Art. IV.—A Comparison between the Animal Mind and the Human Mind.
[Read before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, 4th November, 1896.]
In order to form anything like a definite notion of the animal mind, we must, so to speak, begin at the beginning. We must look back to the days when animal life originally appeared upon the earth, and consider what were the probable mental powers of the first animal, or the first set of animals,
which came into existence. This might seem an inquiry of so purely speculative a character as to be valueless for scientific purposes, but a little reflection will show it to be otherwise. The animals now existing are physically the products of long series of ancestors, and owe their bodily structure either to the modifications which their predecessors underwent from the influence of their surroundings, or to the vitality which enabled them to more or less successfully withstand, that influence.
Now, whatever view we may take of the nature of the animal mind, it evidently bears a very intimate relation to the animal's bodily structure, which, in its turn, depends upon the animal's manner of life. For example, all beasts of prey are of a fierce and cruel disposition. They are daily engaged in slaughter, and frequently in struggles in which they must either kill or be themselves either killed or injured. They cannot procure a meal without destroying some other creature. It is impossible for the milder qualities of mind to develope under such circumstances. Courage, ferocity, wariness, and cunning become prominent features in the animal's disposition, while considerable powers of strategy are often evoked. Thus, Sir E. Tennant, in his “Natural History of Ceylon,” writes, “At dusk and after nightfall a pack of jackals, having watched a hare or a small deer take refuge in one of these retreats, immediately surround it on all sides; and, having stationed a few to watch the path by which the game entered, the leader commences the attack by raising the cry peculiar to their race, and which resembles the sound ‘okkay’ loudly and rapidly repeated. The whole party then rush into the jungle and drive out the victim, which generally falls into the ambush previously laid to entrap it.” How strikingly different are the mental dispositions of animals of this kind from those of many birds, which manifest a gay and lively temperament, seeking amusement in song or dance, or even, like the bower birds, in constructing bowers and playhouses, adorned with gaily coloured feathers, shells, and other articles, in which to disport themselves. Equally unlike are their bodily frames, which, in either case, are fitted for the animal's daily pursuits. The body of the beast of prey is constructed strongly enough to enable it to hold its own in the desperate struggles in which it is constantly engaged, while the song-bird, on the other hand, possesses a lightly formed body, which seems to be the physical expression of its gay and volatile mind. Hence the fossil remains of extinct animals, while teaching us the nature of their bodily structure, also enable us to deduce inferences; of much importance concerning their mental endowments.
There are four aspects in which the apparently intelligent
actions of animals can be viewed. We may regard the animal—(1) As being mentally an automaton; (2) as possessing a mental constitution fundamentally different from man's, but, since we are unable to conceive the precise nature of the animal mind, we interpret it in terms of our own consciousness; (3) as possessing a mental constitution similar in some respects to man's, but also containing elements not found in the human mind; (4) as possessing a mental constitution fundamentally akin to man's, but differing in degree, and of a lower type of development.
The first view Was advocated by Descartes; but the stores of information upon the subject of animal intelligence which have been garnered during the last quarter of a century render this theory so improbable that I think it is unnecessary to discuss it. The second view is more debatable. The absolute want of articulate language among the lower animals renders it impossible for us to directly communicate with them except by signs and tokens. A dog may learn to obey the spoken order of its master—it may come to associate a certain sound uttered by the latter with some act to be done—but its master cannot acquire any knowledge of what is passing in the dog's mind except by drawing inferences from the dog's actions; while these inferences are based upon the assumption that, if a human being possessed the same kind of body and were placed in the same circumstances as the dog, that human being would express certain feelings or ideas by the acts done by the dog. A dog sees a friend approach and wags its tail; its master concludes that the dog is thereby expressing its pleasure. Why? Because the master unconsciously infers that if he were the dog and wished to express pleasure he would do so in that fashion. All our ideas about the animal mind and the animal's actions are anthropomorphic, for the simple reason that it is beyond our power in the present state of our knowledge to summon up ideas of any other nature. We even clothe our fellow-men with our own individuality. None of us knows any other human being exactly as that human being is. We construct our own mental image of him. The late Professor Clifford described the mental images thus formed as being “ejects” of the minds of the persons forming them. Oliver Wendell Holmes, in his “Autocrat of the Breakfast Table,” has put the matter in a less precise and scientific, but more easily comprehensible, way when he says that in a dialogue between John and Thomas there are three Johns taking part in it—(1) the real John, known only to his Maker; (2) John's ideal John, never the real one, and often very, unlike him.; and (3) Thomas's ideal John, never the real John, nor John's John, but often very unlike either. Hence it is not impossible that the
second view is the correct one; but, inasmuch as we can neither prove nor disprove it, and as I think the balance of probabilities lies in another direction, I shall pass it by; only it ought to be always kept in mind as a conceivable solution of the question.
I shall deal with the other two aspects of the case together, and consider how far our present knowledge enables us to form an opinion upon their accuracy or otherwise.
