1902 Encyclopedia > Anthropology > Introduction. Man's Place in Nature.

(Part 1)

Introduction to Anthropology

Anthropology (the science of man), denotes the natural history of mankind. In the general classification of knowledge it stands as the highest section of zoology or the science of animals, itself the highest section of biology or the science of living beings. To anthropology contribute various sciences, which hold their own independent places in the field of knowledge. Thus anatomy and physiology display the structure and functions of the human body, while psychology investigates the operations of the human mind. Philology deals with the general principles of language, as well as with the relations between the languages of particular races and nations. Ethics or moral science treats of man's duty or rules or conduct toward his fellow men. Lastly, under the names of sociology and the science of culture, are considered the origin and development of arts and sciences, opinions, beliefs, customs, laws, institutions generally among mankind, their course in time being partly marked out by the direct record of history, while beyond the historical limit our information is continued by inferences from relics of early ages and remote districts, to interpret which is the task of prae-historic archaeology and geology. Not only are these various sciences concerned largely with man, but several among them have in fact suffered by the almost entire exclusion of other animals from their scheme. It is undoubted that comparative anatomy and physiology, by treating the human species as one member of a long series of related organism, have gained a higher and more perfect understanding of man himself and his place in the universe than could have been gained by the narrower investigation of his species by and for itself. It is to be regretted that hitherto certain other sciences -- psychology, ethics, and even philology and sociology-have so little followed so profitable an example. No doubt the phenomena of intellect appear in vastly higher and more complete organization in man than in beings below him in the scale of nature, that beasts and birds only attain to language in its lower rudiments, and that only the germs of moral tendency and social law are discernible among the lower animals. Yet though the mental and moral interval between man and the nearest animals may be vast, the break is not absolute, and the investigation of the laws of reason and instinct throughout the zoological system, which is already casting some scattered rays of light on the study of man's highest organization, may be destined henceforth to throw brighter illumination into its very recesses. Now this condition of things, as well as the accepted order in which the sciences have arranged themselves by their mode of growth, make it desirable that anthropology should not too ambitiously strive to include within itself the sciences which provide so much of its wealth, but that each science should pursue its own subject through the whole range of living beings, rendering to anthropology an account of so much of its results as concerns man. Such results it is he office of anthropology to collect and co-ordinance, so as to elaborate as completely as may be the synopsis of man's bodily and mental nature, and the theory of his whole course of life and action from his first appearance on earth. As will be seen from the following brief summary, the information to be thus brought together form contributing sciences is widely different both in accuracy and in soundness. While much of the descriptive detail is already clear and well filled in, the general principles of its order are still but vaguely to be discerned, and as our view quits the comparatively distinct region near ourselves the prospect fades more and more into the dimness of conjecture.

I. Man's Place in Nature. -- It is now more than thirty years since Dr. Prichard, who perhaps of all others merits Man to the title of founder of modern anthropology, stated in the following forcible passage, which opens his Natural History of Man, the closeness of man's physical relation to the lower animals: -

"The organized world presents no contrasts and resemblances more remarkable than those which we discover on comparing mankind with the inferior tribes. That creatures should exist so nearly approaching to each other in all particulars of their physical structure, and yet differing so immeasurably in their endowments and capabilities, would be a fact hard to believe, if it were not manifest to our observation. The differences are everywhere striking: the resemblances are less obvious in the fullness of their extent, and they are never contemplated without wonder by those who, in the study of anatomy and physiology, are first made aware how near is man in his physical constitution to the brutes. In all the principles of his internal structure, in the composition and functions of his parts, man is but an animal. The lord of the earth, who contemplates the eternal order of the universe, and aspires to communion with its invisible Maker, is a being composed of the same material, and framed on the same principles, as the creatures which he has tamed to be the servile instruments of his will, or slays for his daily food. The points of resemblance are innumerable; they extend to the most recondite arrangements of that mechanism which maintains instrumentally the physical life of the body, which brings forward its early development and admits, after a given period, its decay, and by means of which is prepared a succession of similar beings destined to perpetuate the race.

