JDM on Negus.

Elaine Morgan (Elaine@desco.demon.co.uk)
Sun, 17 Sep 1995 10:27:59 GMT

You constantly complain that I dont give page references; and you imply
that this is with malice aforethought. Why would it be? Either because
the quotes aren't really there, or to make things difficult for you.
Well, you have done more than anybody to establish that the quotes always
really are there - for which I thank you. As for making things
difficult for you, if you could force yourself to think of me as a
human being rather than an Evil Empire, you could have asked me for the
page references. It would have saved you a lot of time.

Now, from Denton to Negus. On Denton I could understand exactly what
you were trying to say. i.e. that human inefficiency in coping with
salt excess or salt deficiency is not a speciality of our species
as I indicated (and believed, though you won't believe I believed it)
and if I had read through the whole of Denton's book as diligently as
you did I would have realised this. You struck oil there, and this
seems to have stimulated a kind of feeding frenzy.

On Negus I must admit I can't see what you are driving at. I write for
a non-specialist market and tend to keep the quotes short. You find
this sinister. You seem to believe that Negus was saying something
quite incompatible with my description of the descent of the larynx,
and I was attempting to hush this up by not beginning the quotes
earlier and finishing them later than I did.

What exactly do you think he was trying to say? You make the point
that towards the end of his life he praised the descended larynx.
I can well believe he got a lot of flak. People never like to be
told that anything about Homo sap. might be "degenerate" instead of
representing a great leap forward. It would be understandable if he
felt compelled to calm them down by stressing the glorious use we had
made of our nice big pharyngeal space since we had learned to speak
and to sing. I don't think that was why it evolved, and I flatly
refuse to believe that Negus thought so. He never denied (any more
than Darwin did in his day, or Crelin in our own) that the human
arrangement entails a lot of diadvantages. Indeed he stresses the

The other point you raise is that in advanced primates there is a
tendency for the larynx when at rest not to project so far forward
into the space above the hard palate as it does in other species.
Maybe the line of thougt here is that all along the line from the
aye-aye to gorilla gorilla the primates were aspiring to have a
descended larynx and with Homo they finally achieved their goal. So
it was the culmination of a trend and poses no problem. (Actually
that's a fallacy; we then need to account for the trend.)

It is not just the continuation of a trend. In none of the other adult
primates has the larynx permanently lost contact with the
palate. It is not just a question of retreating another half-inch.
It drops right down into the throat below the back of the tongue.
And as others beside myself have often observed it takes a lot of

The most that Negus implied was that if Homo had not been a primate,
it would have been less likely to happen. In exactly the same way,
if Homo had not been a primate but something like a zebra, it would
have been infinitely more difficult for bipedalism to evolve. That does
not mean that either bipedalism or laryngeal descent were predictable
and call for no explanation. As Sir Arthur Keith pointed out to Negus,
if it had been more advantageous for contact with the palate to be
retained, the larynx would not have dropped. There was no earthly
reason, no physical constraint, no natural selection pressure, why that
would happen to a land mammal.

May I ask a simple question? Why do you think it happened? You're a
whizz with the destructive criticisms. How about some positive ideas
for a change?