Is the Human Brain Stationary ?
IT may be said that the existence of a social group depends on its taking exaggerated view of its own importance; and in a state of nature, at least, the same is true of the individual. If self-preservation is the first law of nature, there must be on the mental side an acute consciousness of self, and a habit of regarding the self as of more importance than the world at large. The value of this standpoint lies in the fact that while a wholesome fear of the enemy is important, a wholesome contempt is even more so; Praising one's self and dispraising an antagonist creates a confidence and a mental superiority in the way of confidence. The vituperative recriminations of modern prize-fighters, the boastings of the Homeric heroes, and the bagan of the old Germans, like the back-talk of the small boy, were calculated to screw the courage up; and the Indians of America usually gave a dance before going on the war-path, in which by pantomime and boasting they magnified themselves and their past, and so stimulated their self-esteem that they felt invincible. In race prejudice we see the same tendency to exalt the self and the group at the expense of outsiders. The alien group is belittled by attaching contempt to its peculiarities and habits -- its color, speech, dress, and all the signs of its personality. This is not a laudable attitude, but it has been valuable to the group because a bitter and contemptuous feeling is an aid to good fighting.
No race or nation has yet freed itself from this tendency to exalt and idealize itself. It is very difficult for a member of Western civilization to understand that the Orientals regard us with a contempt in comparison with which our contempt for them is feeble. Our bloodiness, our newness, our lack of reverence, our land-greed, our break-neck speed and lack of appreciation of leisure make Vandals of us. On the other hand, we are very stupid about recognizing the intelligence of Orientals. We have been accustomed to think that there is a great gulf between ourselves and other races, and this persists in an undefinable way after scores of Japanese have taken high rank in our schools and after Hindus have repeatedly been among the wranglers in mathematics
(306) at Cambridge. It is only when one of the Far Eastern nations has come bodily to the front that we begin to ask ourselves whether there is not au error in our reckoning.
The instinct to belittle outsiders is perhaps at the bottom of our delusion that the white race has one order of mind and the black and yellow races have another. But while a prejudice -- a matter of instinct and emotion - may well be at the beginning of an error of this kind, it could not sustain itself in the face of our logical habits unless reinforced by an error of the judgment. And this error is found in the fact that m a naive way we assume that our steps in progress from time to time are due to our mental superiority as a race over other races, and to the mental superiority of one generation of ourselves over the preceding.
In this we are confusing advance in culture with brain improvement. If we should assume a certain grade of intelligence, fixed and invariable m all individuals, races, and times -- an unwarranted assumption, of course - progress would still be possible, provided we assumed a characteristically human grade of intelligence to begin with. With associative memory, abstraction, and speech men are able to compare the present with the past, to deliberate and discuss, to invent, to abandon old processes for new, to focus attention on special problems, to encourage specialization, and to transmit to the younger generation a more intelligent standpoint and a more advanced starting-point. Culture is the accumulation of the results of activity, and culture could go on improving for a certain time even if there were a retrogression in intelligence. If all the chemists in class A should stop work to-morrow, the chemists in class V would still make discoveries. These would influence manufacture, and progress would result. If a worker in any specialty acquaints himself with the results of his predecessors and contemporaries and works, he will add some results to the sum of knowledge in his line and if a race preserves by record or tradition the memory of what past generations have done, and adds a little, progress is secured whether the rain improves or stands still. In the same way the fact that one race has advanced further in culture than another does not necessarily imply a different order of brain, but may be due to the fact that in the one case social arrangements have not taken the shape affording the most favorable conditions for the operation of the mind.
If, then, we make due allowance for our instinctive tendency as a white group to disparage outsiders, and, on the other hand, for our tendency to confuse progress in culture and general intelligence with biological modification of the brain, we shall have to reduce very much our
(307) usual estimate of the difference in mental capacity between ourselves and the lower races, if we do not eliminate it altogether, and we shall perhaps have to abandon altogether the view that there has been an increase in the mental capacity of the white race since prehistoric times.
