“It’s a bad design, the human body.
The skin’s not thick enough.
Too little hair, no claws or fangs.
We weren’t meant to stand upright.
It exposes our heart and genitals.
Should be on all fours.
Hairier with tails.”
– Paul Theroux, Mosquito Coast
Us humans have become natural unadapted outliers in this world due to our modern lives quickly surpassing our speed of evolution. Couple this with our rapid advancement into modern bipedal humans that evolved from the blueprints of primitive apes, and you have a whole cocktail of unusual traits. We shall explore the most curious of these below.
It begins before you’re born. Your big obtrusive baby head gave your mum hell during birth.
But don’t beat yourself up about it, it’s not your fault.
From day one, when us apes decided to give two legs a go, birth would forever be a challenge.
Women just aren’t built for it these days, hence why the caesarean rate has shot up 50% in the US since the 1990’s.
Why? Well to accommodate bipedalism, (walking on two feet), the pelvis became more narrow. Then around the same time, our heads became enlarged to accommodate our big brains, (this growth was partly required to assist how overly complex we started making everything).
However, whilst we were congratulating ourselves on our intelligence, our Jabba the Hutt-like babies began being born earlier, much earlier. Compared with our ape-like cousins who have 50% brain development at birth, our brains are only 25% developed.
Why are we born so much earlier? Is it the narrow mum hips?
Initially this was believed to be the case, however, now early births are theorised to be caused by the fetal energy demands surpassing the mother’s ability to meet those demands. So basically, our juvenile selves are the hungry hungry hippos of the animal world.
Regardless, due to the increase of C-sections, us humans can continue to select partners with large heads and narrow hips (without the selective pressures of natural births) until what? We all just become top-heavy bobbleheads?
So with us bobbleheads bumbling about, and C-sections becoming the norm, what happens when the antibiotics run out making C-sections dangerous again?
Well one option is that babies will develop in artificial sacks like this Lamb did at the Center for Fetal Research, Philadelphia.
[Credit: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia]
Natural births will become a thing of the past.
Evolutionary Correction: Be born out the belly, naturally.
Ok. So we’re out of the belly. What’s next?
We begin so feeble and flimsy. Especially our necks. Why can’t we have sturdy guinea pig-like necks?
Evolutionary Correction: Have guinea pig necks.
This isn’t to say that we can’t draw parallels between Guinea pigs and ourselves. During our time in the trees, our early ape ancestors lost the ability to synthesize vitamin C, along with Guinea pigs (not that we ever could synthesize guinea pigs, but Guineas pigs also lost the ability to produce it). Synthesizing vitamin C is an energy taxing process, thus It’s believed that the abundance of fruit that we had available to us in those trees meant we could rely on the external intake of the vitamin.
Next challenge – feeding.
So you’ve just been born and you go in for that sweet first-time suckle.
But wait, what’s this?
You find that you can both breath and swallow at the same time?
Yep, a clinical investigation published by nature found that an infant can successfully eat and breathe at the same time.
But it’s not the infants that are the unique ones… it’s us.
In fact, humans are the only mammal that cannot breathe and swallow at the same time. Even chimps don’t have any issues with choking on their food, (who’s the superior species now aye?).
It turns out, the larynx (the voice box bit) is anatomically higher in other mammals and the infant us. This enables the larynx to ‘lock’ with the nasal cavity leaving this airway totally unobstructed when swallowing food.
However, the larynx is lower in humans. Reason being, this creates a larger pharynx (back of the mouth bit) cavity, allowing us to articulate complex speech – clever us. And ‘luckily’, this trait seemed advantageous enough for us to overcome the whole death-by-choking thing.
Still, I reckon we can do better…
Evolutionary Correction: Be more like Whales. Position the larynx in the blowhole (aka nose). This would create two independent tubes, (one for air and one for food). Sure, we’d lose the ability to talk (replaced instead by nasal humming) but naming no
Trumps names, perhaps this would be a good idea. I mean imagine Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump bickering at each other purely in sweet nasal vibrations. Life would be good, or at least more interesting.
Ok, now moving on to teenagehood.
See now you’re interacting with real-world people. You find yourself interacting with people who are well integrated into society. Bank clerks, career advisors, Jelly Bean enthusiasts. People who have lived long enough to learn about their place in society, they’ve come to terms with their imperfections. However, you haven’t. As an overly-ambitious adolescent, your new lanky limbs are outgrowing you, you look and feel awkward.
So now’s the perfect time to introduce the amygdala. It’s the primary cause of all that anxious awkwardness. It first became integrated into the primitive brain around 360 million years ago and hasn’t had much of an upgrade since.
As one of the founders of evolutionary psychology, Leda Cosmides, put it:
“our modern skulls house a stone age mind”
The amygdala overrides the logical mind, And as a result, you begin to get nervous in situations that really aren’t intimidating. It is the original founder of the ‘fight or flight’ response and to see it in action, just type ‘black Friday’ into youtube for some human examples.
