Developmental Dynamics

in Humans and Other Primates
Discovering Evolutionary Principles through Comparative Morphology

By Jos Verhulst

Adonis Science Books
Adonis Press, 2003
ISBN 978-0-932776-28-0
432 pages; paperback; $24.95

Digital Bundle; $10 (includes WebPDF, ePub, Mobi for Kindle)

Book Description:

In this book, Belgian scientist Jos Verhulst presents the most thorough research to date elaborating an evolutionary theory first set forth by Dutch anatomist Louis Bolk in the early 20th century. This theory is based on the proposition that dynamic principles inherent in the development of individual organisms are also at work in animal evolution as a whole. For example: A chimpanzee fetus is strikingly similar to its human counterpart: its cranium is rounded, its face flat, and its hair is restricted to its head. As it develops, however, the chimp diverges from its original, humanlike form, assuming specialized apelike features. In a detailed comparative study of numerous organs, Verhulst shows that, unlike the other primates, humans retain their original juvenile form. Standing Darwin on his head, he concludes that humans have not descended from apes but rather that apes evolved by diverging from a humanlike prototype. He also shows that our human tendency to retain our fetal form (fetalization, or retardation) is complemented by further development (hypermorphosis) of such organs as the legs, heels, forebrain, and larynx through which we attain our eminently human capacities of upright posture, thinking, and speech.

In the last chapter, Verhulst sketches a broad view of how retardation and hypermorphosis have worked together in animal evolution. He speculates, for example, that vertebrates evolved from invertebrates when ancient sea squirts (a form of tunicate, a marine invertebrate) retained their larval characteristics and developed them further as they evolved into fish. Sea squirt larvae are free-swimming and resemble tadpoles. Their brain includes a light-sensitive eyespot, and they have a rudimentary spinal cord. In their adult stage, however, they are sessile filter-feeders with neither nerve cord nor eyes. Verhulst postulates that primitive tunicates like the sea squirt retained their larval characteristics (through retardation) and evolved (through hypermorphosis) into fish, the first vertebrates. Following in a tradition as old as Darwinism, he proposes that, from the very beginning of animal evolution, these dynamics have led progressively toward the emergence of the human form. In this view, the gradually emerging human prototype is seen as the driving force and central trunk of the evolutionary tree, as the wellspring from which the animal world has sprung.

Comments on the Book

“Jos Verhulst approaches human evolution with refreshing open-mindedness. In Developmental Dynamics he presents an astounding wealth of little-noted facts that assume surprising new significance as he develops his thesis. From the outset, Verhulst incorporates a spiritual perspective into his scientific exploration of the evolutionary process. Though some readers may not agree with his conclusions, all will find the rich content of his book extremely thought-provoking.”– Wolfgang Schad, author of Threefoldness in Humans and Mammals: Toward a Biology of Form; Professor of Morphology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Witten, Germany

“Jos Verhulst’s penetrating grasp of human development leads to a refreshing view of human origins. In a perceptive, lucid and lively account, he argues convincingly that there is more to evolution than just Darwinian natural selection. Following in the footsteps of Goethe and Bolk, Verhulst champions the view that evolution was guided by an intrinsic drive that has culminated in the human gestalt, and that the harmonious form of the human body is a reflection of what he calls our synergistic composition. No part of human anatomy is left untouched as Verhulst examines the impact of changes in the rates and timing of development as the source of our evolutionary heritage. He demonstrates most effectively that we are the product of both fetalization and hypermorphosis, which leave some traits less developed than in the ancestor, others more so, as growth is prolonged. And this he argues in a manner both compelling and eminently accessible. If you are in any way curious about our origins, then I invite you to read this book.” — Kenneth McNamara, author of Shapes of Time: the Evolution of Growth and Development; Senior Curator, Invertebrate Paleontology, W.A. Museum, Perth, Australia