In making the human species, nature apparently exhausted her resources. The development of hands freed from locomotion and a brain out of proportion to bodily weight are tours de force, and, so to speak, an afterthought which put the heaviest strain possible on the materials employed, and even diverted some organs from their original design. A number of ailments, like hernia, appendicitis, and uterine displacement, are due to the fact that the erect posture assumed when the hands were diverted from locomotion to prehensile uses put a strain not originally contemplated on certain tissues and organs. Similarly, the proportion of idiocy and insanity in the human species shows that nature had reached the limit of elasticity in her materials and began to structural great risks. The brain is a delicate and elaborate organ on the structural side, and in these cases it is not put together properly or it gets hopelessly out of order. The heavy brain and erect posture are, in fact, the only physical marks of first-rate importance distinguishing man. The brain weight of the average European is about 1,360 grams, or rather more than three per cent of the weight of the body, while the average brain weight of the great anthropoid apes is about 360 grams, or, in the orangoutang, one-half of one per cent of the body weight.
Viewed from the standpoint of brain weight, all races are, broadly speaking, in the same class. For while the relatively small series of brains from the black race examined by anthropologists shows a slight inferiority in weight -- about 45 grams in negroes -- when compared with white brains the yellow race shows more than a corresponding superiority to the white; in the Chinese, about 70 grams. There is also apparently no superiority in brain weight in modern over ancient times. The cranial capacity of Europeans between the eleventh and eighteenth centuries, as shown by the cemeteries of Paris, is not appreciably different from that of Frenchmen of to-day, and the Egyptian mummies show larger cranial capacity than the modern Egyptians. Furthermore, the limits of variation between individuals in the same race are wider than the average difference between races. In a series of 500 white brains, the lowest and highest brains will differ, in fact, as much as 650 grams in weight. Brain weight is no very good test of intelligence anyway; for brains, like timepieces, may be very small if they work well. But it
(308) does show that nature has pushed the evolutionary process on the structural side to the limit of safety in all races alike, that differences between races and historical times in this respect are slight at best, and that we must turn to the show of intelligence -- the work which the brain will do -- among different races if we are to find ally difference in intelligence at all.
Looked at from the standpoint of development, the human brain is characterized by the introduction or more marked development of characters which enable it to have a more complete oversight and control of the self in relation to the outer world. In very low forms of life, as is well known, there is no development of brain or special organs of sense; but the organism is pushed and pulled about by light, heat, gravity, and acid and other chemical forces, and is unable to decline to act on any stimulus reaching it. It reacts in certain characteristic, habitual, and adequate ways, because it responds uniformly to the same stimulation; but it has no choice, and is controlled by the environment.
Now the object of brain development is to reverse these conditions and control the actions of the organism, and of the outside world as well, from within. With the development of the special organs of sense memory, and consequent ability to compare present experiences with past, with inhibition or the ability to decline to act on a stimulus, and finally, with abstraction or the power of separating general from particular aspects, we have a condition where the organism sits still, as it were, and picks and chooses its reactions to the outer world; and by working in certain lines to the exclusion of others, it gains in its turn control of the environment, and begins to reshape the environment. A question of interest to us in this connection is whether any of these characteristic mental powers are absent or noticeably weak in the so- called lower races. If this is found to be true, we have reason to attribute the superiority of the white race to biological causes; otherwise we shall have to seek an explanation of white superiority in causes lying outside of the brain.
In examining this question we need not dwell on the acuteness of the sense perceptions, because these are not distinctively human. As a matter of fact, they are usually better developed in animals and in the lower races than in the civilized, because the lower mental life is more perceptive than ratiocinative. The memory of the lower races is also apparently quite as good as that of the higher. The memory of the Australian native or the Eskimo is quite as good as that of our "oldest inhabitant "; and probably no one would claim that the modern scientist
(309) has a better memory than the bard of the Homeric period. On the score of abstraction, however, the conditions are not so clear. The common opinion is that the lower races show feeble power of abstraction, and certainly their languages are poor in abstract terms. There is, however, great difference between the habit of thinking in abstract terms and the ability to do so.
The degree to which abstraction is employed in the activities of a group depends on the complexity of the activities and on the complexity of consciousness in the group. When science, philosophy, and logic, and systems of reckoning time, space, and number are taught in the schools, when the attention is not so much engaged in perceptual as in deliberative acts, and when thought is a profession, shell abstract modes of thought are forced on the mind. This does not argue absence of the power of abstraction in the lower races, or even a low grade of ability, but lack of practice. To one skilled in any line au unpracticed person seems very stupid, and this is apparently the reason why travelers report that the black and yellow races have feeble powers of abstraction. It is generally admitted, however, that the use of speech involves the power of abstraction, so that all races have the power in some degree. When we come further to examine the degree in which they possess it, we find that they compare favorably with ourselves in any test which involves a fair comparison.
The proverb is a form of abstraction practiced by all races, and is perhaps the best test of the natural bent of the mind in this direction, because, like ballad poetry and slang, proverbial sayings do Dot originate with the educated class, but are of popular origin. At the same time, proverbs compare favorably with the mots of literature, and many proverbs have, in fact, drifted into literature and become connected with the names of great writers. Indeed, the saying that there is nothing new under the sun applies with such force and fidelity to literature that if we should strip Hesiod and Homer anti Chaucer of such phrases as "The half is greater than the whole," "It is a wise son that knows his own father (which Shakespeare quotes the other end about), and "To make a virtue of necessity, and if we should further eliminate from literature the motives and sentiments also in ballad poetry and in the popular thought, little would remain but form.
If we assume, then, that the popular mind, let us say the peasant mind, in the white race is as capable of abstraction as the mind of the higher classes, but not so specialized in this direction -- add no one can doubt this in view of the academic record of country-bred boys -- the
(310) following comparison of our proverbs with those of the Africans of the Guinea coast (the latter reported by the late Sir A. B. Ellis) Ellis) significant:
African. Stone in the water-hole does not feel the cold.
English. Habit is second nature.
A. One tree does not make a forest.
E. One swallow does not make a summer.
A. "I nearly killed the bird." No one can eat nearly in a stew
E. First catch your hare.
A. Full-belly child says to hungry belly child, " Keep good cheer."
E. We can all endure the misfortunes of others.
A. Distant firewood is good firewood.
E. Distance lends enchantment to the view.
A. Ashes fly back in the face of him who throws them.
E. Curses come home to roost.
A. If the boy says he wants to tie the water with a string, ask him whether he
means the water in the pot or the water in the lagoon
E. Answer a fool according to his folly.
A. Cowries are men.
E. Money makes the man.
A. Cocoanut is not good for birds to eat.
E. Sour grapes.
A. He runs away from the sword and hides himself in the scabbard.
E. Out of the frying pan into the fire.
A. A fool of Ika and an idiot of Iluka meet together to make friends.
E. Birds of a feather flock together.
A. The ground pig [bandicoot] said: "I do not feel so angry with the man
who killed me as with the man who dashed me on the ground afterward."
E. Adding insult to injury.
A. Quick loving a woman means quick not loving a woman.
E. Married in haste we repent at leisure.
A. Three elders cannot all fail to pronounce the word ekulu [an
antelope], one may say ekúlu, another ekulú, but the third will say ekulu.
