Nathan H. Lents – Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes

Nathan H. Lents – Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes

A book that can be amusing, but also points out the limitations of design without a designer. That said, organisms as they are almost certainly far better off than if they were the products of design with a designer. Well worth a read for that reason, but mostly because it’s fun to know about bodily quirks and maladies we all share for no apparent reason. Part of reading this book is taking a bit of delight in our own misfortunes.

We humans are doomed to have bad knees and back problems because the human body is not fully adapted to bipedalism. Our lack of a protruding snout (facial prognathism), such as most other animals have, dooms us to endless colds and sinus infections. We have the same piping back there as other animals, but in us it is compressed and shifted around in ways no plumber would design. This evolutionary quirk is why we get sick so often, even as our household cats and dogs rarely do.

One minor, Seinfeld-esque example I found personally relevant is that some people have the ability to voluntarily control a small muscle near the ear drum, causing a low rumbling sound kind of like muffled thunder. I am one of those people. The weird part is because it’s just a small muscle flexing inside one’s head, nobody else can hear the rumbling, even though to the hearer it can be loud enough to drown out conversation. It also has an involuntary component, in my case triggered by yawning, sneezing, and bright lights–those mouth and eye movements also work the muscle in question. I’ve silently wondered since childhood what causes this; it’s apparently just a random mutation some people have. Other readers will likely have similar “oh, that’s what that is!” moments.

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