“Developmental Dynamics is a tour de force: a refreshingly original, profound and thought-provoking synthesis rooted in impressive scholarship. As Verhulst penetrates to the vital, dynamic essence of human biology, we begin to see ourselves in a rejuvenating new light. A welcome antidote to too many evolutionary doctrines grown stale, trivial and materialistic. Creative science at its best.”  — Martin Lockley, author of The Eternal Trail: A Tracker Looks at Evolution; Professor of Paleontology, University of Colorado, Denver


Foreword by Mark Riegner ix

Preface xv

1. Basic Issues in Human Evolution 1

Introduction 1

Goethe, the Goethean Tradition, and Darwinism 4

Karl Snell (1806-1886) 9

Wilhelm Heinrich Preuss (1843-1909) 12

The Primitive Aspect of the Primates 15

The Most Primitive Primate 24

Dollo’s Law 25

Ontogeny and Phylogeny 32

2. Fetalization and Retardation 35

Fetalization 35

The Paradox of Fetalization 40

Progressive Emergence of the Human Gestalt 43

The Paradox of Retardation 50

3. Growth and Retardation 58

Introduction 58

Retardation: The Primal Phenomenon 60

An Example: Growth in Men and Women 63

Cephalocaudal Growth and Hypermorphosis 65

Hypermorphosis 67

Distoproximal Growth 71

Hypermorphosis and the Distoproximal Growth Pattern 75

The Seven-Year Rhythm in Human Growth 77

Retardation and the Idiosyncrasies of Human Body Structure 85

Fatty Tissue 86

The Digestive Tract 88

The Breastbone (Sternum) 91

Goethean and Steinerian Synthesis 94

Proterogenesis (Schindewolf’s Theory) 97

Fetalization and Hypermorphosis: Steiner’s Contribution 98

4. The Animal Element in Humans 100

Atavisms or Evolutionary Potentials? 100

Darwin’s Tubercle 106

Zygodactyly 107

Supernumerary Nipples 108

The Tail 109

The Future of the Human Species 112

5. The Upper Limbs 114

The Hand 114

Basic Hand Movements 117

Hand Specialization in Anthropoid Apes 120

The Primitive Shape of the Human Hand 124

The Hand Index 125

The Thumb Index 126

The Digital Flexor Muscles 128

Arm Location and Ribcage Configuration 130

The Shoulder and Other Examples of the Progressive Emergence of

the Human Gestalt 133

The Shape of the Shoulder Blade 134

Humeral Torsion 134

The Deltoid Muscle and Its Insertion Sites 137

Nails and Claws 139

6. Uprightness 144

Bipedalism 144

Balance in Human Posture 150

The Torso’s Center of Gravity 152

Knees and Feet 153

The Resting Position 154

Upright Walking 155

Upright Posture and the Head 156

The Mastoid Process 159

The Location of the Organs of Balance 159

The Effect of Upright Walking on the Birth Canal 161

The Vertebrae 165

The Cervical Vertebrae 170

The Thickness of the Vertebrae 173

The Sacral Vertebrae 174

The Foot 175

Pentadactyly as a Retardation Phenomenon 189

The number of phalanges in reptiles and mammals 192

Bokian Retardation 194

Bokian retardation in the fingers and toes 196

7. The Organs of the Thorax 200

The Cardiovascular System: Introductory Remarks 200

Protein and DNA Structure 202

Systemic and Pulmonary Circulation 204

The Cardiac Skeleton 206

The Embryological Development of the Heart 207

The Mammalian Heart as a Fetalized Organ 211

The Aortic Arch in Humans and Animals 217

The Human Lung as a Retarded Organ 220

General Comments on the Lungs’ Location within the Thorax 221

Retardation Phenomena in the Human Lungs 222

Respiration, Uprightness, and Speech 232

8. Human Reproduction 237

Rhythms in Human Reproduction 237

Reproduction and the Lunar Cycle 239

Seven-Year Periodicity 244

The Male Genitals 247

The Female Genitals 250

The Enigma of Human Reproduction 255

Descent of the Testicles 255

Menstruation 256

Hair Patterns and Sweat Glands 257

Milk 260

9. The Facial Skull 263

Introductory Remarks on the Shape of the Skull 263

The Teeth 268

Some Details of Dentition Patterns in Humans and Anthropoid Apes 273

Teeth and Speech 275

