The Patchwork Human

Two Billion Years of Evolution


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About the Book

Life began about four billion years ago on our planet. Like an old patchwork quilt, evolution stitched the human being together from parts of ancient species now long extinct. Like any species, humans have hundreds or even thousands of traits that have been passed down through time. The evolutionary age of our different traits can be told from how widely distributed they are among today’s living creatures.

The book aims to explain some human traits and how we—as social, sexual, language-obsessed technological apes—evolved into our own modern species. Combining hard science with philosophical thought, this work aims to explain where humans have come from, and where we are going. Free of complicated jargon, it breaks down the concept of evolution starting with the human body’s most basic component—our cells. Building from there, chapters explore which traits became inherited over evolutionary time, ultimately projecting what could be next for our species.

About the Author(s)

Peter Luykx, professor emeritus in the biology department at the University of Miami, Florida, has published research in genetics, cell biology, and evolution, and has taught and written for the non-scientist in those areas. He lives in Miami.

Bibliographic Details

Peter Luykx

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 284
Bibliographic Info: 67 photos, appendices, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2022
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8612-7
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4565-0
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi
Preface 1
Introduction: The Patchwork Human, Old and New Parts 4
1. The Human Machine 13
What Do People Think?  14
People versus Machines  14
Mind, Spirit, Soul  16
Matter  19
2. Cells, Genes, and Other Small Parts 23
Cells  23
Molecules Small and Large  26
Chromosomes, Genes, and Proteins  27
3. The Embryo: Construction and Continuity 34
Early Development  35
Continuity  39
4. Evolution: The Process 42
The Process of Evolution  43
Evolutionary Mechanisms  44
Adaptation and the Randomness and Purposelessness of Evolution  51
“For the good of the species”  55
Are We Still Evolving?  56
5. Evolution: The Pattern 59
Darwin’s Tree  59
Evolutionary Genetics  61
Fossils  62
The Genus Homo and Its Ancestors  66
Sea Urchin Interview  70
6. Bigger Is Sometimes Better 74
7. Bilateral Symmetry 80
8. The Sexy Beast, Part I 87
The Biological Basics of Sex  87
Sperm and Egg Logic  92
The Mating Dance: The Logic of Fidelity and Promiscuity  95
9. Up the Mammalian Path 102
Origins  103
Mammary Glands and Milk  106
The Placenta  111
10. Fur 114
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow  115
11. A ­Warm-Blooded Animal 120
Mechanisms  121
Evolution  122
12. Upright Living 126
Forelimbs and Hind Limbs  127
Fossil Evidence  129
13. The Brain 136
Brain Development and Structure  137
Some Comparisons  139
Aspects of Brain Evolution  142
Brain Function  145
14. The Sexy Beast, Part II 148
The Penis and the Vagina  151
External Testes  153
How Human Brain Size Influences the Mating System  154
Conspicuous Mammary Glands  155
Sex and Pleasure  158
Ovulation Now?  162
Monogamous or Polygamous?  166
Menopause  169
15. On Being Social 173
Basic Elements of Being Social  175
Teaching and Learning  178
Cooperation  180
Altruism  185
­Mind-Reading, or ­Perspective-Taking  189
Evolutionary Origins of Sociality  193
16. The Truly Musical Animal 198
When?  201
How? The Muses Weigh In  202
As Part of Our Biology, Why Music?  207
17. The Talkative Ape 212
The Anatomy of Speech and Language  213
Features of Human Language  215
Precursors of Language in Animal Communications?  218
An Evolutionary Pathway for Language  221
18. Human Races, Real and Imagined 225
The Concept of Race  226
The Evolution of Human Races  228
Racial Prejudice  234
In Summary  236
19. The Future of the Only Remaining Human Species 238
Homo sapiens Forever  239
A New Species of Homo?  241
Extinction Once and For All  244
Slow Extinction by Climate Change  246
Appendix I: Tissues, Systems, Organs, and Cell Types 251
Appendix II: Some Musical Preferences 256
Background and Further Reading 259
Index 269

Book Reviews & Awards

• “A must read for all interested in learning something about evolutionary traits in humans but who have had no previous training in biology. I am amazed that the author has managed to bring together so many superficially unrelated aspects of human biology… The reader is profiting from the almost 60 years of teaching experience that Luykx has under his belt. His treatment of the literature is so sovereign that it reminds one of David Attenborough’s publications! I particularly enjoyed the writing style of the author: it is simple and straight-forward, the sentences are well-connected making for a smooth flow of thought. Unlike some biology textbooks, this is a book that you can read in bed, on a plane. It’s a gem!”—David Robinson, professor emeritus, Centre for Organismal Studies, University of Heidelberg, Germany

• “What a wonderful book! I loved it. It is entertaining, informative, and often humorous. Genetics professor emeritus Peter Luykx gives us a grand tour of evolution in all its glory—with a focus on how we ‘patchwork humans’ came to be. He tells us what scientists know and what remains a mystery. The writing is excellent, reader-friendly, and crystal-clear. Luykx has a gift for clear and lucid explanations. He makes the science easy to understand through analogies and real-life stories. The book is filled with insight after insight. The interview with a sea urchin is a riot….Once I started [the book], I couldn’t put it down.”—Ira Mark Egdall, physicist, retired aerospace program manager, author of Einstein Relatively Simple

• “As a retired meteorologist with no background in the biological sciences, I found The Patchwork Human by Peter Luykx very illuminating about our biology and evolution as Homo sapiens. The patches of this book are well-stitched together to provide the non-biologist with a clear path through human evolution from the basic biology of all living things to the process and pattern of our own evolution as a species. Surprisingly, and perhaps even humbling, I found the author’s interview with a sea urchin quite revealing. For successful evolution, organisms must adapt to their changing environments and reproduce. Modern Homo sapiens is making rapid, large scale environmental changes that are affecting evolution on this planet. The sea urchin will probably survive these changes, but Homo sapiens may not.”—James M. Gross, Ph.D., retired meteorologist, National Hurricane Center, Miami, Florida

• “A fresh, beautifully written, reader-friendly exploration of the slow, subtle evolutionary processes that resulted in human beings as we know them today. …Surprising and sometimes hilarious comparisons are used to deepen our understanding of the human condition. …An extraordinary read and highly recommended.”—Christine A. Nalepa, Ph.D., research specialist for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture (retired), adjunct associate professor, North Carolina State University