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Thursday, 29 December 2011

The path our humble feet have walked...

Aren't feet the natural progression from toes (read post here)? Human feet are interesting things, not just because:

a) they are made up of 25% of all bones in the body
b) many people have a fetish for them,

but because they are the small things which have evolved to hold our entire bodies.

In a previous post about how our bodies evolved so far, there is a little paragraph about our feet compared to those of Neanderthals. It emphasizes especially how our feet's evolution was closely linked with competition with the Neanderthals, in the sense that the structure of our feet enabled our ancestors to endure more prolonged walking over increasingly long distances, as well as running for long periods of time, chasing prey until it got exhausted, rather than being the fastest.

To many it seems, myself included, that human feet are so tiny - how can they support our entire body, as well as when put under pressure, for example when running? There are certain properties that our feet have evolved to have, like supporting our weight, walking and running, healing, etc.

Feet may seem like a couple of bones here and there, and some soft tissue, all wrapped in some skin. In fact, as can be seen in the picture above, our feet are made up of hundreds of ligaments, tendons and muscles, as well as 26+ bones and even more joints. The architecture going on there is very intricate, as all those smaller pieces work together to achieve the properties which allow feet to offer all their functions.

And yet, feet aren't works of perfection. They are prone to infections due to their location, touching the ground; athlete's foot? Ingrown toenail anyone? Also, they have their fair share of "genetic disorders" such as club foot and flat foot. Asymptomatic flat feet are considered a normal human variation, as they don't cause dysfunction or pain... I should know, mine are flat.

Next post in the top2toe tab will be about a certain Darwinian debate on how our hands evolved, and whether or not that was linked to the evolution of our feet/bipedalism. Darwin suggested our ancestors started using their hands for crafting/tools as their bipedalism evolved, allowing for the hands to be free. More in the next post.

(P.S.: Oh, and about the fetish bit... neurologist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran thinks that the feet are somehow linked to genitals in our minds, because they both occupy the same area of the brain...)

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