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J., E. (1924). The Evolution of Man: Essays: By G. Elliot Smith, M.A., M.D., F.R.S. (Oxford University Press, 1924. Pp. 154. Price 8 s. 6 d. net.). Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 5:495-496.
(1924). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 5:495-496
The Evolution of Man: Essays: By G. Elliot Smith, M.A., M.D., F.R.S. (Oxford University Press, 1924. Pp. 154. Price 8 s. 6 d. net.)
Review by: E. J.
This volume presents the expansion of three addresses on the subject delivered at different times in the last twelve years. Like all this author's writings, it is very stimulating and challenging. A short account is given of the various fossil remains of early man and his predecessors, eoanthropus, pithecanthropus, and the rest, and the aim of the book appears to be to ascertain what light the recent discoveries in this domain throw on the problems of the genesis of mankind. Elliot Smith boldly traces the ancestry of man back through the pliocene and miocene to its dawn in the eocene and even cretaceous periods, and attempts to elucidate the most important changes that led to his gradual development. He insists that these must have been the changes in brain structure and the correlated mental functioning, attaching less significance than is sometimes done to such matters as the erect posture. The chief of them he finds to be the gradual elaboration of the visual cortex, with the consequent refinement and precision of skilled movements, particularly, of course, in the hands. Incidentally he maintains that unidextrality is an early phenomenon having a distinct biological advantage, and not a recent psychological development; in fact, he would ascribe the localisation of the speech area in the left side of the cerebrum to the already existing differentiation of the two motor areas there (in favour of the right hand).
Throughout the book many statements are made of high psychological interest. Thus the author maintains that the instincts and emotions of man have remained unaltered since man became man, and that any apparent development, for instance in intelligence, is a purely secondary product of environmental factors; this is a conclusion which will strike a psycho-analyst as probably true. He holds that early man was interested in practical concerns that mattered to him, rather than with recondite speculations: 'The modern fallacy of supposing that he spent his time in contemplation of the world around him, speculating upon the nature of the stars above him, or devising theories of the soul, is probably as far from the truth as it would be to assume that the average modern Englishman is absorbed in the problems of zoology, astronomy, and metaphysics' (p. 118). In spite of this consideration, however, he vehemently taboos the phrase 'psychic unity' when applied to mankind as a whole.
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