The Awe is Shared: Evolution and Public Science with Andrea Eller - This Anthro Life

40 minutes

Andrea Eller is a biological anthropologist driven by a question of how do our bodies continue to react to things today? In other words, how does evolution continue to impact us and why is this important? To address this, Andrea Eller looks at how bodies respond and adapt to circumstances of chronic stresses. The stresses that Eller looks at, however, are both physiological and social. Not only does Andrea postulate explanations to account for change over time in relation to more visible circumstances like ecology, tool use, and disease. But, Andrea also considers less visible issues like, class, race, and gender as critical factors that also impact our physiology over time.

Evolution Responds, it does not React

One of the compelling predicaments that Eller discusses with Adam has  to do with current data on primates. For example, data from captive  primates are excluded from wider studies. In part, the problem is that  there is a growing population of captive primates. With more an more  primates being born into captivity, there is a concern that adaptation  is occurring in many primates. As Eller notes, the pressures to adapt in  one environmental setting or another (called selective pressures) will  be different. That means looking at the same species of primates  requires context. Whether coming from different settings, the wild,  scientific laboratories, or zoos, data on primate adaptations will  differ.

Similarly, humans use clothing as a tool for adapting to different  environments. Down or wool coats would seem out of place at Miami beach  just as scuba gear would not be an appropriate choice for reaching base  camp at Mount Everest even though each of these clothing options  reflects different human adaptations.

Mindfulness Training – Outreach and Engagement

One of the most captivating aspects of Eller’s conversation was her  genuine passion for public outreach. For Eller, it is an ongoing  struggle to help get the public to see evolution in a different light.  Too often she sees a perspective of humans being the masters of the  planet, rather than one group of participants within it. However,  combating this perspective (among others) requires outreach and  engagement. For Eller, this begins with engaging kids. “Kids haven’t had  all of the primate educated out of them,” she says. They are more open  to experience awe and be captivated out of curiosity when seeing  examples not only of our evolutionary past but the present as well.

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