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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/469

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465
EVOLUTION OF THE HUMAN HAND.

A life amid its branches is compatible with a condition of weakness or defenselessness which would be fatal to the species under the circumstances of a ground habitat. To descend from the trees and venture that mode of life implies one of three possible resources: the animal must either he Heel of foot enough to distance his pursuers, or he must possess weapons of defense sufficient to repel attack successfully, or, finally, he must supply deficiencies in these regards through a cunning which enables him to escape his enemies by artifice. The apes are not swift of foot as compared with beasts of prey. They are poorly provided with natural weapons or means of defense. They have neither tusks nor claws, neither hoofs nor horns, neither great mass and strength nor impenetrable hides. If they are to take the aggressive or even to repel attack successfully it must be by the invention of artificial weapons whereby their deficiencies are made good; but as recourse to such instruments is a purely mental resort to obviate actual physical difficulties, it may be said that the ape-man met his difficulties in only one way, namely by cunning—escaping his enemy by retreat to strongholds of his own devising; meeting him, when battle was unavoidable, not with bare hands but with weapons, and taking his prey by traps and snares. But the schemes of his cunning brain could become practicable only as the result of a distinct mechanical constructiveness. Stones must be gathered and dropped or thrown with accuracy; clubs must be selected and wielded; traps must be put together after they have been devised. In all this the manipulative hand is essentially linked with the resourceful mind. With any other known type of limb the problem would have been insoluble. The specialization of the hand, therefore, with its opposable thumb and its wonderful adaptability to mechanical uses we may conclude to have been the single indispensible condition, so far as regards gross anatomical features, which determined the widely divergent subsequent fortunes of the monkey tribe and man-ape respectively.

For the principle of separation between this type and the rest of the anthropoid apes we must look to the different directions of development taken by the central nervous system in the two cases. Henceforth no important structural changes are to occur in the general features of the hand. Development is to take place chiefly through an increase in the facility and precision with which a variety of relatively simple movements are made, and the substitution, in ever increasing grades of complexity, of mechanical instruments for the use of the hand itself as a manipulative and constructive agent.