Tag Archives: Human


A4I never came away from an autopsy without reflecting on the marvelous design of the human body. I don’t know how many autopsies I attended over the years as a cop and a coroner. Lots. It’s not something you score. But I always looked at postmortems as a scientific—almost spiritual—systematic exercise in examining human design. 

They’re twelve major systems in your anatomy—all interlinked to ensure your survival. Remove any system (except maybe your reproductive one) and you’ll die. And these systems go about their intermingling business—day after day—year after year—without you having to consciously think about operating them.

Think about it.

A11All that’s required to live is a bit of maintenance and, when things go wrong, modern medical science usually knows how to patch you up. Today’s medical practitioners can replace your organs, your limbs, your hair, your eyes, your nose, and your teeth.

But what modern science doesn’t know is how all this came to be.

A5I’m going to do some edited plagiarism from William  A. Dembski, of the Access Research Network, who wrote on intelligent design. The idea has been around since the ancient Greeks, who did some pretty deep thinking about where they came from and where they were going.

Some of it was explained by mythology, some by theology, and some by analogy. But the central question—did something intentionally design us—remains unanswered today.

Personally, I think there’s a force of infinite intelligence at work. A force we’re not capable of truly understanding, comprehending, or explaining.

Design theory—also called design or the design argument—is the view that nature shows tangible signs of having been designed by a preexisting intelligence.

The most famous version of the design argument can be found in the work of theologian William Paley who, in 1802, proposed his “watchmaker” thesis. His reasoning went like this:

A12“In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever. … But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think the answer which I had before given would be sufficient.” 

To the contrary, the fine coordination of all the watch parts would force us to conclude that it must have had a maker—that there must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed it for some purpose. We’d struggle to comprehend its construction and designed its use, just as we’ve struggled to understand ourselves.

A13Paley argued we can draw the same conclusion about many anatomical objects, such as the eye. Just as a watch’s parts are all perfectly adapted for the purpose of telling time, the parts of an eye are all perfectly adapted for the purpose of seeing. In each case, Paley argued, we discern the marks of an intelligent designer.

Although Paley’s basic notion was sound and influenced thinkers for decades, Paley never provided a rigorous standard for detecting design in nature. Detecting design depended on such vague standards as being able to discern an object’s “purpose.” Moreover, Paley and other “natural theologians” tried to reason from the facts of nature to the existence of a wise and benevolent God. They tried to prove God from the perception of perfect products.

All of these things made design an easy target for Charles Darwin when he proposed his theory of evolution. 

A16Whereas Paley saw a finely-balanced world attesting to a kind and just God, Darwin pointed to nature’s imperfections and brutishness. Although Darwin had once been an admirer of Paley, Darwin’s own observations and experiences—especially the cruel, lingering death of his 9-year-old daughter Annie in 1850—that destroyed whatever belief he had in a just and moral universe.

Following Darwin’s widely-accepted theory of evolution, the notion of design was all but banished from biology.

A17Since the 1980s, however, advances in biology have convinced a new generation of scholars that Darwin’s theory was inadequate to account for the sheer complexity of living things. These scholars—chemists, biologists, mathematicians, and philosophers of science—began to reconsider design theory. They formulated a new view of design that avoids the pitfalls of previous versions.

Called intelligent design (ID), to distinguish it from earlier versions of design theory (as well as from the naturalistic use of the term design), this new approach is more modest than its predecessors. Rather than trying to infer God’s existence or character from the natural world, it simply claims that “intelligent causes are necessary to explain the complex, information-rich structures of biology and that these causes are empirically detectable.”

Like I said, I never came away from an autopsy without a scientific and spiritual reflection on the marvelous design of the human body.

What do you think? 

Have you been intelligently designed?


F17Since 2007, sixteen shoes containing severed human feet have washed up on the shores near the mouth of British Columbia’s Fraser River which supplies freshwater to the tidal Pacific Ocean at the Canadian Strait of Georgia and Washington State’s Puget Sound. Curiously, the majority of the found flotsam-footwear are large, men’s runners holding a disarticulated right foot.

The story quickly gained international attention and refuses to go away. Just last month (February 2016) two more New Balance sneakers with their feet ran aground at Botanical Beach on Vancouver Island. Public speculation has stepped-up—not surprisingly given that, historically, the Pacific Northwest has the largest number of prolific serial killers per capita in the world.

F19The Northwest Noir is home to Ted Bundy—the College Dorm Slayer, Gary Ridgway—the Green River Killer, Robert Pickton—the notorious Pig Farmer, Clifford Olson—the Beast of BC, Harvey Carignan—the Want-Ad Murderer, Robert Silveria—the Box-Car Killer, Gilbert Jordan—the Boozing Barber, and at least one currently active serial killer who’s terrorizing the Highway of Tears.

