Human Origins and Adaptations


When you have completed this section, you should be able to

  • define evolution and natural selection;
  • describe some human characteristics that can be attributed to the tree-dwelling habits of earlier primates;
  • describe some human characteristics that evolved later in connection with upright walking; and
  • explain why evolution is relevant to understanding human form and function.

If any two theories have the broadest implications for understanding the human body, they are probably the cell theory and the theory of natural selection. Natural selection, an explanation of how species originate and change through time, was the brainchild of Charles Darwin (1809-82)—probably the most influential biologist who ever lived. His book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859), has been called "the book that shook the world." In presenting the first well-supported theory of evolution, On the Origin of Species not only caused the restructuring of all of biology but also profoundly changed the prevailing view of our origin, nature, and place in the universe.

On the Origin of Species scarcely touched upon human biology, but its unmistakable implications for humans created an intense storm of controversy that continues even today. In The Descent of Man (1871), Darwin directly addressed the issue of human evolution and emphasized features of anatomy and behavior that reveal our relationship to other animals. No understanding of human form and function is complete without an understanding of our evolutionary history.

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Essentials of Human Physiology

Essentials of Human Physiology

This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.

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