Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 77.djvu/25

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By Professor T. D. A. COCKERELL


EVOLUTION is not an orderly march along a well-defined highway, to the slow time of the music of the spheres. In its details, it is an irregular process, sometimes so slow that millions of years seem to make no difference; sometimes so rapid that a single generation marks a notable advance. Many of its most remarkable products come into existence only to perish shortly afterwards, because they are exclusively adapted to conditions which are not permanent. Rapid progress seems usually to go with a high percentage of failures, as though progress itself were only an attempt to dodge the stroke of doom. Out of all this man, the species Homo sapiens, zoologically speaking one of the higher apes, has in these latter days evolved. A creature in many ways inferior to his brother mammalia, but favored by the gods. Denuded of hair, he is obliged to spend much of his time and energy providing artificial clothing; slow of foot, he is compelled to devise means of travel not depending upon his muscular activities; so deficient in the sense of smell, that he does not know, as do the dog and the ant, that it is the most important of all the senses; lacking a tail, and with no grasping power in his feet, he rarely ventures to climb the trees; a poor creature indeed, well-fitted to be the laughing stock of the rest of animal creation.

All this would not be so bad if, like his sylvan ancestors, he could go on his way with a placid sense of his own sufficiency. Alas! even this poor privilege is denied to him; in the Garden of Eden, at the very beginning of his career, he acquired the sense of sin, and was henceforth to be a wanderer in a spiritual as well as a physical sense. Hence it comes that we, in this year 1910, think it proper to enquire anxiously about the future of our species, an inquiry which would certainly never occur to any other species of mammal.

At the very outset we are bound to observe that without exception the species of mammalia are short-lived. The records of the Tertiary rocks show a continually changing panorama of mammalian life, in which genera and species come and go, while plants, mollusca and other lowly organisms remain almost unaltered. We further notice that the comparatively brief existence of these animals may be terminated in either of two ways—by extinction, or by change into something else. When the creatures are very highly developed in special ways, they