Pendulum of Progress

Back and Forth

I have mentioned previous that today's challenge and key next step of our evolution might be to rewrite the definition of 'progress'. A simple but nevertheless interesting fact that has been moving around in my mind for a while now in line with this, is that of the human heel-first stride; if you walk, the first thing that sets ground is the heel then the front. Apparently, our heel-first stride is quite a unique (and efficient) way of walking, and something we only share with bears and great apes. Most animals walk on the balls of their feet, while we humans land on our heel and push off on our toes.

And back again…

Image: Úrsula Madariaga

Image: Úrsula Madariaga

For me, this balancing back-and-forth phenomenon or ‘Human Pendulum’ as beautifully formulated in the research of Webber (2016), shines an intriguing light on the concept of (effectively and efficiently) moving forward, on the definition of progress and human evolution. Particularly while also being aware of another phenomenon, brought to the surface by various scientific studies and brain (damage) research that examine the role of memory in imagination and future thinking including that of - among others - Okuda et al. (2003) and Schacter, Addis and Buckner (2007). Apparently, there is a striking overlap in brain activity when we think about the past and when we envision our futures, indicating that we might need the stories of our memory system to ‘write’ future experiences. Or, to put it simple, we have to look back to be able to look forward. Of course, keep in mind that we are still discovering the many, many secrets of our brain, and, with all ongoing research, there are a lot of nuances as well as important differences and interpretations to take into account. But, with both these thoughts in mind I can’t help but wonder; is it possible that - because we seem to be focusing so much on the future nowadays - we have been walking/running on our toes for too long? And, to move forward, we need to touch base, go back first? Is our current direction, pace and process of progress been based on the wrong (mind & body) stride forward?

Gratification of The Now

With an (almost on a daily basis) ever-changing future, the seduction of the now has also never been this strong. Technology trends and marketing gimmicks are rapidly changing and speeding up our steps while continuously feeding the neural networks that desire instant gratification. Everyone seems to be searching for the next big thing or are in a race to be first, preferably sooner rather than later. But is our short-term craving genuinely contributing to a solid long-term foundation? Or are we merely (becoming) addicted? A slave to impulses that don’t contribute to our human potential and a sustainable world? Are we - besides choosing the wrong direction – also unconsciously losing our freedom of choice? 

In Ulysses Shoes

If that is the case, we might need to follow into Ulysses’ footsteps to prepare ourselves for the present-day Sirens' songs and gain back control of our ship. In order to do so, it is important to know not only today’s version of ourselves, but all possible realities; past, present and future. Otherwise, the steps we are taking now, based on short-term desires, an incomplete stride and one-way direction, guarantee will make us tumble down in the future.

Well, whether or not our answers ‘simply’ lie in the movement of the human pendulum, the Sirens' songs of Ulysses or the stories of our memory, definitely something more to think about next time you buy a new pair of heels ...

James T. Webber, David A. Raichlen. The role of plantigrady and heel-strike in the mechanics and energetics of human walking with implications for the evolution of the human foot. 
The Journal of Experimental Biology, 2016.

Okuda J, Fujii T, Ohtake H, Tsukiura T, Tanji K, Suzuki K, Kawashima R, Fukuda H, Itoh M, Yamadori A. Thinking of the future and past: the roles of the frontal pole and the medial temporal lobes. Neuroimage, 2003.

Schacter DL, Addis DR, Buckner RL. The prospective brain: Remembering the past to imaging the future. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2007.

Janne BaetsenJanne Baetsen