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Neil Shubin, the paleontologist and professor of anatomy who co-discovered Tiktaalik, the “fish with hands,” tells the story of our bodies as you''ve never heard it before. The basis for the PBS series.

By examining fossils and DNA, he shows us that our hands actually resemble fish fins, our heads are organized like long-extinct jawless fish, and major parts of our genomes look and function like those of worms and bacteria. Your Inner Fish makes us look at ourselves and our world in an illuminating new light. This is science writing at its finest—enlightening, accessible and told with irresistible enthusiasm.


Review

“A compelling scientific adventure story that will change forever how you understand what it means to be human.”

—Oliver Sacks

 

“Magisterial. . . . If you want to understand the evolutionary history of man and other animals, and read no other account this year, read this splendid monograph.”

Financial Times

 

“Wonderful. . . . A remarkably readable trip through the deep history of our own bodies.”

The Boston Globe

 

“[Shubin''s] simple, passionate writing may turn more than a few high-school students into aspiring biologists.”

Nature

 

“Lively. . . . Join him and learn to love your body for what it really is: a jury-rigged fish.”

Discover

 

“Remarkably enthusiastic. . . . Shubin presents his arguments creatively and concisely, tackling sometimes profound questions about origins and evolution directly, even humorously.”

San Diego Union-Tribune

 

“Shubin''s hand, transformed from what was once a fishy fin, provides a powerful example of what evolution is capable of. . . . A deft synthesis.”

New Scientist

 

“A delightful introduction to our skeletal structure, viscera and other vital parts. . . . [Shubin] is a warm and disarming guide.”

Los Angeles Times

 

“With infectious enthusiasm, unfailing clarity, and laugh-out-loud humor, Neil Shubin has created a book on paleontology, genetics, genomics, and anatomy that is almost impossible to put down. In telling the story of why we are who we are, Shubin does more than show us our inner fish; he awakens and excites the inner scientist in us all.”

—Pauline Chen, author of Final Exam

 

“The antievolution crowd is always asking where the missing links in the descent of man are. Well, paleontologist Shubin actually discovered one. . . . A crackerjack comparative anatomist, he uses his find to launch a voyage of discovery about the evolutionary evidence we can readily see at hand. . . . Shubin relays all this exciting evidence and reasoning so clearly that no general-interest library should be without this book.”

Booklist (starred review)

 

“A skillful writer, paleontologist Shubin conveys infectious enthusiasm. . . . Even readers with only a layperson’s knowledge of evolution will learn marvelous things about the unity of all organisms since the beginning of life.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

 

“Fish paleontologist Shubin illuminates the subject of evolution with humor and clarity in this compelling look at how the human body evolved into its present state. . . . Shubin moves smoothly through the anatomical spectrum. . . . [He] excels at explaining the science, making each discovery an adventure.”

Publishers Weekly

 

“I was hooked from the first chapter of Your Inner Fish. Creationists will want this book banned because it presents irrefutable evidence for a transitional creature that set the stage for the journey from sea to land. This engaging book combines the excitement of discovery with the rigors of great scholarship to provide a convincing case of evolution from fish to man.”

—Don Johanson, director, Institute of Human Origins; discoverer of “Lucy”

 

“In this extraordinary book, Neil Shubin takes us on an epic expedition to arctic wastelands, where his team discovered amazing new fossil evidence of creatures that bridge the gap between fish and land-living animals. . . .With clarity and wit, Shubin shows us how exciting it is to be in the new age of discovery in evolutionary biology.”

—Mike Novacek, author of Terra: Our 100 Million Year Ecosystem and the Threats That Now Put It at Risk

 

"Cleverly weaving together adventures in paleontology with very accessible science, Neil Shubin reveals the many surprisingly deep connections between our anatomy and that of fish, reptiles, and other creatures. You will never look at your body in the same way again--examine, embrace, and exalt Your Inner Fish!"

—Sean Carroll, author of The Making of Fittest and Endless Forms Most Beautiful

 

"If you thought paleontology was all about Jurassic Park, take a look at this eye-opening book. Shubin takes us back 375 million years, to a time when a strange fish-like creature swam (or crawled) in shallow streams. Come along on this thrilling paleontological journey and learn how living things--including you--got to be what they are."

—Richard Ellis, author of Encyclopedia of the Sea

 

"The human story didn''t start with the first bipeds; it began literally billions of years ago. In this easy-reading volume, Shubin shows us how to discover that long and fascinating history in the structure of our own bodies while weaving in a charming account of his own scientific journey. This is the ideal book for anyone who wants to explore beyond the usual anthropocentric account of human origins."

