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About the Book

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V



     

 Part V: Is Man An Animal?

Chapter 1

The Uniqueness of Man

Once man is put together, everything else falls into place.

Ana Maria O'Neill
Scientific Monthly
(February, 1946)

     WESTERN MAN'S assessment of himself in relation to the animal kingdom has passed through several phases. Within the context of the Christian view, man saw himself as so unique that it did not occur to him to enquire into the possibility of a relationship with the animals in any derivative sense; he merely shared God's world with them. But toward the end of the 17th century, western philosophy became enthralled with the idea that all living things were directly related in the form of what was called a Great Chain of Being. (9) Between each link in this chain, the distance was infinitesimally small, so small as to be really non-existent. Just as Nature abhorred a vacuum in the physical order, so equally did Nature abhor discontinuity in the stream of life. (10)
     
At first it was not a question of the evolution of one thing out of another, but rather the feeling that God, of necessity, could not but fill out the chain with no missing links, since His creation would otherwise have been incomplete and imperfect by reason of the gaps it would contain. The chain was believed to begin with the minerals, merging into plant life, then on into animal life, thence to man, and then, logically, on into angelic forms, and up to God Himself. There were no missing links, nor were there any jumps. The universe was a smooth incline from nothing up to God, not a ladder with steps. Even the concept of species was denied. Only our ignorance led us to suppose that the chain was not complete.
     During the 18th century, the idea that each successive form

9. Lovejoy, Arthur 0., The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea, Harper, New York, 1960.
10. Ibid., p.181.

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could have emerged or evolved without discontinuity from the form below it, rather than being directly created, began to be tentatively proposed. In the 19th century the concept of evolution, much as we find it today, was crystallized. What Darwin contributed more specifically was the provision of a mechanism by which the evolutionary process was carried forward progressively by natural means, without the need for supernatural intervention at any stage.
     
And so man passed from his superior position as a unique creation to the lesser position of being only a link in a chain, a link which was not essentially of any greater importance than any other link. He had become part and parcel of the natural order, made of the same stuff, accountable in the same terms, obedient to the same physical laws, and destined to the same end.
     
But there is now some evidence of a change in sentiment, a reaction to this over-simplification. Man still seems to be a part of the chain, and yet he is not a part of it. Something new seems to have emerged with the appearance of man that has almost the quality of a break in the chain. Let us look at man's present assessment of his own position and the growing tendency to abandon the view that he is really "nothing but" a link in the Great Chain of Being, though admittedly the most complex link to emerge so far.
    
As an example of nothing-but-ism carried to its extreme, we have a statement such as this one quoted by Viktor Frankl: (11)

     Man is nothing but a complex biochemical mechanism powered by a combustion system which energizes a computer with prodigious storage facilities for retaining encoded information.

     Today, the practice of reducing man to mere physics and chemistry is not quite so popular as it was. Even so, one may still find authorities who delight in over-simplification and seem determined to reduce man's self-esteem by saying that he is nothing but "a made over ape," as Montagu and Brace do. (12)
G. Gaylord Simpson objected on principle, and quite rightly, to the tendency to reduce man by such a simple formula to a mere descendant of some other animal:
(13)

     These fallacies arise from what Julian Huxley calls "the-nothing-but" school. It was felt or said that because man is an animal, a primate, and so on, he is nothing but an animal or nothing but an ape with a few extra tricks. It is a fact that man is an animal, but it is not a fact that he is nothing but an animal.

11. Frankl, Viktor, "Reductionism and Nihilism" in Beyond Reductionism, Arthur Koestler Hutchinson, London, 1969, p.403.
12. Brace, C. L., and Montagu, Ashley, Man 's Evolution, Macmillan, New York, 1965, p.53.
13. Simpson, G. G., The Meaning of Evolution, Yale University Press, 1952, p.283.

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Let us assume for the moment that man is an animal but with some highly significant extras, and see what these extras are, according to the experts.
     
One of the earlier lists of this nature was composed by Linnaeus. (14) He recognized in man six aspects in which he was a unique mammal theological, moral, natural, physiological, dietetic, and pathological. This is an interesting list because it anticipates some areas of investigation which his immediate successors tended to neglect, namely, the dietetic and pathological ones. Raymond Pearl in his book Man the Animal (15) in fact ignored these two aspects even though he referred to Linnaeus' listing. Pearl thought that man's uniqueness is especially reflected in his habitually upright posture, his large brain, his capacity for articulate speech, and his longer life span.
     
