Igor Kraj "Horns, gyri and hooves"
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People are considered as unadapted creatures: neither claws, nor wool or scales … Is it possible to make human body more effective?

Horns, gyri and hooves

What if people would adapt physically to their environment

Text by Igor Kraj

(article is published here in authorial version with pictures sent by author himself; the magazine version may be seen here (old version) or here (new version))


— I saw people, at which there were eagle claws instead of hands,
people with the wolf canines. People with additional
joints, additional organs and additional feelings.
All these were results of your fuss with magic.

Andrzej Sapkowski “The Witcher”.

As a rule, fantasy worlds are simultaneously both rather empty (it is possible to wander for some weeks, not meeting any dwellings) and overpopulated. Sometimes it seems that here the number of various intelligent races is more than of their representatives. There to any landscape the folk adapted to it corresponds and has certain advantages. On fields centaurs caracole, in forest elves wander, in wetlands goblins mess about, in hills hobbits entrenched themselves, and in mountains a giant settled.

Is such scene possible? Theoretically, it is. People are not identical. There are two-meter tall Nilotic peoples and pygmies their waist tall. Nationalities of Tibet and Far North have some features of adaptation to rigorous climate. Other question is that interracial distinctions can’t run deep in natural way. Because human adapts to the habitat not physically, but in “tool-using” way. But specialization should not necessarily contradict the “general line” of development – that is, to tool-making activity. If scientific or magic ways to change directly the heredity would exist, what exotic races would inhabit the Earth?

Giants and dwarves

Recent archeologic researches have confirmed that up to a Flood
(4-8 thousand years ago) people surpassed essentially our contemporaries
in growth. The invaluable help in the proof of this hypothesis is rendered
to scientists by Photoshop computer program.


New race should at least stay competitive to initial one in anything. From this point of view canines, for example, are quite allowable, though only as clearly decorative feature. But not claws. They will prevent to hold a sword.
The most obvious attribute of the superiority is growth. Not for nothing Tolkien’s elves are higher than people, and goblins are shorter. After all, it corresponds to evolutionary tendencies. In a line of human ancestors each following form was larger than previous one.
It is prestigious and convenient to be high and strong. Of course, after the increase of length of nerves reaction is a little worsened (the signal goes for longer time from brain to muscles). Dexterity is reduced also, because the relation of weight to force becomes worse, and body inertia is more difficult for damping. Problems with endurance appear, because it is more difficult to remove superfluous heat. But in practice these defects are almost imperceptible, whereas physical power gives huge advantages.
What can interfere with emergence of giants? “Food crisis” mainly. The large organism is more economic, because a lesser part of heat is spent for “heating of the Universe”. Long legs allow moving quickly and with small expenses of force. But in absolute calculation the required amount of food is greater anyway. Ability to get it, generally, does not increase proportionally to growth.
At last we need to address to individual cases. Rigorous conditions will be appropriate for the race of strong people – in places, where there is enough food in general, but also it is very easy to turn to somebody’s food. If the survival is given by hard work, physical testing, often fights with monsters, athletes appear on the place. Humanoid of “moderately giant” proportions (height of 220-240 centimeters and weight of about a quarter of ton) can endure harmlessly the cold disastrous for the usual person, and only with its look alone would take away even lion’s appetite. Using a cudgel it will easily take away anything other this lion has.

Giants are often represented as ugly ones. Strange anomalies may be explained
both by the flaws occurred at magic transformation of heredity, and by the
degeneration connected to insufficient number of their population.


But it is known, ogre is not a true giant yet. If we’ll take a swing to something greater and shall imagine humanoid three, four, five meters high, “game” would follow the new rules. The true giant will not be anymore “light heavyweight fighter” like a human, and will pass to the category of large, and then even huge predators – like not to the wolf, but grizzly bear or the extinct two-ton short-faced bear Arctodus. Such giants will become not social, but solitary creatures, preferring to settle not in tribes, but, at the most, in families. They will not become famous for inventions (the constant exchange of experience is necessary for this purpose), and will not pass to agriculture even at assistance, because they are physically unable to cultivate the ground area sufficient for livelihood. But nothing interferes them in combining hunting with pasturable cattle breeding, not demanding the large expenses of labor.

The ability of consuming of rough vegetative food like gorilla would relieve race
of giants of threat of famine. It is quite possible to “enclose” the necessary digestive
system into the stomach of a giant.