—Ian Tattersall, curator, American Museum of Natural History

About the Author

Neil Shubin is the author of the best-selling Your Inner Fish, which was chosen by the National Academy of Sciences as the best book of the year in 2009. Trained at Columbia, Harvard, and the University of California at Berkeley, Shubin is associate dean of biological sciences at the University of Chicago. In 2011 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

 

www.neilshubin.com

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

FINDING YOUR INNER FISH

Typical summers of my adult life are spent in snow and sleet, cracking rocks on cliffs well north of the Arctic Circle. Most of the time I freeze, get blisters, and find absolutely nothing. But if I have any luck, I find ancient fish bones. That may not sound like buried treasure to most people, but to me it is more valuable than gold.

Ancient fish bones can be a path to knowledge about who we are and how we got that way. We learn about our own bodies in seemingly bizarre places, ranging from the fossils of worms and fish recovered from rocks from around the world to the DNA in virtually every animal alive on earth today. But that does not explain my confidence about why skeletal remains from the past—and the remains of fish, no less—offer clues about the fundamental structure of our bodies.

How can we visualize events that happened millions and, in many cases, billions of years ago? Unfortunately, there were no eyewitnesses; none of us was around. In fact, nothing that talks or has a mouth or even a head was around for most of this time. Even worse, the animals that existed back then have been dead and buried for so long their bodies are only rarely preserved. If you consider that over 99 percent of all species that ever lived are now extinct, that only a very small fraction are preserved as fossils, and that an even smaller fraction still are ever found, then any attempt to see our past seems doomed from the start.



DIGGING FOSSILS—SEEING OURSELVES

I first saw one of our inner fish on a snowy July afternoon while studying 375-million-year-old rocks on Ellesmere Island, at a latitude about 80 degrees north. My colleagues and I had traveled up to this desolate part of the world to try to discover one of the key stages in the shift from fish to land-living animals. Sticking out of the rocks was the snout of a fish. And not just any fish: a fish with a flat head. Once we saw the flat head we knew we were onto something. If more of this skeleton were found inside the cliff, it would reveal the early stages in the history of our skull, our neck, even our limbs.

What did a flat head tell me about the shift from sea to land? More relevant to my personal safety and comfort, why was I in the Arctic and not in Hawaii? The answers to these questions lie in the story of how we find fossils and how we use them to decipher our own past.

Fossils are one of the major lines of evidence that we use to understand ourselves. (Genes and embryos are others, which I will discuss later.) Most people do not know that finding fossils is something we can often do with surprising precision and predictability. We work at home to maximize our chances of success in the field. Then we let luck take over.

The paradoxical relationship between planning and chance is best described by Dwight D. Eisenhower’s famous remark about warfare: “In preparing for battle, I have found that planning is essential, but plans are useless.” This captures field paleontology in a nutshell. We make all kinds of plans to get us to promising fossil sites. Once we’re there, the entire field plan may be thrown out the window. Facts on the ground can change our best-laid plans.

Yet we can design expeditions to answer specific scientific questions. Using a few simple ideas, which I’ll talk about below, we can predict where important fossils might be found. Of course, we are not successful 100 percent of the time, but we strike it rich often enough to make things interesting. I have made a career out of doing just that: finding early mammals to answer questions of mammal origins, the earliest frogs to answer questions of frog origins, and some of the earliest limbed animals to understand the origins of land-living animals.

In many ways, field paleontologists have a significantly easier time finding new sites today than we ever did before. We know more about the geology of local areas, thanks to the geological exploration undertaken by local governments and oil and gas companies. The Internet gives us rapid access to maps, survey information, and aerial photos. I can even scan your backyard for promising fossil sites right from my laptop. To top it off, imaging and radiographic devices can see through some kinds of rock and allow us to visualize the bones inside.

Despite these advances, the hunt for the important fossils is much what it was a hundred years ago. Paleontologists still need to look at rock—literally to crawl over it—and the fossils within must often be removed by hand. So many decisions need to be made when prospecting for and removing fossil bone that these processes are difficult to automate. Besides, looking at a monitor screen to find fossils would never be nearly as much fun as actually digging for them.

What makes this tricky is that fossil sites are rare. To maximize our odds of success, we look for the convergence of three things. We look for places that have rocks of the right age, rocks of the right type to preserve fossils, and rocks that are exposed at the surface. There is another factor: serendipity. That I will show by example.

Our example will show us one of the great transitions in the history of life: the invasion of land by fish. For billions of years, all life lived only in water. Then, as of about 365 million years ago, creatures also inhabited land. Life in these two environments is radically different. Breathing in water requires very different organs than breathing in air. The same is true for excretion, feeding, and moving about. A whole new kind of body had to arise. At first glance, the divide between the two environments appears almost unbridgeable. But everything changes when we look at the evidence; what looks impossible actually happened.

