Human evolution


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Evolution
War in the womb

A ferocious biological struggle between mother and baby belies any sentimental ideas we might have about pregnancy

Suzanne Sadedin

Illustration by Matt Murphy

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Language and linguistics
Real talk

For decades, the idea of a language instinct has dominated linguistics. It is simple, powerful and completely wrong

Vyvyan Evans

Children play on Omaha beach in Normandy, France, 1947. Photo by David Seymour/Magnum Photos

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Meaning and the good life
Natural-born existentialists

Ethics cannot be based on human nature because, as evolutionary biology tells us, there is no such thing

Ronnie de Sousa

At the Caspian Sea, Iran, in 2017. Photo by Newsha Tavakolian/Magnum Photos

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Family life
The marvel of the human dad

Among our close animal relatives, only humans have involved and empathic fathers. Why did evolution favour the devoted dad?

Anna Machin

A family gathering near Tehran in 2017. Photo by Thomas Dworzak/Magnum Photos

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Values and beliefs
Human nature matters

The only way to construct a robust philosophy for life is to have a clear and realistic picture of what makes humans tick

Skye C Cleary & Massimo Pigliucci

A grandmother and granddaughter from Cape Verde. Photo by O. Louis Mazzatenta/National Geographic

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Demography and migration
The future is mixed-race

And so is the past. Migration and mingling are essential to human success in the past, the present and into the future

Scott Solomon

Giraffes in Kenya. Photo by Mitsuaki Iwago/Minden Pictures/National Geographic

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Genetics
Unified theory of evolution

Darwin’s theory that natural selection drives evolution is incomplete without input from evolution’s anti-hero: Lamarck

Michael Skinner

Image courtesy The British Library

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Social psychology
Disgust made us human

Our ancestors reacted to parasites with overwhelming revulsion, wiring the brain for morals, manners, politics and laws

Kathleen McAuliffe

An exhibit depicts the life of a Neanderthal family in the new Neanderthal Museum in the northern town of Krapina, Croatia. 25 February 2010. Photo by Nikola Solic/Reuters

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Human evolution
The Neanderthal renaissance

Handprints on a cave wall, crumbs from a meal: the new science of Neanderthals radically recasts the meaning of humanity

Rebecca Wragg Sykes

A Mongolian shaman or böö sits with his child before a fire ritual during the summer solstice in June 2018 outside Ulaanbaatar. Banned under communist rule, shamanism has seen a resurgence in Mongolia since 1992, when the ancient practice became protected by the country’s Constitution. Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty

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Social psychology
Masters of reality

The trances and healing powers of shamans are so widespread that they can be counted a human universal. Why did they evolve?

Thomas T Hills

In dreams; a beach-roamer, Germany, 1933. Photo by Herbert List/Magnum Photos

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Sex and sexuality
How sex rules our dreams

Gritty, emotional, smelly and dirty: new evidence supports Freud’s long-debunked theory that sex fuels our dreams

Patrick McNamara

Photo by Getty

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Food and drink
Against the grains

A carbs-rich diet has been blamed for the alarming explosion of obesity and chronic disease. What does the science show?

Melinda Wenner Moyer

Are you thinking what I am thinking? From Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957). Courtesy Paramount Pictures

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Consciousness and altered states
Mind readers

Human awareness of our own minds and others’ is unlike that of any other animal. But why did consciousness evolve?

David P Barash

Hmmmmm… Photo by Getty

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Love and friendship
Why women stray

Evolutionary theory says men stray to increase offspring, but what motivates women? Enter the mate-switching hypothesis

David Buss

Eland antelopes, buffalos and humans, Republic of South Africa, Harrismith, Balmoral 8,000-2,000 BCE. Watercolour by Maria Weyersberg, 1929. Courtesy Frobenius-Institut Frankfurt am Main

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Human evolution
Imagination is ancient

Our imaginative life today has access to the pre-linguistic, ancestral mind: rich in imagery, emotions and associations

Stephen T Asma

Cave art from Sulawesi in Indonesia is now thought to be the oldest in the world. Photo courtesy Maxime Aubert/Indonesian Heritage Department

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Human evolution
In to Asia

New evidence about the ancient humans who occupied Asia is cascading in: the story of our species needs rewriting again

Christopher Bae

Development in Brown 1933, by Wassily Kandinsky. Photo by Christophel Fine Art/Getty

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Mathematics
How natural is numeracy?

Where does our number sense come from? Is it a neural capacity we are born with — or is it a product of our culture?

Philip Ball

A colorized transmission electron micrograph of Escherichia coli bacteria. Photo courtesy Elizabthe H White/CDC

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Biology
Coincidental killers

We assume that microbes evolved to attack humans when actually we are just civilian casualties in a much older war

Ed Yong

Photo by Scott Schafer/Gallery Stock

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Evolution
The first smile

Why do laughter, smiles and tears look so similar? Perhaps because they all evolved from a single root

Michael Graziano