Could it be there’s another homicidal maniac on the loose—one with a fiendish foot-fetish? Someone who’s cutting off his victim’s feet and chucking them in the ocean? Possibly the Reebok Ripper at work?

Or is it more likely just as the authorities say—all the feet belong to suicide victims—jumpers from any one of more than thirty-two bridges in the Vancouver area?

F18Looking at the case facts that are readily available from the police and coroner websites, ten of the feet have been identified through DNA to individuals who were suspected of taking their own life. Six of the shoes belonged to three different people and eleven of the sixteen feet detached themselves from the right leg at the ankle.

The police and coroner departments are clear there are no striation marks on the bones to suggest any mechanical manipulation by way of severing the feet with a knife, ax, or saw. The forensic specialists assure the appendages appear entirely consistent with disarticulating, or pulling away, from a body that’s been submerged in water and undergoing a natural decomposition process that’s slowed due to the cold waters of the Fraser and the Pacific.

Nothing to see here, folks, they say.

Well, hang on a minute. I’m a curious old cop and coroner. This flotsam-foot thing is something you don’t see every day. Why is this foot phenomenon unique to the region? Why did it recently start to occur? And why are so many feet from the right? I decided to tread into this with an open mind—and the help of acquaintances from my forensic days.

Feet Map

 Foot Distribution Map

Dr. Gail Anderson is the Professor of Entomology at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University. She pioneered a project to study decomposing pig carcasses 300 feet under the nearby Pacific and monitors the process via remote cameras to her laptop. She’s found that an entire adult hog can be left skeletonized within three weeks—being devoured by crabs, shrimp, and sea worms—as well as breaking down through a microbial process.

F20But, Gail says, getting at meat wrapped up in a rubber running shoe is a whole different challenge. And floating upside down on the ocean’s surface would prevent seabirds like gulls from attacking the foot from above.

Bill Inkster is a former dentist who now manages the identification unit for the B.C. Coroners Service. He takes the disarticulation and floatation process a step further.

They’re not severed, they’re disarticulated,” Bill explains. “As the body decomposes, the feet are separated from the rest of the body. Time was, the feet would have stayed underwater with the rest of the body. But Nike Air, and all the other high-buoyancy sneakers that followed, changed that with designs that featured little air pockets. These floating feet are enclosed in their own PFD’s (personal floatation devices) and just bob to the surface once freed.”

F7A little internet research into running shoe technology confirms that by 2005 the footwear industry profoundly changed materials in their products. Where the lightweight designs were first developed for the high-priced athletic market, the chemical advancement of switching from polyurethane (PU) mid-soles to ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) closed-cell blowing agents not only reduced the weight but drastically reduced manufacturing and shipping costs.

This allowed third-world makers of Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Reebok, Brooks, and other major sporting-shoe players to supply discount retailers like Walmart with cheap, yet decent runners.

F21Richard Thompson is a physical oceanographer with Vancouver Island’s Institute of Ocean Sciences. He shed light on why this was happening in the Fraser River region. Thompson explained the Fraser is a heavily-mudded waterway that carries silt from the province’s interior and deposits it in a vast delta extending miles out into the Pacific. The ever expanding bridge construction along the lower Fraser has created a series of dams due to their pilings that require continual dredging to maintain the shipping lanes.

It follows that victims who jump from one bridge may be carried along the bottom—pushed down by the weight of the silt—and become lodged in another piling dam. Dredging then shakes the body which has now decomposed to the point where the feet easily detach at the ankle and the high-buoyancy shoes sneak themselves to the surface where they drift on out to sea.

StraitofGeorgia_30_07_13Once the shoe-encased foot meets the tidal water, it enters what Thompson describes as a giant, endless spin cycle created by the freshwater outflow, the incoming currents, twice-daily tide action and, of course, the wind. The combination of these recirculation actions results in the wide—seemingly random—distribution of where the floating feet eventually beach themselves.

Once I objectively listened to the experts explaining the science behind decomposition, dredging, disarticulation and distribution of the sixteen severed feet, it made sense to me—except for one troubling fact.

Why are nearly three-quarters of the recovered runner-wraps from the right?

F16I got the answer from Professor Curtis Ebbesmeyer. He’s known as the rubber-duck man and the co-author of the fascinating book Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How One Man’s Obsession with Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science. Ebbesmeyer spent his lifetime studying ocean currents, including the aftermath of a shipping accident involving thousands of Nike runners being discharged into the Pacific during a storm. The resulting locations where the shoes hit land was a landmark breakthrough in a better understanding of ocean drift.

