chapter  4
16 Pages

Hundred percent primate

Wittgenstein (1958: §19) was right: “To imagine a language is to imagine a form of life”.1

Recapitulation

Just as there is a non-Lamarckian meaning to “generations of experiences having laid down the archetypes,” so the nineteenth century’s “recapitulation” theory of

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embryology. Ernst Haeckel had found that a human embryo has gill slits at one early point and later looks like a fi sh and then an amphibian. It looked as though every individual passes through evolution’s stages one-by-one until it is born in the distinctive shape of its own species. Haeckel’s Biogenetic Law therefore states: “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” The similarities in embryo anatomy, however, have proven to be more apparent then real. Furthermore, the recapitulation theory presumes evolution traces out a single “ladder of ascent”, whereas it is more accurately described as a many-branched tree.2