Monkey in the mirror

nemonemini at nemonemini at
Mon Feb 11 21:25:37 MST 2002

A mini-review of The Monkey in the Mirror by Ian Tattersall.
It is called 'must-read', maybe. Just a useful glimpse behind the
basic story, with a clear picture of the giant hole in the Darwinian
account of the descent of man. It is based partly on Schwarz' Sudden
Origins theory, basically the idea of macromutations. Whether that
works or not, the fallacies of natural selections are clearly
criticized now by a Darwinist. The idea that natural selection
produced the eye is clearly now a 'crock', watch the folks
incrementally change their story. The whole bluff has served its
purpose, and we start over with hox genes, a brilliant new idea, but
there's a problem there too. Moral?  Don't trust scientists? Who can
you trust?
It is one of the mysteries of the twentieth century that everyone
thought they had a theory of evolution accounting for the descent of
man, when in fact they didn't. And too many books on human evolution,
attempting to fit a square peg into a round hole, start to beat
around the bush and are are so confusing due to dogmatic reiterations
of received theory you feel you have been had, if you can finish
them. This short book of essays is an exception and cuts to the quick
of the issues, and is really a 'must-read' for getting your bearings
in this field, once ridiculed by a book called Bone Peddlers by
William Fix. First, it makes clear how little we know about human
evolution, in the paucity of fossils from which our understanding
comes. That is essential, for we imagine that we are required to take
on faith everything asserted in this field, when in fact, it is
almost void of certainties. Next, it intelligently graduates from the
disorderly punctuated equilibrium debate, in its several innings, to
avail itself of new insights and proposals of the last generation,
among them the idea of 'exaptation', non-adaptive innovations waiting
on their realized use in a later context. The work of J. Schwarz in
Sudden Origins with its considerations of developmental genes and the
spread of recessive mutations comes to the aid of the overall
perspective, whose novelty, correct or not, as a new form of
evolutionary explanation is refreshing and intriguing. Rejecting the
idea of natural selection as a creative force finetuning adaptations
and distinguishing morphological change from speciation, the work
proceeds briskly through the hominid sequence with a clarity not seen
in most other works in this area, and makes clear the difference
between anatomically modern and behaviorally modern man, and all this
in relation to the issue of the Neandertals. There is still, in this
reviewer's opinion, a void in the whole account, centering on the
issues of consciousness and language, indeed Tattersall makes this
clear, but at least the overall sequence begins to make sense with
this ingenious new means to reconcile fast evolution and slow
evolution, speciation, and much else. Although short, and at first
apparently lightweight, this turned out to be one of the most useful
books on human evolution I have read. I recommend not letting
Darwinian armtwisters deflect your attention from some basic issues

John Landon

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