E. In a multitude of counsellors there is safety.
On the side of number we have another test of the power of abstraction; and while the lower races show lack of practice in this, they show no lack of power. It is true that tribes have been found with no names for numbers beyond two, three, or five; but these are isolated groups like the Veddahs and Bushmen, who have no trade or commerce, and lead a miserable existence, with little or nothing to count. The directions of attention and the simplicity or complexity of mental processes depend on the character of the external situation which the mind has to manipulate. If the activities are simple the mind is simple, and if the activities were nil the mind would be nil. The mind is nothing but a means of manipulating the outside world. Number, time, and space
(311) conceptions and systems become more complex and accurate not as the human mind grows in capacity, but as activities become more varied and call for more extended and accurate systems of notation and measurement. Trade and commerce, machinery and manufacture, and all the processes of civilization involve specialization in the apprehension of series as such. Under these conditions the number technique becomes elaborate and requires time and instruction for its mastery. The advance which mathematics has made within a brief historical time is strikingly illustrated by the words with which the celebrated mathematician, Sir Henry Savile, who died in 1662, closed his career as a professor at Oxford:
By the grace of God, gentlemen hearers, I have performed my promise. I have redeemed my pledge. I have explained, according to my ability, the definitions, postulates, axioms, and the first eight propositions of the Elements of Euclid Here, stoking under the weight of years, I lay down my art and my instruments.
From the standpoint of modern mathematics, Sir Henry Savile alla the Bushman are both woefully 'backward; and in either case the backwardness is not a matter of mental incapacity, but of the state of the science.
The popular view that primitive man has feeble powers of inhibition is also erroneous; and like the equally erroneous view that he is a free and unfettered creature, it arises from our habit of assuming that, because his inhibitions and unfreedom do not correspond with our own restraints, they do not exist. Sir John Lubbock pointed out long ago that the savage is hedged about by conventions so minute and so mandatory that he is actually the least free person in the world. But, in spite of this, Spencer and others have insisted that he is incapable of self-restraint, is carried away like a child by the impulse of the moment, anti is incapable of rejecting au immediate gratification for a greater future one. Cases like the one mentioned by Darwin of the Fuegian man, struck and killed his little son when the latter dropped n basket of fish into the water are cited without regard to the fact that cases of sudden domestic violence anti quick repentance are common in any city to-filly; and the failure of the city blacks to throw back the small fry when seining is referred to without pausing to consider that our practice of exterminating game and denuding our forests shows au amazing lack of individual self-restraint.
The truth is that the restraints exercised in a group depend largely on the traditions, views, and teachings of the group, and that if we have this in mind the savage cannot be called deficient on the side of inhibi-
(312)-tion. is doubtful if modern society affords anything more striking in the way of inhibition than is found in connection with tabu, fetish, totemism, and ceremonial among the lower races. In the great majority of the American Indian and Australian tribes, a man is strictly forbidden to kill or eat the animals whose name his clan bears as a totem. The Central Australian may not, in addition, eat the flesh of any animal Killed or even touched by persons standing in certain relations of kinship to him. At certain times, also, he is forbidden to eat the flesh of a number of animals, and at all times he must share all food secured with the tribal elders and some others.
A native of Queensland will put his mark on an unripe Zamia fruit, and may be sure that it will be untouched and that when it is ripe he has only to go and get it. The Eskimo, though starving, will not molest the sacred seal basking before their huts. Similarly in social intercourse the inhibitions are numerous. To some of his sisters, blood and tribal, the Australian may not speak at all; to others only at certain distances, according to the degree of kinship. The West African fetish acts as a police, and property protected by it is safer than under civilized laws. Food and palm wine are placed beside the path with a piece of fetish suspended near by, and no one will touch them without leaving the proper payment. The garden of a native may be a mile from the house, unfenced, and sometimes unvisited for weeks by the owner, but it is immune from depredations if protected by fetish. Our proverb says, A hungry belly has no ears," and it must be admitted that the inhibition of food impulses implies no small power of restraint.
Altogether too much has been made of inhibition, anyway, as a sign of mentality, for it is not even characteristic of the human species. The well- trained dog inhibits the most enticing stimulations in the kitchen. And it is also true that one race, at least, the American Indian, makes inhibition the most conspicuous feature in its system of education. From the time the ice is broken to give him a cold plunge and begin the toughening process on the day of his birth until he dies without a groan under torture the Indian is schooled in the restraint of his impulses. He does not, indeed, practice our identical restraints, because his traditions and the run of his attention are different; but he has a capacity for controlling impulse equal to our own.
