(Originally published August-21-09 in the Free Ads Weekly, Florence, AL)


I’m always on the lookout for unusual and interesting studies, and was not disappointed upon reading some professors’ finding explaining why we humans swing our arms when we walk.  Now why didn’t I think of that first?  Perhaps I was too busy trying to get a grant to determine the percentage of peacock feathers being used as ceremonial headpiece accessories in lower New Guinea to catch that one.  In case the reading public had any doubts about the importance of this study, the author says that arm-swinging has ‘long piqued scientific curiosity’.  This means somewhere in the Netherlands an egg head was going nuts trying to figure out why his arms seemed to have a life of their own when he walked.  I know how he feels.  My arms are always trying to force my hands to pick up things I can’t afford, or scratch myself in public, or constantly checking to make sure I haven’t forgotten my wallet or key or socks.

I knew something was fishy when I read that ‘some experts’ (the definition of an expert is someone who acts like they possess knowledge about something the rest of us aren’t supposed to know, as if we cared) contend that arm-swinging is a left over trait from when we walked on all fours.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember ever walking with my hands, unless you count the times I played horsey when the kids were just kids.  Well, there were those college parties, but that’s a different story.  Even if we pretend our ancestors used to run around on all fours, why in the world did we hang on to this behavior?  I mean, we managed to get rid of our tails and fur, but for some reason the whole arm-swinging thing stuck around.  Puleeze.

The swinging study even built a mechanical model! Imagine a pile of engineers trying to make a robot that swings its arms.  “Tighten that elbow a little bit.  It’s slapping its own face.”  “No, let the shoulders rotate freely.  We don’t want it to look too much like a helicopter.”  “Hey, who put a robotic finger in my egg salad sandwich?”  “Man, that’s the third pelvis we’ve broken this week.”  Evidently the robot didn’t meet their expectations, or they ran out of AA batteries, or one of them got smacked in the head and came to their senses, because the scientists decided to turn their attention to real life arm-swinging people.

What a concept.  I’m so relieved universities hire the most competent and cost efficient help.  Now I know why it costs roughly half a million dollars a semester to attend college. Somewhere a swinging robot is sitting in the corner gathering dust, hoping it gets picked for Herbie Hancock’s next music video.  So these scientists go out into the real world and pick out test subjects for their study. I’m curious how they predetermined who their guinea pigs would be.  Ok, first they should have arms.  Next, they have to be swinging them.  Then . . .ok, they should have arms.  That must have been a grueling selection process.  Hope they paced themselves.

Now here’s where it gets sticky.  These scientists somehow figured out on their abacus that there must be a metabolic cost to arm-swinging.  This is a no-brainer, as nothing is free in today’s economy.  They had a third of the subjects walk normally, a third had to walk what they called an ‘opposite-to-normal’ swing (such genius!) and a third were to walk with their arms straight down without swinging.  This must have loked like a scene from either ‘Night of the Living Dead’ or ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’.  Too bad they didn’t get the Bushwackers to participate.  Now, those guys knew how to swing!

If there’s a question to beg, this is it: how in name of sweet Aunt Julia did those scientists determine the metabolic cost to all this sauntering?  The study says they measured the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide the different groups used, but what is that other than breathing?  “Ok, Joe, you watch the backward swingers, and if they stop inhaling, make a note.”  Please tell me the scientists made a video.

After watching people walk for awhile, the scientists determined that our natural way of walking is best in the long run. Thank goodness!  I was starting to get worried that we might have to start sticking our hands in our shirt pockets when we get around.  These big brains said, “The arm’s pendulum swing helps dampen the bobbly up-and-down motion of walking.”  These guys insult our intelligence and then call us bobble-heads. Where’s that robot?  I want to study how far it can boot a
scientist.

 


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