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If it weren’t for lazy people…

August 1, 2008

If it weren’t for lazy people no one would ever have invented the wheel.

Time has a whole article about a study looking at activity levels and genetics in mice.  (Via Big Fat Blog who notes their super lazy use of The Headless Fattie.  That’s weak Time, weak.)

The key assumption in this article that I find fault with, is the idea that being active for the sake of being active is some kind of beneficial trait.  From an evolutionary point of view does it make sense for people to have a compulsion to waste energy just for the sake of it?

There was another study I read a few years ago (I can’t find it, I will keep looking) that found that some people tend to move very efficiently, they tend to expend the minimal amount of energy necessary in their movements.  Whereas others tend to twitch and include extra body movements where none are necessary.

It seems to me that EXTRA movement is a bad thing.  Being compelled to waste energy by twitching or running would hardly be helpful during a famine.  It also does not encourage an individual to seek other solutions.

For instance someone with endless energy to carry jars to and from the well would never bother to invent plumbing.  A person who cleans for fun and enjoys the activity would never invent a Roomba (obviously as important as plumbing in society’s evolution!).  And obviously if we had never had an ancestor lazy enough to not want to walk/constantly carry things, no one would ever have invented the wheel.

I think the assumption that expending energy for expending energy’s sake is good is fallacious.  We are simply assuming that high levels of activity for no reason are a good thing.  I argue that they are not.  It is inefficient to expend energy simply for the sake of doing so.  While physical conditioning is a clear benefit of unnecessary exercise, does this physical conditioning actually play out to better survival traits?

A more interesting test would be to see how these mice of different activity levels preformed in survival tests.  The key question is does being inherently active have a benefit beyond enjoying the act of physical conditioning?   Do the highly active mice do a better job of fleeing predators or aquiring food?  Or do the lazy mice act more efficiently and use ingenuity to avoid blind flight and to conserve their energy when seeking sustenance?

My hypothesis, they preform at about the same level in survival tests.

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18 Comments
  1. Take a look at an aqueduct, an early form of plumbing. Do you think a lazy person could build that?

    “It might be a lot of pain and work now, but it will make the rest of my life much easier, so I might as well get it done”. Kind of like losing weight, eh?

  2. Actually building an aqueduct or inventing some other solution to improve efficiency is not at all like losing weight since unlike dieting, building an Aqueduct can actually work. 90% of diets fail within 5 years. All that effort and the dieter gains the weight back, while they are still working out and restricting calories. Some Aqueducts are still standing today. Which one is really a more worthwhile expenditure of effort? Tough call….

  3. Any parallel between building an aqueduct AND dieting/exercise in an attempt to lose weight only holds if you build a really shitty aqueduct and have to keep patching it up and running around and catching leaks and laying down new pipes and channels because the old ones aren’t working anymore. A properly built aqueduct works for a long time. A properly designed weight-loss plan is a contradiction in terms. Losing weight can sometimes be done for a short period, but the pipes break… I mean, the weight comes back, inevitably, in most cases.

    I think a lazy person could very well design the aqueduct. Certainly a society with leisure time on its hands is the only one that would build the damn thing. That doesn’t make it lazy, that makes it efficient.

  4. You think inventors don’t fail all the time? “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” Both attributed to Thomas Edison.

    It may be true that diets fail 90% of the time. The people who succeed are the people who can take a step back and ask honestly ask themselves why it failed for them, and use what they’ve learned to do better next time.

  5. Oh please Jo, Diets are just not the same thing as inventing things. Diets fail not because people fail but because DIETS DON”T WORK. Bodies adjust to the lower caloric consumption and higher energy rates and try to maintain the original body weight. It has nothing to do with individual failures. Some people are just fat, it’s not because there is something wrong with them.

    Go read the article I linked in my comment, the study documented that even women who excersized an hour a day and ate 1300 calories started gaining weight back after a year. Then when you’re done Read This. We’re done talking to you.

  6. First of all, I never said there was anything wrong with fat people. If someone is happy with their weight, who am I to tell them otherwise? I just hate to see people who want to lose weight, but have been convinced that they can’t.

    I read the study (not the blog post about the study), and 1300 calories is a really low target for anyone, and for an obese person it’s pretty unhealthy. According to the study you posted, 95% of participants were able to maintain a 1300 calorie, self-monitored diet for 12 months. That’s insane. Your body has 3 primary sources of energy – food, fat deposits, and muscle. On a 1300 calorie diet, your body has to get its energy from all 3. When you lose muscle, your metabolism slows, since muscle burns energy. This is very bad for weight loss, and it explains why they lost a lot of weight initially, but began gaining again after 6 months.