In respect, then, to brain structure and the more important mental faculties, we find that no race is radically unlike the others. Still, it might happen that the mental activities and products of two groups were so different as to place them in different classes. But precisely the con-
(313)-trary is true. There is in force a principle called the law of parallelism in development, according to which any group takes much the same steps in development as any other. The group may be belated, indeed, and not reach certain stages, but the ground patterns of life are the same in the lower races and the higher mechanical inventions, textile industries, rude painting, poetry, sculpture and song, marriage and family life, organization under leaders, belief in spirits, a mythology, and some form of church and state exist universally. At one time students of mankind, when they found a myth in Hawaii corresponding to the Greek story of Orpheus and Eurydice, or an Aztec poem of tender longing in absence, or a story of the deluge, were wont to conjecture how these could have been carried over from Greek or Elizabethan or Hebraic sources, or whether they did not afford evidence of a time when all branches of the human race dwelt together with a common fund of sentiment and tradition. But this standpoint has been abandoned, and it is recognized that the human mind and the outside world are essentially alike the world over, that the mind everywhere acts on the same principles, and that, ignoring the local, incidental, and eccentric, we find similar laws of growth among all peoples.
The number of things which can stimulate the human mind is somewhat definite and limited. Among them, for example, is death. This happens everywhere, and the death of a dear one may cause the living to imagine ways of being reunited. The story of Orpheus and Eurydice may thus arise spontaneously and perpetually, wherever death and affection exist. Or, there may be a separation from home and friends, and the mind runs back in distress and longing over the happy past, and the state of consciousness aroused is as definite a fact among savages as among the civilized. A beautiful passage in Homer represents Helen looking out on the Greeks from the wall of Troy and saying:
And now behold I all the other glancing-eyed Achaians, whom well I could discern and tell their names; but two captains of the host can I not see, even Kastor tamer of horses and Polydukes the skilful boxer, mine own brethren whom the same mother bare. Either they came not in the company from lovely Lakedaimon; or they came hither indeed in their seafaring ships, but now will not enter into the battle of the warriors, for fear of the many scornings and revilings that are mine.
When this passage is thus stripped of its technical excellence by a prose translation, we may compare it with the following New Zealand
(314) lament composed by a young woman who was captured on the island of Tuhua and carried to a mountain from which she could see her home:
My regret is not to be expressed. Tears, like a spring, gush from my eyes. I wonder whatever is Tu Kainku [her lover] doing, he who deserted me. Now I climb upon the ridge of Mount Parahaki. whence is clear the view of the island Or Tuhua. I see with regret the lofty Tanmo where dwells [the chief ] Tangiteruru. If I were there, the shark's tooth would hang from my ear. How fine, how beautiful should I look! . . . But enough of this; I must return to my rags and to my nothing at all.
The situation of the two women in this case is not identical, and it would be possible to claim that the Greek and Maori passages differ in tone and coloring; but it remains true that a captive woman of any race will feel much the same as a captive woman of any other race when her thoughts turn toward home, and that the poetry growing out of such a situation will be everywhere of the same general pattern.
Similarly, to take an illustration from morals, we find that widely different in complexion and detail as are the moral codes of lower and higher groups, say the Hebrews and the African Kaffirs, yet the general patterns of morality are strikingly coincident. It is reported of the Kaffirs that " they possess laws which meet every crime which may be committed. Theft is punished by restitution and fine, injuring cattle by death or fine, false witness by a heavy fine, adultery by fine or death, rape by fine or death, poisoning or witchcraft by death and confiscation of property, murder by death or fine, treason or desertion from the tribe by death and confiscation. The Kaffirs and Hebrews are not at the same level of culture, and we miss the more abstract and monotheistic admonitions of the higher religion -- "thou shalt not covet; thou shalt worship no other gods before me " -- but the intelligence shown by the social mind in adjusting the individual to society may fairly be called the same grade of intelligence in the two cases.
When the environmental life of two groups is more alike and the general cultural conditions mole correspondent, the parallelism of thought and practice becomes more striking. The recently discovered Assyrian code of Hammurabi (about 2500 B.C.) contains striking correspondences with the Mosaic code; and while Semitic scholars probably have good and sufficient reasons for holding that the Mosaic code was strongly influenced by the Assyrian, we may y et be very confident that the two codes would have been of the same general character if no influence whatever had passed from one to the other.
