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Full text of "Man In The Modern World"

A CENTURY and a half ago, it was generally accepted, even by
professional naturalists, that nature represented a single scale,
culminating in man. There existed, they supposed, a ladder of life,
each rung of which was represented by a different type of animal,
with humanity as the highest of all. And from this point of view, each
kind of living creature represented merely a step on the way to man,
its nature an incomplete realization of human nature.
But with further study, especially after it was illuminated by the
theory of evolution, a wholly different and more interesting picture
emerged. The various types of animalsóinsects, fish, crustaceans,
birds and the restócould not be thought of as the rungs of one ladder,
the steps of a single staircase; they now appeared as the branches of
a tree, the ever-growing tree of evolving life. And with this, they took
on a new interest. It might still be that man was at the summit of the
whole; but he was at the top of the tree only by being at the top of
one particular branch. There existed many other branches, quite
different in their nature, in which life was working out its ends in a
different way from that she had adopted in the human branch. By
looking at these branches we are able to see not merely our own
natures in an incomplete state, but quite other expressions of life,
quite other kinds of nature from our own. Life appears not as a single
finished article, but as a whole scries of diverse and fascinating ex-
periments to deal with the problems of the world. We happen to be
the most successful experiment, but we arc not therefore the most
beautiful or the most ingenious.
Of these various experiments, the two which are the most interest-
ing arc on the one hand the insects, with their bodies confined within
(he armour of their skeletons, their minds cramped within the strange
rigidity of instinct, and on the other hand the birds.
It is with those latter that I am concerned here; and I shall try to
picture some of the differences between their minds and our own.
But first we need a little evolutionary background so as to grasp some
of the main characters of this particular branch of life. Birds, then,
branched off from reptiles somewhere about a hundred million years
ago, a good long time after our own mammalian ancestry had taken
its origin from another branch of the great reptilian stock. The
birds' whole nature was of course remodelled in connection with
flight, so that their fore-limb was irrevocably converted into a wing,