In seeking rocks of the right age, we have a remarkable fact on our side. The fossils in the rocks of the world are not arranged at random. Where they sit, and what lies inside them, is most definitely ordered, and we can use this order to design our expeditions. Billions of years of change have left layer upon layer of different kinds of rock in the earth. The working assumption, which is easy to test, is that rocks on the top are younger than rocks on the bottom; this is usually true in areas that have a straightforward, layer-cake arrangement (think the Grand Canyon). But movements of the earth’s crust can cause faults that shift the position of the layers, putting older rocks on top of younger ones. Fortunately, once the positions of these faults are recognized, we can often piece the original sequence of layers back together.

The fossils inside these rock layers also follow a progression, with lower layers containing species entirely different from those in the layers above. If we could quarry a single column of rock that contained the entire history of life, we would find an extraordinary range of fossils. The lowest layers would contain little visible evidence of life. Layers above them would contain impressions of a diverse set of jellyfish-like things. Layers still higher would have creatures with skeletons, appendages, and various organs, such as eyes. Above those would be layers with the first animals to have backbones. And so on. The layers with the first people would be found higher still. Of course, a single column containing the entirety of earth history does not exist. Rather, the rocks in each location on earth represent only a small sliver of time. To get the whole picture, we need to put the pieces together by comparing the rocks themselves and the fossils inside them, much as if working a giant jigsaw puzzle.

That a column of rocks has a progression of fossil species probably comes as no surprise. Less obvious is that we can make detailed predictions about what the species in each layer might actually look like, by comparing them with species of animals that are alive today; this information helps us to predict the kinds of fossils we will find in ancient rock layers. In fact, the fossil sequences in the world’s rocks can be predicted by comparing ourselves with the animals at our local zoo or aquarium.

How can a walk through the zoo help us predict where we should look in the rocks to find important fossils? A zoo offers a great variety of creatures that are all distinct in many ways. But let’s not focus on what makes them distinct; to pull off our prediction, we need to focus on what different creatures share. We can then use the features common to all species to identify groups of creatures with similar traits. All the living things can be organized and arranged like a set of Russian nesting dolls, with smaller groups of animals comprised in bigger groups of animals. When we do this, we discover something very fundamental about nature.

Every species in the zoo and the aquarium has a head and two eyes. Call these species “Everythings.” A subset of the creatures with a head and two eyes has limbs. Call the limbed species “Everythings with limbs.” A subset of these headed and limbed creatures has a huge brain, walks on two feet, and speaks. That subset is us, humans. We could, of course, use this way of categorizing things to make many more subsets, but even this threefold division has predictive power.

The fossils inside the rocks of the world generally follow this order, and we can put it to use in designing new expeditions. To use the example above, the first member of the group “Everythings,” a creature with a head and two eyes, is found in the fossil record well before the first “Everything with limbs.” More precisely, the first fish (a card-carrying member of the “Everythings”) appears before the first amphibian (an “Everything with limbs”). Obviously, we refine this by looking at more kinds of animals and many more characteristics that groups of them share, as well as by assessing the actual age of the rocks themselves.

In our labs, we do exactly this type of analysis with thousands upon thousands of characteristics and species. We look at every bit of anatomy we can, and often at large chunks of DNA. There are so much data that we often need powerful computers to show us the groups within groups. This approach is the foundation of biology, because it enables us to make hypotheses about how creatures are related to one another.

Besides helping us refine the groupings of life, hundreds of years of fossil collection have produced a vast library, or catalogue, of the ages of the earth and the life on it. We can now identify general time periods when major changes occurred. Interested in the origin of mammals? Go to rocks from the period called the Early Mesozoic; geochemistry tells us that these rocks are likely about 210 million years old. Interested in the origin of primates? Go higher in the rock column, to the Cretaceous period, where rocks are about 80 million years old.

The order of fossils in the world’s rocks is powerful evidence of our connections to the rest of life. If, digging in 600-million-year-old rocks, we found the earliest jellyfish lying next to the skeleton of a woodchuck, then we would have to rewrite our texts. That woodchuck would have appeared earlier in the fossil record than the first mammal, reptile, or even fish—before even the first worm. Moreover, our ancient woodchuck would tell us that much of what we think we know about the history of the earth and life on it is wrong. Despite more than 150 years of people looking for fossils—on every continent of earth and in virtually every rock layer that is accessible—this observation has never been made.

Let’s now return to our problem of how to find relatives of the first fish to walk on land. In our grouping scheme, these creatures are somewhere between the “Everythings” and the “Everythings with limbs.” Map this to what we know of the rocks, and there is strong geological evidence that the period from 380 million to 365 million years ago is the critical time. The younger rocks in that range, those about 360 million years old, include diverse kinds of fossilized animals that we would all recognize as amphibians or reptiles. My colleague Jenny Clack at Cambridge University and others have uncovered amphibians from rocks in Greenland that are about 365 million years old. With their necks, their ears, and their four legs, they do not look like fish. But in rocks that are about 385 million years old, we find whole fish that look like, well, fish. They have fins, conical heads, and scales; and they have no necks. Given this, it is probably no great surprise that we should focus on rocks about 375 million years old to find evidence of the transition between fish and land-living animals.