Referring the reader to the articles HISTOLOGY and PHYSIOLOGY for evidence of the similarity of minute organization both in structure and function, through the range of animal life upward to man, and to the article ANIMAL KINGDOM for the general classification of the series of invertebrate and vertebrate animals, we have here to -show in outline the relations between man and the species most closely approaching him. It is admitted that the higher apes come nearest to man in bodily formation, and that it is essential to determine their zoological resemblances and differences as a step toward ascertaining their absolute relation in nature. "At this point," writes Professor Owen in a paper on the "Osteology of the Apes," "every deviation from the human structure indicates with precision its real peculiarities, and we then possess the true means of appreciating those modifications by which a material organism is especially adapted to become the seat and instrument of a rational and responsible soul." (On the "Osteology of the Chimpanzee and Orang Utan," in Proc. Zool. Soc., vol. I) Professor Huxley, in his Man's Place in Nature (London 1863), comparing man with order after order of the mammalia, decies "There would remain then but one order for comparison, that of the Apes (using that word in its broadest sense), and the question for discussion would narrow itself to this -- is Man so different from any of these Apes that he must form an order by himself? Or does he differ less from them than they differ from one another, and hence must take his place in the same order with them?" This anatomist states the anatomical relations between man and ape in untechnical terms suited to the present purpose, and which would be in great measure accepted by zoologists and anthropologists, whether agreeing or not with his ulterior views. The relations are most readily stated in comparison with the gorilla, as on the whole the most anthropomorphous ape. In the general proportions of the body and limbs there is a marked difference between the gorilla and man, which at once strikes the eye. The gorilla's brain-case is smaller, its trunk larger, its lower limbs shorter, its upper limbs longer in proportion than those of man. The differences between a gorilla's skull and a man's are truly immense. In the gorilla, the face formed largely by the massive jaw-bones, predominates over the brain-case or cranium; in the man these proportions are reversed. In man the occipital foramen, through which passes the spinal cord, is placed just behind the center of the base of the skull, which is thus evenly balanced in the erect posture, whereas the gorilla, which goes habitually on all fours, and whose skull is inclined forward, in accordance with this posture has the foramen further back. In man the surface of the skull is comparatively smooth, and the brow-ridges project but little, while in the gorilla these ridges overhang the cavernous orbits like penthouse roofs. The absolute capacity of the cranium of the gorilla is far less than that of man; the smallest adult human cranium hardly measuring less than 63 cubic inches, while the largest gorilla cranium measured had a content of only 34 ¸ cubic inches. The large proportional size of the facial bones, and the great projection of the jaws, confer on the gorilla's skull its small facial angle and brutal character, while its teeth differ from man's in relative size and number of fangs. Comparing the lengths of the extremities, it is seem that the gorilla's arm is of enormous length, in fact about one-sixth longer than the spine, whereas a man's arm is one-fifth shorter than the spine; both hand and foot are proportionally much longer in the gorilla than in man; the leg does not so much differ. The vertebral column of the gorilla differs from that of man in its curvature and other characters, as also does the conformation of its narrow pelvis. The hand of the gorilla corresponds essentially as to bones and muscles with that of man, but is clumsier and heavier, its thumb is "opposable" like a human thumb, that it, it can easily meet with its extremity the extremities of the other fingers, thus possessing a character which does much to make the human hand so admirable an instrument; but the gorilla's thumb is proportionately shorter than man's. The foot of the higher apes, though often spoken of as a hand, is anatomically not such, but a prehensile foot. It is argued by Professor Owen and others that the position of the great toe converts the foot of the higher apes into a hand, an extremely important distinction from man; but against this Professor Huxley maintains that it has characteristic structure of a foot, with a very movable great toe. The external unlikeness of the apes to man depends much on their hairiness, but this and some other characteristics have no great zoological value. No doubt the difference between man and the apes depends, of all things, on the relative size and organization of the brain. While similar as to their general arrangement to the human brain, those of the higher apes, such as the chimpanzee, are much less complex in their convolutions, as well as much less both in absolute and relative weight-the weight of a gorilla's brain hardly exceeding 20 ounces, and a man's brain hardly weighing less than 32 ounces, although the gorilla is considerably the larger animal of the two.