Evolutionary corrections: Remove the amygdala? Perhaps it’s purpose isn’t to keep us safe at all; maybe it’s just trying to save itself but it’s using our legs to do it? Regardless, it’s no good removing it. A woman known as the fearless SM was literally born without an amygdala. She never experienced fear and gave researchers quite a shock when they found her playing with the snakes and spiders at an exotic pet store.
As psychologist Gary Marcus explains in his book Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of the Mind, the problem with the human brain is that it evolved in stages. The more primitive parts of the brain had to remain online whilst the new additions (e.g. prefrontal cortex) were being constructed. Whilst the evolving modern brain began to handle newfangled technologies like language and mental imagery, the primitive midbrain and hindbrain oversaw the basic survival functions. This is comparable to a young whiz kid teaching his gram-gram how to use Facebook, understandably there’s perplexity. A few outcomes: anxiety, depression, madness, unreliable memories, and confirmation bias.
Ok now let’s exit teenagerism and enter adulthood.
How’s our modern human evolution letting us down now?
Let’s begin with the back. Ever see a goat traipsing around complaining about a bad back? Probably not, (but if you have then I want to know what you’ve been taking to converse with a goat).
This is because walking on all fours (like our very distant ancestors), is what millions of years of evolution ‘intended’* the spine to do. Walking on two feet has really coccyx up for us. Bruce Latimer, director of the Center for Human Origins at Case Western Reserve University, sums this up nicely:
“Our spines are a mess. It’s a wonder we can even walk.”
“When our ancestors walked on all fours, their spines arched, like a bow, to withstand the weight of the organs suspended below. But then we stood up. That threw the system out of whack by 90 degrees, and the spine was forced to become a column. Next, to allow for bipedalism, it curved forward at the lower back. And to keep the head in balance—so that we didn’t all walk around as if doing the limbo—the upper spine curved in the opposite direction. This change put tremendous pressure on the lower vertebrae, sticking about 80 percent of adults, according to one estimate, with lower back pain.”
Evolutionary Correction: Suffering from back pain? Try resuming the all fours position when running daily errands, until the pain wears off.
See, this girl gets it
*note that evolution (of course) has no ‘end goal’. Mutations occur randomly. Some are beneficial; many others aren’t. So if you ever feel down, remember that you are the product of 4 billion years of beneficial mutations, you little cupcake you.
It’s not just your back that’s holding you back, your eyes are too.
All of us have a blind spot in our vision.
Don’t believe me? Take the test:
Instructions: Close your left eye and focus your right eye on the ‘R’. Place your eye a distance from the screen about 3× the distance between the R and the L. Move your eye towards or away from the screen until you notice the ‘L’ disappear. Now try the same with the other eye. Please note this may not work on phones or tablets due to rearrangement of the images.
Why is this?
The blind spot is caused by the optic nerve that passes through part of the retina to the brain. This creates a ‘hole’ in the retina where there’s a lack of light-detecting photoreceptor cells. Luckily, you don’t notice this gap in your vision because your brain utilises the surrounding detail and information from the other eye to calculate what it would ‘assume’ to be in the blind spot.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Our eyes evolved as an outgrowth of the brain, whereas the eyes of cephalopods (e.g. squids) evolved as an invagination of the outer skin. This means squids don’t have a blind spot in their vision. They’d get full marks at the optometrist.
Evolutionary Correction: Let’s all have squid eyes instead.
Now, to finish, let’s move to our quick fire round of douchebag body traits.
You cut yourself and bleed. It scabs as it begins to heal. Scab begins to itch. You scratch scab and you bleed again… WTF?!?
Scabs itch due to the rebuilding of nerves under the skin. But why can’t we release a numbing chemical to this area to prevent the itch? It can’t be that hard. After all, it’s exactly what mosquitoes do when they stick their mouthpart into us, they inject a painkiller so that we can’t detect them looting our blood. C’mon nature up your game.
Also, what’s with our urge to lick our lips when they’re chapped? Does the douchebag brain not realise this just makes matters worse? And how much easier would life be without the very specific allergies that cause our body to flare up the immune system over… a daisy? Furthermore, would a few built-in pockets be too much too ask?
All-in-all, I believe the biggest downfall of us humans is our uncontrollably inflated ego. An unquenchable thirst for greed and self-worth has triumphed our species, but destroyed our world. But I guess that’s the price nature pays for creating such an intelligent species.
So what’s the solution for us humans?
Well for a start, let’s try walking on all fours to ease the pressure on our curvy spine. Then we should grow some sort of new limb that would protrude from the end of the spine, like a flexible extension of the backbone; this will support the spine and improve balance. Extra hair covering 80% of our bodies would do no harm either, and we’d no longer be dependent on clothes anymore.
Quite uncanny that I happened to find an image on google to picture this perfectly: