Unit 1: Evolutionary Perspectives
The Facts of Evolution, Michael Shermer, Henry Holt and Company, LLC - Macmillan, 2006
Evolutionary theory is rooted in a rich array of data from the past. While the specifics of evolution are still being studied and unraveled, the general theory is the most tested in science; spanning the past century and a half.
Evolution in Action, Jonathan Weiner, Natural History, 2005
More than 250 scientists around the world are documenting evolution in action. Some of the most dramatic cases are those that result from the ecological pressures that human beings are imposing on the planet.
Beauty Happens, Richard O. Prum, Natural History, 2017
If natural selection is driven by the differential survival of heritable variations, what could explain the elaborate beauty of the peacock’s tail—a trait that would seem to make the male more vulnerable to predators, not less? Darwin proposed the idea of “sexual selection,” meaning that female choices are based upon male aesthetic appeal and do not necessarily lead to adaptation. A better explanation, says the author, is that sexual selection is in fact adaptive and is best seen as a variation on the theme of natural selection.
The Age of Disbelief, Joel Achenbach, National Geographic, 2015
We live in an age in which scientific knowledge has come into conflict with people’s cherished beliefs. Given the human tendency to cling to intuition and to distrust those who do not share our values, we all too often forsake the rational, scientific way of thinking in favor of our need to be accepted by our chosen community.
The Roots of Science Denial, Katherine Hayhoe and Jen Schwartz, Scientific American, 2017
Using climate change as an example, the authors point out that the problem some people have is not with the actual science but, rather, people’s world view, their ideology, and the fact that it challenges the status quo of those in power. Instead of trying to change the minds of the very polarized, scientists should focus upon market-based and technological solutions that appeal to most peoples’ values.
Life Chances, Bob Holmes, New Scientist, 2015
The question as to whether the evolutionary process has to do with a series of chance events or is a matter of somewhat predictable outcomes within a limited number of possibilities has long been debated within the scientific community as well as among the public in general. The answer is no better illustrated than with the fact that varieties of offspring spring up as a result of random mutations and an unpredictable recombination of genes, while natural selection winnows out the unfavorable traits and thereby provides a sense of direction to evolution because the more favored tend to survive and reproduce.
The Good Dinosaur, Jonathan B. Losos, from Improbable Destinies: Fate Chance, and the Future of Evolution, Riverhead Books, 2017
We know from the geological record that mammals were around when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Since they seemed to be an insignificant afterthought, however, our small, furry forebears probably did not have much of a future—at least not until an asteroid destroyed the competition. The question posed by the author: could a human-like creature have arisen even without that catastrophic event some 66 million years ago? The answer based upon circumstantial evidence is “yes!”
Evolution Evolves, Kevin Laland, New Scientist, 2016
Orthodox ideas about how evolution works are being challenged by new discoveries in genetics, epigenetics, and developmental biology. This has led some researchers to propose that the current framework, known as the modern synthesis, be broadened into an extended evolutionary synthesis.
Unit 2: Primates
No Alpha Males Allowed, Steve Kemper, Smithsonian, 2013
Karen Strier’s research on the muriquis monkeys of Brazil has underscored the fact that primates are a varied group with diverse social structures and more complex behavior than ever thought before. They may even provide us with insights as to how our own ancestors came to the ground and became who we are today.
Love in the Time of Monkeys, Eduardo Fernandez-Duque and Benjamin Finkel, Natural History, 2014
Since monogamy is the standard among humans, but rare in the rest of the animal kingdom, it is instructive to examine why it exists in a species of monkey where it is apparently related to ecological resource distribution.
Becoming Jane, Tony Gerber, National Geographic, 2017
As a young Englishwoman with no formal scientific background, Jane Goodall managed to conduct chimpanzee research in Africa. Faced with the resistance of a primarily male science establishment, she revolutionized primate fieldwork and made significant, surprising discoveries. She went on to author dozens of books, mentor new generations of scientists, and promote wildlife conservation around the world.
The Gorillas Dian Fossey Saved, Elizabeth Royte, National Geographic, 2017
To some in Rwanda, she was a menacing intruder, but her fight against poachers kept mountain gorillas from being wiped out. Today, even with an uptick in population, the great apes face new challenges: the potential for disease spillover from human and livestock waste, a restricted range, climate change, and a loss of genetic diversity due to inbreeding.
The 2% Difference, Robert Sapolsky, Discover, 2006
Now that scientists have decoded the chimpanzee genome, we know that we share 98% of our DNA with chimps. So how can we be so different? The answer lies in the fact that a very few mutations make for some very big differences.
Dim Forest, Bright Chimps, Christophe Boesch and Hedwige Boesch-Achermann, Natural History, 1991
Contrary to expectations, forest-dwelling chimpanzees seem to be more committed to cooperative hunting and tool use than are savanna chimpanzees. Such findings may have implications for the understanding of the course of human evolution.
One for All, Frans de Waal, Scientific American, 2014
Although caring tendencies are common in primates, they seem to have become an absolute survival necessity in our human ancestors who came to cooperate with each other on a much more extensive level, shared in a reciprocal manner and identified with others in need, pain or distress.
Unit 3: Sex and Gender
Powers of Two, Blake Edgar, Scientific American, 2014
Theories abound as to why humans are primarily monogamous since most mammals are not, but pair-bonding does seems to have something to do with the way in which our ancestors cooperated in food-getting and sharing and what would seem to have been the most effective way to raise large-brained offspring in need of prolonged care.
When Do Girls Rule the Womb? Jennifer Abbasi, Discover, 2013
While demographers have pointed to cultural factors to explain the sex ratio imbalance which favors the birth of boys over girls in such societies as China, India and South Korea, they have not been able to explain why the same trends in sex ratio at birth exist in societies that do not value sons more than daughters and, furthermore, why in certain situations, regardless of cultural preferences, more girls may be born than boys. Perhaps an evolutionary model is in order.
Brains Are Not Male or Female, Jessica Hamzelou, New Scientist, 2015
Although there are hormonal differences between men and women that have to do with sexual and reproductive functions, the superficial differences in their brains have nothing to do with intellectual skills.
Promiscuous Men, Chaste Women, and Other Gender Myths, Cordelia Fine and Elgar Marka, Scientific American, 2017
Expanding upon Charles Darwin’s theory of sexual selection, some evolutionary biologists have proposed that the males of many species (humans included) have evolved purely aesthetic traits, such as the peacock’s tail, that appeal to females. The short answer for this has to do with risk-taking males on the one hand and highly selective females on the other. There is much evidence to the contrary, however. In many cases, females are the greater risk-taker while males are being highly selective.
Evolution, Sex, and Language, Deborah Cameron, from The Myth of Mars and Venus, Oxford University Press, 2007
Although many evolutionary scientists embrace the notion that there are innate differences between men and women in terms of the way they communicate, the cross-cultural and historical evidence indicate the opposite. In fact, the folk-belief that women talk more than men persists because it provides a justification for an ingrained social prejudice.
Unit 4: The Fossil Evidence
Mystery Man, Jamie Shreeve, National Geographic, 2015
The discovery of hominin remains in a most improbable location within a South African cave has called into question many of our previous conceptions about human evolution. Rather than a straight-line development from a small, bipedal ape-like ancestor to modern Homo sapiens, Homo naledi seems to be telling us that there may have been many, diverse lines of hominin development with all but one of them leading to us.
Who Apes Whom? Frans de Waal, The New York Times, 2015
Prompted by the discovery of the hominin Homo naledi, the author cautions us against teleological conclusions—that natural selection is “seeking certain outcomes”—or that, indeed there is a particular point at which our ancestors achieved a mental breakthrough— “a miraculous spark”—that made us radically different from any other creature.
Four Legs Good, Two Legs Fortuitous: Brains, Brawn, and the Evolution of Human Bipedalism, Daniel E. Lieberman, Roberts and Company Publishers, 2011
Among primates, only hominins have become large brained, bipedal hunters and gatherers. The great evolutionary question since Darwin’s day has been “Why?” The answers seem to lie with climate change, adaptation to more open habitats and the need to transition from an almost complete reliance on fruits and vegetables to more meat-eating.
Stone Cold Science, Bridget Alex, Discover, 2017
Researchers are developing new ways to discover how our oldest stone tools—and our brains—evolved. Learning to “read the stones” of a forgotten technology is not easy. And so, archaeologists are using such methods as “reverse engineering,” computer simulations, hands-on experiments, and even brain neuroimaging to show how and when our ancestors became human.
The New Origins of Technology, Kate Wong, Scientific American, 2017
Recent hominid discoveries in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley are calling into question just about everything we thought we knew about the development of the first stone tools. The tools are “too early,” they are not made with the skills we typically associate with our ancestors, they are not associated with the kind of environment or diet that we have learned to expect would motivate such behavior and, so far, we do not even know if they were simply represent an “experiment” that did not pan out and, therefore, left no legacy.
The Quiet Rise of the First Toolmaker, Catherine Brahic, New Scientist, 2015
Since intentionally flaked Oldowan hand-axes did not come out of the blue, it stands to reason that there must have been predecessors. It therefore follows that a different approach to dating early tool use is to look at the hands that made them, to assess just when our early ancestors attained the manual dexterity that made stone tools possible.
The First Cookout, Kate Wong, Scientific American, 2012
Once our ancestors began cooking their food, their brains got larger, their anatomy changed, and they were enabled to hunt more effectively for meat. Without fire, we might not even exist.
Neandertal Minds, Kate Wong, Scientific American, 2015
It has long been held that Neandertals lagged behind anatomically modern Homo sapiens. So far, the functional significance of DNA differences is unclear, but recent discoveries of Neandertal cultural remains seem to have narrowed the supposed mental gap and suggest that factors other than intelligence drove the Neandertals to extinction and allowed Homo sapiens to flourish.
The Most Invasive Species of All, Curtis W. Marean, Scientific American, 2015
Whereas previous theories purporting to explain the world-wide expansion of anatomically modern Homo sapiens have to do with the circumstances within particular regions, such as advances in technology, the development of a more sophisticated brain and climate change, the author emphasizes the importance of a new social behavior that evolved in our species: a genetically encoded penchant for cooperation with unrelated individuals.
From Wolf to Dog, Virginia Morell, Scientific American, 2015
Scientists are probing the enduring mystery of how a large, dangerous carnivore evolved into our best friend. While their value to humans seems to have changed over time, ranging from utilitarian to ritualistic, one thing is certain: they could not become fully accepted into hunter-gatherer camps without understanding the absolute concept of “No!”
Unit 5: Late Hominid Evolution
Ancient DNA, Bridget Alex, Discover, 2017
For anthropologists, ancient human DNA provides insights that could not be gleaned from fossils or artifacts. It has already become valuable for our understanding of such issues as the evolution of human diseases and our resistance to them, human migrations around the world and even whether or not our species interacted with Neanderthals. In essence, deciphering the genetic record is like retrieving a lost library.
Human Hybrids, Michael F. Hammer, Scientific American, 2013
The recovery of DNA from fossil hominins such as the Neanderthals is enabling us to make genetic comparisons with modern populations. From such analyses, we are increasingly able to reconstruct the migrations of ancient peoples, figure out who mated with whom along the way and, perhaps, the implications of such interbreeding for modern human health.
Dawn of a Continent, Colin Barras, New Scientist, 2015
Various lines of evidence, archaeological, genetic and linguistic, point to three waves of migration into Europe by Homo sapiens populations. With each invasion associated with specific changes in technology and lifestyle, we see the remnants of these biological and cultural characteristics in European populations today.
The Awakening, Jo Marchant, Smithsonian, 2016
The discovery of cave art on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia has led to several challenges to standard thinking about such paintings around the world, not the least of which have to do with the timing, the motivations of the artists and the implications for the origins of human cognitive awareness.
The Story in the Stones, David Robson, New Scientist, 2014
Several lines of evidence, including stone tool construction, neuroscience, psychology and archaeology, are being combined to estimate the origins of the distinctly human mental abilities that set us off from our primate relatives and ancestors and enabled our species to survive some very challenging times.
The Birth of Childhood, Ann Gibbons, Science Magazine, 2008
Unlike our closest relatives, the apes, humans depend on their parents for a long period after weaning. New investigative technology has allowed researchers to determine when and why our long childhood evolved.
