Humans Are Primates Too

28th April 2011

Humans have a highly developed brain, capable of abstract reasoning, language, introspection, and problem solving. This mental capability, combined with an erect body carriage that frees the hands for manipulating objects, has allowed humans to make far greater use of tools than any other living species on Earth. Other higher-level thought processes of humans, such as self-awareness, rationality, and sapience, are considered to be defining features of what constitutes a "person".

Like most higher primates, humans are social animals. Humans are uniquely adept at utilizing systems of communication for self-expression, the exchange of ideas, and organization. Humans create complex social structures composed of many cooperating and competing groups, from families to nations. Social interactions between humans have established an extremely wide variety of values, social norms, and rituals, which together form the basis of human society. With individuals widespread in every continent except Antarctica, humans are a cosmopolitan species. In January 2011, the human population was estimated to be about 6.91 billion.

Humans are noted for their desire to understand and influence their environment, seeking to explain and manipulate phenomena through science, philosophy, mythology, and religion. This natural curiosity has led to the development of advanced tools and skills, which are passed down culturally; humans are the only species known to build fires, cook their food, clothe themselves, and use numerous other technologies. The study of humans is the scientific discipline of anthropology.

Scientific study of human evolution is concerned, primarily, with the development of the genus Homo, but usually involves studying other hominids and hominines as well, such as Australopithecus. "Modern humans" are defined as the Homo sapiens species, of which the only extant subspecies is known as Homo sapiens sapiens.

Homo sapiens idaltu (roughly translated as "elder wise human"), the other known subspecies, is now extinct.[Homo neanderthalensis, which became extinct 30,000 years ago, has sometimes been classified as a subspecies, "Homo sapiens neanderthalensis"; genetic studies now suggest that the functional DNA of modern humans and Neanderthals diverged 500,000 years ago.

Similarly, the discovered specimens of the Homo rhodesiensis species have been classified by some as a subspecies, but this classification is not widely accepted.

Anatomically modern humans first appear in the fossil record in Africa about 195,000 years ago, and studies of molecular biology give evidence that the approximate time of divergence from the common ancestor of all modern human populations was 200,000 years ago. The evolutionary history of primates can be traced back 65 million years. Primates are one of the oldest of all surviving placental mammal groups. The oldest known primate-like mammal species (those of the genus Plesiadapis) come from North America, but inhabited Eurasia and Africa on a wide scale during the tropical conditions of the Paleocene and Eocene. Molecular evidence suggests that the last common ancestor between humans and the remaining great apes diverged 4–8 million years ago.

The gorillas were the first group to split, then the chimpanzees (genus Pan) split off from the line leading to the humans. The functional portion of human DNA is approximately 98.4% identical to that of chimpanzees when comparing single nucleotide polymorphisms (see human evolutionary genetics). Therefore, the closest living relatives of humans are gorillas and chimpanzees, as they share a relatively recent common ancestor.

Humans are probably most closely related to two chimpanzee species: the Common Chimpanzee and the Bonobo. Full genome sequencing has resulted in the conclusion that "after 6.5 [million] years of separate evolution, the differences between chimpanzee and human are ten times greater than those between two unrelated people and ten times less than those between rats and mice". Current estimates of suggested concurrence between functional human and chimpanzee DNA sequences range between 95% and 99%;

Early estimates indicated that the human lineage may have diverged from that of chimpanzees about five million years ago, and from that of gorillas about eight million years ago. However, a hominid skull discovered in Chad in 2001, classified as Sahelanthropus tchadensis, is approximately seven million years old, and may be evidence of an earlier divergence.

Human evolution is characterised by a number of important changes - morphological, developmental, physiological, and behavioural—which have taken place since the split between the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees. The first major morphological change was the evolution of a bipedal locomotor adaptation from an arboreal or semi-arboreal one, with all its attendant adaptations (a valgus knee, low intermembral index (long legs relative to the arms), reduced upper-body strength).

The human species developed a much larger brain than that of other primates – typically 1,400 cm³ in modern humans, over twice the size of that of a chimpanzee or gorilla. The pattern of human postnatal brain growth differs from that of other apes (heterochrony), and allows for extended periods of social learning and language acquisition in juvenile humans. Physical anthropologists argue that the differences between the structure of human brains and those of other apes are even more significant than their differences in size.

