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Part V: Is Man An Animal?
Once man is put
together, everything else falls into place.
Ana Maria O'Neill
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)
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
an example of nothing-but-ism carried to its extreme, we have
a statement such as this one quoted by Viktor Frankl:
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)
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
11. Frankl, Viktor, "Reductionism
and Nihilism" in Beyond Reductionism, Arthur Koestler
Hutchinson, London, 1969, p.403.
pg.2 of 8
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.
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.
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.
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
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
- 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,
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.
- Foot arched transversely and from front
- 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
- Longer growth period
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
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
- Tools and machinery
- Biological dominance over all other
- Individual variability
- The use of the forelimb for manipulating
- 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.
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
All figures are in percentages,
the spinal column in each case being 100 percent.
|| Spinal Column
| European Man
Asterisks mark minimum values, bold face maximum.
Commenting on this, A. L. Kroeber
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.
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.
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)
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.
20. Huxley's table is taken
from A. L. Kroeber, Anthropology, Harcourt & Brace,
New York, 1948, p.56.
pg.5 of 8
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.
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.
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
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.
features as these, as we shall see in Chapters 2‹4, 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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
pg.8 of 8
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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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.
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.
us then examine these differences with care, that the significances
of them in answering the question "What is man?" may
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