We have settled on a time period to research, and so have identified the layers of the geological column we wish to investigate. Now the challenge is to find rocks that were formed under conditions capable of preserving fossils. Rocks form in different kinds of environments and these initial settings leave distinct signatures on the rock layers. Volcanic rocks are mostly out. No fish that we know of can live in lava. And even if such a fish existed, its fossilized bones would not survive the superheated conditions in which basalts, rhyolites, granites, and other igneous rocks are formed. We can also ignore metamorphic rocks, such as schist and marble, for they have undergone either superheating or extreme pressure since their initial formation. Whatever fossils might have been preserved in them have long since disappeared. Ideal to preserve fossils are sedimentary rocks: limestones, sandstones, siltstones, and shales. Compared with volcanic and metamorphic rocks, these are formed by more gentle processes, including the action of rivers, lakes, and seas. Not only are animals likely to live in such environments, but the sedimentary processes make these rocks more likely places to preserve fossils. For example, in an ocean or lake, particles constantly settle out of the water and are deposited on the bottom. Over time, as these particles accumulate, they are compressed by new, overriding layers. The gradual compression, coupled with chemical processes happening inside the rocks over long periods of time, means that any skeletons contained in the rocks stand a decent chance of fossilizing. Similar processes happen in and along streams. The general rule is that the gentler the flow of the stream or river, the better preserved the fossils.

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Mike Morgenstein
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
"Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution"
Reviewed in the United States on February 3, 2016
I''ll first give my take on the book then provide a brief summary. Author Neil Shubin is an awesome man and author. His personal anecdotes came at perfect times and flowed with the book in harmony. His writing style is congenial, conversational, humorous, candid, and i''d go... See more
I''ll first give my take on the book then provide a brief summary. Author Neil Shubin is an awesome man and author. His personal anecdotes came at perfect times and flowed with the book in harmony. His writing style is congenial, conversational, humorous, candid, and i''d go as far to say inspirational. Prospective readers - especially those who aren''t enthralled by evolution or anatomy - might predetermine the text as being bland and heavy. It''s quite the opposite; I found myself laughing many times and perhaps the only weakness of the book is that it''s too short. I personally enjoy shorter books because I enjoy delving into a few different topics a month. For only 200 pages there is a hell of a lot to learn and so much great information jam-packed in an easy-to-understand way. The author is an acute articulator, and has a good habit of recapitulating unfamiliar topics. This is an unconventional evolution book. Scientist Theodosius Dobzhansky once famously said "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution". This could have been the name of this book. Having read numerous evolution books before, I would have thought that attaining higher appreciation for it than I already have was an unattainable goal, but reading this book shattered that notion because my appreciation for evolution is substantially heightened. Nothing is more enlightening than finding out the truth of your existence up to your very faults.

The book is split by 11 chapters. The first four explore the theme of how we can trace the same organ in different creatures. I''ll briefly summarize:

- Chapter 1-4:

The author starts by describing his legendary trip to Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Canada. He describes the struggles and the significance of his finding: The Tiktaalik; a creature from the late Devonian period (375 million years ago) that currently holds as the most well-established evolutionary transition from fish to amphibian. I''ve read about the Tiktaalik before in one of Dawkin''s books, but I was surprised to find out that the author of this book actually discovered it. His expedition is a fascinating read in itself because the author is a great storyteller, and seems to be a really humble, laid-back, and fun guy. He all of the latter not only when sharing his personal experiences, but when speaking on behalf of his chosen subjects as well. He describes how he ended up near the arctic - and on the Pennsylvania highways - when looking for his fossils of choice. He gives a general introduction of where and how - using paleontology and evolution - you would find fossils. He elucidates the difference between fish and amphibian (through bone structure and limbs) and mammal and reptile. There''s a chapter dedicated to teeth. Teeth are important and extremely helpful when identifying or distinguishing differences among animals (i.e. reptiles and mammals). There''s a chapter dedicated limb structure, specifically the hand and arm. The developmental difference between our arms and a fish''s fins are very similar early on in development but become vastly different through the process (inside the egg). The author explains why and shows experiments involving the relevant genes for such functions (those involving the ZPA tissue and Sonic Hedgehog gene manipulation, there''s a chapter to this called "Handy Genes").