The Mandible (Lower Jawbone) 275

General Remarks 275

The Chin and the Change of Teeth 283

The Retarded Growth Pattern of the Human Mandible 286

The Temporomandibular Joint 290

The Cheeks 297

The Ossification Pattern of Facial Skull Sutures 299

The Conundrum of the Premaxillae (Ossa Incisiva) 299

Other Apparent Acceleration Phenomena in the Human Facial Skull 304

The Ossification Pattern of the Human Facial Skull as a Bokian

Retardation Process 307

Additional Comments on the Seven-Year Rhythm in Skull Development 308

10. The Phenomenon of Synergistic Composition 310

The Descent of the Larynx 310

Laryngeal Descent and the Fetalization of the Human Skull 315

The Brain 316

Retardation Effects within the Brain 321

The Forebrain as a Retarded Organ. Bokian Retardation 328

Cranial Flexure and Profound Retardation 330

The Tunicates as Overspecialized Vertebrates 335

The Echinoderms 337

Profound Retardation 339

The Phenomenon of Synergistic Composition 342

Afterword 351

Bibliography 365

Index 391

About the Author 413

The Form of Evolution
A Review by Stephen Talbott 

of Developmental Dynamics in Humans and Other Primates: Discovering Evolutionary Principles Through Comparative Morphology, by Jos Verhulst, translation by Catherine Creeger.                                                                                                      

Jos Verhulst could hardly have startled modern sensitivities more when he wrote:

"Movement toward the human form is present in animal evolution from the outset.... In this sense, the emergence of humanity can be seen as the fulfillment of evolution's longstanding promise." (p. 362)

It is too startling, I suppose, for many to endure. Those evolutionary biologists who do manage to read the book all the way through will, I suspect, be those who realize that Verhulst has abandoned as fruitless the century-old battle between Darwinists and creationists. He is not concerned with organisms as mechanisms or with the question whether the "designer" of these mechanisms is natural selection or God. He appears to believe neither in that sort of design nor in the mechanisms it might produce.

Rather, he brings to his work in comparative morphology an overriding concern for organic form -- not just the shape of the individual organism, but the coherent form of the overall evolutionary thrust. He sees this form as essential to an understanding of the dynamic principles of evolution. In other words, he is concerned with form in the older sense of formal cause, whereby the particulars of a process are understood through their relations to the larger, expressive pattern of development. That is, they are explained in terms of the observable unity of form, the productive gestalt, of the process as a whole.

So the assessment of Verhulst's thesis -- a thesis he presents through a vast array of morphological data -- requires only that one observe the relevant forms and note their relationships. This should cause no difficulty for any scientist. Either the relations Verhulst claims to recognize between forms (including the human form) are there to be seen, or they are not. If they are, the implications may be profound -- and Verhulst's take on the implications may not be accepted by all readers -- but this is no more a reason to reject what one can see with one's own eyes than the profound implications of Galileo's observations were a reason to reject sunspots and the moons of Jupiter.

Beyond Specialization

Verhulst sees two contrary movements at work within evolution. One is the "tendency toward anthropogenesis" -- the tendency toward human form. This non-specialized form is not a late-arrival on the evolutionary scene, but is basic to the entire story. And so, regarding the primates, "the human form represents the original primate endowment to a very great extent." Homo sapiensis, in a sense, "the most primitive primate."

