Book: Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin

Embrace your inner fishbook, Your Inner Fish by Neil ShubinNeil Shubin’s new book about tetrapod evolution, with its intriguing title, Your Inner Fish, is taking off on the nonfiction bestseller lists. Shubin explains some features of your body that date back to our fish ancestors, such as the illogical path of the vagus (“wandering”) nerve and how our jaw bones gradually evolved from gill arches.

While you’re reading, you can wear Ray Troll’s wearable art image, “Embrace your inner fish,” which shows Charles Darwin hugging a Tiktaalik.

24 Responses to “Book: Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin”

  1. Hugh Says:

    Fantastic book! Just finished in one sitting.

  2. Timothy E. Kennelly Says:

    I generally liked the book and found it very interesting, however, I found the following passage deeply troubling on moral grounds:

    “Imagine trying to jerry-rig a Volkswagen Beetle to travel at speeds of 150 miles per hour. In 1933 Adolf Hitler commissioned Dr. Ferdinand Porsche to develop a cheap car that could get 40 miles per gallon of gas and provide a reliable form of transportation for the average German family. The result was the VW Beetle. This history, Hitler’s plan, places constraints on the ways we can modify the Beetle today; the engineering can be tweaked only so far before major problems arise and the car reaches its limit.

    “In many ways, we humans are the fish equivalent of a hot-rod Beetle. Take the body plan of a fish, dress it up to be a mammal, then tweak and twist that mammal until it walks on two legs, talks, thinks, and has superfine control of its fingers—and you have a recipe for problems. We can dress up a fish only so much without paying a price. In a perfectly designed world—one with no history—we would not have to suffer everything from hemorrhoids to cancer.

    “Nowhere is this history more visible than in the detours, twists, and turns of our arteries, nerves, and veins. Follow some nerves and you’ll find that they make strange loops around other organs, apparently going in one direction only to twist and end up in an unexpected place. The detours are fascinating products of our past that, as we’ll see, often create problems—hiccups and hernias, for example. And this is only one way our past comes back to plague us.

    “Our deep history was spent, at different times, in ancient oceans, small streams, and savannahs, not office buildings, ski slopes, and tennis courts. We were not designed to live past the age of 80, sit on our keisters for ten hours a day, and eat Hostess Twinkies, nor were we designed to play football. This disconnect between our past and our human present means that our bodies fall apart in certain predictable ways.

    “Virtually every illness we suffer has some historical component. The examples that follow reflect how different branches of the tree of life inside us—from ancient humans, to amphibians and fish, and finally to microbes—come back to pester us today. Each of these examples show that we were not designed rationally but are products of a convoluted history.”


    The author has apparently indicated that he was not intending to make an analogy with the very dark implication that Hitler is to Porsche is to VW Bug is to Hot Rod VW Bug as the Creator (or Designer) is to nature is to primordial fish is to human beings; however, the analogy comes in an argument against design which is clearly an argument against belief in a Designer and by implication ID and Creationism.
    One reader of the text, not me, has suggested there is a plausible attack on those who believe in a Designer or Creator as it would seem that they are as bind as Hitler’s followers. I take this suggestion very seriously.
    There is also nothing in the text that mitigates the use of the analogy, that is, Shubin expresses no regret in the text that Hitler, the most infamous person in history, is the designer and first cause of particular technological example which he uses as an analogy for primordial life or the primordial fish. There is in the text not so much as an “alas.”
    For good maesure I will add that the analogy comes in a chapter with the title: “The Meaning of It All” which clearly suggests that the author is pointing to or thinking of higher things in this particular chapter.
    I do not think the analogy is an accident and I deem it a very dark and nasty joke on the author’s part.

    Timothy E. Kennelly

    • Mark Says:

      It is a book. Just a book. Dont read so into it. There are no hidden messages. The is not a National Treasure movie or something like that. So if you want to read a book, leave insane accusations that he’s attacking people that believe in a God or Creater in your own head. I may be just speaking for myself but I really would rather not see comments like that up there.

      • m Says:

        CLEARLY the concept of reading is to look further into the material. Interpretations, connotations, and ideas are different from person to person. It is wrong to claim his belief as “insane.” I appreciate the fact that somebody tried to think about a book while reading it and was willing to express their thoughts. He is using his channel of communication to explain some of his views on A PORTION of the material. I don’t appreciate pointless blame. Back up your arguments with facts, or don’t instigate.

