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A Conversation with Darwin on Man Revisited: 150 Years to The Descent of Man

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Notes

  1. See George John Douglas Campbell, 8th Duke of Argyll’s confident pronouncement in Campbell (1867), and Darwin’s naturalist prediction in Darwin (1862). For a detailed account of the story, see Arditti et al. (2012).

  2. Fairbanks (2020) puts to rest the rumor that Darwin held an uncut offprint of Mendel’s famous paper, and examines Mendel’s annotations of his own German copy of The Origin of Species.

  3. Lil Dicky, “Darwin,” accessed 23 November, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bty4auO6eg

  4. Coming to the defense of the ‘great man’ view of history, Philip Ball cites some interesting speculations by the historian and philosopher of science James Lennox in (Ball (2016).

  5. See the JHB Special Issue on the Darwinian Revolution, 38, 1 (2005), including articles by Michael Ruse, Peter Bowler, Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis, Sandra Herbert, Pietro Corsi, James Lennox, Jonathan Hodge, Michael Ghiselin, and David L. Hull. See also Ruse’s reply to the skeptical Hodge (Ruse 2009).

  6. See Darwin (1868), concluding chapter.

  7. “You ask whether I shall discuss ‘man,’” Darwin wrote to Alfred Russel Wallace on 22 December 1857, “I think I shall avoid whole subject, as so surrounded with prejudices, though I fully admit that it is the highest & most interesting problem for the naturalist. Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2192,” Darwin Correspondence Project, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-2192.xml, accessed 27 November 2021.

  8. Darwin was by no means the first to suggest that humans had origins in apes. See, for example, Brown (2010).

  9. Darwin Correspondence Project, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-7171.xml, accessed 29 November 2021,

  10. In a speech about Darwin’s theory delivered in 1864, the British Prime Minister Benjamin D’Israeli famously asked: “The question is this: Is man an ape or an angel?”, answering “My lord, I am on the side of the angels”.

  11. Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7171,” https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/?docId=letters/DCP-LETT-7171.xml, accessed 29 November 2021.

  12. Darwin Correspondence Project, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-13607.xml, accessed 1 December 2021.

  13. Descent, p. 178 and Notebooks C217; Descent, p. 421 and Journal of Researches (19 August, 1836); Notebooks B, 1838, and letter to Alphaeus Hyatt, December 4, 1872.

  14. See “This Is Water”, a commencement speech delivered by David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College on May 21, 2005, accessed 2 December, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CrOL-ydFMI.

  15. See also Jeremy Marshall’s “The Evolution of the Word ‘Evolution,” Oxford University Press, OUPblog, May 9, 2015. https://blog.oup.com/2015/05/word-evolution-etymology/

  16. Among the many modern titles on the subject, see, for example, Boehm (2012), Joyce (2007), and Dennett (2006).

  17. Lyell (1863) pushed humankind’s origins back in time immeasurably; Huxley (1863) argued for the anatomical similarities between humans and apes; and Wallace (1864) did what Darwin had been afraid to do in the Origin, before making a U-turn. All appeared after the Origin, and before Descent of Man.

  18. And marmosets, macaques, and bush babies, too. For more on this, see McGann (2017).

  19. Darwin undoubtedly would have been amazed too by the discovery of the genetic conservation undergirding development. See Carroll (2006).

  20. Darwin Correspondence Project, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-6684.xml, accessed 6 December, 2021.

  21. It is therefore only logical to surmise that other creatures have gradations of self-consciousness. See Godfrey Smith (2020).

  22. Although reading the morning newspaper gives one pause.

  23. Nor, for that matter, tool fashioning crows, elephants, octopi or dolphins. See Sanz et al. (2013).

  24. See also Dugatkin and Trut (2019).

  25. On the history of this idea, see Borrello (2010) and Harman (2010).

  26. Your general instincts about language were pretty good too, though much has advanced in our understanding of language since your day. See illuminating discussions with Noam Chomsky, Daniel Dor, Evelina Fedorenko and Steven Pinker in “Mind Your Language: Thought, Metaphor and Imagination,” hosted by Brian Greene at the 2021World Science Festival, accessed 15 December 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LXHtDUXkS0, as well as, in particular, Dor (2015).

  27. Darwin would have been tickled to learn than the skull he was holding might have been an ancestor; on some of the legacies of our interbreeding with Neanderthals; see Gibbons (2019).

  28. But there were many trees in Darwin’s notes and correspondence; see Archibald (2014).

  29. Darwin thought standing upright helped our ancestors defend themselves and attack pray. Others today argue that it favored, alternatively, gathering food, carrying babies, energetic saving, or displays. As an example of the complexities involved in the subject, see DeSilva, McNutt, Benoit, and Zipfel (2019).

  30. When precisely our genus Homo first appeared, or which earlier Australopithecus species gave rise to it, remain unknown, for example, as do the place in human evolution of Homo naledi, Homo floresiensis and Homo luzonensis.

  31. As reported in Haaretz on 5 December 2021 (“From Ancient Skulls to Changed Locks”), and in a personal communication from Yoel Rak on 7 December 2021. For the scientific squabble, see Hershkowitz et al (2021) and Marom and Rak (2021).

  32. Darwin (1871, vol. 1, p. 216) spoke, for example, of “taciturn” and “morose” South American aborigines and “lighthearted” and “talkative” negroes; his argument for a switch at a certain point in human evolution from individual physical selection to group mental and moral selection was heavily influenced by Wallace.

  33. Darwin is referring here to John Edmonstone, a freed slave from South America who taught him taxonomy and natural history while he was a student at the University of Edinburgh.

  34. The determinants of skin color are actually quite complex; see Jablonski (2018).

  35. For a wonderful study of the Darwin-Wallace debate on sexual selection, see Richards (2017). Where Wallace did concede that mate choice may pertain, it was about females choosing vigorous males, not beautiful ones. The debate between “good genes” versus “good looks” continues, though it has shifted from trying to understand the forces that can lead to female mate choice to understanding the neural and cognitive bases of such behavior.

  36. See, for example, Wade (2014) and the letter to the New York Times Book Review signed by 139 angry population geneticists and evolutionary biologists on August 8, 2014. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/10/books/review/letters-a-troublesome-inheritance.html

  37. Alternatively, future generations may deem us too sensitive.

  38. See Milam (2020), which shows how attempts to define human nature around mid-century, including debates on race and gender, were hopelessly enmeshed in post-war mores and a particular belief about the role of science in explaining our natures to ourselves.

  39. But see also Millstein (2012).

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An essay review inspired by Jeremy DeSilva, ed., A Most Interesting Problem: What Darwin’s Descent of Man Got Right and Wrong About Human Evolution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2021).

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Harman, O. A Conversation with Darwin on Man Revisited: 150 Years to The Descent of Man. J Hist Biol 55, 185–201 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10739-022-09673-w

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