Ales Hrdlicka in his monumental work on The Skeletal Remains of Early Man argued that man branched off from some primate predecessor and became truly human as soon as he developed the ability to shape stones and other objects, adopted a habitually upright posture thus completely liberating his hands, experienced a reduction both of the canine teeth and of the jaw itself, developed a relatively large brain, employed articulate language, experienced a dawning self-consciousness, and increasingly refined his social relationships. (16)
     
Ashley Montagu in his Introduction to Physical Anthropology listed 21 features in which man differs from all [his emphasis] other primates. These features have reference to anatomy, as follows: (17)

Fully erect posture
Bipedal locomotion
Legs much longer than arms
Comparatively vertical face
Great reduction in projection of jaws
Great reduction of canine teeth
Absence of a bony diastema in upper jaw for the reception of the tip of the canine tooth
Prominent nose with elongated tip (i.e., elongated beyond the nasal bone)
Outward rolled mucous membrane of lips
A well marked chin
A forward lumbar convexity or curve
Nonopposable great toe, set in line with other toes

14. Linnaeus: quoted by Raymond Pearl, Man the Animal, Principia, Indiana, 1946, p.4.
15. Pearl, Raymond, Man the Animal, Principia, Indiana, 1946, pp.4ff.
16. Hrdlicka, Ales, The Skeletal Remains of Early Man,in Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, vol.83, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C., 1930, Publication No.3033, p.l l.
17. Montagu, Ashley, Introduction to Physical Antthropology, Thomas, Springfield, Illinois., 1945, p.43.
 

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Foot arched transversely and from front to rear
Relative hairlessness of body
Absence of tactile hairs
Brain more than twice as large as the largest nonhuman primate brain
The occiput projecting backwards
Highly rolled margin of the ear
Absence of premaxillary bone from the anterior aspect of the face
Iliac fossae or blades of pelvis facing one another
Longer growth period

     He then remarked about this list: "There are, of course, many other features in which man differs respectively from the prosimiae [premonkeys], the monkeys, and the apes. With respect to more qualitative features man differs from the nonhuman primates in the following potentialities or traits: (1) the capacity for symbolic thought, (2) articulate speech, and (3) the development of a complex culture.'' (18) He commented: "It is in the possession of these . . . potentialities, and in their active realization and transmission, from generation to generation, that man qualitatively differs so very greatly from all other primates, and the possession of which enables him to become a human being."
     
In one of his essays, Julian Huxley also made a list of the characteristics which he believed to be unique to the human species: (19)

Language and conceptual thought
Transmission of knowledge by written record
Tools and machinery
Biological dominance over all other species
Individual variability
The use of the forelimb for manipulating purposes only
All year round fertility
Art, humor, science, and religion

     It will be noted that there are differences in emphasis in these lists. Raymond Pearl had a particular interest in problems relative to man as a creature who is now beginning to crowd the world with his numbers, and such factors as fertility and longevity especially concerned him. The list composed by Hrdlicka, who spent much time in field work, not unnaturally singles out those marks of humanness which would appeal to the eye of the archaeologist/anthropologist. The list of the more strictly physical anthropologist, Ashley Montagu, reflects his interest in total anatomy. The list proposed by

18. Ibid., pp.43f.
19. Huxley, Sir Julian: quoted by Arthur Koestler, The Ghost in the Machine , Hutchinson, London, 1967, p.297.

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Huxley begins to place more emphasis upon the cultural aspects of manhood. It was not that Huxley was disinterested in physical anthropology, for he did draw up a table of comparative bone lengths for man and the man-like apes, with the intention of showing that man falls within the range of these apes and to demonstrate that the apes often differ more from one another than some differed from man. His table is shown below. (20)

Limb/Spinal Column Proportions of Man and Man-like Apes
   Spinal Column  Arm  Leg  Hand  Foot
 European Man 100 80* 117 26* 35*
 Gorilla 100 115 96 36 41
 Chimpanzee 100 96 90 43 39
 Orangutan 100 122 88* 48 52
All figures are in percentages, the spinal column in each case being 100 percent.
Asterisks mark minimum values, bold face maximum.

     Commenting on this, A. L. Kroeber remarked: (21)

     If such a relationship held for all or most traits, it would tend to suggest that man should be classified in the group of the apes rather than alongside of it, much as the reconstructed family trees have already suggested.
     However, what Huxley in the ardor of his argument did not note is that, in the proportions cited, man is regularly at one end of the ape scale at either the maximum or the minimum of the joint range.
     This gives us pause, because it seems to suggest that man does after all stand off on one side by himself.

     To these anatomical differences, Weidenreich in his Apes, Giants and Man added certain others: (22)

     1. The long bones of the lower limb, especially the thigh bone, are longer in man than the long bones of the upper limb, especially the humerus, while in anthropoids the conditions are reversed. (23) It is

20. Huxley's table is taken from A. L. Kroeber, Anthropology, Harcourt & Brace, New York, 1948, p.56.
21. Kroeber, A. L., Anthropology, Harcourt & Brace, New York, 1948, p.56.
22. Weidenreich, Franz, Apes, Giants and Man, University of Chicago Press, 1948, p.6.
23. This reversal of limb proportions does not apply to the prosimians: see A. H. Schultz "Primatology in Its Relation to Anthropology," Current Anthropology, edited by W. L. Thomas, University of Chicago Press, 1956, p.49.

