The book entitled, “The Achievements and the Days” by Roland Maes is truly monumental in scope: In 3 books the author touches on the origin of the universe, the origin of life and the origin of humanity.
He examines the role of science, mathematics, religion and artistic endeavors in the history of human development. The extent of the knowledge demonstrated in a wide variety of fields is truly remarkable. The areas include Big Bang Theory, atomic physics, chemistry and evolution at the universe, earth, cell, animal and human levels. There are extensive discussions that start at pre-history and proceed through written history ending at the present. The extent of the interests and the knowledge base of the author are truly remarkable.
Interesting facts and observations are interspersed throughout; these points certainly add spice to the presentation and enrich the reading experience, be they directly relevant to the discourse or interesting tangential findings. We will describe a few of these numerous added points.
This presentation is composed of 3 books and a total of 956 pages. The first book starts with the Big Bang and proceeds to follow evolution from atoms, to molecules, to cells, to metozoa, ending in animal phyla and, finally, primates. The second book follows the evolution of hominids to homo sapiens, their socialization and humanization and the development of the early pre-Christian empires. The third book details the development of the Christian religion over time, the interaction with other religions and secular entities, the French effect on the progression of civilization, and ends with the potential role of the Untied States. We will briefly discuss each book in turn.
In Book 1, there is discussion of the development of the universe, the galaxies and the earth. A careful, though cursory, scientific examination of the mechanisms involved in the progression of molecules to metazoan species follows. The author promulgates the interesting concept that evolution of highly organized systems under appropriate conditions is a necessity rather than occurring by chance. He proposes that within a species, Darwinian selection plays a role in adapting the species to changing conditions, but that does not account for the sudden appearance of a species with remarkably new characteristics. Rather, he proposes that radical changes in physical or psychological environment can lead to the emergence of a new species from a small outlying group composed of markedly different genetic make-up. Natural selection then leads to adaptation of the newly developed species.
Another point stressed by the author is that disease and behavior cannot be understood completely from the analysis of genes and their protein products. The presentation emphasizes the role played by post-translation modifications and alteration of protein configuration in space in phenotypic expression. One could add the important role that small non-coding RNA molecules, such as interfering RNA (iRNA), play in regulation of the transcription of DNA into RNA and thereby modulate the expression of proteins. In this manner, the DNA genes’ effect on phenotype can be dramatically modulated.
This book concludes with discussion of amphibians, reptiles, mammals and primates and their development in relation to changes in the environment that each encountered.
This is a fascinating book with a plethora of facts, ideas and concepts. The text of the second book starts with the development of cordates and follows through to the evolution of hominids and finally on to homo sapiens. The history of man is then charted through the Neolithic period in various parts of the world. This book finishes with the histories of several pre-Christian empires and a number of empires that started prior to 1500 A.D. These histories are documented with information about rulers, wars, specific battles and the religious consequences of nation-to-nation interactions. In covering many centuries and countries, the flood of details is daunting and cannot easily be summarized.
There are a number of interesting and, in some cases, contentious concepts raised, and a few will be noted: In the section on biological intelligence and survival, the author states that “The world is a creation of our nervous system.” On this subject, he notes the markedly different capacities that various other species have and the fact that they would perceive the world quite differently from humans; for example, birds, fish and crustaceans perceive magnetic fields and can navigate using these fields. A component of the perception of bats and seals is ultrasound. Other examples are given.
In a section on human cognitive development, there is an extremely interesting discussion of the progression of the learning processes from birth through the adolescent period. This includes the sequence of acquisition of physical and mental capacities, as well as outlining morphological changes that occur concurrently.
In the section on evolution of hominids, the role that anatomy played in the progression or failure to progress toward homo sapiens was noted. For example, the form of the vocal canal of Australopithesines could not pronounce “a, i, u, g or k”, thus limiting communication, which was probably supplemented with gestures. Therefore, fully satisfactory communication was difficult in the absence of visual contact. Another example is the fact that the quadriped’s breathing apparatus makes it impossible to talk and run at the same time. In contrast, breathing in bipeds is redirected, which aids in speech. The author adds, “The brain structures that regulate bipedal locomotion in humans also regulate speech, indicating that bipedal locomotion was the initial selective pressure for the elaboration of brain structures that are essential for speech and syntax.”
