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- The Evolution of Man, V.2 - 3/63 -


easy to construct the whole story of evolution on an embryonic basis. When we wanted to know the ancestors of any higher organism, and, therefore, of man--to know from what forms the race as a whole has been evolved we should merely have to follow the series of forms in the development of the individual from the ovum; we could then regard each of the successive forms as the representative of an extinct ancestral form. However, this direct application of ontogenetic facts to phylogenetic ideas is possible, without limitations, only in a very small section of the animal kingdom. There are, it is true, still a number of lower invertebrates (for instance, some of the Zoophyta and Vermalia) in which we are justified in recognising at once each embryonic form as the historical reproduction, or silhouette, as it were, of an extinct ancestor. But in the great majority of the animals, and in the case of man, this is impossible, because the embryonic forms themselves have been modified through the change of the conditions of existence, and have lost their original character to some extent. During the immeasurable course of organic history, the many millions of years during which life was developing on our planet, secondary changes of the embryonic forms have taken place in most animals. The young of animals (not only detached larvae, but also the embryos enclosed in the womb) may be modified by the influence of the environment, just as well as the mature organisms are by adaptation to the conditions of life; even species are altered during the embryonic development. Moreover, it is an advantage for all higher organisms (and the advantage is greater the more advanced they are) to curtail and simplify the original course of development, and thus to obliterate the traces of their ancestors. The higher the individual organism is in the animal kingdom, the less completely does it reproduce in its embryonic development the series of its ancestors, for reasons that are as yet only partly known to us. The fact is easily proved by comparing the different developments of higher and lower animals in any single stem.

In order to appreciate this important feature, we have distributed the embryological phenomena in two groups, palingenetic and cenogenetic. Under palingenesis we count those facts of embryology that we can directly regard as a faithful synopsis of the corresponding stem-history. By cenogenesis we understand those embryonic processes which we cannot directly correlate with corresponding evolutionary processes, but must regard as modifications or falsifications of them. With this careful discrimination between palingenetic and cenogenetic phenomena, our biogenetic law assumes the following more precise shape:--The rapid and brief development of the individual (ontogeny) is a condensed synopsis of the long and slow history of the stem (phylogeny): this synopsis is the more faithful and complete in proportion as the original features have been preserved by heredity, and modifications have not been introduced by adaptation.

In order to distinguish correctly between palingenetic and cenogenetic phenomena in embryology, and deduce sound conclusions in connection with stem-history, we must especially make a comparative study of the former. In doing this it is best to employ the methods that have long been used by geologists for the purpose of establishing the succession of the sedimentary rocks in the crust of the earth. This solid crust, which encloses the glowing central mass like a thin shell, is composed of different kinds of rocks: there are, firstly, the volcanic rocks which were formed directly by the cooling at the surface of the molten mass of the earth; secondly, there are the sedimentary rocks, that have been made out of the former by the action of water, and have been laid in successive strata at the bottom of the sea. Each of these sedimentary strata was at first a soft layer of mud; but in the course of thousands of years it condensed into a solid, hard mass of stone (sandstone, limestone, marl, etc.), and at the same time permanently preserved the solid and imperishable bodies that had chanced to fall into the soft mud. Among these bodies, which were either fossilised or left characteristic impressions of their forms in the soft slime, we have especially the more solid parts of the animals and plants that lived and died during the deposit of the slimy strata.

Hence each of the sedimentary strata has its characteristic fossils, the remains of the animals and plants that lived during that particular period of the earth's history. When we make a comparative study of these strata, we can survey the whole series of such periods. All geologists are now agreed that we can demonstrate a definite historical succession in the strata, and that the lowest of them were deposited in very remote, and the uppermost in comparatively recent, times. However, there is no part of the earth where we find the series of strata in its entirety, or even approximately complete. The succession of strata and of corresponding historical periods generally given in geology is an ideal construction, formed by piecing together the various partial discoveries of the succession of strata that have been made at different points of the earth's surface (cf. Chapter 2.18).

We must act in this way in constructing the phylogeny of man. We must try to piece together a fairly complete picture of the series of our ancestors from the various phylogenetic fragments that we find in the different groups of the animal kingdom. We shall see that we are really in a position to form an approximate picture of the evolution of man and the mammals by a proper comparison of the embryology of very different animals--a picture that we could never have framed from the ontogeny of the mammals alone. As a result of the above-mentioned cenogenetic processes--those of disturbed and curtailed heredity--whole series of lower stages have dropped out in the embryonic development of man and the other mammals especially from the earliest periods, or been falsified by modification. But we find these lower stages in their original purity in the lower vertebrates and their invertebrate ancestors. Especially in the lowest of all the vertebrates, the lancelet or Amphioxus, we have the oldest stem-forms completely preserved in the embryonic development. We also find important evidence in the fishes, which stand between the lower and higher vertebrates, and throw further light on the course of evolution in certain periods. Next to the fishes come the amphibia, from the embryology of which we can also draw instructive conclusions. They represent the transition to the higher vertebrates, in which the middle and older stages of ancestral development have been either distorted or curtailed, but in which we find the more recent stages of the phylogenetic process well preserved in ontogeny. We are thus in a position to form a fairly complete idea of the past development of man's ancestors within the vertebrate stem by putting together and comparing the embryological developments of the various groups of vertebrates. And when we go below the lowest vertebrates and compare their embryology with that of their invertebrate relatives, we can follow the genealogical tree of our animal ancestors much farther, down to the very lowest groups of animals.

