005 📻 Between grotesque complexity and smooth oneness, we chew.

005_Between grotesque complexity and smooth oneness, we chew. Cover

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The more complicated an organism’s features, the more repulsive they get for other organisms. That is something I absorbed from the last episode’s musings.

We were talking about teeth and smiles in the last episode. We also talked about the definition of the word grotesque, and how I interpret that word. So, with all that as the background info: teeth are, in many ways, grotesque things.

If you think about human teeth, you might not get that sense very much. That’s because you, the person listening to this podcast, are probably human. But think about little fish teeth. Or big fish teeth, like shark teeth. And then consider how some sharks have multiple layers of teeth. You know, teeth that can shred you into pieces.

Now, imagine how they would see themselves. To them, such teeth are completely normal. Maybe they think our teeth are ugly.

It’s the unknown and unknowable manifoldness. The multi-dimensionality. The processing power it takes for us to digest information that is all those many teeth that aren’t ours. That’s what makes something grotesque to a being, not an absloute property that a structure has.

Here’s another example: the legs of a centipede.

For the centipedes, their legs are a perfectly normal, desirable tool. But urgh. As I typed that word, I shivered. And as I edited the podcast outline, I shivered again. And while I am recording this episode, I am shivering again. I will probably shiver again while I’m editing the audio, and again while I upload it to Anchor and do a final listen-through. That is the kind of impact a centipede’s legs have on me. There are simply too many.

This repulsion, by the way, is totally programmed into me, I think. I don’t think it was nurtured into me. I think I was born this way to be scared and/or repulsed by newness, at least initially, and then, once I realize that the newness is not only new but also just too complicated and complex to very frequently remain repulsed.

There are a bunch of studies saying one way or another. You know, the ones that say that we’re evolutionarily programmed to dislike certain insects because we associate them with diseases. And then there are the ones that say, if we teach children that they don’t need to be scared of and be repulsed by these insects, then they won’t be scared or repulsed.

There was a study… I saw this a long time ago, so I don’t remember which study it was, but there was a study on how to encourage the next generation to consume insects as food. Because, they’re a great source of protein, and there aren’t enough resources to raise all the meat-producing animals in the future.

Insect protein isn’t necessarily unhygienic. These insects would be raised in clean environments, probably much cleaner than the average cage for poultry or mammals, simply because of how much tinier insects are and therefore how little space they take up and how much more affordable it is to raise them.

Some researchers thought that if you expose kids to insect protein from an early age, they won’t dislike it so much. And immediately, I thought of The Lion King. The scene where Simba sees Timon and Pumbaa eat those insects from under the tree trunk and he grimaces at first, but doesn’t anymore, later.

Anyway. Insects. The biggest obstacle to eating them and liking them, in my opinion, is that they have more limbs than us.

Even in the case of meat from poultry or mammals, many people do not like meat when it is presented in a form that maintains the shape of the living organism. We’re so used to the simplicity of packaged products, and it is so easy to just order food, not animals, so that you don’t really have to think about eating a thing that used to be alive.

But with insects, they are already so tiny, so you can’t cut them up to hide their insectness while maintaining, well, the juiciness. What you would probably do to hide their insectness is to give up on the juiciness aspect altogether. You’d turn them into a protein shake.

But, here’s the thing. The activity of chewing is important for its own sake. Chewing’s function isn’t only to cut up the food into digestible chunks. Chewing is also linked to ear health and brain health. That’s why when people lose too many teeth or they have gum diseases, in general, there’s a higher likelihood of dementia.

So, the fact that people like to chew, that a lot of us humans like juiciness in whatever we eat, isn’t just about us being greedy and liking a cow steak. I wonder how food engineers will deal with this aspect of food consumption. Nutrients on their own cannot make up for everything that forms eating. Eating isn’t just for nutrient consumption. It’s seeing, smelling, hearing, and touching. As well as tasting.

All this to say: physically speaking, we have evolved in a certain way. Just as we need to chew something to stay healthy, we can’t just magically wish the aversion to complicated body parts out of the way, especially when those body parts are tiny, like insect legs.

All those little legs from centipedes! They don’t move in unison, because it would be silly to have so many legs only to make them do the same thing. There is a reason there are so many legs, and it’s because all those legs do teeny-tiny different little things. Argh.

The more complicated an organism’s features, the more repulsive they get for other organisms.

But at least, the centipedes don’t have teeth. Or… do they?

Okay. I am not going to look that up, because that visual will give me nightmares.

Anyway, teeth are definitely associated with very negative manifestations of grotesqueness when there are too many of them. That’s why so many movie aliens have so many teeth.

On the other hand, there are the hyper-smooth aliens. You know, the ones with large almond eyes. Big bellies. Bald. Almost human-like. Those creatures, sometimes, have such smooth skins, I wonder if they find our human skin grotesque, with all its pores.

See, any being will find another being that is more complicated, especially visually speaking, repulsive, at least initially.

I think disorder, chaos, and related concepts, when pushed to an extreme, give beings a headache. Human or alien, when a being is faced with too many legs, too many teeth, too many pores, then it’s just… too much to process.

There is beauty in simplicity. I certainly don’t look at something simple, say, a regular bar soap, and think, “Gosh, I wish it had a more complicated shape.” I like its smooth oneness. I also like clothes that aren’t all splintered into pieces. And I like mattresses to be in one piece.

And all these thoughts about complexity and simplicity got me thinking: maybe the reason humans have developed so many sports that involve balls is that we’re fascinated with this concept of smooth oneness. Soccer, tennis, golf, basketball, baseball. There must be at least a dozen more sports that use balls.

Right now we think it’s normal to use balls in sports, but what compelled the first human, a cave person, to run after a ball and kick it or punch it away, only to run after it again?

Maybe it was because the ball was beautiful in a way that was so different from all the teeth, the pores, the hair, the veins—the complicated little fractions and pieces and splinters of our body. And thus, the smooth oneness made them smile. And, unlike in the French court of Louis XIV, nobody was there to tell them to shut their mouths and stop showing their teeth.

And so we kept playing. We the humans. To make up for the overwhelming amount of information that we process everyday.

Everything, the world, simplified, into one little ball.

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