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The Rim of Space on Audio

Blackstone Audio have release The Rim of Space on Audio as part of A Galaxy Trilogy VOL. 4


The Naked Ape

The front cover of this book should make an immediate appeal to the naturist. It is a colour photograph of three naked apes, back view - one adult male, one adult female, one juvenile female. To judge by the overall tan, all three are practising nudists. It is a truism, however, that one can not judge a book by its cover. I enjoyed it - but I know a militant atheist who, while dismissing the Biblical story of the Creation as a fairy tale, scoffs at the theories and findings of the ethologists (such as Dr. Morris), insisting that human beings are somehow different from the lower animals.

Complex Behaviour Patterns

But are we so very different? It has been said, more than once, that the History of Man is the historys of the fire-making, tool-using animal. We are the only fire-makers - but I have heard of baboons who, having watched the activities of the Bushmen, assembled little piles of dry twigs and then sat hopefully around them waiting for the fire to start. Then there are the chimpanzees, who will make use of any convenient sticks to pull bunches of otherwise inaccessible fruit down within reach. And it is not only the primates, our close relatives, who use tools. Even birds - and “birdbrained” is a term of derision - do so. Some bower birds further decorate their bowers with brightly coloured berry juices, using wads of vegetable matter, held in the beak, to daub on the pigment. The bush turkey builds compost heaps which, with the head generated in by decomposition, are incubators for its eggs. It even contrives to regulate the temperature of these crude incubators quite effectively.

Man, however, has one tool possessed by none of the other animals – language. But he is still an animal, with the behaviour patterns of his ancestors persisting despite his technological advances. And the behaviour patterns of the naked ape are more complex than those of his fur-coated cousins.

Our more remote ancestors were, like the other primates, omnivourous forest dwellers. Food was plentiful - fruit, nuts, insects, bird’ eggs and so forth. Then for some reason, our forebears left the forests for the plains and became carnivorous hunters, almost exclusively meat eaters. And, says Dr. Morris, it was at this time that the homegrown fur coats were discarded.

Stripped for the Chase

He cites several theories to account for this nudism by natural selection. All of them have their points; none of them (unless the science fictioneer’s dream of Time Travel becomes a reality) can be proven. One suggests that it was due to the change of habitat, from shady forests to the treeless plains. But I quote: “Exposure of the naked skin to the air certainly increases the chances of heat loss, but it also increase heat gains at the same time and risks damage from the sun’s rays, as any sun bather will know…” Again I quote “The essential difference between the hunting ape and his carnivorous rivals was that he was not physically equipped make lightning dashes after his prey or to undertake long endurance pursuits … such efforts must have put a huge strain on him in simple physical terms. The chase was so important to him that he would have to put up with this, but in the process he must have experienced considerable overheating … By losing the heavy coat of hair and by increasing the number of sweat glands all over the body surface, considerable cooling could be achieved - not minute by minute living, but for the supreme moment of the chase - with the production of a generous film of evaporating liquid over his air exposed straining limbs and trunk.” Having read the above, I though of Greek athletes who always exercised naked.

Yet another theory is that our ancestors were aquatic apes before they became hunting apes, fossicking about on the tropical sea shores for food. This one appeals to me. Its is so delightfully simple - but Nature’s ways of getting results are usually far from simple

Nudists by Evolution

Anyhow, here we are the naked apes, as Dr Morris calls us. Many of our troubles stem from our refusal to admit that we are animals, the descendants of apes who left the forests of the plains, possibly by way of the ocean beaches, losing their hairy body covering as a result of the changes in environment. We still have to adapt properly to the environment of a technological culture, and this process will take many generations.

As naturists we cannot hope to relive the lives of the forest apes, the aquatic apes or the hunting apes of the plains, nor would we wish to do so. But we can live lives that are as close to nature as is possible in this day and age, and must benefit greatly, physically and psychologically, by so doing.

But Desmond Morris says it all, so much better than I can. After all, THE NAKED APE is his book.

It is a book to buy, a book to read and a book to keep.
Originally Published in Solar No: 50 1969