Throwing

One of the most vexing questions in evolution is why and how we got up off all fours and started to walk on two legs.  The plantigrade human posture is quite unique in the mammalian world, and no other primate adopts it for long, let alone as a lifetime strategy.  Owen Lovejoy posits throwing (rocks at stationary or moving prey, or indeed predators, as the baboons still do today, standing on three legs and bravely seeing off a leopard with a hail of stones) as the basic impetus for getting up on two legs, and even for developing calculation and language.

(http://williamcalvin.com/1980s/1983JTheoretBiol.htm)

Don’t tell meine freunde Simone, as she is quite wedded to another controversial theory – the aquatic ape theory that we went through a period of being aquatic (and therefore lost our hair, gained fat, and a number of othet things that can be explored via the articles of Aliter Hardy and the books of Elaine Morgan, et al.) where we learned to stand, hold our breath (and thus initiated the impetus to speech), lost our hair, stood up in the bouyant environment, and came back to land a changed monkey.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquatic_ape_hypothesis

The throwing theory has a lot going for it, though it does nothing to explain how we lost our hair, but then the aquatic ape theory does nothing to explain why our eyes moved around to the front of our head.  The bicameral mind that results is certainly different from the whales, dolphins, seals, rabbits, and squirrels (for instance), who kept their eyes on the sides of their heads, the better to spot attacks from the side and behind (lions and tigers and bears, oh my).

Bringing the eyes around front – generally a hunter’s strategy – allows for parallax, which is useful in catching a branch while brachiating, and it also allows the calculations for a ‘launch window’ and trajectory for a stone thrown now to collide with it’s object somewhen and somewhere later.

Whether we stood and walked from throwing, or stood and walked in the water and later put our new-found hands to throwing may be put to rest in our lifetime, or it may remain part of the wonderful mystery that surrounds our origins.  But there is no doubt that throwing is an art we have taken to, developed, and finally perfected in a big way.

The image that ends the first scene in 2001 – A Space Odyssey, of the ape throwing the bone-tool into the air and it becoming a space station (cue the Strauss waltz) is an accurate one.  We have become so good at throwing that we can throw cars down the highway at 120 km/hr.  We have become such adept hurlers that we can hurl an airplane at 1200 km/hr.

But the real test of throwing comes in our ability to throw small ‘stones’ at other planets.  After a couple of trial runs, the folks at NASA have just succeeded in throwing a half a ton ‘rock’ at Mars.  Not only are we good enough at throwing that we can accelerate a rock fast enough to escape the Earth’s gravity, we can then aim that rock at a planet that is 35 million miles at its perigee, which means it takes more than 3 minutes for any light-borne electromagnetic message to get to the ‘stone’ of the satellite for any course changes we might initiate.

Anyway, not only can we throw this stone out of the Terran pull, but ‘hit’ a planet more than three light minutes away.  Not only can we hit Mars, we can just miss Mars at precisely the right angle so that our stone goes in orbit around it.  Not only can we go into orbit around it, but we can take a half-ton piece of it and so calculate our throwing such that this 1000-lb piece will land where we want it, within one degree of the angle we planned, and with such a soft landing that the machinery inside the stone will still work to take pictures, dig, analyze the results, and report back to Earth over the vasty spacingness in between.

This is what has happened with the Mars lander:
http://phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu

I salute the men and women of the team that accomplished this refined form of throwing, which may help us know whether life is easy or difficult to start in this universe (and thus whether God is a K-related or r-related species – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K-selection).

I suppose I should salute those who are throwing bullets and shells with a smaller but deadly accuracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I find it hard to justify this aggressive or defensive throwing, as it seems just one step above the murderous ape in 2001.

But our ability to throw extended into space seems not a waste of money to me, as war does, but a very refined development of a basic ability.  If we were to look at the same thing applied to swimming, we can certainly point to the development of the aqualung and fins, and maybe sailboats and navy ships, but nothing up against this wonderfully precise application of throwing we call the space program.

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