These anatomical distinctions are undoubtedly of great moment, and it is an interesting question whether they suffice to place man in a zoological order by himself. It is plain that some eminent zoologists, regarding man as absolutely differing as to mind and spirit from any other animal, have had their discrimination of mere bodily differences unconsciously sharpened, and have been led to give differences, such as in the brain or even the foot of the apes and man, somewhat more importance than if they had merely distinguished two species of apes. Among the present generation of naturalists, however, there is an evident tendency to fall in with the opinion, that the anatomical differences which separate the gorilla or chimpanzee from man are in some respects less than those which separate these man-like apes from apes lower in the scale. Yet naturalists agree to class both the higher and lower apes in the same order. This is Professor Huxley's argument, some prominent points of which are the following:- As regards the proportion of limbs, the hylobates of gibbon is as much longer in the arms than the gorilla as the gorilla is than the man, while on the other hand, it is as much longer in the legs than he man as the man is than the gorilla. As to the vertebral column and pelvis, the lower apes differ from the gorilla as much as, or more than, it differs from man. As to the capacity of the cranium, men differ from one another so extremely that the largest known human skull holds nearly twice the measure of the smallest, a larger proportion than that in which man surpasses the gorilla; while, with proper allowance for difference of size of the various species, it appears that some of the lower apes fall nearly as much below the higher apes. The projection of the muzzle, which gives the character of brutality to the gorilla as distinguished from the man, is yet further exaggerated in the lemurs, as is also the backward position of the occipital foramen. In characters of such importance ads the structure of the hand and foot, the lower apes diverge extremely from the gorilla; thus the thumb ceases to be opposable in the American monkeys, and in the marmosets is directed forwards, and armed with a curved claw like the other digits, the great toe in these latter being insignificant in proportion. The same argument can be extended to other points of anatomical structure, and, what is of more consequence, it appears true of the brain. A series of the apes, arranged from lower to higher orders, shows gradations from a brain little higher than that of a rat, to a brain like a small and imperfect imitation of a man's; and the greatest structural break in the series lies not between man and the man-like apes, but between the apes and monkeys on one side, and the lemurs on the other. On these grounds Professor Huxley, restoring in principle the Linnen classification, desires to include man in the order of Primates. This order he divides into seven families: first, the Anthropini consisting of man only; second, the Catarhini, or Old World apes; third, the Platyrhini, all New World apes, except the marmosets; fourth, the Arctopithecini, of marmosets; fifth, the Lemurini, or lemurs; sixth and seventh, the Cheiromyini and Galeopithecini. It seems likely that, so far as naturalists are disposed to class man with other animals on purely zoological grounds, some such classification as this may, in the present state of comparative anatomy, be generally adopted.

It is in assigning to man his place in nature on psychological grounds that the greater difficulty comes into view. The same naturalist, whose argument has just been summarized against an absolute structural line of demarcation between man and the creatures next in the scale, readily acknowledges an immeasurable and practically infinite divergence, ending in the present enormous gulf between the family of apes and the family of man. To account for this intellectual chasm as possibly due to some minor structural difference, is, however, a view strongly opposed to the prevailing judgment. The opinion is deeply rooted in modern as in ancient thought, that only a distinctively human element of the highest import can account for the severance between man and the highest animal below him. Differences in the mechanical organs, such as the perfection of the human hand as an instrument, or the adaptability of the human voice to the expression of human thought, are indeed of great value. But they have not of themselves such value, that to endow an ape with the hand and vocal organs of a man would be likely to raise it through any large part of the interval that now separates it from humanity. Much more is to be said for the view that man's larger and more highly organized brain accounts for those mental powers in which he so absolutely surpasses the brutes.

