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IS THE HUMAN BRAIN STATIONARY?
IT may be said that the existence of a social group depends on its taking an exaggerated view of its own importance; and in a state of nature, at least, the same is true of the individual. If self-preservation is the first law of nature, there must be on the mental side an acute consciousness of self, and a habit of regarding the self as of more importance than the world at large. The value of this standpoint lies in the fact that while a wholesome fear of the enemy is important, a wholesome contempt is even more so. Praising one's self and dispraising an antagonist creates a confidence and a mental superiority in the way of confidence. The vituperative recriminations of modern prize-fighters, the boastings of the Homeric heroes, and the bâgan of the old Germans, like the back-talk of the small boy, were calculated to screw the courage up; and the Indians of America usually gave a dance before going on the war-path, in which by pantomime and boasting they magnified themselves and their past, and so stimulated their self-esteem that they felt invincible. In race prejudice we see the same tendency to exalt the self and the group at the expense of outsiders. The alien group is belittled by attaching contempt to its peculiarities and habits its color, speech, dress, and all the signs of its personality. This is not a laudable attitude, but it has been valuable to the group because a bitter and contemptuous feeling is an aid to good fighting.
No race or nation has yet freed itself from this tendency to exalt and idealize itself. It is very difficult for a member of Western civilization to understand that the Orientals regard us with a contempt in comparison with which our contempt for them is feeble. Our bloodiness, our newness, our lack of reverence, our land-greed, our break-neck speed and lack of appreciation of leisure make Vandals of us. On the other hand, we are very stupid about recognizing the intelligence of Orientals. We have been accustomed to think that there is a great gulf between ourselves and other races, and this persists in an undefinable way after scores of Japanese have taken high rank in our schools and after Hindus have repeatedly been among the wranglers in mathematics
at Cambridge. It is only when one of the Far Eastern nations has come bodily to the front that we begin to ask ourselves whether there is not an error in our reckoning.
The instinct to belittle outsiders is perhaps at the bottom of our delusion that the white race has one order of mind and the black and yellow races have another. But while a prejudice a matter of instinct and emotion may well be at the beginning of an error of this kind, it could not sustain itself in the face of our logical habits unless reinforced by an error of the judgment. And this error is found in the fact that in a naïve way we assume that our steps in progress from time to time are due to our mental superiority as a race over other races, and to the mental superiority of one generation of ourselves over the preceding.
In this we are confusing advance in culture with brain improvement. If we should assume a certain grade of intelligence, fixed and invariable in all individuals, races, and times an unwarranted assumption, of course progress would still be possible, provided we assumed a characteristically human grade of intelligence to begin with. With associative memory, abstraction, and speech men are able to compare the present with the past, to deliberate and discuss, to invent, to abandon old processes for new, to focus attention on special problems, to encourage specialization, and to transmit to the younger generation a more intelligent standpoint and a more advanced starting-point. Culture is the accumulation of the results of activity, and culture could go on improving for a certain time even if there were a retrogression in intelligence. If all the chemists in class A should stop work to-morrow, the chemists in class B would still make discoveries. These would influence manufacture, and progress would result. If a worker in any specialty acquaints himself with the results of his predecessors and contemporaries and works, he will add some results to the sum of knowledge in his line. And if a race preserves by record or tradition the memory of what past generations have done, and adds a little, progress is secured whether the brain improves or stands still. In the same way the fact that one race has advanced further in culture than another does not necessarily imply a different order of brain, but may be due to the fact that in the one case social arrangements have not taken the shape affording the most favorable conditions for the operation of the mind.
If, then, we make due allowance for our instinctive tendency as a white group to disparage outsiders, and, on the other hand, for our tendency to confuse progress in culture and general intelligence with biological modification of the brain, we shall have to reduce very much our
usual estimate of the difference in mental capacity between ourselves and the lower races, if we do not eliminate it altogether, and we shall perhaps have to abandon altogether the view that there has been an increase in the mental capacity of the white race since prehistoric times.
In making the human species, nature apparently exhausted her reThe development of hands freed from locomotion and a brain out of proportion to bodily weight are tours de force, and, so to speak, an afterthought which put the heaviest strain possible on the materials employed, and even diverted some organs from their original design. A number of ailments, like hernia, appendicitis, and uterine displacement, are due to the fact that the erect posture assumed when the hands were diverted from locomotion to prehensile uses put a strain not originally contemplated on certain tissues and organs. Similarly, the proportion of idiocy and insanity in the human species shows that nature had reached the limit of elasticity in her materials and began to take great risks. The brain is a delicate and elaborate organ on the structural side, and in these cases it is not put together properly or it gets hopelessly out of order. The heavy brain and erect posture are, in fact, the only physical marks of first-rate importance distinguishing man. The brain weight of the average European is about 1,360 grams, or rather more than three per cent of the weight of the body, while the average brain weight of the great anthropoid apes is about 360 grams, or, in the orangoutang, one-half of one per cent of the body weight.
