Monday, November 21, 2005


I’m including the following quotation for a bit of a laugh and to suggest some possible reading.

Lucy filled out
“Chimpanzees really could have passed through a more humanoid, bipedal stage before reverting to quadrupedal apehood. As it happens, this very suggestion has been revived by John Gribbin and Jeremy Cherfas, in their two books, The Monkey Puzzle and The First Chimpanzee. They go so far as to suggest that chimpanzees are descended from gracile australopithecines (like Lucy), and gorillas from robust australopithecines (like 'Dear Boy'). For such an in-your-face radical suggestion, they make a surprisingly good case. It centres on an interpretation of human evolution which has long been widely accepted, although not without controversy: people are juvenile apes who have become sexually mature. Or, putting it another way, we are like chimpanzees who have never grown up.

“The Axolotl's Tale explains the theory, which is known as neoteny. To summarise, the axolotl is an overgrown larva, a tadpole with sex organs. In a classic experiment by Vilem Laudberger in Germany, hormone injections persuaded an axolotl to grow into a fully adult salamander of a species that nobody had ever seen. More famously in the English-speaking world, Julian Huxley later repeated the experiment, not knowing it had already been done. In the evolution of the axolotl, the adult stage had been chopped off the end of the life cycle. Under the influence of experimentally injected hormone, the axolotl finally grew up, and an adult salamander was recreated, presumably never before seen. The missing last stage of the life cycle was restored.

“The lesson was not lost on Julian's younger brother, the novelist Aldous Huxley. His After Many a Summer was one of my favourite novels when I was a teenager. It is about a rich man, Jo Stoyte, who resembles William Randolph Hearst and collects objets d'art with the same voracious indifference. His strict religious upbringing has left him with a terror of death, and he employs and equips a brilliant but cynical biologist, Dr Sigismund Obispo, to research how to prolong life in general and Jo Stoyte's life in particular. Jeremy Pordage, a (very) British scholar, has been hired to catalogue some eighteenth-century manuscripts recently acquired as a job lot for Mr. Stoyte's library. In an old diary kept by the Fifth Earl of Gonister, Jeremy makes a sensational discovery which he imparts to Dr Obispo. The old Earl was hot on the trail of everlasting life (you have to eat raw fish guts), and there is no evidence that he ever died. Obispo takes the increasingly fretful Stoyte to England in quest of the Fifth Earl's remains . . . and finds him still alive at 200. The catch is that he has finally matured from the juvenile ape which all the rest of us are into a fully adult ape: quadrupedal, hairy, repellent, urinating on the floor while humming a grotesquely distorted vestige of a Mozart aria. The diabolical Dr Obispo, beside himself with gleeful laughter and evidently acquainted with Julian Huxley's work, tells Stoyte he can start on the fish guts tomorrow.

“Gribbin and Cherfas are in effect suggesting that modern chimpanzees and gorillas are like the Earl of Gonister. They are humans (or australopithecines, orrorins or sahelanthropes) who have grown up and become quadrupedal apes again, like their, and our, more distant ancestors.” 

—Richard Dawkins, THE ANCESTOR’S TALE, pp. 98-99

"It's relaxing to go out with an ex wife because she already knows I'm an idiot." —Warren Thomas (No relation to me.)


Anonymous said...

are aubrey de grey and obispo one and the same?

Geo said...

I don't know? I think that must be a question for Huxley.