The Evolution of Grandparents, Rachel Caspari, Scientific American, 2011
A marked increase in survivorship of adults in the Upper Paleolithic had far-reaching effects on the nature of society. The appearance of a grandparental generation meant more resources available to the group, significant population increases, and a greater efficiency in the transmission and accumulation of cultural knowledge for future generations. These changes may very well have accounted for our ancestors being the only hominid species left standing.
A Bigger, Better Brain, Maddalena Bearzi and Craig Stanford, American Scientist, 2010
The diverse food-getting strategies employed by dolphin and ape societies are an excellent gauge of their social complexity as well as an example of how brain complexity, social complexity, and ecological complexity are all linked.
What Are Big Brains For? Or, How Culture Stole Our Guts, Joseph Heinrich, from The Secret of Our Success, Princeton University Press, 2015
The key to the success of the human species lies not in our raw innate intelligence or in any specialized mental abilities, but rather in the fact that we are a cultural species, relying on accumulated wisdom--a know-how that arose incrementally over millions of years of mental, psychological and biological evolution.
Unit 6: Human Diversity
Skin Deep, Nina G. Jablonski and George Chaplin, Scientific American, 2002
Although recent migrations and cultural adaptation tend to complicate the picture, human skin color has evolved to be dark enough to prevent sunlight from destroying the nutrient folate, but light enough to foster the production of vitamin D.
How Real Is Race? Using Anthropology to Make Sense of Human Diversity, Carol Mukhopadhyay and Rosemary C. Henze, Phi Delta Kappan, 2003
The authors claim that race is not a scientifically valid biological category. Instead, looking at it as a historically specific way of thinking about categorizing and treating human beings, race can be seen as a cultural invention.
Still Evolving (After All These Years), John Hawks, Scientific American, 2014
Many people argue that our technological advancement -- our ability to defy and control nature -- has made humans exempt from natural selection and that human evolution has effectively ceased. However, human populations are continuing to evolve today. Unlike the distant past, where we must infer the action of selection from its long-term effects on genes, today scientists can watch human evolution in action, often by studying trends in health and reproduction.
Unit 7: Living with the Past
The Perfect Plague, Jared Diamond and Nathan Wolfe, Discover, 2008
Globalization, changing climate, and the threat of drug resistance have conspired to set the stage for that perfect microbial storm; a situation in which an emerging pathogen—another HIV or smallpox perhaps—might burst on the scene and kill millions of people before we can respond.
The Inuit Paradox, Patricia Gadsby, Discover, 2004
The traditional diet of the Far North, with its high-protein, high-fat content, and shows that there are no essential foods—only essential nutrients.
The Food Addiction, Paul J. Kenny, Scientific American, 2013
During millions of years of evolution, the major concern of humans was not suppressing appetite, but gets getting enough food to persist in lean times. Perhaps, says the author, our feeding circuits are better at motivating food intake when we are hungry than they are in suppressing food intake when we are full—and therein lies the problem: the brain regards the overeating of high-calorie food as tremendously beneficial.
The Evolution of Diet, Ann Gibbons, National Geographic, 2014
The transition from the Paleolithic way of life, in which our ancestors hunted for meat and gathered vegetables, to one with agriculture and processed foods, has had a lasting impact on human health. Questions arise, however, as to the degree to which humans have adapted to the changing circumstances or are simply going to suffer the consequences of abandoning the “paleo-diet.”
The Science of Good and Evil, Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, National Geographic, 2018
What makes people especially giving or cruel? Researchers say the way our brains are wired can affect how much empathy we feel for others. And when it comes to such matters as extreme sensitivity to other people’s distress versus a total disregard for human suffering, the cultural environment has a role to play, too.
How PTSD Became a Problem Far Beyond the Battlefield, Sebastian Junger, Vanity Fair, 2015
Although only 10 percent of American forces see combat, the U.S. military now has the highest rate of post-traumatic stress disorder in its history. Taking an evolutionary perspective helps to understand the resulting trauma not only in terms of the combat experience, but also—and especially—in light of the problems involved in adjusting to society at home.