One of various ways to look at this is through the phenomenon known as "fetalization." For example, the skull of the newborn chimpanzee is remarkably humanlike (see figure), whereas the adult chimpanzee departs strikingly from the human form. Similarly, the hair on a chimpanzee fetus is, in humanlike fashion, restricted to the head, whereas the adult chimpanzee (like all other mammals except humans) is fully covered with hair. You could say, then, that humans tend to retain certain fetal traits.

Looking at such patterns of development, the anatomist Louis Bolk (1866-1930) asked himself how a humanlike trait that has not previously shown up in evolution could be "prefigured" in a non-human fetus. Clearly it is not a matter of adaptation to outer circumstances in the usual Darwinian sense because, Bolk wrote, "no chimpanzees or their ancestors have ever had naked bodies with hair limited to the head." There was no opportunity for the trait to come under selection pressure.

Bolk therefore suggested that "an intrinsic evolutionary factor must exist, a factor that is already active in principle in anthropoid apes but manifests fully only in humans" (p. 46). Much of Verhulst's book is devoted to the detailed analysis of countless traits pointing in the same direction.

A second evolutionary movement is the tendency toward animal specialization. It is seen, for example, in the brow ridges and extended muzzle of the chimpanzee adult. Likewise, the "hand" and "arm" can specialize into the remarkable capabilities of the salmon's fin, the hawk's wing, the mole's digging limb, the orangutan's arm for swinging, and so on. Such specialization is always a departure from the central, more open-ended pattern, and leads in the direction of a highly tuned adaptation to a particular environmental niche. In this adaptation, Verhulst suggests, there is room for Darwinian natural selection to play a significant role.

In general, "as evolution progresses, the anthropogenetic tendency breaks through to a greater extent and specialization becomes less dramatic. In higher animals, the human gestalt is expressed to a considerable extent, especially during fetal development, until ultimately the anthropogenetic tendency emerges at its strongest in human beings" (p. 95). New traits commonly appear in the juvenile stages of higher animals, but are then overtaken by specializations during the adult stages. But when, in the course of evolution, the juvenile traits persist more and more into later stages of development, childlike qualities manifest in the adult. In this sense you could say that retaining a certain childlikeness is an essential feature of the human being.

Coordinated Development

This is scarcely to gesture toward the richness of Verhulst's book. He is concerned to sketch in great detail the dynamic processes at work in morphological development among primates. These processes include not only fetalization but also retardation, compression, hypermorphosis, and so on. A great virtue of his work is the evident lack of any desire to impose a neat schema upon the data. The complex, interweaving factors affecting development are allowed their unique play in each individual case. This can make for considerable complexity; the book is not always an easy read.

Regarding complexity, Verhulst points to a principle of "synergistic composition" evident in the way numerous movements toward the human form develop in coordinated, mutual dependence. Thus, the juvenile shape of the human skull is inseparable from the enlarged brain and descended larynx. These in turn are connected with the capacity for speech -- but this last makes no sense without a more highly developed nervous system as a vehicle for thinking. To make speech possible, the structure of the mouth also had to change, and it had to be freed from its prehensile (grasping) function, which meant that the hands needed to become prehensile, which meant that we needed an upright posture, which demands that almost everythingchanges throughout the organism. Some of these changes helped to free respiration from the constraints of locomotion -- a freedom necessary for speech. This same end was served by the development of eccrine sweat glands to form a cooling system no longer dependent on respiration. (You could hardly speak while rapidly panting to cool yourself!)

The fact that a single dynamic principle ("retardation," which is closely related to fetalization) is involved in producing all these and many other developments in a unified pattern suggests to Verhulst that the developments were "already prefigured in the prototypic structural plan for the animal body. Because the physical appearance of these effects occurs only at the end of primate evolution, when the retardation has asserted itself fully, they cannot be explained as the result of a physical process of natural selection" (p. 347).

Verhulst sees himself extending an interpretive tradition that goes back to Goethe and Bolk. This reviewer is unable to assess Verhulst's extensive and detailed discussions of morphological features, ranging from fingernails and hair distribution patterns to the position of the larynx. But the attempt by the author of Developmental Dynamicsto explore new territory beyond the ideological constraints of conventional evolutionary thought and debate could not be more welcome.  