The institutions and practices of a people are a product of the mind; and if the early and spontaneous products of mind are everywhere of the same general pattern as the later manifestations, only less developed, refined, and specialized, it may well be that failure to progress equally not due to essential unlikeness of mind, but to conditions lying outside the mind.
Another test of mental ability which deserves special notice is mechanical ingenuity. Our white preeminence owes much to this faculty, and the lower races are reckoned defective in it. But the lower races do invent, and it is doubtful whether one invention is ever much more difficult than another. On the psychological side, an invention means that the mind sees a roundabout way of reaching au end when it cannot be reached directly. It brings into play the associative memory, and involves the recognition of analogies. There is a certain likeness between the flying back of a bough in one's face and the rebound of a bow, between a serpent's tooth and a poisoned arrow, between floating timber and a raft or boat; and water, steam, and electricity are like a horse in one respect -- they will all make wheels go around, and do work.
Now, the savage had this faculty of seeing analogies and doing things in indirect ways. With the club, knife, and sword he struck more effectively than with the fist; with hooks, traps, nets, and pitfalls he understood how to seize game more surely than with the hands; in the bow and arrow, spear, blow-gun, and spring-trap he devised motion swifter than that of his own body; he protected himself with armor imitated from the hides and scales of animals, and turned their venom back on themselves. That the savage should have originated the inventive process and carried it on systematically is indeed more wonderful than that his civilized successors should continue the process; for every beginning is difficult.
When occupations become specialized anti one set of men has continually to do with one anti only one set of machinery and forces, the constant play of attention over the limited field naturally results in improvements and the introduction of new principles. Modern inventions are magnificent and seem quite to overshadow the simpler devices of primitive times; but when we consider the precedents, copies, resources, and accumulated knowledge with which the modern investigator works, and, on the other hand, the resourcelessness of primitive man in materials, ideas, and in the inventive habit itself, I confess that the bow and arrow seems to me the most wonderful invention in the world.
Viewing the question from a different angle, we find another argu-
(316)-ment for the homogeneous character of the human mind in the fact that the patterns of interest of the civilized show no variation from those of the savage. Not only the appetites and vanities remain essentially the same, but, on the side of intellectual interest, the type of mental reaction axed in the savage by the food quest has come down unaltered to the man of science as well as to the man of the street. In circumventing enemies and capturing game, both the attention and the organic processes worked together in primitive man under great stress and strain. Whenever, indeed, a strain is thrown on the attention, the heart and organs of respiration are put under pressure also in their effort to assist the attention in manipulating the problem; and these organic fluctuations are felt as pleasure and pain. The stratus thrown on the attention of primitive man were connected with his struggle for life; and not only in the actual encounter with men and animals did emotion run high, but the memory and anticipation of conflict reinstated the emotional conditions in those periods when he was meditating future conflicts and preparing his bows and arrows, traps and poisons. The problem of invention, the reflective and scientific side of his life, was suffused with interest, because the manufacture of the weapon was, psychologically speaking, a part of the fight.
This type of interest, originating in the hunt, remains dominant in the mind down to the present time. Once constructed to take an interest in the hunting problem, it takes an interest in any problem whatever. Not only do hunting and fighting and all competitive games -- which are of precisely the same psychological pattern as the hunt and fight --remain of perennial interest, but all the useful occupations are interesting in just the degree that this pattern is preserved. The man of science works at problems and uses his ingenuity in making an engine in the laboratory in the same way that primitive man used his mind in making a trap. So long as the problem is present, the interest is sustained; and the interest ceases when the problematical is removed. Consequently, all modern occupations of the hunting pattern -- scientific investigation, law, medicine, the organization of business, trade speculation, and the arts and crafts -- are interesting as a game; while those occupations into which the division of labor enters to the degree that the workman is not attempting to control a problem, and in which the same acts are repeated an indefinite number of times, lose interest and become extremely irksome.