Other significant morphological changes included the evolution of a power and precision grip, a reduced masticatory system, a reduction of the canine tooth, and the descent of the larynx and hyoid bone, making speech possible. An important physiological change in humans was the evolution of hidden oestrus, or concealed ovulation, which may have coincided with the evolution of important behavioural changes, such as pair bonding. Another significant behavioural change was the development of material culture, with human-made objects becoming increasingly common and diversified over time. The relationship between all these changes is the subject of ongoing debate.

The forces of natural selection have continued to operate on human populations, with evidence that certain regions of the genome display directional selection in the past 15,000 years.

Although interconnection between humans has encouraged the growth of science, art, discussion, and technology, it has also led to culture clashes and the development and use of weapons of mass destruction. Human civilization has led to environmental destruction and pollution, producing an ongoing mass extinction of other forms of life called the holocene extinction event, that may be further accelerated by global warming in the future.

Early human settlements were dependent on proximity to water and, depending on the lifestyle, other natural resources used for subsistence, such as populations of animal prey for hunting and arable land for growing crops and grazing livestock. But humans have a great capacity for altering their habitats by means of technology; through irrigation, urban planning, construction, transport, manufacturing goods, deforestation and desertification. Deliberate habitat alteration is often done with the goals of increasing material wealth, increasing thermal comfort, improving the amount of food available, improving aesthetics, or improving ease of access to resources or other human settlements. With the advent of large-scale trade and transport infrastructure, proximity to these resources has become unnecessary, and in many places, these factors are no longer a driving force behind the growth and decline of a population. Nonetheless, the manner in which a habitat is altered is often a major determinant in population change.

Technology has allowed humans to colonize all of the continents and adapt to virtually all climates. Within the last century, humans have explored Antarctica, the ocean depths, and outer space, although large-scale colonization of these environments is not yet feasible. With a population of over six billion, humans are among the most numerous of the large mammals. Most humans (61%) live in Asia. The remainder live in the Americas (14%), Africa (14%), Europe (11%), and Oceania (0.5%).

Human habitation within closed ecological systems in hostile environments, such as Antarctica and outer space, is expensive, typically limited in duration, and restricted to scientific, military, or industrial expeditions. Life in space has been very sporadic, with no more than thirteen humans in space at any given time. Between 1969 and 1972, two humans at a time spent brief intervals on the Moon. As of April 2011, no other celestial body has been visited by humans, although there has been a continuous human presence in space since the launch of the initial crew to inhabit the International Space Station on October 31, 2000. However, other celestial bodies have been visited by human-made objects.

Since 1800, the human population has increased from one billion to over six billion. In 2004, some 2.5 billion out of 6.3 billion people (39.7%) lived in urban areas, and this percentage is expected to continue to rise throughout the 21st century. In February 2008, the U.N. estimated that half the world's population will live in urban areas by the end of the year. Problems for humans living in cities include various forms of pollution and crime, especially in inner city and suburban slums.

Humans have had a dramatic effect on the environment. As humans are rarely preyed upon, they have been described as superpredators. Currently, through land development, combustion of fossil fuels and pollution humans are thought to be the main contributor to global climate change. Human activity is believed to be a major contributor to the ongoing Holocene extinction event, which is a form of mass extinction. If this continues at its current rate it is predicted that it will wipe out half of all species over the next century.

Human body types vary substantially. Although body size is largely determined by genes, it is also significantly influenced by environmental factors such as diet and exercise. The average height of an adult human is about 1.5 to 1.8 m (5 to 6 feet) tall, although this varies significantly from place to place and depending on ethnic origin. The average mass of an adult human is 54–64 kg (120–140 lbs) for females and 76–83 kg (168–183 lbs) for males. Weight can also vary greatly (e.g. obesity). Unlike most other primates, humans are capable of fully bipedal locomotion, thus leaving their arms available for manipulating objects using their hands, aided especially by opposable thumbs.

Although humans appear hairless compared to other primates, with notable hair growth occurring chiefly on the top of the head, underarms and pubic area, the average human has more hair follicles on his or her body than the average chimpanzee. The main distinction is that human hairs are shorter, finer, and less heavily pigmented than the average chimpanzee's, thus making them harder to see.
 
