ON HUMAN SOCIAL DISEASES

 

CARL SAGAN AND BROCA'S BRAIN

"I would rather be a transformed ape than a degenerate son of Adam."

 

 
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EXCERPT:

"Broca was a humanist of the nineteenth century, but unable to shake the consuming prejudices, the human social diseases, of his time. He thought men superior to women, and whites superior to blacks. Even his conclusion that German brains were not significantly different from French ones was in rebuttal to a Teutonic claim of Gallic inferiority. But he concluded that there was a deep connection in brain physiology between gorillas and men. Broca, the founder of a society of freethinkers in his youth, believed in the importance of untrammeled inquiry and had lived his life in pursuit of that aim. His falling short of these ideals shows that someone as unstinting in the free pursuit of knowledge as Broca could still be deflected but he endemic and respectable bigotry. Society corrupts the best of us. It is a little unfair, I think, to criticize a person for not sharing the enlightenment of a later epoch, but it is also profoundly saddening that such prejudices were so extremely pervasive. The question raises nagging uncertainties about which of the conventional truths of our own age will be considered unforgivable bigotry by the next. One way to repay Paul Broca for this lesson which he has inadvertently provided us is to challenge, deeply and seriously, our own most strongly held beliefs."