So if anyone knows how a sneaker sneaks about in the water, it’s Professor Ebbesmeyer.

He says that left and right shoes behave differently due to their curvature—lefts tend to drift in a clockwise pattern and rights will turn counter-clockwise. This contributes to a distribution pattern where the rights went to the closest land and the lefts possibly headed for the open ocean or perhaps to more deserted beaches.

F23Ebbesmeyer also pointed out an interesting and apparently verified fact—whether or not it bears weight on the floating feet. With ninety percent of the population being right-handed, most people tend to tie their right shoe tighter than the left and most people’s right foot is slightly larger than their left.

With maybe more slack in a left shoe, it’s possible more of the disarticulated left flesh and bone matter would fall out of its runner, then its shoe would go to a beach empty-handed and be ignored.

There’s one last factor in these recently-found, sixteen feet and that’s the Vicious Cycle effect. The floating-foot story is so widely known throughout the Pacific Northwest that by now nobody walks by a shoe on the shoreline without picking it up and checking inside.

Stefan Fonseca, my ex-colleague with the British Columbia Coroners Service, puts it well. “People will actually wade out to go look at a shoe. It’s creepy, but I guess that’s the fascination.”


AA1Why do we study other animals and they don’t study us? What is it about the human brain that allows the cognitive ability for abstract reasoning and creativeness? What is it that makes the human brain so special? It comes down to one thing that humans do that no other living creature does.

I just watched a fascinating TED Talk by neuroscientist Dr. Suzana Herculano-Houzel where she looks at the difference in animal brain structures and arrives at a shocking, yet simple explanation.

AA6For years, mainstream science assumed that there was a direct relationship to the rate of intelligence and the size of the brain. However if you look at the brain of a cow to the brain of a chimp, they both weigh around 400 grams. Using that theory, the two species should have about the same intelligence. Carrying it further, a human brain weighs about 1.5 kilograms, an elephant’s is 4.5 kilos, and a blue whale tops out at 9 kg. Something clearly is wrong with the size of the brain vs. intelligence theory.

Is there an intelligence relationship in the size of an animal’s brain to the size of its body?

Take gorillas for instance. Their bodies average 180 kg and their brains are 0.5 kg. Human bodies average 75 kg and our brains are 1.5 kg. So the human brain to body ratio are 7.2 times larger than gorillas and we appear to be a lot smarter – although that’s debatable with some people.

But the daily energy consumption that a human brain requires is proportionately much higher than a gorilla’s brain.

AA8Gorillas spend most of their day feeding to supply energy in keeping a larger body mass fuelled, whereas humans only require three quick meals to support a smaller body but a larger and more active brain. Human brains are only 2% of our body mass but require 25% of our energy consumption to operate. Gorilla brains only consume 10% of their daily calorie intake. So what’s going on here?

Dr. Herculano-Houzel researched the long-held assumption that there was a direct proportion of neurons, or thought processors, per weight of grey matter. It was thought that the human brain held around 100 billion neurons but she could not find the source of this information. So she decided to do some experimentation.

AA9She developed a process to extract neuron nuclei from grey-matter cells and established that the average human brain contains 86 billion neurons – 16 billion in our cerebral cortex alone, which is by far the highest in any species and the seat of cognitive awareness.

She observed that there was nothing different in the basic structure between human brains and other primates like gorillas, chimps, and orangutans. And yes, humans are just another species of primate. It’s just that we have a much higher brain to body size ratio and we have a lot more neurons that our cousins do.

AA13But our brain to body energy requirements are so much higher than apes, yet we feed far less. This led her to ask the question – What happened in our evolutionary process that made human brains so proportionately larger?

Anthropology determines that the human brain suddenly increased about 1.5 million years ago. Something else happened at the same time.

Humans learned to cook their food.

AA12We learned to use fire to pre-digest our caloric intake which supercharged the ability to fuel and grow the brain. Because of cooking high-calorie, high-protein foods, our brain size rapidly increased to becoming a large energy-consuming asset rather than a liability.

Humans spent far less time searching for, devouring, and digesting low calorie raw vegetative foods than other primates did. Our omnivorous diet allowed us to focus our cerebral cortex on developing better food processing ventures like agriculture, civilization, electricity, and supermarkets.

So what do we do that no other creature does?

We cook.

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AA15Watch Dr. Suzana Herculano-Houzel’s fascinating, 13 minute TED Talk here: 


Visit her website at: http://www.suzanaherculanohouzel.com/lab