Humans often categorize themselves in terms of race or ethnicity, sometimes on the basis of differences in appearance. Human racial categories have been based on both ancestry and visible traits, especially facial features, skull shape, skin colour and hair texture. Most current genetic and archaeological evidence supports a recent single origin of modern humans in East Africa. Current genetic studies have demonstrated that humans on the African continent are most genetically diverse. However, compared to the other great apes, human gene sequences are remarkably homogeneous.
 
Humans are omnivorous, capable of consuming a wide variety of plant and animal material.[Varying with available food sources in regions of habitation, and also varying with cultural and religious norms, human groups have adopted a range of diets, from purely vegetarian to primarily carnivorous. In some cases, dietary restrictions in humans can lead to deficiency diseases; however, stable human groups have adapted to many dietary patterns through both genetic specialization and cultural conventions to use nutritionally balanced food sources.The human diet is prominently reflected in human culture, and has led to the development of food science.

Until the development of agriculture approximately 10,000 years ago, Homo sapiens employed a hunter-gatherer method as their sole means of food collection. This involved combining stationary food sources (such as fruits, grains, tubers, and mushrooms, insect larvae and aquatic molluscs) with wild game, which must be hunted and killed in order to be consumed.

It has been proposed that members of H. sapiens have used fire to prepare and cook food since the time of their divergence from Homo rhodesiensis (which itself had previously speciated from Homo erectus). Around ten thousand years ago, humans developed agriculture, which substantially altered their diet. This change in diet may also have altered human biology; with the spread of dairy farming providing a new and rich source of food, leading to the evolution of the ability to digest lactose in some adults.

Agriculture led to increased populations, the development of cities, and because of increased population density, the wider spread of infectious diseases. The types of food consumed, and the way in which they are prepared, has varied widely by time, location, and culture.

[Humans are generally diurnal. The average sleep requirement is between seven and nine continuous hours per day for an adult and nine to ten hours per day for a child; elderly people usually sleep for six to seven hours. Experiencing less sleep than this is common in modern societies; this sleep deprivation can have negative effects. A sustained restriction of adult sleep to four hours per day has been shown to correlate with changes in physiology and mental state, including fatigue, aggression, and bodily discomfort.

Humans are one of only nine species known to pass the mirror test - which tests whether an animal recognizes its reflection as an image of itself—along with all the great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos), Bottlenose dolphins, Asian elephants, European Magpies, and Orcas. Most human children will pass the mirror test at 18 months old. However, the usefulness of this test as a true test of consciousness has been disputed, and this may be a matter of degree rather than a sharp divide.

Humans are social beings. In comparisons with animalia, humans are regarded like the primates for their social qualities. But beyond any other creature, humans are adept at utilizing systems of communication for self-expression, the exchange of ideas, and organization, and as such have created complex social structures composed of many cooperating and competing groups. Human groups range from families to nations. Social interactions between humans have established an extremely wide variety of values, social norms, and rituals, which together form the basis of human society.

Human sexuality, besides ensuring biological reproduction, has important social functions: it creates physical intimacy, bonds, and hierarchies among individuals; and in a hedonistic sense to the enjoyment of activity involving sexual gratification. Sexual desire, or libido, is experienced as a bodily urge, often accompanied by strong emotions such as love, ecstasy and jealousy. The extreme importance of sexuality in the human species can be seen in a number of physical features, among them hidden ovulation, the evolution of external scrotum and penis suggesting sperm competition, the absence of an os penis, permanent secondary sexual characteristics, the forming of pair bonds based on sexual attraction as a common social structure and sexual ability in females outside of ovulation. These adaptations indicate that the importance of sexuality in humans is on a par with that found in the Bonobo, and that the complex human sexual behaviour has a long evolutionary history.

Human choices in acting on sexuality are commonly influenced by cultural norms, which vary widely. Restrictions are often determined by religious beliefs or social customs. The pioneering researcher Sigmund Freud believed that humans are born polymorphously perverse, which means that any number of objects could be a source of pleasure. According to Freud, humans then pass through five stages of psychosexual development (and can fixate on any stage because of various traumas during the process). For Alfred Kinsey, another influential sex researcher, people can fall anywhere along a continuous scale of sexual orientation (with only small minorities fully heterosexual or homosexual). Recent studies of neurology and genetics suggest people may be born predisposed to various sexual tendencies.

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