• Pieter Derycke

Something for your mind, your body, and your sole...

“A commercial biomedical company has announced that they have found a way to improve the human brain function. A minimally invasive technique allows people to get even more out of their mind*. The company is sure that in the near future this will improve the life of millions.”

Imagine reading this in your newspaper. What would your first reaction be?

I guess that for some it will be something like this: “Why does our mind need improvement? Did nature not provide us with a good and capable brain?” Others probably think: “That’s interesting, because a lot of people have brain problems, maybe this will help them to improve their health and quality of life.”

But I imagine that most of us would also have the following reservations: “Will it be safe? How about negative consequences and side-effects? How long does it work?” We should want rigorous scientific research before this product can be used on people. Scientific research that can be replicated by non-commercial laboratories. Proof that at least it is safe, and that preferably it does what it promises: it improves human brain function. That seems obvious, because, you don’t want to mess with your mind, do you?

Now, of course, the above is totally fictional. Something I just thought up in a few seconds. But now use your imagination and think of the same story, but change ‘mind’ with ‘foot’ or ‘brain function’ with ‘running’. So a company has found a way to improve the way our feet and running biomechanics work.

We should all have the same reactions: “Is it really necessary? Does nature not provide us with good and capable feet and running mechanics?” Or: “That sounds interesting, but is it safe and effective? I want to see some proof!”

But for some reason, people do not have the same reactions. Shoes are so normal, and high-tech running shoes have become the norm. You can’t possibly live without shoes, let alone run without specialised orthotic devices. If you want to run barefoot or with minimalist protection, you have to prove it is safe and effective.

Now, I think that is the exact opposite of what should happen. Our feet and our body are designed for running (and other activities). If you want to change or improve this, you have to provide evidence. The burden of proof is on those who change the ‘default setting’.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve a biological function. Evolution by natural selection is not about perfection, but it usually does a very good job. Remember Leslie Orgel’s second rule: ‘Evolution is cleverer than you are!’ It’s pretty hard to improve a product of natural selection.

So where’s the research showing that modern running shoes have improved our running? Where’s the proof that they help you to get less injuries? Where are the data implying that you cannot run without them?

Those are the interesting and necessary questions.

Thanks for reading,


*sorry, but couldn’t resist