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12 - Human Evolution: The Three Grand Challenges of Human Biology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 April 2008

David L. Hull
Affiliation:
Northwestern University, Illinois
Michael Ruse
Affiliation:
Florida State University
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Summary

Man is but a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed.

Blaise Pascal, Pensées, number 347

A SUMMARY OF THE ARGUMENT

Human biology faces three great research frontiers: ontogenetic decoding, the brain-mind puzzle, and the ape-to-human transformation. By ontogenetic decoding, or the egg-to-adult transformation, I refer to the problem of how the unidimensional genetic information encoded in the DNA of a single cell becomes transformed into a four-dimensional being, the individual that grows, matures, and dies. Cancer, disease, and aging are epiphenomena of ontogenetic decoding. By the brain-mind puzzle I refer to the interdependent questions of (1) how the physicochemical signals that reach our sense organs become transformed into perceptions, feelings, ideas, critical arguments, aesthetic emotions, and ethical values; and (2) how, out of this diversity of experiences, there emerges a unitary reality, the mind or self. Free will and language, social and political institutions, technology and art, are all epiphenomena of the human mind. By the ape-to-human transformation I refer to the mystery of how a particular ape lineage became a hominid lineage, from which emerged, over only a few million years, humans able to think and love, to develop complex societies and subject to ethical, aesthetic and other values. The human genome differs little from the chimp genome.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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