London Andrea produced a poster titled “Shaped in Water?” and met some of the other presenters on the WHAT talks. (See PDF of the poster)
Recently Andrea was invited by Milton Nelms & Hilde Hansen to give three forty five minute presentations at the World Aquatics Development Conference in Lund, Sweden from 12th-15th January where she spoke about the critical role that safe aquatic curiosity plays in the Learn-To-Swim & Drowning Prevention sectors.
The Talk: The Patient Ape: How Aquatic Insight Ratchets Up Adaptability
Sensing how to survive & thrive in water space demands significant unconscious computational time & energy but once accomplished the nervous system is more responsive & adaptive than before. The subconscious processing structures that the nervous system builds for survival through spontaneous training in water (‘inter-animation’) are ready for sensing perpetual change & are ripe for co-adoption. This means that the significance of the increased readiness for safely engaging with water caused by learning how to survive & move in its new and responsive milieu may have been hugely under estimated.
By developing effective physical inter-animation in water our human ancestors benefitted significantly from a much more adaptive nervous system which was trained to drive and be ready for patient thought. For the first time our ancestors had more time to internally predict, plan, reflect & explore whilst free of the need for faster internal processing which is required on land. Patience is the mode of the nervous system that has adapted to the slower, more thrifty and concurrent movements that need to made in water. In other words the nervous system needs to have successfully integrated myriad subconscious impulses from its own and externally generated movement sources to develop physical patience. This is likely to have been a very powerful internal ratchet of evolutionary adaptation.
A flexible nervous system can choose to go fast, slow, wastefully, thriftily, concurrent or against the environment it is engaging with.
Inter-animation is not a consciously led process and effects of the movements it draws upon stay distributed inside the body of the learner as memorable emotional impulses rather than conscious reflections. This means that it is hard to describe what happens during aquatic learning because the verbal system is not involved.
Those who are afraid of water have not yet been able to use inter-animation and they will not be able to do so until they feel safe enough for their bodily hypervigilance to slow down to a calm stop.
Modern swimming instruction can really hinder inter-animation and negative experiences only serve to compound fears. Once afraid of water the thought of being immersed in it generates a terrifying feeling of powerless isolation and even entrapment. The talk will explore how crucial our personal internal states (emotions) are for successfully understanding all aquatic conundrums because water made reflective emotions our most powerful hidden survival tool.
Sunday March 13th 2023
Saint Olaf College, B.A. Biology 1987
Level 5 ASCA Swim Coach
• Coach, Foxjet Swim Club 1987 to 1995, 8 Overall State Championships, 12 national records, American Record Holder.
• Over 25 years as CEO of one of the world’s largest and most successive swim schools.
• Wrote curriculum that now teaches Two million lessons per year.
• Aquajet Swim Club Founder/Coach 2002-08, Fastjet Swim Club 2007 to 2018, 40 national records, 30 state championships, 2 American Records, 2 Olympians. • Designed, built and financed $40 million commercial buildings. • CEO Vitamin C solutions LLC. 2019 to present.
• Wrote unique curriculum for swim school and competitive training. 225 skills and techniques called KADS.
• Collegiate NCAA All-American, Masters All-American.
• Top 10 finisher Masters World Swimming Championships 2004
• Keynote speaker to 2002, 2002, 2006, 2008 Swim School ANZUS Conferences, 2010 ASCTA Australia Gold Coast, 2012 NZSCTA Auckland, 2014 WADC Malmo Sweden
• Board of Directors
• Awarded five U.S. Patents
• Author: The Oxenforders Begin to Swim” 2021
Jon Foss has over 25 years experience as CEO of one of the world’s largest and most successive swim schools.
In this talk, he gives us the benefit of his time competing and coaching swimming which led him to the conclusion that humans have a set of anatomical traits that give all of us the potential to become highly competent in water.
A detailed list of such traits is presented, some more speculative than others, but all consistent with the idea of humans having a more aquatic past.
Sunday April 23rd 2023 (9am UK time)
(3rd Sunday in April - after Easter)
Roede et el (1991) is a title anyone interested in the so-called "aquatic ape hypothesis" should have on their bookshelf. It is the proceedings of the 1987 Valkenberg Symposium, Aquatic Ape: Fact or Fiction? This was where a group of scientists and other interested academics gathered in the Dutch town near Maastricht to debate what was, at the time, a very hot topic in the field of physical anthropology.
The book is still one of the most important, and certainly the most balanced, on the subject, presenting eleven chapters for and eleven against, rather like a football cup final.
The key person with the unenviable task of editing the proceedings and coming up with a suitable form of words to summarise the conference was the famous primatologist, Vernon Reynolds.