In entering the obscure paths of this phylogenetic labyrinth, clinging to the Ariadne-thread of the biogenetic law and guided by the light of comparative anatomy, we will first, in accordance with the methods we have adopted, discover and arrange those fragments from the manifold embryonic developments of very different animals from which the stem-history of man can be composed. I would call attention particularly to the fact that we can employ this method with the same confidence and right as the geologist. No geologist has ever had ocular proof that the vast rocks that compose our Carboniferous or Jurassic or Cretaceous strata were really deposited in water. Yet no one doubts the fact. Further, no geologist has ever learned by direct observation that these various sedimentary formations were deposited in a certain order; yet all are agreed as to this order. This is because the nature and origin of these rocks cannot be rationally understood unless we assume that they were so deposited. These hypotheses are universally received as safe and indispensable "geological theories," because they alone give a rational explanation of the strata.

Our evolutionary hypotheses can claim the same value, for the same reasons. In formulating them we are acting on the same inductive and deductive methods, and with almost equal confidence, as the geologist. We hold them to be correct, and claim the status of "biological theories" for them, because we cannot understand the nature and origin of man and the other organisms without them, and because they alone satisfy our demand for a knowledge of causes. And just as the geological hypotheses that were ridiculed as dreams at the beginning of the nineteenth century are now universally admitted, so our phylogenetic hypotheses, which are still regarded as fantastic in certain quarters, will sooner or later be generally received. It is true that, as will soon appear, our task is not so simple as that of the geologist. It is just as much more difficult and complex as man's organisation is more elaborate than the structure of the rocks.

When we approach this task, we find an auxiliary of the utmost importance in the comparative anatomy and embryology of two lower animal-forms. One of these animals is the lancelet (Amphioxus), the other the sea-squirt (Ascidia). Both of these animals are very instructive. Both are at the border between the two chief divisions of the animal kingdom--the vertebrates and invertebrates. The vertebrates comprise the already mentioned classes, from the Amphioxus to man (acrania, lampreys, fishes, dipneusts, amphibia, reptiles, birds, and mammals). Following the example of Lamarck, it is usual to put all the other animals together under the head of invertebrates. But, as I have often mentioned already, the group is composed of a number of very different stems. Of these we have no interest just now in the echinoderms, molluscs, and articulates, as they are independent branches of the animal-tree, and have nothing to do with the vertebrates. On the other hand, we are greatly concerned with a very interesting group that has only recently been carefully studied, and that has a most important relation to the ancestral tree of the vertebrates. This is the stem of the Tunicates. One member of this group, the sea-squirt, very closely approaches the lowest vertebrate, the Amphioxus, in its essential internal structure and embryonic development. Until 1866 no one had any idea of the close connection of these apparently very different animals; it was a very fortunate accident that the embryology of these related forms was discovered just at the time when the question of the descent of the vertebrates from the invertebrates came to the front. In order to understand it properly, we must first consider these remarkable animals in their fully-developed forms and compare their anatomy.

We begin with the lancelet--after man the most important and interesting of all animals. Man is at the highest summit, the lancelet at the lowest root, of the vertebrate stem.

It lives on the flat, sandy parts of the Mediterranean coast, partly buried in the sand, and is apparently found in a number of seas.* (* See the ample monograph by Arthur Willey, Amphioxus and the Ancestry of the Vertebrates; Boston, 1894.) It has been found in the North Sea (on the British and Scandinavian coasts and in Heligoland), and at various places on the Mediterranean (for instance, at Nice, Naples, and Messina). It is also found on the coast of Brazil and in the most distant parts of the Pacific Ocean (the coast of Peru, Borneo, China, Australia, etc.). Recently eight to ten species of the amphioxus have been determined, distributed in two or three genera.

(FIGURE 2.210. The lancelet (Amphioxus lanceolatus), twice natural size, left view. The long axis is vertical; the mouth-end is above, the tail-end below; a mouth, surrounded by threads of beard; b anus, c gill-opening (porus branchialis), d gill-crate, e stomach, f liver, g small intestine, h branchial cavity, i chorda (axial rod), underneath it the aorta; k aortic arches, l trunk of the branchial artery, m swellings on its branches, n vena cava, o visceral vein.


The Evolution of Man, V.2 - 3/63

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