This means that the brain acts pleasurably on the principle it was made up to act on in the most primitive times, and the rest is a burden. There has been no brain change, but the social changes have been mo-
(317)-mentous; and the brain of each new generation is brought into contact with new traditions, inhibitions, copies, obligations, problems, so that the run of attention and content of consciousness are different. Social suggestion works marvels in the manipulation of the mind; but the change is not ill the brain as an organ; it is rather in the character of the stimulations thrust on it by society.
The child begins as a savage, and after we have brought to bear all the influence of home, school, and church to socialize him, we spear; as though his nature had changed organically, and institute a parallelism between the child and the race, assuming that the child's brain passes in a recapitulatory way through phases of development corresponding to epochs in the history of the race. I have no doubt myself that this theory of recapitulation is largely a misapprehension. A stream of social influence is turned loose on the child; and if the attention to him is incessant and wise, and the copies he has are good and stimulating, he is moulded nearer to the heart's desire. Sometimes he escapes, and becomes a criminal, tramp, sport, or artist; and even if made into au impeccable and model citizen, he periodically breaks away from the network of social habit and goes a-fishing.
The fundamental explanation of the difference in the mental life of two groups is not that the capacity of the brain to do work is different, but that the attention is not in the two cases stimulated and engaged along the same lines. Wherever society furnishes copies and stimulations of a certain kind, a body of knowledge and a technique, practically all its members are able to work on the plan anti scale in vogue there, and members of an alien race who become acquainted in a real sense with the system can work under it. But when society does not furnish the stimulations, or when it has preconceptions which tend to inhibit the run of attention in given lines, then the individual shows no intelligence in these lines. This may be illustrated in the fields of scientific and artistic interest. Among the Hebrews a religious inhibition - "thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image -- was sufficient to prevent anything like the sculpture of the Greeks; and the doctrine of the resurrection of the body in the early Christian Church, and the teaching that man was made in the image of God, formed an almost insuperable obstacle to the study of human anatomy.
The Mohammedan attitude toward scientific interest is represented by the following extracts from a letter from an Oriental official to a Western inquirer, printed by Sir Austen Henry Layard in his " Fresh Discoveries at Nineveh and Researches at Babylon":
My Illustrious Friend and Joy of my Liver:
The thing which you ask of me is both difficult and useless. Although I have passed all my days in this place I have neither counted the houses nor inquired into the number of the inhabitants; and as to what one person loads on his mules and the other stows away in the bottom of his ship, that is no business of mine. But above nil, as to the previous history of this city, God only knows the amount of dirt and confusion that the infidels may have eaten before the coming of the sword of Islam. It were unprofitable for us to inquire into it.... Listen, O my veal There is no wisdom equal to the belief in God I He created the world, and shall we liken ourselves unto him in seeking to penetrate into the mysteries of his creation ? Shall we say, Behold this star spinneth round that star, and this other star with a tail goeth and cometh in 80 many years? Let it go ! He from whose hand it came will guide and direct it.... Thou art learned in the things I care not for, and as for that which thou hast seen, I spit upon it. Will much knowledge create thee a double belly, or wilt thou seek paradise with shine eyes? . . .
The meek in spirit,
Imaum Ali Zadi
The Oriental attitude does not argue a lack of brain power, but a prepossession hostile to scientific inquiry. The society represented does not interest its members in what, from the Western standpoint, is knowledge.