- Chapter 5-11:

In each one of these chapters, certain body parts of ours are to our distant ancestors. In other words, we get to explore, interpret, analyze, compare and contrast the our body functions with our distant ancestors. We figure out the inception of many body parts (and functions) and why they evolved to work the way they do for us. Specifically, there''s a chapter on: the head, entire body, scent, vision, and ears.
Some interesting stuff by chapter: In the field of Embryology, - the study of Embryos, or fetuses - we see that all animals are alike at their very initial gestation stage, with four little swellings called arches that develop around what comes to be the throat area. This is explained in more detail in the book but the fascinating thing is that these arches, depending on the species, all come to have a different but similar function in the body as the conception process gets underway. In the book, the example of comparison are humans and our very distant ancestor shark. Cranial nerve structure is also discussed and compared. Also discussed are headless animals - primitive ones - and the origins of our notochord. There''s a whole section on the similarity of active (and inactive) genes among completely different specifies. What happens if you remove tissue, or add certain DNA strands in fruitful area? The evolution of scent is interesting because fish evolving to leave the water and thus become an amphibian, it requires major changes because there are 2 kinds of smelling genes: one for water and one for air. The chapter on scent is epic and so is the proceeding one on vision and then Hearing. We can trace major events in our eyes by analyzing certain eye genes that we share with other creatures. Mammals have the same ear bones as fish, the difference being that wish don''t have ears. We come to see that there''s major contrast between the functions of these bones for different groups of animals, like mammals and amphibians. These differences are part of why we label an animal to be a "mammal" or "amphibian" in the first place. Our middle ear bones are the malleus, incus and stapes. We come to see that the malleus and incus evolved from jawbones.

Of the million years of life, Homo Sapiens have survived extinction and for the time being remain extant. But this doesn''t mean that we don''t have our problems. There''s no preternatural creator ghost behind the complexity or susceptibility of our bodies, but even better: an evolutionary explanation of everything in our body from our genetic workings to our genotypes. Because of such primitive origins, our bodies aren''t fully accustomed to certain things and thus thanks to our fish ancestors we develop things like hernias or hangovers. So why is this better then? For one, because it makes perfect sense! And two, by having a natural understanding of our anatomy, we can spearhead our way into the understanding of imperative issues - like disease or congenital defects - that shackle and sometimes terminate the life of many good individuals. This is very important, and so is this book. I''m grateful I read it.
47 people found this helpful
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Candace Drimmer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Entrancing walk through our antecedents using a variety of sciences
Reviewed in the United States on January 3, 2021
When I was a freshman in high school, I had to take Biology. The female teacher was unintelligible to me, so much so that even having take-home exams, I did terribly in the class. When I was scheduled to see the orthodontist during Biology class, I was relieved having come... See more
When I was a freshman in high school, I had to take Biology. The female teacher was unintelligible to me, so much so that even having take-home exams, I did terribly in the class. When I was scheduled to see the orthodontist during Biology class, I was relieved having come to the conclusion that I was stupid.

I wasn''t. The teacher was just a terrible teacher as I learned the next years taking Chemistry, where I shined.

As an adult, in my 30s I began reading non-fiction for fun...so enjoying it by my 60s that was almost all I read--for fun. And then YOUR INNER FISH came into my sights whilst living in Chicago. The concept of the book was like time travel, only through science.

Who knew that science could be so much, fun? Clearly Neal Shubin did, and my thanks to him for that.
3 people found this helpful
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Bryan Boyne
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Highly recommended!
Reviewed in the United States on June 9, 2016
Not having a particularly strong scientific background, but interested in nature, I found this book to be approachable, enjoyable, and actually quite mind blowing! While I knew some of the basics of evolution, this book took my understanding to a whole different level.... See more
Not having a particularly strong scientific background, but interested in nature, I found this book to be approachable, enjoyable, and actually quite mind blowing! While I knew some of the basics of evolution, this book took my understanding to a whole different level. Skilfully weaving the realms of paleontology, anatomy and genetics the author explains how we came to be in our present form in a way that average people can understand. If you are interested in evolution in particular, or just nature in general, this is a book for you. Highly recommended!
23 people found this helpful
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Harold L. Carter
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Creation of the Universe and Humanity - From Sea to Land - From Hominidae to Homo sapiens sapiens - Your Inner Fishby Neil Shubi
Reviewed in the United States on July 14, 2016
Neil Shubin Stated: "We all know the Darwin fish, the car-bumper send-up of the Christian "ichthys" symbol, or Jesus fish. Unlike the Christian symbol, the Darwin fish has, you know, legs. Har har. But the Darwin fish isn''t merely a clever joke; in... See more
Neil Shubin Stated:
"We all know the Darwin fish, the car-bumper send-up of the Christian "ichthys" symbol, or Jesus fish.
Unlike the Christian symbol, the Darwin fish has, you know, legs. Har har.

But the Darwin fish isn''t merely a clever joke; in effect, it contains a testable scientific prediction. If evolution is true, and if life on Earth originated in water, then there must have once been fish species possessing primitive limbs, which enabled them to spend some part of their lives on land.