In a section on population control, the author argues that regulation is not achieved by negative controls, such as starvation, predation, accidents and disease, but rather by the restraint of the population. He claims that it is the threat of starvation to come and not hunger today that dictates population density decisions. The example given is that an animal group will stake out an area sufficient to meet its needs. One could counter this argument by the idea that it is probable that experiencing hunger dictates the size of the staked-out territory.
There are in all 3 books interesting findings that are added, even when some may only indirectly relate to the topic under discussion; Book 2 has the most of these interjections – a few examples follow: The queen bee controls her colony by a pheromone released by her mandibular gland; in choosing correct objects in a set, chickens do better than marmosets; captive trout have smaller brains than wild trout; the fact that in southern Africa stone tools are made of flint to this day, but this is also done in Cakmak, Turkey.
The author’s creed is put forward in an optimistic paean to humans on page 146 of Book 2: “There is a discontinuity of human nature from everything that came before. The most powerful motive for human beings is the desire to be good. This desire makes Man unique among animals. There is no animal model for human pride, shame and guilt. Human conscience, morality and mental life are not those of a bonobo. Humans have a spiritual nature. “Spiritual” stands for a being who is free enough to do things for reasons, self-conscious enough to entertain ideas about the significance of his deeds, planful enough to be aware of the long-term consequences of his actions and sufficiently “divinely” inspired to feel a justification in what he does. Plato and Descartes are right: human beings are a special creation.”
The emphasis of the final book covers the history, politics, science, mathematics, art and literature of the past 2000 years. A characteristic noted in each of the previous books is even more evident in this book: an incredible accumulation of facts and opinions throughout each chapter, often with multiple points in each paragraph. As in the other books, the amount of information contained on virtually every page is truly remarkable.
The characteristic that distinguishes this book from the other two is the extensive judgmental input of the author. He describes his very strong negative evaluation of a variety of historical events and powerful criticism of the role that various religions (Judaism, Islam, and the earliest protestant groups) have played in the course of human history over the past 2000 years. He decries the loss of the social responsibility and humanity found in the teachings of Jesus and the earliest Christians, a loss fostered by other theologies and by the power-hungry efforts of secular leaders. The author is particularly critical of the French role in this tragic evolution: “The kleptocratic elite that has ruled France during the last one thousand five hundred years has branded the people in an indelible way. The spurious French culture has barred meaningful communication between the various members that compose it. It works through slogans, censorship, brutality, lies, corruption and deceit.” Indeed, the stretch of time is noted in that Charlemagne’s “…empire crumbled down on his death but the martial kleptocratic spirit thrived further in Frankish territories. By this means, France was able during centuries to follow a policy of ferocious territorial expansion.” And these characterizations are said to flow through to the present day: The author states, “The welfare of the leadership of France has steadfastly increased during the last 50 years whereas the poverty of the common citizen has also increased: in 1980 about 20% of French households were deemed unable to pay income taxes, this percentage has increased to a staggering 50% in 2008.” The leaders of the French revolution and the subsequent reign of Napoleon receive their share of negative appraisal.
The implication of the detailed account of the role that France has played in the history of civilization is that it is unique in its negative effects induced by a society. A comprehensive examination of the histories of other societies (German, Italian, Russian, for example) might well yield similar deleterious effects on their own citizens, their neighbors and the history of Western nations. Although the author praises the more egalitarian and progressive thrust of the countries of anglo-saxon origin, he does note in various places such events as the decimation of American Indians, the effect of the Raj on workers in India, slavery and the slave trade, etc.
To conclude, these 3 books represent a monumental effort to provide a framework for examining the progression of the improbable events required to bring the human race to its current state. These events include the earth’s derivation from the Big Bang, the geophysical characteristics of the evolving earth that allowed it to support life and then the evolution of life itself from single cell to animal to humans. This was followed by the torturous progression – and frequent regression – from prehistoric man to what we refer to as civilized man. The books also document the failures of man to live up to the ideals that some have fervently set for the human race. It leaves open the hope that further progress will lead us closer to the ideal of human behavior.
Richard I. Carp, VMD, PhD
OPWDD New York State
Department of Developmental Biochemistry, Head of Slow Infection Laboratory