As similar as we humans are in many ways to other species, we are unique among the earth’s life forms in our ability to use language and thought. Having evolved a large and complex brain, our species has a facility to think, imagine, create, and learn from experience that far exceeds that of any other species. We have used this ability to create technologies and literary and artistic works on a vast scale, and to develop a scientific understanding of ourselves and the world.
We are also unique in our profound curiosity about ourselves: How are we put together physically? How were we formed? How do we relate biologically to other life forms and to our ancestors? How are we as individuals like or unlike other humans? How can we stay healthy? Much of the scientific endeavor focuses on such questions.
This chapter presents recommendations for what scientifically literate people should know about themselves as a species. Such knowledge provides a basis for increased awareness of both self and society. The chapter focuses on six major aspects of the human organism: human identity, human development, the basic functions of the body, learning, physical health, and mental health. The recommendations on physical and mental health are included because they help relate the scientific understanding of the human organism to a major area of concern—personal well-being—common to all humans.