Sunday, August 21, 2011

Down with the cyborgs!

Mr. Carlo, citizen of the village of "Santa Brigida", in the hills North of Florence, returning from his daily pilgrimage to the sanctuary of the "Madonna del Sasso" (Our Lady of the Rock). Note that he has walked the path barefoot, holding his shoes in his hands. It is a completely different philosophy than the one that has that you should walk along forest trails wearing shoes that look like miniature battle tanks.

A few days ago, a friend showed me her new sunglasses. A wonder of high tech: the lenses would darken when sensing strong light. I wasn't so impressed, though. I was tempted to tell her something like, "What is wrong with the eyes you have? They are the result of hundreds of millions of years of evolution just to cope with the sun of this planet! Are you a cyborg that you need artificial irises?"

I didn't say that, out of diplomatic skills; but these hi-tech glasses came back to my mind today, when I took a walk in the hills to the sanctuary of the "Madonna del Sasso" not far from where I live. There, I met Mr. Carlo, whom I had met many times before. He is a regular visitor to the sanctuary and you can often see him walking up or down the path that goes there. How old is he? I am not sure, but I think he is well in his 70s. Apparently, going up and down the hill does him some good, for he always seem to be in perfect physical shape.

This time, he told me that he had walked barefoot all the way. Well, I told myself, if Carlo can do that; I should try. So I tried. And here I am, walking the path barefoot. I almost arrived all the way to the top; then I was defeated by the gravel of the last stretch of the path. But I figure that, with a little exercise, that, too, could be done. I am going to try again.

It is a curious feeling that of walking barefoot on stones and pine needles; mainly, you have to pay attention to where you place your foot. You also need a different kind of gait - it seems that you need to take shorter steps than the usual. But, if you do that, walking barefoot on the trail is painless and you get this feeling that you are doing it right; that this is the way you are supposed to walk. It is, of course, a philosophy completely opposite to the one which suggests the use of those "trail shoes;" which often look like miniature battle tanks. Maybe we are all trying to become cyborgs? I don't know what is your impression; mine was that Carlo walking barefoot was a much more likely image of what the future will be than my friend with her hi-tech sunglasses.

I am not sure if this little experience of mine can add something to the ongoing trend of walking and running barefoot, but I thought you might find it interesting; perhaps even amusing. So I wrote it down just after getting back home. If you are curious about the sanctuary, here are a few pictures:

The sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso, near Santa Brigida, Italy. Brigida is said to to have come from Scotland long ago and to have established her sanctuary in a grotto in the town that today takes her name. There has been a real historical St. Brigit of Kildare, who lived in Ireland during the 5th century AD. It is not reported that she ever traveled to Italy, so, her italian namesake must be someone else, perhaps coming from Ireland as well.

This is the view from the sanctuary of our lady of the rock, these places are usually built in areas where you have this kind of breathtaking view.

And this is the "Rock", or what is left of it, now visible only in the basement of the sanctuary building. It is here that the Virgin Mary appeared to sheperds, during the 15th century.

Curiously, this place is almost non-existing on the Internet, surely not in English. You may find it, however, at these coordinates

 43°51'42.54"N  11°22'59.72"E


  1. Good afternoon (here in California),

    I follow and link to your blog and I've purchased and read Limits to Growth Revisited. I believe there's much wisdom in what you write.

    That said, I have to say that you're off base on your sunglasses criticism (though I have no comment on your barefoot hiking). The fact is that evolution did not equip us with eyes that were meant to perform at their peak well into our 8th and 9th decades. Nature hasn't much use for us after our reproductive years - that's why, for example, presbyopia is so common beginning at about 40 years of age. Therefore, protecting our eyes, our skin, etc. from the ravages of long-term exposure to UV radiation is crucial to maintaining good health.

    I've given significant thought to this - there are many things (reading glasses, shoes, medications, etc.) that will be difficult or impossible to acquire if the wind down of the era of cheap and available energy unfolds along some of the possible paths. I'm gathering ample supplies of those things that will enable me to cope effectively with such scenarios. Sunglasses are among these items.