This review was printed in the Fall 2003 issue of In Context, the Newsletter of the Nature Institute, 20 May Hill Road, Ghent, NY 12075; phone: 518-672-0116; fax: 518-672-4270;

The Firstborn Primate
by Martin Lockley



How often have we heard that humans descended, or arose, from apes?  Conventional evolutionary wisdom holds that we are derived “descendents” of more ancient and primitive  “common ancestor” primates. We occupy a recent place on a linear time line. Verhulst, a chemist and Waldorf School biology teacher, explores such views in extraordinary depth asking if we are really a “meaningless product of animal evolution”  and “is the materialistic image of the human being, or materialism as a whole, really true, and does  Darwinism adequately explain human evolution?” Verhulst is “convinced that it does not” and this book, a translation from German of the 1999 original, entitled “the Firstborn”  (Der Erstgeborene) offers fascinating alternative insights.  

From the outset Verhulst avoids abstract, anti-materialist arguments and dives straight into the essential facts of developmental biology. In the process he reveals a rich and thoughtful tradition of alternative insight into the dynamic time structure of human development. While influenced by Goethe, Steiner, Bolk, Bok and other German and Dutch biologists (there are both Bolkian and Bokian laws of development), he also cites the late Stephen J. Gould, and his seminal work on the time structure of development (i.e., heterochrony) entitled Ontogeny and Phylogeny(Gould, 1977).  As Gould (2002) points out in his recent magnum opusThe Structure of Evolutionary Theory- the Goethean approach is “formalist” unlike the “functionalist” Darwinian approach: that is to say it recognizes what Bolk called an “intrinsic evolutionary factor” that guides evolution towards goals (e.g., the human species) in much the same way as intrinsic factors guide the seed into the manifestation of the flower. Such an ostensibly  “teleological” view may not sit well with Darwinians enamored of the role played by pure chance, but it flies in the face of biological evidence to deny intrinsic processes that produce such complex  “final” results.

Empirical evidence indicates that the fetal Chimpanzee resembles an adult human in having a rounded cranium, flat face and hair restricted to the head  — characteristics that can not be attributed to adaptation to the external environment. Thus, when the chimp matures into a hairy ape with brow ridges, prognathous jaw and non erect gait it has moved away from its “initial” near-human, condition by over specialization in the animal direction. (Thus, the ape develops or descends from humans!) By contrast human “retardation” (fetalization) allows new potentials to emerge without imposing animal specializations. Thus, the primate evolutionary wellspring shows an inherent orientation towards human emergence.  This human manifestation of a Peter Pan syndrome leads to longer life and is the biological equivalent of not going off track. A simple example is the highly human attribute of upright bipedal posture, which is foreshadowed or “prefigured” in many animal species during embryonic development, but lost through over- specialization (premature commitment) to a quadrupedal gait.

I am struck by analogies between the evidence of a central, human, evolutionary  track and the stable form of the species (e.g., wolf) to which over-specialized breeds (Chihuahua and Great Dane) naturally revert.  This might explain why chimps and gorillas (as recent over-specializations) have no known fossil record, while hominid ancestors are comparatively well represented along this central track. Ironically the anthropologists’ tendency “to place all [hominid fossil] findings upon the line leading to humans” suggests a tacit, perhaps subconscious, recognition of this same evolutionary trend  and a reluctance to consider upright hominids as possible ape ancestors.