  3. monado Says:

    He’s talking about cars. It’s well known that Hitler commanded the production of a people’s car — the Folk’s Wagon. Does everyone who mentions Hitler have to make some kind of ritual mention that he was a Bad Guy? Believe it or not, many people I know mention Hitler or World War II without assuming that we need to cast ritual stones or spit. I believe that Shubin’s point was that the VW “beetle” was a low-powered car which was not well suited to have an high-powered engine plopped into it — and that such an engine would require jerry-rigged reinforcements that were not part of an elegant concept. Nothing more and nothing less. He doesn’t believe in a Designer, so why should he try to imply anything about one?

  4. monado Says:

    It would be like carefully crafting an argument against the Tooth Fairy or woodland tree spirits; Thor, the cause of thunder; or Neptune, god of the sea.

  5. Timothy E Kennelly Says:

    monado: Does everyone who mentions Hitler have to make some kind of ritual mention that he was a Bad Guy?

    Would you admonish your children to brush with care “as Hitler had excellent oral hygiene”? Hopefully not. And yet
    provided he had good oral hygiene, why not? Would you admonish someone to enjoy strawberries as Hitler was fold them? Well, you see the point. Hitler was not just a bad guy, a “cheated on his wife” knid of guy, or even “a beat his wife” kind of guy, he was far worse; and yes
    I think it is only reasonable to indicate that he is a bad human when we speak of him if our speech does not already indicate that he is bad.

    Timothy E. Kennelly

  6. Timothy E Kennelly Says:

    monado: It would be like carefully crafting an argument against the Tooth Fairy or woodland tree spirits; Thor, the cause of thunder; or Neptune, god of the sea.

    Well no, Monado, not of necessity. If you begin with strictly rational presuppositions it might seem that you have a point, but you will be unable to give an account of the whole from a strictly rationalism which might not be deemed less than adequate at some point. “God” has historically been used to address this inadequacy by many rationalists, whereas such can not be said of “the Tooth Fairy or woodland tree spirits” or “Thor” or “Neptune”.

    Timothy E. Kennelly

    • Christopher2332 Says:

      How come you put those quotatioin marks about God? I am not a particular beleiver, but those marks create an air of falsity about him, and if I am the only one who finds that offensive then i apologize, but the quotations are really buggin me

  7. monado Says:

    Oh, I think Thor and Neptune were used to explain natural phenomena. My point is that there is as much evidence for Thor as there is for God. After all, you’ve never seen an object thrown without a thrower, right? So who’s throwing those thunderbolts? It must be Thor! Q.E.D.

    Shubin was not using Hitler as an example whom we should emulate, so your argument is irrelevant. Does every mention of the U.S. space program need a disclaimer that it got off the ground because of Werner von Braun, who used Jewish slave labour in his rocketry work in Germany during World War II?

  8. Timothy E. Kennelly Says:

    Werner von Braun was not Adolf Hitler.
    The analogy was very poorly chosen and I am not yet convinced that it was not intended to cause insult.

    Rationalists, to the best of my knowledge, have not used Thor and company to explain natural phenomena well for a very long time at best. The list of rationalists and scientists who have made use of “God” is quite long.

  9. Joshua Says:

    Whether you’re convinced or not is irrelevent. The author was showing a point as monado pointed out. Shubin was showing a biological point not a moral point. Scientists and rationalists who bring “God” into the scientific world ignore obvious facts, twist words as you have done, and apply meaningless numbers and data to what they claim is sure proof to eveidence of “God”. Why religious people insist on proving themselves when religion is faith based is beyond me. There is no science in religion and there is so faith in science. Science looks for answers to better the world. We can be so self centered, thinking we are the only planet in the whole universe that some supreme being cares only about.

  10. Ed Darrell Says:

    It’s a great illustration of the point: Some things can’t be over-engineered to perform way above their originally engineered limits.

    Humans are like that.

    If you missed the point of that passage and somehow thought it a slam against organized religion, no wonder organized religion suffers so badly these days, and no wonder creationists are so far out of the mainstream of science.

    It’s not Shubin’s fault that you took offense at a perfectly good example by reading into it a religious statement that your belief finds offensive — since that religious statement is not there at all.

