Your Inner Fish, Neil Shubin – Review

Your Inner Fish is all about human evolution.

By looking at fossil records, genes and life on earth today we can work out where we came from and its fascinating.

It is no exaggeration to say this book will change the way you look at the world.

Chapter 1: Finding Your Inner Fish

375 million years ago a fish called Tiktaalik appears in the fossil records in Greenland.

With its flat head and primitive limb-like fins the Tiktaalik fossil is a sea dwelling fish evolving to being a land living animal.

It was cleverly discovered by Shubin and his colleagues after studying the geology of the area and making precise predictions about the fossil record.

Chapter 2: Getting a Grip

By looking at animals with limbs scientists noticed animals as diverse as bats, horses and frogs all have a common design for their limbs, the only thing that changes is the shape and size of the bones.

Humans can rotate our hands relative to our elbows,using a pivot point. This lineage can be traced back to Tiktaalik who could also bend its elbow.

Life in and out of water is not that clearcut with some ancient and modern day fish having lungs.

It appears that fish began growing limbs to escape the water and the fierce predators that lived there.

Chapter 3: Handy Genes

Each cell in our body contains the genetic code to make the whole body.

Different genes are active in the different cell types and genetic switches help assemble us. Interestingly the gene responsible for limb and fin development is the same.

This points to the fact that the evolution of limbs from fins did not require any new genes.

Chapter 4: Teeth Everywhere

Looking at teeth gives us lots of clues about our genetic heritage.

Mammals have a single jaw bone and top and bottom teeth which match up. Reptiles have jaws with many bones and replace teeth continually. Primitive fish like Lampreys have no jaws and feed by attaching themselves to other fish and feeding on their body fluids.

Human teeth reveal that we are all purpose eaters, having incisors specialised to cut food, canines in the back and molars in extreme back to shear or mash food.

Our teeth are the hardest parts of our bodies, Hydroxyapatite giving them their hardness.

The primary purpose of teeth is to allow us to eat things that are bigger than our mouths.

Chapter 5: Getting Ahead

In this chapter we learn that the essence of our heads goes right back to worms.

The muscles in the head are attached to the brain and organs. The nerves in the head look very much like the wiring in an old building, not making logical sense. They have evolved that way to accommodate other features eg. giraffes neck.

Chapter 6: The Best Laid (Body) Plans

The plans for our bodies goes back to fish and if you think about it that’s quite logical. Their bodies are lined up like ours, they have heads and spines.

Animals in other lineages such as sponges and jellyfish have fundamentally different body plans.

Chapter 7: Adventures in Bodybuilding

In experiments using bacteria, predation has been shown to produce multi cellular organisms from single celled ones over a number of generations.

Around 1 bn years ago bacteria began eating each other and at the same time oxygen levels increased in the atmosphere which allowed for multi cellular organisms to survive.

We evolved from these multi cellular organisms, with cells specialising and eventually leading to skeletons and limbs.

Chapter 8: Making Scents

Our sense of smell goes back to being a fish.

Lampreys and Hagfish have single nostril and extract odours from water. Lungfish have 2 kinds of nostrils, external and internal which is similar to the structure we have.

Mammals developed a much greater sense of smell and in fact a whole 3% of the human genome is devoted to smell.

Humans though, like other primates with colour vision, have a diminished sense of smell. Apparently there was an evolutionary trade off between the 2.

Dolphins have no sense of smell and use what was their noses as blow holes to blow out water.

Chapter 9: Vision

The eyes capture light and transmit it to the brain where it is processed.

An amazing 70% of our sensory cells are used for vision.

Fascinatingly, the origin of the eye can be traced right back to bacteria!

There is a single gene which triggers the formation of the eye called pac 6 and this is the same in many creatures with eyes.

Chapter 10: Ears

The history of the inner ear can be traced to ancient fish and the neurons even further.

Mammals’ middle ears are different to other species, having 3 bones.

Interestingly one jelly fish, the Box Jelly fish has 20 eyes, though no other type of jellyfish has eyes.

Chapter 11: The Meaning Of It All

Looking at a human is like looking back in time through our evolutionary heritage. Some of our features started with bacteria, some with fish, others as mammals.

If we look at other animals it becomes apparent which parts are similar. We have many similarities to a Polar Bear, fewer with a Turtle and fewer still with a regular fish.