The distinction does not seem to lie principally in the range and delicacy of direct sensation, as may be judged from such well-known facts as man's inferiority to the eagle in sight, or to the dog in scent. At the same time, it seems that the human sensory organs may have in various respects acuteness beyond those of other creatures. But, beyond a doubt, man possesses, and in some way possesses by virtue of his superior brain, a power of coordinating the impressions of his senses, which enables him to understand the world he lives in, and by understanding to use, resist, and even in a measure rule it. No human art shows the nature of this human attribute more clearly than does language. Man shares with the mammalia and birds the direct expression of the feelings by emotional tones and interjectional cries; the parrot's power of articulate utterance almost equals his own; and, by association of ideas in some measure, some of the lower animals have even learnt to recognize words he utters. But, to use words in themselves unmeaning, as symbols by which to conduct and convey the complex intellectual processes in which mental conception are suggested, compared, combined, and even analyzed, and new one created-this is a faculty which is scarcely to be traced in any lower animal. The view that this, with other mental processes, is a function of the brain, is remarkably corroborated by modern investigation of the disease of aphasia, where the power of thinking remains, but the power is lost of recalling the word corresponding to the thought, and this mental defect is found to accompany a diseased state of a particular locality of the brain (see APHASIA). This may stand among the most perfect of the many evidences that, in Professor Bain's words, "the brain is the principal, though not the sole organ of mind." As the brains of vertebrate animals form an ascending scale, more and more approaching man's in their arrangement, the fact here finds its explanation, that lower animals perform mental processes corresponding in their nature to our own, though of generally less power and complexity. The full evidence of this correspondence will be found in such works as Brehm's Thierleben; and some of the salient point are set forth by Mr. Darwin in the chapter on "Mental Powers," in his Descent of Man. Such are the similar effects of terror on man and the lower animals, causing the muscles to tremble, the heart to palpitate, the sphincters to be relaxed, and the hair to stand on end. The phenomena of memory, both as to persons and places, is strong in animals, as is manifest by their recognition of their masters, and their returning at once to habits disused for many years, but of which their brain has not lost the stored-up impressions. Such facts as that dogs "hunt in dreams," make it likely that their minds are not only sensible to actual events, present and past, but can, like our minds, combine revived sensations into ideal scenes in which they are actors,-that is to say, they have the faculty of imagination. As for the reasoning powers in animals, the accounts of monkeys learning by experience to break eggs carefully, and pick off bits of shell, so as not to lose the contents, or of the way in which rats or martens after a while can no longer be caught by the same kind of trap, with innumerable similar facts, show in the plainest way that the reason of animals goes to far as to form by new experience a new hypothesis of cause and effect which will henceforth guide their actions. The employment of mechanical instruments, of which instances of monkeys using sticks and stones, and some other similar cases, furnish the only rudimentary traces among the lower animals, is one of the often quoted distinctive powers of man. With this comes the whole vast and ever-widening range of inventive and adaptive art, where the uniform hereditary instinct of the cell-forming bee and the nest-building bird are supplanted by multiform processes and constructions, often at first rude and clumsy in comparison to those of the lower instinct, but carried on by the faculty of improvement and new invention into ever higher stages. "From the moment," writes Mr. Wallace (Natural Selection, p. 325), "when the first skin was used as a covering, when the first rude spear was formed to assist in the chase, when fire was first used to cook his food, when the first seed was sown or shoot planted, a grand revolution was effected in nature, a revolution which in all the previous ages of the earth's history had had no parallel; for a being had arisen who was no longer necessarily subject to change with the changing universe, - a being who was in some degree superior to nature, inasmuch as he knew how to control and regulate her action, and could keep himself in harmony with her, not by a change in body, but by an advance of mind."

As to the lower instincts tending directly to self-preservation, it is acknowledged on all hands that man has them in a less developed state than other animals; in fact, the natural defencelessness of the human being, and the long-continued care and teaching of the young by the elders, are among the commonest themes of moral discourse. Parental tenderness and care for the young are strongly marked among the lower animals, though so inferior in scope and duration to the human qualities; and the same may be said of the mutual forbearance and defence which bind together in a rudimentary social bond the families and herds of animals. Philosophy seeking knowledge for its own sake; morality, manifested in the sense of truth, right, and virtue; and religion, the belief in and communion with superhuman powers ruling and pervading the universe, are human characters of which it is instructive to trace, if possible, the earliest symptoms in he lower animals, but which can there show at most only faint and rudimentary signs of their wondrous development in mankind. That the tracing of physical and even intellectual continuity between the lower animals and our own race, does not necessarily lead the anthropologist to lower the rank of man in the scale of nature, cannot be better shown than by citing one of the authors of the development theory, Mr. A.R. Wallace (op. cit., p. 324). Man, he considers is to be placed "apart, as not only the head and culminating point of the grand series of organic nature, but as in some degree a new and distinct order of being."

