The human body is a miracle. It’s made up of 100 trillion cells, each with its own highly specialized job, each working around the clock to make sure you keep doing your thing. And they do all of this without receiving as much as a “Thank you.” Have you ever thanked your cells for all their hard work? Let’s take a moment now and do just that. Say it with us: “Thank you, cells.”
How nice. You’ve just made 100 trillion tiny things very happy. However, although most of the hard work your cells do is absolutely essential to your maintenance, some of it is spent on vestigial remnants from our ancestors that aren’t doing much for us at all. The human body, despite its cyclical beauty, has a few parts in it that are just using up valuable real estate without contributing anything.
If evolution is as consistent a law as we think it is, these corporal duds will either be out or on their way out in a couple million years. In the meantime we’re left to walk around with these sometimes weird, sometimes painful, always useless body parts.
10. The Male Nipple
A man’s nipples benefit neither nature nor culture. They don’t exactly harm the world, but they don’t do anything good for it, either. They seem to exist for the sole purpose of just being awkwardly… there. The reason why men have them at all is because all humans begin as women (X chromosomes) in the womb. As soon as the Y chromosome appears, the fetus becomes a male, and development of breasts is halted at the nipple.
9. Wisdom Teeth
Wisdom teeth are so-called because they come in at the ages between 17 and 25, when people start to wise up. Whether we get wise by 25 or any age at all is up for debate, but what isn’t is the utter uselessness of wisdom teeth. They’re a vestigial present from early humans whose tough diet of hard, raw items like roots and nuts necessitated the use of an extra row of teeth to chew their food. Since then our skulls have shrunk in size enough so that the presence of wisdom teeth tends to disrupt the rest of our (much more useful) pearly whites. There are rare cases of some people never developing wisdom teeth throughout their lives, which is hopefully a sign that they’re on their way out.
The adenoids are located in the very back of our nasal canals. Their purpose is to defend the body against any viruses and bacteria we inhale. The role of adenoids in the body can be likened to hockey. The problem is that, as we get older, our hockey nets (nasal canals) grow, while our adenoids (goalies) stay the same size. By the time we reach adulthood, our nasal canals have so vastly outgrown our adenoids that we might as well go about our business with an open net and let our immune system take care of whatever creeps into our noses.
7. Body Hair
We have hair in several areas of our bodies, and a lot of it has a purpose: eyebrows prevent sweat from impairing our vision, the hair on our heads buffers heat, and facial hair on a male is advantageous in attracting females (particularly hipster females). But hair in most other places isn’t really doing much. Back when our beards covered our entire bodies, body hair had the fantastic advantage of insulating us from heat. These days, the amount of body hair we have is nowhere near enough to keep us warm.
6. Arrector Pili Muscles (Goose Bumps)
Arrector Pili are really small muscles connected to the hair follicles in mammals. When these muscles contract, the hairs they are attached to stand on end. We commonly refer to this as ‘goose bumps’. Arrector Pili were real useful to us a million or so years ago, when our body hair, if fully raised, was long enough to intimidate adversaries. These days, our goose bumps don’t don’t do much in terms of scaring danger off, so they’re really just evolutionary remnants.
As far as we know, there is yet to be a man born circumcised. Evolution has not eliminated the foreskin just yet, but it’s bound to eventually, since it’s not doing much for us besides posing a dormant threat. Medical experts claim that circumcised men are less likely to contract cervical and penile cancer, as well as HIV. Furthermore, due to the thinness of the foreskin, it can be prone to small cuts through which harmful germs can be transmitted.
4. Darwin’s Tubercle
Darwin’s Tubercle, or Darwin’s Point, is a small bump on the inside of the upper ear. It’s a sporadic condition, presenting itself in weird ratios across various regions: 10.4% of adults in Spain, 40% of adults in India, and 58% of school children in Sweden. The bump is small enough to go virtually unnoticed most of the time. Research suggests that it used to be a joint that allowed our very distant ancestors’ ears to pivot. As it stands, it has no obvious benefit to the modern human body.
3. Pinky Toe
The little toe is an appendage left over from our ancestors. The primates we descended from used their feet to grab things and climb trees, but these days we tend to do less of that. Aside from subtly aiding balance, and serving as a key component in entry-level foot fetishism (a topic best suited for another article), the little toe doesn’t have much use at all. According to Dr. Anne Holly Johnson, instructor in orthopaedic surgery at Harvard Medical School: ”If you’re born without a pinky toe or have an accident and it’s removed, you can completely do everything you wanted to do.”
2. Vomeronasal Organ
The vomeronasal organ (VNO), or the Jacobson’s Organ, is an auxiliary olfactory sense organ found in several species. In mammals, the sensory neurons of the VMO detect non-volatile chemical cues if the mammal makes direct physical contact with the source of the odor. It’s basically the sense that allows mammals to sniff out the pheromones in the air so they can see who’s down to Netflix and chill. That actually sounds like some kind of superpower. Unfortunately, research shows that all we have is a non-functional remnant of the organ. “If you look at the anatomy of the structure, you don’t see any cells that look like the sensory cells in other mammalian VNOs,” says neuroscientist Michael Meredith of Florida State University in Tallahassee “You don’t see any nerve fibres connecting the organ to the brain.”
1. Outer Ear Muscles
You know that one guy who wiggles his ears? Everyone knows that guy. Some people have punched that guy. That guy is able to do that annoying thing by engaging the muscle group known as the auricular muscles. Certain mammals use these muscles to effectively adjust the direction of the outer ear, allowing them to point their hearing in a specific direction. Human ears are built so that the auricular muscles don’t control such a vast range of motion. All we can really do with them is wriggle our ears a little, and be that guy.