All set forth above quite corresponds to the description of a way of life of giants in fiction. But anything another is not marked there. With the increase of body its proportions will also change inevitably. The constitution will become strong and stocky. If growth will exceed five meters, it would be necessary to do something also with the internal structure of the organism. The skeleton is required to be strengthened considerably. And heart can’t deliver blood to the brain with former ease any more. Additional valves are required like ones a giraffe has. And the main problem here is not a weight. Though it will also reach three or four tons, it is far from being a record by the standards of the live world. A problem is the upright stance. Because even at Tyrannosaurus the “regular” body posture was close to horizontal.

Short growth of gnomes is caused by features of medieval mines. From economy vaults of corridors had been made very low. Moving on hands and knees, miners imagined fairy tale folk pacing proudly in manholes and envied to it.

And will the reduction of body size allow getting rid of problems? Substantially, it is so. Being both hunter and peasant (especially if the horse or the ox will help to plough a field), hobbit will almost yield to the human. But all the same, even taking into account the gluttony characteristic for woolly-feet, he will eat less food.
Another matter is that all the same it is necessary to defend the crop or catch from other applicants. Here the physically weak race may rely only to its ingenuity. And its opposition to a brute force does not give positive results more often. Such people can live to appearing of the weapon capable to equal chances only in isolation, or at the lands not attractive for enemies.


Ear shape of elves has no obvious relation to improvement of hearing. In general, here not an ear as itself is important, but sites of brain cortex processing an entering signal. To tell the truth, their increase will demand to sacrifice any other functions.

“Local forms”

Does the adaptation to conditions alien to humans have a sense? It is not necessary to grow gills at once and to settle on the sea bottom. “Non-human” habitat may be found much closer. It is enough simply to enter the forest.
Forest is beautiful. But the keen human eye loses efficiency in thickets. For this reason animals living here rely first of all upon the sense of smell and hearing. It is more favorably to have night vision in such conditions. It’s not a trouble that colors are indiscernible and already in several tens meters contours of objects blur. In forest it is not necessary to see farther. But it is possible to hunt and to escape at any time.
Thus, sense organs should distinguish forest-dwelling race. It won’t work with sense of smell, because upright stance compels to lift up a nose too highly. But there are no obstacles for improvement of hearing. Also is quite probably “to edit” sight sense a little.
The result will appear not too bad. Actually, it is required not too frequently to us to look out for a point in the horizon. Anyway, not more often than we risk breaking legs in darkness. Our color sight convenient to find birds and fruits is a heritage from four-handed ancestors that hided for night highly in branches where enemy couldn’t get close enough to them.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to take into account, that in classical treatment elves are not shown in open terrain in daytime, when all advantages will be at humans. Later, in fantasy fiction, this quite realistic element has “disappeared”. Though it looks quite obvious: that’s what night sight is for… not for day time.

Forests covered some time ago two thirds of land represent the attractive living space. And it is multileveled. Because in addition to firm ground in which roots have penetrated there are branches also. Frequently among them more animals live, than below.
For prosperity in crowns small weight, good eye, tenacious hands and strong bones are required. The last is needed in case when eye will disappoint. The main cause of death rate at apes is falling from tree. Two hands, by the way, are quite enough. Improving the adaptation to tree-climbing primates had gradually ceased to use tail and lower limbs. The important point there was not a number of support points, but skill of using them.
So, in this case the most difficult point is to stay in limits of optimum weight for forest animals – about 15 kg. And also to satisfy aesthetics requirements. And ballistic ones. During the jump the long-armed dwarf with a skull disproportionately capacious and also strengthened for the case of falling will overturn a head downwards.

At all abundance of the cave races created by fiction writers only one – blind grimlocks – really bears features of physical adaptation to conditions of a vault. Appearing in eternal darkness, speleofauna representatives switch vision centers of brain (persistently analyzing “background noise” signal from retina) to the solving of other tasks and then lose eyes eventually. Thus, grimlocks free the vast computing capacities, allowing the improvement senses of hearing, smell and touch. The only thing they lack is “a sound gun” to “illuminate” the target like bat does. Underground humanoid had to whistle on high, but the heard note.

There are also other landscapes – wetlands, mountain peaks, glaciers, tundras. It is possible to supply the humanoid with an impenetrable skin of polar bear… But for what purpose? These lands are too poor to have a necessity to struggle for them. It is impossible to adapt to conditions of deserts. And they are deserted because of it.

As it is possible to understand from some details of anatomy, mermaids belong to mammalian class.
But in this case the thick layer of hypodermic blubber protecting from overcooling is even more
necessary to them, rather than tail. .


