A New Zoology

The Limbs

The following passage from Hermann Popplebaum's, A New Zoology, pp.34-35 contains some serious errors which I have corrected in comments.


To build up man's totality, we have to look for a third architectural element, apart from the head and the metameric  middle organization. The external appearance of this element is the supporting limbs. They give man his characteristic posture and lift him above all likeness with animals. They carry the column of the trunk, which in turn carries the dome of the head.

In animals we can find this supporting limb element only in the highest vertebrates, the warm-blooded mammals and birds."

This statement is incorrect!  Dinosaurs and several other early archosaurian lineages had fully erect limb posture!

"For the extremities of the lower animals such as arthropcds and worms are mere appendages, and at best are transformed fins or ribs."

Note the reverse orientation here.  Rather than limbs evolving from fins, fins evolve from limbs.  This indicates the telological and archetypal approach, in which the highest organistion preceeds the lower (the emanationist paradigm).

"The "foot" of the molluscs is even more remote. It is a sense organ (tongue). Alone among reptiles, and significantly among their extinct forms (dinosaurs), the attempt is made to bring the body into an upright position, an attempt which is crowned with full success only in man's upright walk. But it cannot be overlooked that mammals, even though walking on all fours, at least stem the body away from the ground, and thus give free play to the supporting legs. The progress from the crawling leg of the crocodile to the walking and running legs of mammals is obvious."

Again, a misleading statement, albeit coprrect from the point of view of timeless morphological archetypes.  But in fact early crocodylomorphs like the Saltoposuchids (Sphenosuchia) had a fully erect stance, like dinosaurs and mammals.  This was lost in later forms that reverted to a more standard reptilian and a semi-aquatic existence.  Even today's crocodiles (especially juveniles) are still capable of the fully erect "high walk" over short distanaces.  Crocodiles are even capable of "galloping", an ancient thecodontian mode of locomotion.

"Some of the extinct reptiles had already made the great step partially-"

not only partially!

"-and thus attempted uprightness which, together with the development of the fore-brain, is the most recent of vertebrate acquisitions. The new zoology must regard the free playing and supporting leg as an addition to man's equipment of equal importance with the advanced brain. Yet only man accomplishes the effort. Accordingly, his whole sphere of will forces is different from everything found among higher animals. Not the dome-like head alone, but the perfectly free play of the limbs indicates the supreme distinction of man. [* See: H. Poppelbaum: "Man and Animal", Chapter 1.]

The birds have overshot the mark. Their limbs support the body but are reduced to an almost lifeless mechanism of bones and tendons. The bird throws, as it were, all its formative forces into wings and plumage and lets its legs wither.  The bird refuses to enter into a deeper relation to the earth and its gravity. The morphological symptom of this refusal is that no element of its bone architecture can find a true relation to the vertical. The study of the bird skeleton in its natural posture bears out this fact in a striking way. There is literally not one of the hones which is vertically inserted into the field of gravity. All are at various angles with it and with one another."

This idea of alternative directions in evolution as having "overshot the mark" derives from the simplistic and blinkered anthropocentric perspective that hobbles the entire anthroposophist movement.  There is only a single line of evolution in their thinking, which is essentially an upward march to Man (see diagram).  Very 19th century, very dated.

Rather than saying birds have overshot the mark I would see them as exploring and specialising in new ecological and morphological space.  Ironically, by the very reasoning Poppelbaum uses in his book, one could say that Man has overshot the mark by developing a brain that is too large or has developed too soon (this idea of an over-developed and unbalanced brain is actually a premise the writer and philosopher Arthur Koestler makes - or something like this - in his final book, Janus, a Summing up).

"Only in mammals, and most clearly in the hoofed and pasturing forms, the genuine relation to the earth is indicated. Not until the reptilian forerunners (at the end of the Mesozoic era) became warm-blooded-"

Actually endothermy (warm-blooded metabolism)  in mammal-like reptiles (therapsids) developed at least by the early Triassic - if not the late Permian!  Millions of years before the first dinosaurs ever appeared.

"-did the leg develop as supporting pillar. The rich supply of muscles and blood in the limbs is a sign that henceforth they are no longer mere appendages to the trunk but a third "region" added to head system and trunk system. In this we recognize an imperfect copy of the free play which characterizes the wilful actions of man's limbs.

Furthermore, in all pasturing mammals, the leg at its lower end passes over into the lifeless hoof. Only in man does full life penetrate the leg and so make the leg and foot a perfect organ of touch with the ground. The contrast between the skeleton of a human leg and a horse's is significant. Only in man have the supporting limbs become a tool which carries him to his earthly task. The earth region has become a field of human action."

Another simplistic utterance.  If what is being lauded is the extremely inefficient plantigrade (flat footed) walk over the digitigrade (toe walk), then bears and a number of early mammals and thecodontian reptiles also, like man, walk on the complete foot.

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page uploaded 2 January 2000, relocated, last modified 23 December 2001