Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 83.djvu/168

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164
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

THE RELATION OF CULTURE TO ENVIRONMENT FROM THE STANDPOINT OF INVENTION
By Dr. CLARK WISSLER
AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

THE relation between man's life and the physical make-up of the earth has always been a serious problem. In our schools we often hear the doctrine that geography is nothing more than the study of peoples in their adjustment to the particular part of the earth they inhabit. This emanates from the teachings of the great German geographers Humboldt and Ritter, to whom the physical features of the earth were the determining factors in the distribution of life. Later Ratzel took up the problem from a strictly human or anthropological point of view and gave us the term anthropo-geography. The rapid development of anthropology during the past twenty years, and especially its recent trend toward a cultural point of view, has again brought to the front this question of relationship between human activities and physical geography. To anthropology the problem becomes rather fundamental, and while not by any means so inclusive as it must be to anthropogeography, which must depend upon the truth of the assumption for its existence, is nevertheless one whose solution is a matter of some consequence. Thus the question of culture and environment becomes the common concern of at least two sciences, geography and anthropology.

A full discussion of the subject would take us over the whole field of geography and anthropology; hence, we may here consider but a few points. As a rule, those who discuss this problem know a great deal more of geography than they do of anthropology and indeed it is but recently that we had at hand anything like a complete collection of data on the culture of even one non-historic group of people. As field anthropologists are now industriously increasing our knowledge of such peoples, it may not be out of place to discuss the general problem from the standpoint of these data.

In such discussions it is convenient to make a provisional distinction between cultural phenomena and biological phenomena and the most convenient is that based upon heredity. The strictly anatomical characters, physiological and psychological functions are innate, while culture is not innate but acquired by the individual during life by imitative or educative processes. We can thus set over on one side man's biological equipment, his bodily functions, mental characters, instincts, etc., as against or in contrast to the cultural characters, or products of these activities in social life.