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When Christopher Columbus came back from his voyage he claimed he saw men without heads, but instead they had their face's in their chest.

What turn of events could justify humans (or some humans) to have their heads in their chests, but still have about the same intelligence?

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    $\begingroup$ The observer having smoked something? $\endgroup$ – nzaman Aug 4 '17 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ A lack of predators perhaps? A neck and head give you the ability to look around without needing to stop and move your whole body around. This would also likely result in the eyes being on the sides (as in fish) so the person could see everything around them....though then their arms would get in the way and likely evolve to have their eyes above their arms...ie a head. $\endgroup$ – Lio Elbammalf Aug 4 '17 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ All animals, even invertebrate, have heads. You need to look for a completely different biological evolution. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Aug 4 '17 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ Do you want them to just look like they have their face in their chest, or actually literally have their face in their chest. For the former, Alastair Reynolds had hyperpigs, human-pig hybrids. With a hunched posture and short neck they could easily look like their face is in their chest (I don't think they are actually described this way in the novels). For the latter, Kuato from Total Recall was a parasitic twin lodged in his brother's stomach. Admittedly his brother still had his head. $\endgroup$ – Wolfgang Aug 4 '17 at 17:56
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    $\begingroup$ A major evolutionary change back in the pre-Cambrian :-) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Aug 4 '17 at 18:05
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What Columbus may have seen (assuming @nzaman is wrong... he might not be wrong...) are men with very short necks and muscular shoulders. No, this does not paint a picture of a "face in their chest." However, it would be dramatic description that might possibly convince Queen Isabella to fork over funding for the next voyage without actually fabricating bald-faced fiction.... But let's assume you mean something very much like this...

enter image description here

If that's what you're looking for (and there are no examples that I'm aware of... granted my limited exposure to all of zoology.. of this happening in reality to any creature on earth), then...

Starting with today's human, the body would need to extend above the rib bones such that space is made for the brain, jaw (which wouldn't work very well), and sinuses, thus the shoulders are above the brain and face. This extension is 100% required as all the other space is completely taken up by, well, the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, stomach....

Shoulder bones would need to develop a rib-like and cranial-like structure to produce and protect the space needed below for the brain and face. It would be remarkably vulnerable and so would be, I assume, very thick, possibly developing a protective covering like finger and toe nails.

If the spine is left in its current state, then the facial area could bend just as the chest cavity does. That's not condusive to protecting the brain and would be problematic for breathing. It's more likely the spine through the facial area would become more ridged (though it couldn't be perfectly ridged). Some bone or very hard cartilege would be needed to protect the brain from the front and to provide structure for the eyes and jaw. This would further stiffen this portion of the spine.

Without a head, the only way this creature could see behind him would be by turning the entire body. Roughly speaking, 50% of the sweep of our eyes is the turn of the waist, the rest is the turn of the head. That would be lost. This creature would have horrible peripheral vision and be remarkably vulnerable to attack from behind. Lifting something above your shoulders would be very problematic. We tilt our heads back, which doesn't significantly shift our center of gravity. This creature would have to lean back, which does significantly shift center of gravity. My suspicion is that this creature would rarely lift anything more than a foot above the shoulders.

Ears are a bit of a problem. They developed as they have on humans to give us "3-D hearing" or the ability to track where a noise is coming from. There's nowhere on the new body to do this with just two ears. If in front of the arms, you'd have trouble hearing what's behind you and vice-versa. That may incline evolution to develop four ears (two in front, two in back) up around the shoulder areas... but the ears are simply a problem with this design. Ear lobes aren't just decorative, they help capture and funnel noise. There's kindof nowhere to put them on a body of this design. That would mean ear holes like birds and lizards have, possibly orbiting the shoulder protective bone.

Finally, and not to be too crude about it... female mammary glands would need to be someplace else. They're on the outside of humans because there's no space for them inside. The proposed body could perhaps be elongated just a bit more to accomodate them with nipples below the "chin." But, well, problematic. I suspect we'd need to ask a woman about the difficulty of not being able to bend her head down to look at a suckling child.