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this fact which makes the gait of man attempting to walk on all fours so completely different from that of other animals. (Fig.12) Other quadrupeds stand higher at the shoulder than at the seat but when man attempts this posture his stance is almost ludicrously difficult even in the infant.

Fig. 12. Difference in posture between ape and man on all fours.

     2. The human trunk is short in proportion to the lower limb while, here, again the conditions are reversed in anthropoids.
    
3. The human vertebral column is curved in a complex way alternately forwards and backwards while in anthropoids it is either straight or uniformly curved backwards.


    
Such features as these, as we shall see in Chapters 24, contribute enormously to the flexibility of the human body and its ready adaptability to many different postures which can be maintained for long periods with comparative ease. For a culture-bound "animal" whose activities both at work and at rest are tremendously varied, such features play an important role.
     
There are a few other anatomical differences which these particular authorities have not mentioned but which are of great significance to man as a creator of culture. All animals other than man have either four feet or four hands. The primates use the two hind hands habitually as feet, supporting only part of their weight on the fore hands. In spite of unknown centuries of supposed "natural selection," these hind hands have never become re-organized into true feet. The anatomical form of the human foot is significantly different as we shall see, thereby making man unique in this respect in the possession of two perfectly functional feet and two amazingly adept hands. 

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     Another anatomical uniqueness in man is what has been called a wasp waist, a waist which not only provides him with greater trunk flexibility but also allows him (and her) to wear clothing as adornment in an extraordinary variety of designs, supported from the waist as readily as from the shoulders. The chimpanzee at the circus may be dressed like a person but severe limitations are placed upon the chimpanzee clothing manufacturer by the fact that everything must be hung from the shoulders. In terms of self-expression, clothing is capable of adding a whole dimension to the cultural life of man. And as Julian Huxley was wise enough to note, nudity does not become adult man except on rare occasions and for a short time in life, whereas clothing tremendously enhances his stature and adds grace in an infinite variety of ways. It is as though he were designed to allow for this.
     
Though many animals have very graceful necks, those animals which are supposed to be man's nearest relatives, do not. The structure of man's neck is such that by balancing the head centrally, the foramen magnum being well forward, the demand for powerful muscles which make the neck massive and indeed almost non-existent as a flexible junction between head and shoulders, is largely eliminated: so the head can move freely on the shoulders in a way which is quite foreign to the head movements of most of the other primates.
     
There are some highly significant differences between man and all other animals in the degree of dependency of the newborn both in terms of the achievement of physiological maturity and in terms of individual safety against attackers. The young of virtually all other species can fend for themselves in a remarkably short time whereas the extended period of human dependency results in a situation where a number of members of a single family will continue as a family, even when the age spread is quite extensive. In terms of interpersonal development, and combined with the very slow rate of maturing of the brain itself in man (by contrast with animals), there is a greatly prolonged period of educability which is entirely missing in all other species. All these are actually related and in a unique way have a combined effect upon individuation.
     
Man has a temperature regulating system which is truly unique and has rendered him a completely ubiquitous creature without the territorial restrictions which seem to apply to all other species. And perhaps, not unrelated in a sense, is the fact that he alone is omnivorous while other creatures are naturally (that is, except under special stress) either herbivorous or carnivorous. Man can live equally well

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on a purely carnivorous diet if necessary as the Eskimo has done, or equally well on a herbivorous diet as many Eastern people have done who are virtually dependent upon cereals such as rice.
     
In terms of social organization, there are a tremendous number of highly significant differences between human and animal societies, human societies being essentially organized along cultural lines and animal societies along biological lines. And one very significant difference which lies at the root of the structure of these two contrasting types of social organization is the great importance which the male assumes in human society. In virtually all animal societies the role of the male is exceedingly limited, and in many cases the male is scarcely a part of the society at all, being either ejected by it or voluntarily withdrawing.
     
Such, then, are some of the clues that we are to pursue and explore in greater detail in the following chapters. The kind of parallelisms which encourage the writing of so many books for popular consumption which seem to delight in reducing man and his society to the terms of animal life have undoubtedly contributed greatly to the blurring of the fundamental lines of distinction which actually put the two into very different categories. The parallels, however, merely look promising, but actually at one time greatly hindered fruitful research by blinding even the experts to these critical differences, in much the same way that the generative idea of evolution was formerly applied mistakenly to virtually every aspect of historical development to the detriment of the truth. The distorting effect was recognized by cultural anthropologists in due time, and it has since been almost everywhere acknowledged as an unfortunate mistake.
     
Let us then examine these differences with care, that the significances of them in answering the question "What is man?" may become apparent.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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