And these species, in turn, must be the ancestors of four-limbed, land-living vertebrates like us.
SURE ENOUGH, IN 2004, SCIENTISTS FOUND ONE OF THOSE TRANSITIONAL SPECIES: TIKTAALIK ROSEAE, A 375 MILLION-YEAR-OLD DEVONIAN PERIOD SPECIMEN DISCOVERED IN THE CANADIAN ARCTIC BY PALEONTOLOGIST NEIL SHUBIN AND HIS COLLEAGUES.

TIKTAALIK, EXPLAINS SHUBIN ON THE LATEST EPISODE OF THE INQUIRING MINDS PODCAST, IS AN "ANATOMICAL MIX BETWEEN FISH AND A LAND-LIVING ANIMAL." -

This fish crawled out of the water… AND INTO CREATIONISTS'' NIGHTMARES

Some 375 million years ago, Tiktaalik emerged onto land.

TODAY, EXPLAINS PALEONTOLOGIST NEIL SHUBIN, WE''RE ALL WALKING AROUND IN MODIFIED FISH BODIES."

SUMMARY: When a member of the Facebook history and current events website I manage posted this … I considered it a kind of mockery of evolution and written by someone with a limited knowledge of evolution. Since then I have discovered it is an authentic archaeological discovery … you can go to the Museum where it is kept and look at it with your own eyes and touch it if they would let you!