    Instead, in this study walking was used in 87.5% of the reported exercise sessions. Walking is not an effective exercise for weight loss. It’s better than nothing, but low intensity cardio training won’t help you lose much weight.

    Sadly, these women were set up to fail from the start, through no fault of their own. Again, when you hear stories about people failing to lose weight, it’s important to ask why they failed, and what can be done differently. Given a ~2000 calorie diet and a strength training program used in place of walking, I think the results of this study would have been much different.

  7. Given a ~2000 calorie diet and a strength training program used in place of walking, I think the results of this study would have been much different.

    And I bet it wouldn’t.

  8. Jo, I unapproved your comment at first, because I’m pretty tired of arguing with you, but I just can’t let this go.

    First of all, I never said there was anything wrong with fat people. If someone is happy with their weight, who am I to tell them otherwise? I just hate to see people who want to lose weight, but have been convinced that they can’t.

    Fat people who want to lose weight haven’t been convinced by some evil media empire or some fat agenda that they can’t lose weight. Fat people have been convinced by CONTINUAL FAILURE at losing weight that they can’t lose weight. If anything the media and the diet industry continually promise on something that they can’t deliver.

    We’ve all been on multiple diets that promised the one true way of weight loss, and none of the worked. There is no proven weight loss method. Show me a study that proves 5+ years of weight loss from your plan and we can talk.

    Fat people are convinced they can’t lose weight because IT IS TRUE. The whole point of this blog, and other fatosphere blogs is a place for people who are sick of being a failure at getting skinny, and have decided to be successful at being themselves.

    Also, while you are right, that you did not say there was “anything wrong” with being fat. The implication that fat or lazy people should want to lose weight because it will “make life easier” implies that without you having to say anything is wrong with us.

    Seriously now, I’m done with you.

  9. Fatadelic wins the pithiness prize!

  10. Becky permalink

    You make an interesting point about activity for activity’s sake being not obviously a good thing.

    What bothers me is the conflation of “laziness” with “not liking to run on a wheel”. I know lots of people who aren’t much for physical activity, but still work very hard at their jobs or other pursuits. (And a triathlete who very lazy indeed when it came to his job… not to mention high school athletes who were lazy about homework).

    One stuffed wood shavings around the wheel and turned it into a bed; one used it as an, ahem, toilet; and one climbed on top of her wheel only to get a better look at the overhead sensors tracking her movements.

    Is building a bed or climbing on things to satisfy your curiosity “lazy”? Just because you don’t like running on a damn wheel? Argh.

  11. Gab permalink

    Hi, I found your argument interesting, but flawed. This is an example you provide in your reasoning:

    “For instance someone with endless energy to carry jars to and from the well would never bother to invent plumbing.”

    Firstly, no one has endless energy. Secondly, the water has to go from a place to another place, if plumbing does not yet exist, then it must be carried. Now, depending on how far the well is from wherever the water needs to be transported to, it may take a long time. The transportation of water will take away time from other (maybe more important) activities. From this point forward, someone is probably thinking there must be a better way to go about this, because they would rather perform other activities then simply transporting water.

    You also make these remarks:

    “I think the assumption that expending energy for expending energy’s sake is good is fallacious. We are simply assuming that high levels of activity for no reason are a good thing. I argue that they are not.”

    I don’t really understand how you do an activity for no reason (eg. go for a nice walk to enjoy the weather, weight training to get stronger, running you exercise your heart and lungs, etc.). Maybe you can provide an example.

    “It is inefficient to expend energy simply for the sake of doing so.”

    Can you explain what you mean my inefficient here? Inefficient for doing what exactly?

    “While physical conditioning is a clear benefit of unnecessary exercise, does this physical conditioning actually play out to better survival traits?”

    Now this I’m not so sure, although I guess I can argue that it might be easier to find a mate. We know that during the mating season, when two males meet, they will probably fight and the female will choose the winner to mate with. Now, if the animal has better conditioning, then he must be stronger and faster and will therefore have a better chance of winning such a fight over a regular male.

    Thanks!

  12. To your points Gab I think we need to go back to the original article for a sec. They argue that “lazy” mice in this case don’t get the same endorphin boost from running in a wheel as “active” mice.

    So presumably to your first point, a “Lazy” human carrying jars from a well would get sick of carrying jars quicker than an “Active” human because they would receive less chemical benefit. Therefore the “lazy” human would be more likely to seek alternative solutions sooner than an “active’ human.

