Bodies without Boundaries?

Darwinian Photo Essays

About the Project

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution raises – and attempts to answer – several important questions about the meaning of human life.  Where did we come from, for instance?  Darwin’s answer is that we are the modified descendants of an ape-like ancestor that itself traces its origin back to pre-existing life forms.  Why are we here?  Although Darwin doesn’t have a direct answer to this question, his emphasis on the contingent nature of evolution suggests that there is no inherent purpose to human life.  From an evolutionary perspective, life has no pre-determined plan.  Human beings are creatures free to shape our own existence.


But how free are we, really?  Today, evolutionary psychologists minimize the role of recent Homo sapiens history – one that includes the impact of culture, language, and choice – and instead point toward the much older evolutionary development of the species as having a deeper impact on our lives. On this more recent version of Darwin’s theory, biology is destiny and human beings are not free to choose how we live in the world.  As one evolutionary biologist famously put it: our naturally selected genes “hold culture on a leash.”


The debate on the nature of human freedom can be demonstrated by examining the topic of beauty and attraction.  Darwin argued that animals make themselves attractive through the complex processes of sexual selection.  According to this theory, adaptations that help an organism attract a partner and reproduce (like the peacock’s feathers) provide a distinct advantage in the struggle for life, thereby allowing the sexually selected creature’s distinct traits to get passed down to the next generation.  Today, evolutionary biologists argue that sexual selection can explain the elaborate human rituals surrounding beauty and attraction.  Peacocks display brightly colored feathers; human beings display shiny new cars and fancy clothes. 


To what extent are modern-day Darwinians right?  Are the calls of ancient drives just too loud to ignore?  Or have human beings – in contrast to all other animals – broken free of our genetic legacy and now make ourselves beautiful based on free choice? 

Common Core Social Studies Standards

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the specific task, purpose, and audience; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and overreliance on any one source and following a standard format for citation.

Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.



online research

Google Scholar

Make sure you can access the full article. Most of the time, Google Scholar will only give you the summary (called the abstract).

Los Angeles Public Library

Note: you will need to enter your LAPL account number and PIN in order to access the online databases.

LAUSD Digital Library

Note: access to the digital library is only granted to LAUSD computers found on the Grant HS campus. To access these resources from home, you need to request remote access.

Suggested databases:

  • Gale Science in Context

  • Gale Student Resources in Context

  • EBSCO Publishing

MLA Citations

The Purdue OWL is your best resource for learning how to cite any source according to the MLA style guide. For this project, you will need to properly cite two main sources: personal interviews and online scholarly articles.

creating a web page