Many human illnesses are a result of our sedentary lifestyle when our bodies are built for an active one.

Epilogue

We should embrace scientific study without fear.

Maybe it will give us a deeper understanding of human nature and help us cure illnesses

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What Every Body Is Saying, Joe Navarro – Review

What Every Body is Saying is a detailed book on body language by one of the world’s leading experts.

Joe Navarro has dedicated his life to studying body language, a passion which began aged 8 and led him to a 25 year career in the FBI.

A mix of theory, scientific facts and careful observations fill the book with revealing insights.

Chapter 1: Mastering the Secrets of Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication constitutes 65% of all interpersonal communication and if your not already you should start paying attention because our body language tells the truth!

Joe has 10 commandments of body language which include conscious and continuous observation, establishing baselines, looking out for changes, discomfort and not staring at people 😉

Chapter 2: Living Our Limbic Legacy

Think you’re clever – well you should be, you have 3 brains!

Your mammalian ‘limbic’ brain controls your body language and works on a freeze, fight then flight basis.

This survival mechanism evolved millenia ago and is still useful in our survival today. When we are comfortable we demonstrate high confidence and when not comfortable we show low confidence behaviours.

If we are uncomfortable we use pacifying behaviours to stimulate our brains into feeling better. There are differences between men and women but in general these behaviours take the form of  touching our necks, our faces, whistling, yawning, touching our legs and hugging ourselves.

Chapter 3: Getting a Leg Up on Body Language

Forget eye contact and hugs, if you want to know what someone is feeling take a closer look at their legs!

Peoples’ legs give away uncensored information about their inner most thoughts.

Look out for happy feet, which way feet are pointing, the knee clasp and leg splay to gauge what someone is thinking.

If we are comfortable we will cross our legs, and lovers will mirror each others legs. Significant changes in leg movement, foot freeze and the foot lock and leave indicate a lack of comfort.

If you want to know if someone likes you when you meet them when you have shaken their hand see if they stay still or move towards or away from you.

People walk in 40 different ways!

Chapter 4: Torso Tips

People turn towards things they like and away from things they don’t. If we can’t turn away from something we dislike we use our arms as a shield.

When trying to assert dominance people may puff up their chests or splay their torso.

Like the legs, the torso is honest, partly because it contains all our organs!

Chapter 5: Knowledge Within Reach

Arms are used to display dominance for example arms akimbo and the hooding effect, we throw our arms in the air when we are happy and hug people we like. Touching someone’s arm is one of the best ways to instantly gain rapport.

We also put jewellery on our arms to demonstrate wealth.

Chapter 6: Getting a Grip

Our human hands are unique amongst the animals and by using them correctly we can become more persuasive, likeable and credible :)

You can offend people with your hands by pointing, snapping your fingers or flipping the ‘bird’.

Look out for steepling, thumb displays, genital framing, frozen hands, hand wringing, neck touching, microexpressions as all give away our subconscious thouhts.

When shaking hands, don’t try to assert dominance it doesn’t work, giving a good firm handshake is the best bet!

Chapter 7: The Minds’s Canvas

Our facial expressions are a universal language. Humans are capable of more than 10,000 different facial expressions.

Because we can control our facial expressions we can mask emotions but faces are still useful for gauging emotion.

Look out for eye blocking behaviours like squinting and pupil constriction. People do this when they don’t like what they see. Likewise, if what they say is agreeable we see pupil dilation, eyebrow arching and flashbulb eyes.

Contempt is shown by the rolling of the eyes and sneering. The lips, nose, forehead, cheeks all give information away and If the face is sending mixed signals, the negative emotion is more honest.

Interestingly eye contact does not indicate honesty and is often used by psychopaths!

Chapter 8: Detecting Deception

Despite the inherent honesty of our body language, when the body lies, its still hard to tell. Even the most gifted body language readers can only detect deception 60% of the time. Polygraphs are only 60-80% accurate. That’s because lying is a survival tool.

When trying to detect deception make sure you know the base level of body language when comfortable. Look out for blocking using objects, pacifying behaviour, clusters of behaviours, synchrony and emphasis.

Pay attention and get a good view!

Chapter 9: Final Thouhts

We are taught to listen to what people say, see what peoples bodies are telling you and a whole new world of communication will open up!

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