The Biology of Human Survival: Life and Death in Extreme Environments

The Biology of Human Survival: Life and Death in Extreme Environments

The Biology of Human Survival: Life and Death in Extreme Environments

The Biology of Human Survival: Life and Death in Extreme Environments

Synopsis

The range of environments in which people can survive is extensive, yet most of the natural world cannot support human life. The Biology of Human Survival identifies the key determinants of life or death in extreme environments from a physiologist's perspective, integrating modern concepts of stress, tolerance, and adaptation into explanations of life under Nature's most austere conditions. The book examines how individuals survive when faced with extremes of immersion, heat, cold or altitude, emphasizing the body's recognition of stress and the brain's role in optimizing physiological function in order to provide time to escape or to adapt. In illustrating how human biology adapts to extremes, the book also explains how we learn to cope by blending behavior and biology, first by trial and error, then by rigorous scientific observation, and finally by technological innovation. The book describes life-support technology and how it enables humans to enter once unendurable realm, from the depths of the ocean to the upper reaches of the atmosphere and beyond. Finally, it explores the role that advanced technology might play in special environments of the future, such as long journeys into space.

Excerpt

To persevere across far-ranging environments is profoundly human, but life at the extremes is constrained in extraordinary ways. The diversity of environments in which people are found, either as permanent inhabitants or as temporary visitors, ranges from the high Andes to the scorched Sahara to the frigid Arctic, yet these places are a small fraction of those that harbor life in the thin biosphere around the planet's surface. Most of Earth is too inhospitable for even optimally adapted individuals, and out of necessity, curiosity, or self-indulgence, we have invented technologies to venture into previously impenetrable domains, from the depths of the oceans to the depths of space.

Humans on the frontiers of exploration are tested to the limits of their lives. The Biology of Human Survival pinpoints critical factors that dictate life or death at the utmost reaches, including those places accessible to humans only with lifesupport technology. The book presents environmental physiology using modern, integrated concepts of stress, tolerance, and adaptation. Barriers to life in extreme environments, such as dehydration, starvation, and radiation, are described in separate chapters. Other chapters explain the problems unique to specific environments by examining the determinants of an individual's survival at extremes of cold, heat, altitude, or immersion. Key issues in these specialized settings are illustrated with examples of extreme hardship from great exploits that have attracted people's attention throughout history.

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