  2. Well, I see from your picture that you are putting your studies on sunglasses into practice!!

    Personally, I have been studying the question of exposure to the sun. There are good arguments favoring it; for instance the book by Michael Holick on vitamin D. I have been trying some of his suggestions and I can say that they work! Although, of course, all suggestions in terms of personal health may work or not depending on the person who tries them

    About sunglasses. I am under the impression that a healthy person has no need to wear sunglasses in any conditions. I have the example of my father who is 89 now, he has never been wearing sunglasses and he still sees well. He he is in reasonably good shape for his age. But I may well be wrong and if you can suggest to me some study that examines the point, I am interested.

    I don't know if there is any "wisdom" in what I write; but thanks for following my blog.

  3. I'll look for some studies, I know I've seen them. For me, personally, I get massive headaches in bright light with unprotected eyes - my eyes are significantly more sensitive than most people that I know. I realize this doesn't extrapolate to the population.

    I'm surprised though, that you as a scientist would present anecdotal evidence. There are cigarette smokers who will say "smoking is not a problem - my father smoked well into his 80s or 90s" but such anecdotes, while they may be true, do not constitute proof.

  4. Ugo
    Colin Campbell (your previous post) mentioned his friends Jimmie & Bridie Mulroe. Bridie would be Bridget, I think?

    Vitamin D is indeed an issue in places with limited sunlight, but in bright sunlight, very brief exposure is all that is needed, or recommended. The balance of white skin in borthern zones and dark black in the far south indicates an evolutionary sensitivity, perhaps?
    In old times the skin and eyes were protected by a broad brimmed hat? We evolved to become a long-lived species, with interestingly different breeding strategy ('colonial monogamy' more common in birds I believe) suitable for small heterogenous bands, where knowledge and skill and adaptive technology like cooking, seemed to have tipped the balance. Too simplistic to say as K of R would have it, that 'nature has no regard for the old', IMHO.

    The study of fruits and vegetsbles and frugal calories is to be recommended for preserving wisdom. And good walking up hill!

    PS I had a friend in boyhood who went away to a wooden 'training' sailing ship. His barefeet became as tough as a modern trainer shoe, but it took a little while even for his lightweight frame and young feet to adjust.

  5. Well, Phil, this is just a light-hearted, mid-August post. I touches a lot of issues; vitamin D, diet, aging.... gosh; I don't know. Did our cro-magnon ancestors wear hats? In any case; when I have a moment, I think I'll write a post on my personal experience with these things. Not because my personal experience is of any interest, but because I think it sheds some light on the way we tackle these problems in general

  6. King, I think there is nothing wrong with anectodes; as long as we treat them for what they are. So, you are presenting an anectode yourself when you say that sunglasses protect you from headaches. If you found that, by all means you are right in wearing sunglasses. My point was that my friend bought those expensive sunglasses not because she needed sunglasses, but because they seemed fashionable to her, she thought she would look cool with shaded lenses, that kind of things. My personal impression is that most people who wear sunglasses do that for the same reasons.

    Incidentally, I am sure that I read somewhere, long ago, of a study that shows that people who wear sunglasses are more likely to show psychological problems such as depression. I can't find it, right now. If find it; i'll see to provide a reference.

  7. Make me think that as a kid in summer vacations i used to walk bare feet most of the time, and really appreciated the evolution of my feet underskin getting tanned, like being able to walk on gravels or hot sand without any problem at vacations end for instance.

  8. Ugo
    Light hearted in August treading the pilgrim's stony path - sounds ok - meeting interesting people in out-of-the-way places. Was it really a sanctuary? In Britain this conveyed a legal status outside of secular authority?

    My comment was partly prompted by a report in yesterday's paper of a Harvard study
    that suggested that 'cooking', i.e. fire, goes back a very long way, probably to the evolution of our now extinct hominid cousins. Hats - why not?
    Even you or I could make a plaited-rush hat. A cro-magnon grandmother should not have had a problem. Pure speculation in the spirit of August, of course.

    Keep the travellers tales coming.

  9. By the way Ugo, your feet are much whiter than your hands, you should do it a bit more often maybe ! :)

  10. Yes, Yves, I said that I am a newcomer in barefoot trekking!

  11. "Sanctuary," well, I think this one fits the definition: it is a holy place inhabited by monks. I must admit that I don't know its legal status, though!

  12. If you mean that you could take refuge there when pursued by your enemies, hmmm.... not sure. Maybe it would work; but I hope I don't need that.



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)