Night sight is sometimes called “feline sight”. But it is incorrect. Cats see well
both in daytime and in moonlight. But when there are only stars in the sky, lions
and leopards can only hear steps of hyenas coming closer.


Beast blood

According to a canon, even the inherited skill of shapeshifting is expressed only with age.
And even after that skills of quadrupedal movement do not come at once. Inexperienced
werewolves also do not use the aggravated senses of smell and hearing.


If it is needed to strengthen the race, is it a good way to take already checked up “inventions” of animals which have shown their efficiency? The consolidation of advantages of human (hand, intelligence and speech) with advantages of animal should theoretically give a remarkable result. Anyway, people always argued so when composing “zoomorphic monsters”.
Let’s consider centaurs, for example. The uniting of human and strong, fast horse always showed itself from the best side. But, unfortunately, the literal “merge” of the horseman to the horse will cause an unsustainable creature. Excessively confusing anatomy of the centaur had been a disturbing point even to ancient Greeks. Here it is a whole range of problems. Starting from human nostrils, which are too small to fill horse lungs with air, and finishing with wrong “centering” of the construction.
If to make everything “right”, the result will not look any more neither like the human, nor like the horse. And, hence, it will not have their advantages also. And definitely modern variants of “centaur” having body of huge spider or scorpion do not suit anywhere. Perhaps, even the powerful spell “It’s a magic” can’t force to cooperation organs of mammal and arthropod.
Satires may serve as an example of less radical approach. But the combination of the top part of human body and goat’s hooves, at least, has no obvious advantages. Satires will all the same run in “wrong” vertical position, and it means their speed will not improve. Only in a civilized society it will get a certain advantage: it can save on boots. The combination of human torso and snake tail tested even in an antiquity is even more absurd. As a replacement to legs it does not stand scrutiny.

Snake people can move freely with “human half” constantly erect only
at length of seven meters and weight of about three hundredweights.
But thus its size and weight will not give any advantages to it.


Approaching from the opposite side, that is, having united human body with animal head, we shall receive not less historical minotaur or gnoll (cynocephalus). Though, again it is not clear here, where is a “highlight”. Such creature can’t use the natural weapon – horns or canines. For this purpose it is required to stand on all four legs.
But head is strength of human. The sphynx got by “putting” of it on lion’s body, undoubtedly, is a powerful and effective creature. To tell the truth, absence of hands excludes use of tools, but “the material culture” is hardly necessary for a winged lion. Unless for food cooking. To torment prey with blunt human teeth, even proportionally increased, would be not so simple task for it.

If the final purpose is creation of simple and cheap in use upright herbivore,
bull’s jaws will be very helpful. And in this case horns will be included in
the complete set. Like an organic element of design.


As it is easy to see, the “fragmentary” approach is vicious in principle. The organism represents the complete, one-piece set, which parts are useless taken separately. To use advantages of animal body, it is required to change entirely. And transformation should be convertible; otherwise we can’t speak any more about human race… Of course, it is a fantasy, but is it a problem if we’re talking about a fiction?

The ability of “shapeshifting” to an animal inherent to shapeshifters and to some magicians is traditionally used for an attack, though the efficiency of such tactics is doubtful, at least. Wolf is not adapted by nature to struggle with bipedal creatures. It is a hunter, first of all. It means, if transformation to the alternative form can bring any benefit, it is only an economic one.
The idea, really, does not lack any rationale. Changing its body, the shapeshifter changes the list of prey accessible to it. For example, if in humanoid shape the bird hunting has only a little success, in four-footed alter ego it is not difficult to catch small rodents, uncountable, ubiquitous, but appreciable only to the one guided not by sight, but by senses of smell and hearing. Also the set of household problems will be solved at once. If it is impossible to make fire, in wolf shape it feels nothing bad in any bad weather. It is possible to run on four paws much faster. But the wolf is not capable to climb trees, and it is easy for human.
Additional benefits are promised by that the shape of huge – twice larger than normal – wolf is “classical”, but not the only for shapeshifters. And each variant will have its own abilities. So, selkie – the Scottish shapeshifter seals – are obviously better adapted to the aquatic environment than mermaids are. But thus they do not endure any difficulties on land also.
The opportunity to lead “double life” for a primitive tribe would be a good help in struggle for existence. Basically, there is only one inconvenience: because in animal shape the carrying of any objects is inconvenient, it is necessary to reduce amount of property to a minimum. But in any case wandering hunters-gatherers aspire and are able to make do with only a little more, rather than nothing.


Brain

In spite of the fact that at dogs of dwarf breeds the brain in relation to body size is
extraordinary great, zoopsychologists point out negative consequences of
“miniaturization” in behavior of these little ones.


