Our basic physical needs haven’t changed a lot since the days when we inhabited caves. In his Hierarchy of Needs, American psychologist Abraham Maslow categorised human needs into five models; basic, safety, social, esteem and self actualisation. In each model, he listed the needs that made up the model. Maslow presented this theory as a pyramid, with our most basic physical needs as the foundation.
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Without air, or more precisely without oxygen, we suffocate. Our bodies need air in order to transport blood nutrients around the body. Without access to air, our bodies can’t function and we die. It is the most the critical and immediate of our needs. If we don’t have air or if our bodies can’t take it in due to injury or illness, we have just a few minutes before our bodies fail.
For the first time in human history, more people are dying from obesity than hunger. But this doesn’t take away the fact that without food, we can’t survive. Although humans can survive on much less food than they’re used to, no food intake at all ultimately results in death.
Water is another one of the basic needs that is critical to our survival. Without water, humans rarely survive more than eight days. In fact, consuming no water can have dramatic health and survival impacts much quicker. Severe dehydration can lead to organ failure.
The definition of shelter has evolved in line with human evolution. Once, a dark cave was sufficient shelter, but nowadays humans deserve and need much more. Humans can survive without shelter, as evidenced by homeless people living on the streets and nomadic tribes wandering without shelter, but in modern society, quality of life is drastically diminished if a human doesn’t have access to shelter. Humans need a place to feel safe, to rest and protect themselves from the elements.
We can survive without the central heating on during a cold snap, but there comes a point where human survival is not consistent with low temperatures. The health and age of the person, combined with the temperature and period of exposure to the cold determine just how long we can survive without warmth before hypothermia sets in and ultimately causes us to die.
There’s a world of difference between being a bit cranky after a late night and suffering from actual sleep deprivation. There is no proof that sleep deprivation is a direct cause of death and the body will sometimes take matters into its own hands and force sleep upon itself to avoid this outcome, but the risk of accident is increased and cognitive function is severely hampered after periods of sleep deprivation.
Although you won’t die if you never have sex, if all living humans took a vow of abstinence, the human race would eventually die out. As a race, we need to reproduce to survive, but as individuals, this isn’t the case. However, Maslow included sex in his model for basic human needs.
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- Simply Psychology: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
- Eastern Kentucky University: Human physiology; respiration
- The Telegraph: Obesity killing three times as many as malnutrition
- CBC News; Canada: How long can we survive without food or water?
- Patient: Assessing dehydration in children
- Thinkquest: Human needs
- NHS Choices: Hypothermia
- Scientific American: How long can humans stay awake?