Scientists have looked at the evolution of humanity for decades, noting its effect on every facet of life.
Ironically, it took a relatively long time for the focus of evolutionary studies to shift to medicine, looking at how we fight to stay healthy today and how both that and the dangers the human body faces have developed and changed during that time.
Throughout human history, the dominant medical emphasis was on proximate mechanical causes for ailments. A basic definition of proximate cause is the actual problem being faced.
One good way to think of that is to consider a car mechanic. When a mechanic says a car won’t start because the starter motor is shot and will cost a thousand dollars to fix it, he isn’t thinking about how the car was built and where the failed starter motor fits into the overall system. He’s all about solving the problem currently at hand.
Evolutionary Medicine has become a more prominent topic in recent years, as scientists search for explanations for dealing with modern ailments. Also known as Darwinian Medicine, it applies modern evolutionary theory to analyze the development of threats to human health over time, as well as any changes the body has made to combating these new dangers.
Evolutionary Medicine views the body and how it reacts to both real and perceived dangers not as a series of isolated events, but as a response that developed naturally and logically over thousands of years.
The concept of Evolutionary Medicine has been around almost from the point Charles Darwin got back from his voyage on the HMS Beagle in 1836 and began to write his seminal work “On the Origin of Species.”
But before we get too deep into the Evolutionary Medicine, it’s best to take a moment to review his basic thoughts on evolution.
Darwin argued that populations evolve over time via the process of natural selection. This theory has continued to develop, as we now know that changes occur at the genetic level, mutating over time and getting passed along to subsequent generations.
The new characteristics that offer survival and reproductive edges would naturally get disseminated more often over time, since those advantages enabled those who had them to further pass along those genes. New characteristics that inhibited reproductive or survival prospects would die out, as those who had them would have a harder time generating offspring.
Note, too, that “theory” has a different meaning in science than it does in most other contexts. Most people think of “theory’ as being simply a guess – it’s a theory that raccoons are knocking over your trash cans, but it could also be the neighborhood kids or aliens from Mars.
In science, a theory is a statement of general principles that has been rigorously tested. It’s not something that still has to be proven correct; it stands until somebody proves it to be wrong.
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