At substantial increase or decrease of growth it is often impossible to do without proportional change of organs. It is related in particular such thin device as a brain is. Even at the reproducing of the structure to within a neuron, in the increased variant it will begin “slowing” appreciably, because the time of passing of a signal will increase. And even without that speed represents “Achilles’s heel” of protein “electronics”. The same, oddly enough, will take place also in the case of size reduction. But it will happen already for other reason: performance of former amount of operations threatens with overheat a brain with smaller heat-emitting area.
Thus the high forehead is not required to the giant. But the volume of its skull, nevertheless, will be more than human’s one. Because if the body is larger, it is more difficult to operate it. The amount of calculations accrues exponentially, because it is necessary to take into account inertia and losses of time for passage of commands. Work of the muscles removed from each other is difficult for synchronizing. Because of it the elephant’s brain reaches volume of 5 liters, and whale’s one – of 7 liters (and it takes place only due to simplified “fish-like” structure of it). Some huge dinosaurs tried to make do with only 70 grams. Their attempt had not gone right.
Of course, the brain required to the gnome is smaller. But all the same, not proportionally smaller. In due course of decreasing of growth humanoid will inevitably turn to “heady” one.


Longevity

Longevity of giant tortoises is an evolutional reaction to colossal “child mortality”. They
need decades to make greater number of descendants than seagulls can peck up.


Obvious direction of “improvement of human breed” is an increase of life expectancy. It always seemed to people, that it is insufficiently great. Though before the occurrence of scientific medicine only few of them had to test personally the inconveniences of old age.
It is considered, ageing takes place as a result of accumulation of mistakes and “spoilage” at cell division. And the nature knows ways of counteraction to this phenomenon. But from the point of view of evolution the longevity, as a rule, is inexpedient. Because on the accessible area so much no more creatures of the same species can live only. It means, to time when young creatures will grow up, the former generation should exempt a place for them.
Because of it there is not a surprise that traditionally, from Tolkien’s times elves are represented as hopeless “experiment”. The race living for a long time will also breed slowly, that will not allow it to replenish the losses from wars and elements. Besides game does not worth playing. The number of connections, which may arise between neurons, is incredibly great, but not limitless. The brain is designed for accumulation of the limited volume of experience. And its cells are not eternal. And, though it is possible to replace the neuron with new one, the information will be lost.


The goal to struggle for

Unfortunately, skill of reading reduces sharply the ability to remember human
faces. There is no empty space on human “hard drive”. “To install” the text
recognition it is necessary to “remove” old software. .


If there is any sense to “adjust” the human being to any conditions, it is true only for that ones, which… it creates itself. It is obvious. Initially people were “optimized” for the way of life approximately like one led by natives of Australia. But since then many things had changed. So, the constant carrying of clothes has transformed “sun-protection” pigment into unnecessary luxury and frequently results in deficiency of vitamin D, synthesizing at tanning. And beard, once useful, does not give real protection for already some millennia.
But the physical side of the question just does not play an essential role. Though the project is possible to be refined – in terms of miniaturization and “gracilization”. Force is needed not frequently, but small and gracile humanoid will get natural advantage at riding, and it will have plenty of room in the tank. It is not harmful also to lower a level of hormones frequently leading to conflicts and to asocial behavior.
The main reorganization should concern neural activity. Improvement of learning ability, for example, will be useful. Alas, in due time rather trivial opportunity to remember instantly something desirable (and then to recollect it instantly) was not sheduled. There was no necessity for it. People have started to learn something consciously rather recently.

****

Nevertheless, even such wonderful and gratuitous at first sight, advantage as shapeshifting, not paid by any physical defects, will be short-lived. The first steps of progress, the passing to agriculture, discovery of metals, will reduce “economic” value of the alternative form, in fact, to zero. Moreover, shapeshifters, less interested in tools initially, and less inventive this way compared to usual people, will have a disadvantage.
And it may really embitter them.


Related items

Further reading

Natalia Bekhtereva “On Human Brain” (in Russian)
Nikolay Kun “Greek Myths and Legends” (in Russian)
Stanislav Lem “Wizja lokalna” (in Polish)
Andrzej Sapkowski “The Witcher”

Further watching

“Amphibian Man” (1961)
“The Island of Dr. Moreau” (1996)
“Minotaur” (2006)
“The Hobbit” (2012)

Further playing

Warlords Battlecry (2000)
Blade of Darcness (2001)
Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne (2003)
The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion (2006)