The Human Body Story

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

An edited version of this conversation was included in a best-of episode of the Brian Lehrer Show on December 26, 2013. It originally aired live on October 15, and the audio from that segment is posted here.

Professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard and author of the new book, The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease (Pantheon, 2013), Daniel Lieberman, discusses why we have flat feet, myopia, type 2 diabetes and other evolutionary mismatches and why he thinks we need to think more about our evolutionary history when we think about our health.


Daniel Lieberman

Comments [17]

John A

It seems so simple. If culture moves in a direction that harms more than it helps, do we wait for the body to evolve to fix the mismatch, or just steer the culture away from that harming direction?

Oct. 15 2013 03:17 PM
David from Brooklyn

The professor did not really answer my question. We have big brains. The state of our living affairs was inevitable. Would you want to live in a "matched disease" world, pre-penicillin, subsistence living, barefoot, where one dies of strep throat? In which babies are still born? He makes some legit points, but it takes, what, 10,000 years for evolutionary change? Jeez. I feel it's just another attack on our modern standard of living. Imagine influenza in Europe after the Great War in which millions died.. Penicillin would have taken care of that. I'll take type two diabetes, thank you. And flat feet too.

Oct. 15 2013 11:33 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Isn't it also about how many convolutions are in the brain?

Oct. 15 2013 11:10 AM
Andy from Atlanta

I heard Dr. Lieberman on Fresh Air and really love the insight he has brought to our modern condition - BUT in the end, I cannot help but feel depressed. How can we fix these issues in our everyday lives? Or are we at the whim of a larger evolutionary pattern?

Oct. 15 2013 11:07 AM
pina from so. plainfield

Didn't our brains grow bigger when we start eating meat/fat?

Oct. 15 2013 11:07 AM
Miscellaneous from NYC

@ Ed from Larchmont: That's what evolutionary biologists do. They are not theologians and don't claim to be.

Oct. 15 2013 11:06 AM
Leland Vall from New York

Our modern surroundings and activities are also a component in the cause of poor posture. While the world is modern, our body is ancient. The Alexander Technique can help you take advantage of the natural integrity of your body to stand and move with greater ease no matter what you are doing.

Oct. 15 2013 11:05 AM
pina from so.plainfield

You guys need to read "Grain Brain"- yes, immune diseases and even Alzheimer's are because of our diet.

Oct. 15 2013 11:05 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

The problem with treating certain diseases is that had they been allowed to run their course, the people who have them might have died out and left people who are more resistant. The same thing applies to people who have auto-immune diseases and other inherited disorders. If, for example, people who have MS or ALS or some of these other disorders died before they could reproduce, they would not be passing them on. Modern medicine has prevented us from evolving in such a way that we would no longer have some of these ailments. Of course, mutating DNA might have us suffering with other problems, but the concept of "survival of the fittest" is that we evolve over time to be a better, healthier species.

Oct. 15 2013 11:04 AM

Can he clarify evolution of brain/cranium size and bipedal development in reference to human childbirth and associated difficulties in comparison to other animals?

Oct. 15 2013 11:04 AM
Ed from Larchmont

It's great to have an evolutionary biologist who discusses science and not theology.

Oct. 15 2013 11:03 AM
Andrea from Brooklyn

Are auto-immune diseases also a result of evolutionary mismatch?

Oct. 15 2013 11:00 AM
Dan from Morristown, NJ - USA

Ask how clothing affects the body? What is the relationship between sunlight, air and our skin vs. what clothing may block - and that combined with any effects on the lymphatic system.

Oct. 15 2013 10:59 AM
Julian from Manhattan

What is Dr. Lieberman's evidence for the date of origin of myopia? Are there glasses that have been found along with other artifacts? Myopia is a "defect" in which the length of the eyeball is too long for a sharp focus in distance vision. It is genetically inherited, and has probably been with us for millennia or more. How is this relevant to Dr. Lieberman's hypothesis? The idea that it is related to modern habits is preposterous. Perhaps the "disevolution" that Dr. Lieberman refers to is caused by the removal of some selective pressure due to altruism in human societal living.

Oct. 15 2013 10:59 AM
Sandra from NYC

So if all of this is true, WHY are we living so much longer than the previous generations?

Oct. 15 2013 10:59 AM
Amy from Manhattan

A lot of people were nearsighted long before computers were invented & became common. Is there any evidence of an increase in nearsightedness after the spread of the printing press? Did anyone write about it? Was it just luck that lens technology developed around the same time?

Oct. 15 2013 10:58 AM
Sharon from UES

Can you ask your guest about the prevalence of Candida and Gluten-Allergies?

Oct. 15 2013 10:53 AM

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