  11. Alissa Fritz Says:

    Hi, im writing a critical book review on Neil Shubin’s “Your Inner Fish” as part of a required class I need to pass to become a Math teacher.(i know weird haha you would think i was majoring in Paleontology or something)

    This is a pass or fail paper (70pts out of 100pts is passing any lower and I fail)

    I can submit a second revised paper if i fail the first so keep sending info to my e-mail until 3-17-10

    DUE DATE : 3-3-10 at 11 am
    If i fail that paper then the new due date will be : 3-11-09

    I was wondering if anyone had any notes, highlighted sections, or opinions that they would be will to share concerning the book “Your Inner Fish” by Neil Shubin

    page #’s and quotes would be very helpful to me and i would also like your personal opinions about each point im asking you about.

    If the paper ends up being published i will make sure everyone who contributes is cited, thanked, and paid when applicable.

    Everything i would like to know is concerning fossils and the evolution vs creation debate.

    I want to know about:

    the main point of the book and why was the book written in relation to the evolution vs creation argument and fossils

    the thesis of the book in relation to the evolution vs creation argument and fossils

    what position does Shubin defend in the evolution vs creation debate and how does he back it up in relation to fossils?

    Shubin’s strongest peice of evidence or part of the book in which he supports the main thesis in relation to the evolution vs creation debate. and why do you think so? (think fossils)

    Shubin’s weakest piece of evidence or part of the book in which he doesn’t support the main thesis in relation to the evolution vs creation debate. how can you back this up or why do you think so? (think fossils)

    Please send anything helpful to my e-mail address:

  12. Alissa Fritz Says:

    come on people. i was reading the blog and i hardly ever hear about “your inner fish” or neil shubin lol help me

  13. monado Says:

    Here’s the key point: creationism is a belief in an inconsistent supernatural forces. It can’t be counted on but operates on independent whim. Therefore, it cannot be tested by experiment or confirmed by consistent observation and logic. Therefore, it is not science.

    A scientist engages in a search for the mechanism that explains people’s consistent observations. If the explanation is animistic (“objects fall because they want to”) or religious (“objects fall because the earth-goddess likes them”), that’s not a scientific explanation because there’s no mechanism and nothing that can be tested. What if the objects or the goddess change their minds? “Objects fall because they’re heavy” is circular, since heaviness describes the strength of the tendency to fall. But then Newton says, “Objects are attracted to each other by a force that is proportional to their masses and is 1/4 as strong at distance 2d as it is at 1d.” We now have an idea of how the masses will behave. We can predict that a more massive object has a stronger pull. We can add the refinement that if something is light and fluffy enough, it will fall more slowly than Newton would expect because of air resistance. In short, we can predict, test, and correct.

    By contrast, creationism consists almost entirely of lies and misunderstandings about the mechanism of evolution, and the triumphant demolishing of the wrenchingly distorted straw men thus produced. There’s also quote-mining to find ways that scientists’ views can be distorted to make it seem, falsely, as though they disagreed with the explanation of evolution, and the reliance on out-of-date materials. The focus on Charles Darwin is an example. It’s as if we had space-program deniers, who insisted that because James Watt, an early adopter of steam technology, didn’t know how to build jet planes and moon rockets, such things couldn’t exist.

    I hope that helps you to organize your thoughts on the debate. Look at for many more details, such as lists of transitional fossils and rebuttals of over 100 creationist lies.

    • Christopher2332 Says:

      Well you must also realize that just like religion, science is a large group of theories and laws that we choose to beleive based upon the word of others and of personal experiences in life.

  14. Christopher2332 Says:

    Why people tend to seperate science and religion is unreasonable to me. As a scientist myself I beleive that both persuits are to find answer to the big question. “Why are we here? How did we come to be?” There are many theories to this and this book is only one of them. While many like to reject the mixture of the creation theory and the evolution theory is beyond reasoning. I am, as I said, not a big religionist, but it never hurts to keep your mind open.

    • monado Says:

      When last I looked, science did not purport to answer philosophical questions of ultimate purpose, which would imply that there was something or someone to hold that purpose. It answers how things work and why they came about in a physical sense. You are mixing up two different kinds of questions.

      If you are a scientist, why don’t you know how to spell “separate” and “believe”? Have you finished high school yet?

      • Christopher2332 Says:

        Of course I have, I am a scientist not an English teacher, I have no need to worry about correcting small inperfections in grammar

  15. monado Says:

    Well, only if you want people to take you seriously. Mistakes damage the credibility of your entire message.

  16. Thomas Says:

    Cool book for anyone looking to understand evolutionary biology from a zoological perspective.

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