    To your second point, obviously even these mice are running in their wheel for a purpose. Because they like it. So “for no reason” is an exaggeration. What I am trying to say is that this wheel running does not necessarily help them survive. While they may get some chemical and physiological benefits from this it will not actually get them anywhere, acquire food for them, protect them from predators, or really do anything but make them feel good. It seems to me that the “lazy” mice may run just as much when they have a survival motivator, however when the need to run is removed they chose not to.

    In short, some of us only run when we are being chased. That is not necessarily a bad thing.

    Not wanting to expend energy solely to receive an endorphin boost does not mean that these mice wouldn’t survive and even thrive in the wild. The article assumes that this laziness is a negative. I disagree. I think these mice, or humans may actually thrive because they will try to be more efficient in expending their energy since they are not chemically rewarded for expending energy.

    Does that make more sense?

  13. I also read the article @ Time.

    Mostly rubbish and Sanity Points sucking.

    But…and I rant a little bit about this in my blog…did you notice that not only are the lazy, headless fatties camped out on a couch, fighting over the remote, but they just so happened to be POC.

    Great. Let’s check another box on Ignorant Bingo.

  14. Let’s clarify something here that some people STILL can’t accept.

    Lazy doesn’t equal fat. Got it?

    Kind of like losing weight, eh?

    Losing weight (with continual failure, since the majority of diets fail) is actually more unhealthy for a person than being fat and following HAES or a similar program. Your argument is unsound.

  15. I think the assumption that expending energy for expending energy’s sake is good is fallacious. We are simply assuming that high levels of activity for no reason are a good thing.

    That’s a good point. I’m sure it’s an offshoot of this “WE MUST EXERCISE A LOT CONSTANTLY START NOW” mindset, the whole “2000 steps” campaign or the idea of taking the stairs, rather than the elevator, or getting off the bus a stop early. I mean, that’s great if you want to take a walk or if you’re feeling sluggish and think some fresh air might help, but there’s no moral mandate in moving around more. If anything, there’s an evolutionary mandate to conserve energy.

    I also love the point that not exercising does not make one lazy – the mice who made creative use of their wheels are probably less lazy than the mouse who was just like, “Eh, I’ll run on it.” I mean, it seems obvious now that I’m typing it, but the fact that felt almost revolutionary to me shows how deeply ingrained these things are.

  16. Annie, Sarah I am sorry I sat on your comments for so long. I forgot I’d turned moderation back on!!!

    Also, troll who left comment about dieters, not diets being the ones who fail. Fuck you.

  17. When you build an aquaduct, you have control over the variables. You control the materials used, the design plan, the flow of water, etc… When you diet, you can’t control the variables. You can control calories ingested and calories burned (to a degree), but overall, your body and brain determines how it will respond to both. I agree with much of what has been written here by Shinobi and others, but that said, I do agree with Jo that a 1,300 calorie a day diet does seem very unrealistic. In fact, I think most diet plans are unrealistic simply because you cannot eat according to a set of rigid rules for a lifetime. This is why most dieters fail and it doesn’t make them flawed or failed human beings. It makes them human beings, period.

    Still, it is not impossible to lose weight and keep it off for more than five years — I’ve done precisely this. In my case, I do not actively “diet” in the verb sense, but I did make dramatic diet and lifestyle changes that are sustainable, enjoyable and healthy for me. I think if you ask the few people who have succeeded in losing weight and keeping it off for a prolonged period of time, you’ll find that those who have not had weight loss surgery will also tell you that diets don’t work. In Jo’s defense, I do think the constant parading of “90 percent of dieters are doomed to fail!” can seem very discouraging to people who struggle with their weight and feelings about their weight. But it’s even more discouraging when they decide to go on a diet plan anyway with the hopes they’ll be one of the few who succeed, but like most people who diet, fail again and again and with each failure, regain the weight lost and more. We would never buy a product that has only a 5 percent effectiveness rate, but diet companies succeed by convincing people that it’s not the diet that’s flawed, it’s them. And so the vicious cycle continues.

    OTM: I remember reading about the origins of the 10,000 Steps Campaign that became popular here in the U.S. a decade or so ago. There is no medical evidence backing up the claims that 10,000 steps a day is healthy or beneficial or will result in or sustain weight-loss. The campaign was started by a Japanese manufacturer of pedometers as a way to sell more of its products. Physical activity is beneficial and I’m sure it doesn’t hurt anyone to walk 10,000 steps a day, but I find it disingenuous for health professionals to promote a commercial advertising ploy as sound, medical advice.

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