To regard the intellectual functions of the brain and nervous system as alone to be considered in the psychological comparison of man with the lower animal, is a view satisfactory to those thinkers who hold materialistic views. According to this school, man is a machine, no doubt the most complex and wonderful adapted of all known machines, but still neither more nor less than an instrument whose energy is provided by force from without, and which, when set in action, performs the various operations for which its structure fits it, namely, to live, move, feel, and think. This doctrine, which may be followed up from Descartes's theory of animal life into the systems of modern writers of the school of Moleschott and Buchner, underlies the Lectures on Man of Professor Carl Vogt, one of the ablest of modern anthropologists (English translation published by Anthropological Society, London, 1864). Such views, however, always have been and are strongly opposed by those who accept on theological grounds a spiritualistic doctrine, or what is, perhaps, more usual, a theory which combines spiritualism and materialism in the doctrine of a composite nature in man animal as to the body and in some measure as to the mind, spiritual as to the soul. It may be useful, as an illustration of one opinion on this subject, to continue here from an earlier page the citation of Dr. Prichard's comparison between man and the lower animals:-

"If it be inquired in what the still more remarkable difference consists, it is by no means easy to reply. By some it will be said that man, while similar in the organization of his body to the lower tribes, is distinguished from them by the possession of an immaterial soul, a principle of conscious feeling, of intellect and thought. To many persons it will appear paradoxical to ascribe the endowment of a soul to the inferior tribes in the creation, yet it is difficult to discover a valid argument that limits the possession of an immaterial principle to man. The phenomena of feeling of desire and aversion, of love and hatred, of fear and revenge, and the perception of external relations manifested in the life of brutes, imply, not only through the analogy which they display to the human faculties, but likewise from all that we can learn or conjecture of their particular nature, the superadded existence of a principle distinct from the mere mechanism of material bodies. That such a principle must exist in all beings capable of sensation, or of anything analogous to human passions and feelings, will hardly be denied by those who perceive the force of arguments which metaphysically demonstrate the immaterial nature of the mind. There may be no rational grounds for the ancient dogma that the souls of the lower animals were imperishable, like the soul of man; this is, however, a problem which we are not called upon to discuss; and we may venture to conjecture that there may be immaterial essences of divers kinds, and endowed with various attributes and capabilities. But the real nature of these unseen principles eludes our research: they are only known to us by their external manifestations. These manifestations are the various powers and capabilities, or rather the habitudes of action, which characterize the different orders of being, diversified according to their several destinations."

Dr. Prichard here puts forward distinctly the time-honoured doctrine which refers the mental faculties to the operation of the soul. The view maintained by a distinguished comparative anatomist, Professor Mivart, in his Genesis of Species, ch. Xii., may fairly follow. "Man, according to the old scholastic definition, is Îa rational animal' (animal rationale), and his animality is distinct in nature from his rationality, though inseparably joined, during life, in one common personality. Man's animal body must have had a different source from that of the spiritual soul which informs it, owing to the distinctness of the two orders to which those two existences severally belongs."

Not to pursue into its details a doctrine which has its place rather in a theological than an anthropological article, it remains to be remarked that the two extracts just given, however significant in themselves, fail to render an account of the view of the human constitution which would probably, among the theological and scholastic leaders of public opinion, count the largest weight of adherence. According to this view, not only life but thought are functions of the animal system, in which man excels all other animals as to height of organization; but beyond this, man embodies an immaterial and immortal spiritual principle which no lower creature possesses, and which makes the resemblance of the apes to him but a mocking simulance. To pronounce any absolute decision on these conflicting doctrines is foreign to our present purpose, which is to show that all of them count among their adherents men of high rank in science.

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