Neil Shubin has written a very comprehensive book detailing his life as a palaeontologist and some of the very significant discoveries made in his classes in which he taught first year medical students in the dissembling of not animal but donated human bodies and his and their experiences in doing so with regard to what they discovered by the original functioning in what form at what time and the gradual evolution into human hands, forearms, upper arms, chest organs, stomach organs, and of course vertebrae, the neural system of the head and the human body’s intricate nervous system that allows movements of the head, eyes, arms and hands.
This book is available in Amazon.com Kindle book and believe me when I say it is the most understandable, written for the public, in terms that the general public can understand, and with many examples, drawings, photograps and other graphic illustrations to help explain the details given by Dr Neil Shubin.
It’s better than the “twilight zone,” “science-fiction,” and “watching the little girl and or Michael Jackson skipping down the yellow brick road” ! … Check it out for yourself! It is a fascinating experience for for those who haven’t been accustomed to reading and trying to understand the scientific origins of life and the universe. Harold L Carter / [...]
11 people found this helpful
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The Garth
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Wonderful Read
Reviewed in the United States on May 17, 2021
I normally avoid science writing and stick primarily to fiction. This book, however, is a wonderful read. It''s a great deal like reading Barry Lopez''s alter ego. The author and Lopez share many interests and seem to have searched for fossils in many of the same places.... See more
I normally avoid science writing and stick primarily to fiction. This book, however, is a wonderful read. It''s a great deal like reading Barry Lopez''s alter ego. The author and Lopez share many interests and seem to have searched for fossils in many of the same places. So far, it''s been fascinating. The writing is clear and concise. There''s well-timed humor throughout the book, and the author has taken the time to break the chapters into smaller, easily digestible insights and experiences.
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Luke Brown
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Bought for a reference in an evolution course, lots of good info
Reviewed in the United States on November 10, 2018
Historically, mankind has been preoccupied with its own origin, and has proposed a multitude of creation stories to explain its existence (Leeming, 1994). For Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, this... See more
Historically, mankind has been preoccupied with its own origin, and has proposed a multitude of creation stories to explain its existence (Leeming, 1994). For Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, this self-fascination and search for truth manifested itself in his career in paleontology and the resulting arctic fossil expeditions. Shubin picks up here in his book, addressing arguably the most significant discovery of his career: a fish-like organism that was discovered by his team known as Tiktaalik. Although other fossils of the same period had been discovered, the significance of Tiktaalik is that it offered an explanation for the transition between fish and tetrapods due to similarities between the wrist-like structure of its fins and the appendages of tetrapods. This ultimately supports a fish-mammal evolution, as implied by the title of Shubin’s work. Shubin proceeds to support evolution by comparing characteristics of humans with that of phylogenetically older species. Embryology provides evidence for Shubin. All animals with skulls share something developmentally. As developing fetuses, they form four arches around what will become their throat; these arches are referred to as gill arches. Comparing these arches between humans and sharks, these arches have a surprisingly similar fate. The first arch forms the jaw and is innervated by the trigeminal nerve in both species. the second arch forms a lower supporting bone of the jaw in both species. It also forms upper bones of the jaw in sharks, which are comparable to the bones of the middle ear it forms in humans (some differences in bone function are to be expected between species; a trend is still apparent). The third and fourth arches both form tissues that support the gills of sharks and allow humans to talk and swallow. This supports the idea of a common ancestor shared between every organism with a skull. Teeth have also been used to support an evolutionary worldview. Conodonts were discovered to be the teeth of primitive, boneless fish. Like human teeth, they had a distinctive sheen due to a hardening substance—hydroxyapatite (which forms enamel today). In addition, an ancient fish (Ostracoderms) with a hydroxyapatite-containing shield was discovered from the same period. In fact, this shield even shares structure with teeth, including enamel and pulp. Shubin used this example to argue that the entire human bone structure has evolved from primitive teeth. Shubin also presented evidence for evolution based on vision. One significant type of molecule in vision is opsins. Humans have three types of opsins that are used to differentiate between colors, but most animals have only two. Examining the genetic composition of the genes, shows that two of the three human opsins are very similar to those of other species, but the third is unique. Shubin proposes that this suggests an evolutionary change in which humans evolved from another species.
Shubin made his worldview of materialistic naturalism apparent in his work. When discussing the intricacies of the human eye, he said “When you look into eyes, forget about romance, creation, and the windows into the soul. With their molecules, genes, and tissues derived from microbes, jellyfish, worms, and flies, you see an entire menagerie” (Shubin, 2009, p. 157). He is suggesting that eyes are nothing more than the molecules that they are made of, and that we should not credit God with designing them. He also said, when discussing illnesses, that “Each of these examples show that we were not designed, but are products of a convoluted history” (Shubin, 2009, p. 186). These examples not only emphasize his materialistic naturalism, but also his deeply rooted belief in the origin of man through evolution.
All science has an integrated worldview; one can still appreciate the scientific basis of a work without necessarily agreeing with the included worldview. However, I do not completely agree with the scientific basis of Shubin’s book. Shubin bases the significance of Tiktaalik heavily on the presence of a wrist, which evolutionarily connects it to tetrapods. However, I am not confident in this conclusion. A wrist includes “wrist bones that articulate with the radius and ulna” (Luskin, 2008). However, the radius of Tiktaalik, as Shubin presented it in a figure (Shubin, 2009, p. 39), does not articulate anything. This discovery may be an intermediate to the wrist, but I would argue the Shubin was incorrect in classifying this bone structure as a wrist (Shubin, 2009, p. 38). In addition, some arguments are illogical. For example, the author said that humans suffer from knee injuries as often as they do because “they are clear evidence of the pitfalls of having an inner fish. Fish do not walk on two legs” (Shubin, 2009, p. 185). This is assuming that humans are poorly adapted to their environment and are sustaining injuries in common activities. However, the example of a knee injury that the author himself gives is a torn meniscus after “twenty-five years spent carrying a backpack over rocks, boulders, and scree in the field” (Shubin, 2009, p. 185). An injury sustained in extreme circumstances is not evidence of poor adaptation due to evolutionary limitations.
From a Biblical perspective, there are theological implications of the worldview presented by the author. The materialistic naturalism that was presented in the work promotes atheism and stands in opposition to creation. In fact, when discussing the intricacies of the eye, Shubin said “When you look into eyes, forget about. . .creation, and the windows into the soul. . ” (Shubin, 2009, p. 157). This explicit denial of a creator is incompatible with a Biblical worldview, as evidenced in Genesis 1:1, which reads “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1, English Standard Version).
I would recommend Your Inner Fish. Although the author arguably drew premature conclusions as was discussed, there is valuable information for the discerning eye. I am unconvinced that mankind shares a common ancestor with sharks, but the chapter in which this was proposed taught me valuable lessons on embryology. The process of discerning facts from opinions is also beneficial for the reader. Shubin used the example that humans sustain many knee injuries to emphasize his view that being derived from aquatic species has left mankind with inherent weaknesses. This section was very convincing to me until I realized that it is an unfounded extrapolation.
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Married, Father of 4, Financial Services Professional, Ordained Minister
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Discovering our evolutionary journey
Reviewed in the United States on June 12, 2020
A gentle read that reveals evolution of our human body as a reused, adapted, ... at work to adjust to our environment ... yet leaving a remarkable trail. The ''spine'' and its feeding of nerves into our brain reveals a lot of what we find today. Also the ''senses'' and our... See more
A gentle read that reveals evolution of our human body as a reused, adapted, ... at work to adjust to our environment ... yet leaving a remarkable trail. The ''spine'' and its feeding of nerves into our brain reveals a lot of what we find today. Also the ''senses'' and our inner ear, where we feel a sense of balance, is reveled through evolution. Then there are so much that has no active function in present day but was there for our use. Neil Shubin lays the evolutionary history of the human body as awesome! Then his discovery in the Canadian Arctic of Tiktaalik was personally fascinating for myself as a Canadian.
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ChristFollower
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Well written and comprehensive
Reviewed in the United States on June 24, 2014
No book or subject appeals to everyone, and this excellent read is no exception. I believe the author did a great job of satisfying both the novice and the better educate on the subject. His approach it using humor without it feeling like fill material, and substance from... See more
No book or subject appeals to everyone, and this excellent read is no exception. I believe the author did a great job of satisfying both the novice and the better educate on the subject. His approach it using humor without it feeling like fill material, and substance from his education and real life experiences. I am sure some highly educated professionals who do not care for books written in the popular style will find fault, but should be glad interest is being draw to the field. Others will no doubt beat the fundamentalist drum beat of literalism and say it is all pure conjecture. To them I would quote their beloved John Calvin, who said if you want to know about the heavens, look to astronomy, not the Bible. It is not faith that believes the current wave of literalistic interpretation of Genesis, it is fear. Truth is truth, no matter its origin.