The Chinese furnish another example of a people of great natural ability letting their intelligence run to waste from lack of a scientific standpoint. As indicated above, they are not defective in brain weight, and their application to study is long continued and very severe; but their attention is directed to matters which cannot possibly make them wise from the Occidental standpoint. They learn no mathematics and no science, but spend years in copying the poetry of the T'ang Dynasty, in order to learn the Chinese characters, and in the end cannot write the language correctly, because many modern characters are not represented in this ancient poetry. Their attention to Chinese history is great, as befits their reverence for the past; but they do not organize their knowledge, they have no adequate text-books or apparatus for study, and they make no clear distinction between fact and fiction. In general, they learn only rules and no principles, and rely on memory without the aid of reason, with the result that the man who stops studying often forgets everything, and the professional student is amazingly ignorant in the line of his own work:
Multitudes of Chinese scholars know next to nothing about matters directly in the line of their studies, and in regard to which we should consider ignorance positively disgraceful A venerable teacher remarked to the writer with a charming naivete that he had never understood the allusions in the Trimetrical Classic (which stands at the very threshold of Chinese study) until at the age of sixty he had an opportunity to read a Universal History prepared by a missionary, in which for the first time Chinese history was made accessible to him.
Add to this that the whole of their higher learning, corresponding to our university system, consists in writing essays and always more essays on the Chinese classics, and "it is impossible, as Mr. Smith points out, "not to marvel at the measure of success which has attended the use of such materials in China." But when this people is ill possession of the technique of the Western world -- a logic, general ideas, and experimentation -- we cannot reasonably doubt that they will be able to work the Western system as their cousins, the Japanese, are doing, and perhaps they, too, may better the instruction.
Without attaching too great importance to brain weight or to the confessedly meagre statistics of brain weight of different races, it is interesting to note that the white race, which leads in intelligence, stands in respect to brain weight between the yellow and black races.
White effectiveness is probably due to a superior technique acting in connection with a superior body of knowledge and sentiment. Of two groups having equal mental endowment, one may outstrip the other by the mere dominance of incident. It is a notorious fact that the course of human history has been largely without prevision or direction. Things have drifted and forces have arisen. Under these conditions an unusual incident - - the emergence of a great mind or a forcible personality, or the operation of influences as subtle as those which determine fashions in dress -- may establish social habits and copies which will give a distinct character to the modes of attention and mental life of the group. The most significant fact for Aryan development is the emergence among the Greeks of a number of eminent men who developed logic, the experimental method, and philosophic interest, and fixed in their group the habit of looking behind the incident for the general law. Mediaeval attention was diverted from these lines by a religious movement, and the race lost for a time the key to progress and got clean away from the Greek copies; but it found them again and took a fresh start with the revival of Greek learning. It is quite possible to make a fetish of classical learning; but Sir Henry Maine's remark, that nothing moves in the modern world that is not Greek in its origin, is quite just.
The real variable is the individual, not the race. In the beginning -- perhaps as the result of a mutation or series of mutation -- a type of
(320) brain developed which has remained relatively fixed in all times and among all races. This brain will never have any faculty in addition to what it now possesses, because as a type of structure it is as fixed as the species itself, and is indeed a mark of species. It is not apparent either that we are greatly in need of another faculty, or that we could make use of it even if by a chance mutation it should emerge, since with the power of abstraction we are able to do any class of work we know anything about. We have no reason to believe either that the brain or the average intelligence of our race has improved or deteriorated within historical time. If we have more than the wisdom of our ancestors, it is certainly only in the accumulated materials of knowledge, and not in human faculty; and certainly nature is not producing a better grade of mind now than in the time of Aristotle and the Greeks. On the other hand, the individual brain is unstable, fluctuating in normal persons between 1,100 and 2,000 grams in weight, while the extremes of variation are represented, on the one side, by the imbecile with 300 grams, and the man of genius with 2,000, on the other.
It is therefore perfectly true that by artificial selection -- Mr.. Galton's " eugenism " -- a larger average brain could be created, and also a higher average of natural intelligence, whether this be absolutely dependent on brain weight or not. But it is hardly to be expected that a stable brain above the capacity of those of the first rank now and in the past will result, since the mutations of nature are more radical than the breeding process of man, and she probably ran the whole gamut. " Great men lived before Agamemnon," and individual variations will continue to occur, but not on a different pattern; and what has been true in the past will happen again in the future, that the group which by hook or by crook comes into possession of the best technique and the best copies will make the best show of intelligence and march at the head of civilization.
W. I. THOMAS.