That's enough description. In our understanding of evolution, what could produce such a creature? Nothing that I'm aware of, there are so many weaknesses to this design and so many strengths to what we have that I can't imagine anything that would allow such a creature to evolve. However, for the purpose of full disclosure, I'm not an evolutionary scientist... so someone else may know better than I.

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  • $\begingroup$ About a "suckling child"... these humans, of any gender, would have a very limited ability of observe their own bodies. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Aug 4 '17 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander, I assume you're referring to the adult, not the baby? You are correct that our headless creatures would have a remarkably limited ability to observe their own bodies. Yet another major weakness. $\endgroup$ – JBH Aug 4 '17 at 18:34
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    $\begingroup$ Certainly no examples in vertebrates but scorpions and other things with cephalothorax manage this odd anatomy. $\endgroup$ – John Aug 5 '17 at 4:11
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    $\begingroup$ @John. That's a fascinating example and a good one. But their bodies are turned on its side such that the face is still at the "head" of the body. An excellent example, nonetheless! $\endgroup$ – JBH Aug 5 '17 at 4:42
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Future-science extreme flesh-grafting is the only way that a human is going to have it's face in it's chest.

Pretty much every creature with limbs has the same morphology, of a head on a neck, with limbs attached to the abdomen. The point of divergence would have to be pretty far back for such a extreme morphological change to occur.

With evolution being an impossibility what's left is direct modification. If humans ever develop the ability to transplant heads, there may be a time after that when the additional technical hurdles of rerouting nerves, blood vessels and throat will allow for mounting a human's head upon their chest.

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It's hard to ignore that most animals with eyes and ears carry them on an independently mobile head – there must be significant advantages to that – but to answer the question we need to think about what the disadvantages are, and what might make those more important.

Having a neck is a pretty big vulnerability, and so is having your brain hanging out. Even if you don't have any predators, head and neck injuries are probably the easiest way to die in a fall. Our brains need a lot of blood, and if they were a couple of feet lower down we could have lower blood pressure and smaller hearts (giraffes have the largest hearts of any land mammal, and their skin is like a pressure suit, because of the need to shoot blood all the way up to their brains).

In general, prey animals need better peripheral vision than exclusive predators, which is why rodents have eyes on the side of their heads and lions have eyes in front. Also, animals that are constantly moving forward (particularly fish) evidently don't need to turn their heads so much.

So, if you wanted to have a human-like race with faces on their chests, you could say that they are apex predators, and spend their whole time running forwards over uneven terrain for some reason (so they need to be good at surviving nasty falls). I don't know if I could be convinced by that, but it's the best I can come up with.

PS their hearing wouldn't be so great – as well as not being able to move their pinnae, they'd constantly be hearing their own heartbeat, digestion, body movements etc.

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The reason for heads is to give the eyes a swiveling perch at the top. If you put the eyes on stalks, you could get away with putting nose, mouth, etc., in the torso. If the setting is a "new world" of some kind, you might include an assortment of other creatures with the same configuration, to explain how they evolved.

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A hereditary birth defect, embraced by the culture

First of all, JBH's answer gives an excellent review of the physical aspects involved and the difficulties of this form. It's very difficult to justify this happening through evolution.

However, it may be possible to justify this body shape by a birth defect. Consider a birth defect (or a combination of several) which produce a viable but deformed human. He would have difficulties surviving (JBH covered several of them, comments added more), possibly not even being able to survive without assistance - but, as long as this human is:

  1. Capable of bearing/siring children,
  2. Is cared for until she/he can do so

And

  1. These defects are hereditary (at least in some likelihood)

You can end up with a culture with some 'normal' humans and some 'torso-heads'.

Now, while 1. and 3. above are a question of biology but are theoretically possible, 2. may be explained by a cultural tendency. You can say that the culture places very high value on any human life, and its members take efforts to help the 'torso-heads' survive. Or, instead/additionally, give the 'torso-heads' some cultural significance, making them valued, respected or even desired (maybe they are considered blessed, avatars of the gods, or the first 'torso-head' was of royal blood etc.).

As a real life example of this cultural tendency, consider the treatment of some children with birth defects in India, where multiple limbs were associated with divinity[citation needed].

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