I gave this book a four star instead of five just because my personal scale allows few fives, and are reserved for reads that draw me in and do not let me go until I have completed. This did not quite get there, but certainly highly recommended. The PBS special is also a very good "Readers Digest" version.
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Margaret Foster
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Easy to understand book about evolution.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 19, 2017
Great book for explaining evolution. It is easy to understand. There is a little bit about how palaeontologist work and make discoveries to set the scene. The subject of how we evolved from fish and the necessary embryology that explains it was interesting. For me though,...See more
Great book for explaining evolution. It is easy to understand. There is a little bit about how palaeontologist work and make discoveries to set the scene. The subject of how we evolved from fish and the necessary embryology that explains it was interesting. For me though, once the point about how we developed from fish to human had been made, the novelty wore off and I got a bit bored with it. It is, however, a really good book for myth busting creationism. But Creationists are too set in stone to realise this. There are much newer books about evolution but what makes this book a classic is its straightforwardness and clarity. Though I said it would bust the Creationist myth, there is no hint of atheist or religious axe grinding involved and this makes it a pleasure to read. It is just a book about the facts and it has facts to back that fact up!
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Jean the Bean
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Science as it should be written.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 15, 2020
If only school textbooks were written like this. This is a fascinating insight into the processes of evolution. It is accessible and well written, not dumbed down but just clear explanations of some complex science. I only had to Google things I didn’t understand twice and...See more
If only school textbooks were written like this. This is a fascinating insight into the processes of evolution. It is accessible and well written, not dumbed down but just clear explanations of some complex science. I only had to Google things I didn’t understand twice and one of those was a reference to an American humorous cartoonist I had never heard of before. I bought this as the Kindle version but sent the paperback to my son to read.
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Justin Credible
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Thanks Neil, a giant leap for mankind
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 10, 2014
Having read quite a number of other reviews here, I feel I have to give my take on this book. Yes it is "lightweight" in the sense that the reader is not overburdened with detail, methodology, scientific rigour and analysis. But readability - and it is highly...See more
Having read quite a number of other reviews here, I feel I have to give my take on this book. Yes it is "lightweight" in the sense that the reader is not overburdened with detail, methodology, scientific rigour and analysis. But readability - and it is highly readable - doesn''t diminish even slightly the monumental significance of the book''s content. This book is NOT a treatise on vertebrate paleontology, or on evolution, or on anything. Essentially it is edited highlights of Shubin''s career, mostly looking for and studying fossil fish-like creatures, and the scientific context thereof. Shubin and his colleagues are fortunate to have contributed to great leaps forward in mankind''s understanding of his biological inheritance. In that sense I would compare Shubin''s book with George Smoot''s Wrinkles In Time, an equally slim, readable account of an even bigger scientific quest (NOT however a treatise on cosmology). As for the author''s supposed leanings toward intelligent design as opposed to Darwinian evolution, I don''t think Shubin makes any telling statement on the subject. For his purposes he probably doesn''t need to. In any case, God doesn''t make it into the index.
5 people found this helpful
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Mohammed Al Meshaweh
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Not a minute of boredom
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 16, 2018
I am a fan of scientific books, but what I hate the most about many of them is the boring style. This book does not have that problem. Shubin will keep your attention for the entire read. Plus, it gives valuable insight to the mechanism of evolution and its many secrets....See more
I am a fan of scientific books, but what I hate the most about many of them is the boring style. This book does not have that problem. Shubin will keep your attention for the entire read. Plus, it gives valuable insight to the mechanism of evolution and its many secrets. Highly recommended.
2 people found this helpful
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Petrit
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A great and easy read on how we came to be as we are.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 2, 2017
Very well written light introduction of how our bodies came to be what/how they are now. The author uses paleontology, anatomy and gentics to build the story for the reader and its a great story. We have all asked ourselves in our life, how did we become as we are now, how...See more
Very well written light introduction of how our bodies came to be what/how they are now. The author uses paleontology, anatomy and gentics to build the story for the reader and its a great story. We have all asked ourselves in our life, how did we become as we are now, how did our eyes, ears come to be? This book provides the basic answers to that question, it is a light answer for the layman not the expert. Great and easy read, definitely recommended.
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