His carefully chosen words in the final chapter are, perhaps, the most important written on the subject: "... I do not think it would be correct to designate our early hominid ancestors as 'aquatic'. But at the same time there does seem to be evidence that not only did they take to the water from time to time but that water (and by this I mean inland lakes and rivers) was a habitat that provided enough extra food to count as an agency for selection."
These words made a big impact on a few interested readers. Another famous primatologist, Colin Groves, for example, picked up on them in his book review of Roede et al in 1993. When I read them in the late 1990s I thought "at last! some common sense on the subject".
Vernon's words were used in the attempted relabeling and definition of the idea as "waterside hypotheses of human evolution" and his interest indirectly led to the start of this WHAT Talks series.
His conversation with Simon Bearder on the subject a couple of years ago inspired Simon to make contact and provide the impetus for this series of talks.
So, who better than Vernon to discuss these ideas today?
Vernon chose not to give a formal talk in the way most guest speakers have here and preferred a more informal conversation format for which it was an absolute pleasure and privilege to oblige.
The conversation was recorded and then a second meeting was held to talk about things that had been missed. The recording of the second was appended to the first and the resulting (fairly long) video will be posted here soon as WHAT Talk #18a.
We talked at length about Vernon's impressive career and then focused on Valkenberg. What aspects of waterside hypotheses did Vernon think were most compelling back then, and how might the debate have changed in the 36 years since?
A truncated version of the conversation will be made and presented 'live' at the next WHAT Talks meeting on 16th April at 9am UK time.
Vernon Reynolds – short bio
Collyers School, Horsham, Sussex 1946-53
Army service (Royal Artillery) 1954-56
First degree was in Anthropology at University College London 1956-9
PhD on rhesus monkeys 1959-62
Chimpanzees in Uganda 1962 to the present day with interruptions
Taught Anthropology at Bristol University 1966-72
Taught Biological Anthropology at Oxford University 1972 – 2001
Professor of Biological Anthropology, Oxford
Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford
1990 Founded the Budongo Conservation Field Station in Uganda (www.budongo.org)
Now retired and living in Sussex since 2001, with annual visits to the Budongo Forest, Uganda
Married to Frankie Reynolds since 1960, 2 children and 5 grandchildren.
The original recorded conversation with Vernon Reynolds (on 16th February) and subsequent meeting (on March 7th) to discuss anything we thought we'd missed.
A 50 minute edited video of the conversation was viewed and then discussed afterwards.
The Proceedings of the Valkenberg Conference 1987.
Part 1 : The Aquatic Ape Theory
1 The Origins of a Theory (Elaine Morgan)
2 Why a New Theory is Needed (Elaine Morgan)
3 The Evolution of Genus Homo: Where it Happened (Leon P LaMuniere)
4 Is an Aquatic Ape Viable in Terms of Marine Ecology and Primate Behaviour? (Derek Ellis)
5 Aquatic Features in Fossil Hominids? (Marc Verhaegen)
Part 2: Reactions to the Aquatic Ape Theory: For and Against.
6 The Refutation that Never Was: The Reception of the Aquatic Ape Theory, 1972-1987 (Graham Richards)
7 Does the Geological Evidence Support the Aquatic Ape Theory? (Martin Pickford)
8 Adaptation and the Aquatic Ape (Alan Turner)
9 The Aquatic Ape Theory, Seen from Epistemological and Palaeoanthropological Viewpoints (Holger and Sigme Preuschoft)
10 What Constitutes an Aquatic Mammal? (Paul Leyhausen)
11 Human Regulation of Body Temperature and Water Balance (Marc Verhaegen)
12 Adipose Tissie in Human Evolution (Caroline Pond)
13 Body Hair Reduction and Tract Orientation in Man: Hydrodynamics or Thermoregulatory Aerodynamics? (Peter Wheeler)
14 Human Respiratory Adaptations for Swimming and Diving (John Patrick)
15 The Significance of the Human Diving Reflex (Erika Schagatay)
16 The Burden of Locomotion in Water: Could the Aquatic Ape Have Overcome It? (Joseph Ghesquiere and Helene Bunkens)
17 The Non-Aquatic Ape: The Aquatic Ape Theory and the Evolution of Human Drowning and Swimming (Jan Wind)
18 Do Aquatic Mammals Provide Support for the Aquatic Ape Theory? (Machteld Roede)
19 More Thoughts on the Aquatic Ape Thoery (5 short pieces)
20 Aquatic Man (Machteld Roede)
Part 3: General Conclusions
21 Cold and Watery? Hot and Dusty? Our Ancestral Environment and Our Ancestors Themselves: an overview. (Vernon Reynolds)
22 Epilogue: Is There a Future for the Aquatic Ape Theory?
For anyone who does not have a copy of Roede et al. Here are PDFs of the chapters.
... and the rest.