Viewed from the standpoint of brain weight, all races are, broadly speaking, in the same class. For while the relatively small series of brains from the black race examined by anthropologists shows a slight inferiority in weight about 45 grams in negroes when compared with white brains, the yellow race shows more than a corresponding superiority to the white; in the Chinese, about 70 grams. There is also apparently no superiority in brain weight in modern over ancient times. The cranial capacity of Europeans between the eleventh and eighteenth centuries, as shown by the cemeteries of Paris, is not appreciably different from that of Frenchmen of to-day, and the Egyptian mummies show larger cranial capacity than the modern Egyptians. Furthermore, the limits of variation between individuals in the same race are wider than the average difference between races. In a series of 500 white brains, the lowest and highest brains will differ, in fact, as much as 650 grams in weight. Brain weight is no very good test of intelligence anyway; for brains, like timepieces, may be very small if they work well. But it
does show that nature has pushed the evolutionary process on the structural side to the limit of safety in all races alike, that differences between races and historical times in this respect are slight at best, and that we must turn to the show of intelligence - the work which the brain will do among different races if we are to find any difference in intelligence at all.
Looked at from the standpoint of development, the human brain is characterized by the introduction or more marked development of characters which enable it to have a more complete oversight and control of the self in relation to the outer world. In very low forms of life, as is well known, there is no development of brain or special organs of sense; but the organism is pushed and pulled about by light, heat, gravity, and acid and other chemical forces, and is unable to decline to act on any stimulus reaching it. It reacts in certain characteristic, habitual, and adequate ways, because it responds uniformly to the same stimulation; but it has no choice, and is controlled by the environment.
Now the object of brain development is to reverse these conditions and control the actions of the organism, and of the outside world as well, from within. With the development of the special organs of sense, memory, and consequent ability to compare present experiences with past, with inhibition or the ability to decline to act on a stimulus, and, finally, with abstraction or the power of separating general from particular aspects, we have a condition where the organism sits still, as it were, and picks and chooses its reactions to the outer world; and by working in certain lines to the exclusion of others, it gains in its turn control of the environment, and begins to reshape the environment. A question of interest to us in this connection is whether any of these characteristic mental powers are absent or noticeably weak in the socalled lower races. If this is found to be true, we have reason to attribute the superiority of the white race to biological causes; otherwise we shall have to seek an explanation of white superiority in causes lying outside of the brain.
In examining this question we need not dwell on the acuteness of the sense perceptions, because these are not distinctively human. a matter of fact, they are usually better developed in animals and in the lower races than in the civilized, because the lower mental life is more perceptive than ratiocinative. The memory of the lower races is also apparently quite as good as that of the higher. The memory of the Australian native or the Eskimo is quite as good as that of our "oldest inhabitant"; and probably no one would claim that the modern scientist
has a better memory than the bard of the Homeric period. On the score of abstraction, however, the conditions are not so clear. The common opinion is that the lower races show feeble power of abstraction, and certainly their languages are poor in abstract terms. There is, however, a great difference between the habit of thinking in abstract terms and the ability to do so.
The degree to which abstraction is employed in the activities of a group depends on the complexity of the activities and on the complexity of consciousness in the group. When science, philosophy, and logic, and systems of reckoning time, space, and number are taught in the schools, when the attention is not so much engaged in perceptual as in deliberative acts, and when thought is a profession, then abstract modes of thought are forced on the mind. This does not argue absence of the power of abstraction in the lower races, or even a low grade of ability, but lack of practice. To one skilled in any line an unpractised person seems very stupid, and this is apparently the reason why travellers report that the black and yellow races have feeble powers of abstraction. It is generally admitted, however, that the use of speech involves the power of abstraction, so that all races have the power in some degree. When we come further to examine the degree in which they possess it, we find that they compare favorably with ourselves in any test which involves a fair comparison.
The proverb is a form of abstraction practised by all races, and is perhaps the best test of the natural bent of the mind in this direction, because, like ballad poetry and slang, proverbial sayings do not originate with the educated class, but are of popular origin. At the same time, proverbs compare favorably with the mots of literature, and many proverbs have, in fact, drifted into literature and become connected with the names of great writers. Indeed, the saying that there is nothing new under the sun applies with such force and fidelity to literature that if we should strip Hesiod and Homer and Chaucer of such phrases as "The half is greater than the whole," "It is a wise son that knows his own father" (which Shakespeare quotes the other end about), and "To make a virtue of necessity," and if we should further eliminate from literature the motives and sentiments also in ballad poetry and in the popular thought, little would remain but form.
If we assume, then, that the popular mind, let us say the peasant mind, in the white race is as capable of abstraction as the mind of the higher classes, but not so specialized in this direction and no one can doubt this in view of the academic record of country-bred boys - the