Your Health

Human Evolution: We're Not Done Yet

If evolution were a perfect process, we wouldn't need podiatrists, gastric bypass operations, or psychiatrists.

running skeleton

The "Human Edge" series will explore what makes us human from head to toe. hide caption

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So we have a long way to go.  But let's look at the glass half full.  That's what the NPR Science Desk is going to do, starting next week. We’re taking a look at about 500 million years or so of human evolutionary history to figure out how we ended up the way we are — the planet's dominant species — warts and all.

"The Human Edge" radio and web series will examine the changes our ancestors went through (bless them, for they suffered to make us better). Here are some of the topics we’ll be exploring:

You might discover that although your feet ache after a day of standing, the arch in your foot is unique to humans and means humans walk and run more efficiently than just about any animal.  Or that we're prone to being overweight because we evolved to capture as much fat and calories as we can from food.

Backache?  Well, it's a small price to pay for a spine that allows us to stand up on two legs, which freed our hands to carry food, wield weapons, make tools, and even Origami antelopes (for video instructions on that last one, click here.)

And no complaints about big hips, please, ladies — without them, you couldn't bear babies with big brains.

OK, so our big brains come with all sorts of complications — self-doubt, delusions of grandeur, the blues.  Chimps don't need shrinks or Viagra.

But you'll discover that our brains really aren't that different from a chimp's brain,'s mostly in how the parts are connected that make us different.  And therein lie some of the reasons we humans have our own set of neurological ailments.

Even our colons set us apart from our ancestors. They're smaller because we added meat to our diet, so we don't have to digest huge bales of vegetable matter to fuel our bodies.  That in turn allowed our ancestors to put more energy into our brains rather than our guts. So keep that in mind before your next colonoscopy.

While we’re talking about digestion, did you know that when we learned to cook food, we bumped up the amount of calories we got from our food? Chacun a son Goût ain't just about taste.

The Human Edge.  Without it, we might just be up a tree.



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