Wednesday, February 11, 2004

On Buttocks

I've had a deeply philosophical day, and I'm going to share with you my conclusions and the process I used in coming to them. It started with the lovely springlike sunshine in the morning, which drew me out to sunbathe on a mountain cliff. Now, mountain cliffs are made of hard materials called rock. Yet I was perfectly comfortable there, hundreds of miles away from Green Mamba and his revolutionary movement GROEN (Get Rid Of Echidne Now!). And the reason was the two divine cushions on which I sat; all my own. Buttocks.

What a wonderful invention they are, the buttocks. Where would we be without them? What would we talk about in their stead? And how would we sit? Clearly, we couldn't.

Sheep don't sit around very much, but even among the sheep buttocks can take on exceptional beauty. This is called callipygia. Geneticists have found that a specific gene mutation causes some sheep to develop pronounced buttocks full of muscle rather than fat. I predict a future species of sheep that sit around blogging on the internet.

Human buttocks are every bit as wonderful. They are even scientifically defined:

the two rounded prominences on the human torso that are posterior to the hips and formed by the gluteal muscles and underlying structures.

or more simply:
n : the fleshy part of the human body that you sit on

But human buttocks are not just for something to sit on. They are a myriad of other things: a source of sexual attraction (though some like them big, others small), a way of telling someone to work harder ("get off your butt"), a way of showing contempt (you reveal them) and a handy shorthand for describing lots of other people (a pain in the butt). They even have meaning in dreams:

Dreaming of your buttocks, represents your instincts and urges. It may also indicate feelings of insecurity and reveals your struggles with some situation. Dreaming that your buttocks are misshaped, suggests undeveloped or wounded aspects of your psyche

No wonder that humans worry about the shapeliness of those twin mounds: if they are not shapely, neither is their psyche. Your buttocks can even foretell your future, believe me or not:

Ulf Buck, 39, is a German clairvoyant who claims a person's backside has lines that allow him to predict anything from financial fortune and family life to health and happiness.
Buck said the lines on a person's buttocks are similar to those found on the palm of the hand. He said that he has trained his fingers to acquire the skill of reading buttocks.

Hmm. Maybe something to consider if you want to make a career change? I can almost see it: A revolutionary method for predicting worker performance before hiring. If you do run with this idea, remember to give Ulf and me some credit.

Human buttocks are clearly quite wonderful. But how exactly did they evolve? I have spent the rest of the day in solving this crucial question, and I didn't get anywhere until I put two separate concepts together: what I have learned about the callipygous sheep and the excellent scientific method of evolutionary psychologists. The sheep taught me this:

Geneticists, on the other hand, study the sheep in the hope of understanding the strange way in which large bottoms are passed down through the generations.
Sheep are only callipygous if their father is; mutant mothers do not pass the trait on. And two big-bottomed sheep will have snake-hipped offspring. How the two mutants cancel each other out is still a mystery.

Maybe humans inherit big buttocks from their fathers, too? But why did this gene (if it exists in humans) survive? Here's where the scientific evolutionary psychology comes to my aid. The rules are something like this: Figure out how something that appears today might have once been useful, then explain its prevalence by the fact that it was once useful. It's a neat method, as lots of time is being saved by not having to go out to gather evidence or set up laboratory experiments, and it has the additional advantage (to me, at least) that nobody can prove my theory wrong. So here's my theory entitled "How Buttocks Came to Be".

A long time ago and far away lived a tribe of humans. Some of them were slender as a reed, and where we have buttocks they only had a small tight knot. Others had very large buttocks dragging behind them on the ground as they walked. Yet others were just right, not too slim and not too fat. Like we are.

Once a year the tribe would gather together for a mating ceremony in which all the men would fight each other for the right to inseminate all the females. (The females, as is common in evolutionary psychology in general, are going to be ignored from now on.) The mating ceremony took three days: On the first day all men would sit in a circle until they couldn't take it anymore. All those no longer sitting at sunset were discontinued. On the second day all remaining men would run around in a circle, nonstop, until the sun set. The fastest runner at this time would be declared the winner of the insemination ceremonies. The third day was spent on insemination.

Well, dear reader, you can guess what happened. None of the stick-figurelike knot guys could sit on the ground all day. They developed terrible sitting sores and despite firm determination and great stamina eventually had to admit defeat and get up just to get the blood moving again.

The really big-butted guys had a wonderful time with the first day's tournament. They could have easily sat for another week. But the next day they had to run and run, and as they ran their buttocks dragged behind, hit rocks and sticks and just hurt. Then they started bleeding. Besides, it's hard to run fast with something like that. However, valiant they were, these men, too, were disqualified. Only the fastest of the just-right guys got to pass his genes on.

And that's how buttocks came to be.

What do you think? It needs a bit of work before publication, of course, a few footnotes here and there, but the gist of the story is there.

I also have in mind a second article about the possibility that, as the sheep taught me, snake-hips might be the next stage in human development. Remember:

And two big-bottomed sheep will have snake-hipped offspring. How the two mutants cancel each other out is still a mystery.

This seems perfectly logical to me as a goddess of snakes. The problem is how to keep Green Mamba from reading it and getting even worse ideas about his own importance in the evolutionary tree.