Swimming with the Fishes

At the far end of our limbs we have the necessary appendages to propel our bodies through the water. We begin our lives floating in an oceanic body of fluids called the amniotic universe in a symbiotic unity with mother and child where we experience a “lack of boundaries and obstructions” akin to how we feel immersed in open waters.

The origin of our aquatic nature is suggested by Charles Darwin when he asked, “What can be more curious than that the hand of a man?” Our fingers typing on a keyboard began their journey over 350 million years ago when some tetrapod held its head high enough above the waterline to catch its prey. That’s when its evolutionary “modification of gene expression” realized there was another world.

While we no longer swim with the fishes we can whenever we want to, thanks to our intermediate family of fish ancestors who became us, and all other vertebral creatures on and above the land. It was on the area of “seabed around a large landmass where the sea is relatively shallow compared with the open ocean” that our ancestors with limb-like fins began to climb the slope that led to the solid footing we call land.

Through our ancient cartilage surfaces forming the peripheral processes of development we evolved the “joints,” without which, we could never grasp a tree limb, do a breaststroke, hit a home run, hold a baby or climb a mountain.

With our feet on the ground the evolution of biological processes configured the dynamics of our fellow four-footed creatures for forward-motion, with the two eyes, two nostrils and two feet that took them where they wanted to go and become one with the earth’s atmospheric protective envelope. Thus the front two feet faced us forward as it has always been one-foot at a time. And, like the large shoals of minnows we bob and weave air-swimming around each other in a perpetual contest to be the first and last man standing. The pioneers of evolution no longer took comfort in the small minnow that got lost in the crowd, and was not a game fish for the catch.

From the depiction of the ancient Egyptian bas relief “Cave of Swimmers” ten thousand years ago to the establishment of modern competitive sports that began in Great Britain in 1837, our upper limbs can raise their jointed hands to touch the face of the shape-shifting future.

Comments | 7

  • Going the Other way

    Based on how things are headed overall, with sea level rise, and general widespread terrestrial up-mucking, we might want to take a look at a storied relative. I’ve long been fascinated by the Mesonychid. This ‘wolf with hooves’ was thought to have returned to the sea. In the endless depths, food would be plentiful, and gravity less oppressive. For awhile it was speculated they might have been a whale/dolphin ancestor.

    Return to the sea, I can strongly feel that urge when I swim or surf. Talk about a leap of faith!
    And not so long ago, only just yesterday in the Paleocene – 50+/- million years ago.


    • Return to the sea

      The notion of returning to the sea must have a powerful pull on all of us.

      Surfers loved this 100 footer:
      Published on Oct 28, 2013
      World record at 02:50min 100ft rogue wave, largest wave

      • No words can convey the wow

        I remember reading an interview with Garrett McNamara (the first 100 ft. wave rider), he was asked what was going through his mind while on that mountainous face.

        His reply is a pretty good evolutionary motto for the whole race.
        “Don’t Fall”

  • Water Birth

    “A water birth means at least part of your labor, delivery, or both happen while you’re in a birth pool filled with warm water. It can take place in a hospital, a birthing center, or at home. A doctor, nurse-midwife, or midwife helps you through it.” http://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/water-birth

  • evolution

    Somewhat related, I recall learning at some point that a good way to clear your nostrils when stuffed up is to get down on all fours. The theory is that our evolutionary design for nostril drains was worked out before we stood upright, and by returning to the all fours position helps things move around the way they need to move.

    Swimming is both very relaxing and a bit scary at the same time. What’s out there under the surface that we can’t see?

  • Other End of the Spectrum

    This story ponders origins, and ends with a gentle nudge towards what may come. As these things go it’s very timely in light of the news of a young boy’s recent double hand transplant surgery.


    Even before reading about this, I was ruminating on future directions in our increasingly digitized (pun) world. We are already seeing amazing applications of prosthetics, robotics and nano surgeries. Doesn’t it seem conceivable that in the future, many residents of the earth will have options to swap native limbs and mitts for higher functioning implants and mechanized replacement parts?

    It took millions of years to devise the ultra-sensitive grasp-and-handle dukes we’re lucky enough to be born with. But considering human hubris, the rush to singularity, is it not thinkable that as prices come down, parts are printable, and installation becomes routine, we won’t see elective androidism as part of trendy living?

    I know many of my family’s elders have replaced joints with artificial constructs to abate pain, and regain mobility. No biggie. Doesn’t it seem a possibility that the drift will continue towards a eminently envisionable tricked-out human 2.0?

    • Monkey think, monkey do

      Anything we can think up, we can do and probably will do. There’s a great quote fro Guy Debord on that: “everything that can be done, must be done. This means that every new instrument must be employed, whatever the cost.”

      I can think of dozens of examples just in the last few years. So yeah, designer babies, designer drugs, bionic people, cognitive implants, are all coming along with AI, advanced robotics, driverless cars, and full unemployment… 😉

      Life is good, no? What a piece of work is man….

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