The phenomenon of prefiguration (sometimes called preadaptaion) is intriguing and controversial to evolutionists. Verhulst cites the birth canal of chimps and other large anthropoid apes as much larger than necessary for the skull of their newborns. Thus anthropoid pelvic structure anticipates the later evolution of the large human skull. This is reminiscent of the space anticipated for the growth of a stag beetle’s horns in the chrysalis stage. Thus, evolution appears to have teleological foresight and implications for future evolution. “Enhancement of and liberation from the animal element has not yet peaked in modern human beings.” (An idea resonant with Transcendent Evolution, Pearce, 2002).  Juvenile Australopithecusresembles adult Homo erectus, juvenile H. erectusresembles adult neanderthals and juvenile neanderthals resemble adult modern H. sapiens. Thus infant Homo sapiensmay resemble a future child-like iteration of hominid evolution — an innocent “completely liberated angel-like race of beings. This thought touches on the central mystery of human existence.”   In this sense our infancy, and our children, are our evolutionary future.

Verhulst deals thoroughly with a large volume of complex anatomical information which may be hard for the non-biologist to digest in short sittings, though his profuse illustrations help considerably.  His main thesis, that most human organs demonstrate retardation (meaning protraction of life span), is evident through study of all organs from limbs and hands to heart and lungs. Even at the “molecular level” primate and human evolution appears to have been delayed: i.e., “retarded in comparison to that of the average mammal.”  Verhulst conscientiously ties all these human development growth dynamics to head-to-tail (cephalo-caudal) or tail-to-head (caudo-cephalic) “currents” associated with “early” Type Iredardation-fetalization, characteristics or “late” Type II development characteristics such as our long post-reproductive phase of life or growth of neocortex and prefrontal lobes.  These type I and II characteristics combine as a structural unity or “synergistic composition.” So, early manifesting trends (prefigurations) are allowed and given meaning by later more subtle tendencies: for example the descent of the larynx is a type I retardation phenomenon that opens the potential for speech – a type II development.

We learn that growth of human sexual organs is also delayed, while reproductive rate is low on almost any index.  Is this a sign that evolution is slowing down or reaching some sort of inherent culmination? As various sidereal rhythms (lunar to seven year cycles), are unique to humans, they cannot have been inherited from primates through natural selection. (I wonder therefore if we are the first to “tune into” them because of a greater sensitivity or enhanced physiological consciousness)? Thus, we are led to momentous conclusions. Human evolution is not random. It proceeds in a straight line (orthogenesis). It “explicitly manifest[s] what remains unspecialized and universal in animals…this universal, unspecialized kernel, which is the true inner architect of the human organism, reveals itself as the bearer of extraordinary potentials” such as uprightness, speech and culture.

Verhulst closes with a critique of Darwinism, emphasizing the failure of materialist ideology to account for “consciousness.” (Dennett’s explaining away of consciousness cannot be valid since consciousness is first required to suggest that it is an illusion!).  Verhulst reminds us that physics and chemistry have never produced a law predicting the emergence of consciousness and such concepts as meaning or truth. “… if our own thinking were completely determined by such [physical] processes we would be incapable of distinguishing whether something is ‘really’ true, or merely seems true because physical processes in our nervous system create that impression.”   Life is not some complicated physiochemical process but a phenomenon in its own right. It is “not a property of matter; it is a property of form” without  physical “building blocks” per se. Its attributes are “unique and transitory” and characterized by “perpetual change…the continuous alteration of form.” All this is consistent with a quantum mechanical view as Verhulst can attest from his own investigations of this field.

Though a model of calm scholarship, Verhulst is finally driven to characterize certain Darwinian representations of evolution as “mass indoctrination.” His view is that “life and consciousness are subject to their own dynamic principles.”  As he shows, formative processes lead to the unfolding of the organism, and also guide evolution as a whole. They are present as intrinsic factors from the outset. Just as evolution fulfills its potential to raise the flower from a seed so it also embodies a promise to fulfill its potential in humans. 

Gould, S. J. 1977. Ontogeny and Phylogeny  Harvard University Press.

Gould, S. J.  The Structure of  Evolutionary Theory.  Harvard University Press.

Pearce, J. C. 2002. The Biology of Transcendence.  Park Street Press.