The first bond between the animal and the human being, mentally speaking, which arrests our attention is the possession by every animal, as by every human being, of a separate personality. We are so accustomed to take this separate personality for granted—at all events, as regards the higher animals-that we overlook the full significance of the fact. Moreover, while we may readily concede that the higher animals possess independent personalities, we may find it harder to believe that more lowly creatures, like, say, the medusa, are equally distinct personalities. Yet one simple consideration will prove such to be the case. All animals, however lowly in organization, possess consciousness. The possession of consciousness is the essential distinction between an animal and a plant. The latter is endowed with excitabilities, and may even be said to possess discrimination, since it is able to select from the soil material which will serve for i nourishment and to reject that which will be injurious to it useless for its support; but it does not possess consciousness Now, what is consciousness? It is a revelation to something which in man is called by metaphysicians the ego, or self. What the ego is we do not know; but we do know that, so far as man is concerned, the ego of each individual being is distinct from the ego of every other, and is capable of cognizing. Consciousness, too, is not identical with mental operations, which may go on in our minds without our being conscious of them. It is, so to speak, an event, a manifestation of mental operations to the ego, and it is only to the ego that consciousness appeals. Here, however, I am getting into intricate paths, and shall go no farther. My argument is, shortly, that, inasmuch as all animals are gifted with consciousness, else they would not be animals, they must also possess an ego, because, while we can imagine an ego existing without consciousness, we cannot imagine consciousness without an ego.
Palæontology teaches us that the earliest forms of life were of a simple character, and that, speaking generally, the organization of the animal kingdom has increased in complexity from the time when living creatures first appeared upon the earth up to the present day, when it has attained a more varied and complex development than at any previous epoch I We cannot, however, point to any particular form of animal
life and say, “This is the first kind of animal which appeared upon the globe,” because in the oldest geological formation in which undisputed animal remains occur—viz., the Cambrian—they are found in such profusion, and are the remains of animals of such high organization in their respective classes, as to, lead to the irresistible conclusion that they are the descendants of long lines of ancestors of presumably simpler organization. Such, I believe, is the opinion of most if not all competent palæontologists; and, reviewing the facts concerning the gradual development of animal life upon the earth with which we are acquainted, and the reasonable inferences which may be drawn from them, I think we are justified in concluding that all animal life originated from an exceedingly simple form, possibly even simpler than the amœba.
Reverting, then, to this primordial form, I invite you to regard its mind as being as primitive as its body, and destitute of any impressions or notions of the outer world, but nevertheless capable of receiving and absorbing such impressions through the medium of its body. Whether mind is a separate entity from the body, or whether, as the Monists contend, mind and body are the same, but viewed in the one case from its metaphysical in the other from its physical side, it is needless for my purpose to discuss. The view which I propound is that when a living creature first appeared upon the earth its mind was, so to speak, a blank, but possessed the capacity of receiving through the body with which it was associated impressions from the outer world, and of storing and transmitting such impressions to its descendants. In process of time the primitive animal form developed in a vast variety of directions; it acquired new organs, new powers, new senses. The mind of the animal grew pari passu with it. Generation after generation the animal mind became charged with fresh impressions until it grew in many instances into a composite structure, formed from the impressions of the outer world, which it derived through the medium, of the gradually-evolved organs of sense, combined with the hereditary predisposition to certain habits which it acquired through successive, generations of the body pursuing more or less similar modes of life. That the development of the mind of the animal must necessarily coincide with the development of the body will be perceived upon a little reflection. Consider, for example, what a wonderful difference to the mind of an animal perfect, vision must make. An animal like the amœba, destitute of organs of vision, and which, if it perceives light at all, probably is merely able to distinguish light from darkness, or the medusa, whose organs of vision are of the simplest kind, must necessarily receive impressions and form ideas of the external world of a radically different nature from those formed by
a keen-sighted creature like the eagle, and the mental activities thus awakened must be fundamentally different. The great mental influence exercised by the organs of vision is, I think, proved by the extraordinary size of the optic lobes in the lower animals compared with the other parts of their brains; and wherever we meet with an animal displaying great mental activity we find it accompanied by a corresponding perfection of the optic sense. The cephalopods, of all molluscs, exhibit the highest intelligence, while their eyes are more perfectly constructed than those of any other member of this sub-kingdom. Then, too, particular senses are specially developed in certain animals. In the dog the sense of smell has acquired a preponderance, and, as has been said, to a dog the world is a world of odours. It recognises by odours what many other animals can only recognise by sight. With animals like the antelope, the light and slender structure of the body, which renders the animal unfit to do battle with its enemies, is accompanied by a corresponding timidity of mind, an alertness of disposition, and a quick apprehension of danger. Descending to the insects, notable illustrations are to be found of the correspondence of the animal body with the animal mind. Specialisation of bodily functions has here been carried to an extreme pitch, with the result that many of these little creatures have developed remarkable so-called instincts. Their bodies have become fitted for special narrow habits of life, which these animals pursue for generation after generation with unvarying monotony. Among the termites, or white ants, there are four different bodily forms in the same species—viz., males, females, workers, and soldiers, all of which fulfil their well-defined and independent functions in the communal organization, and never interfere with the functions of one another. The result is a perfect order and harmony in co-operative working which, at first sight, strikes the beholder with astonishment, and leads to the inference that these little animals are gifted with exceptional intelligence. Similar phenomena are exhibited by the true ants and the bees—the structure and provisioning of whose dwellings, and the methodical character of whose social system, have evoked the admiration of many an observer and writer. I think, however, the intelligence of these insects has been somewhat overrated. Their minds and bodies alike move in narrow grooves, and both have attained a certain pitch of perfection within the limits of those grooves, but their mental powers cannot be regarded as of as lofty an order as those of animals whose “instincts” may be less perfect, but which' are capable of accommodating their actions at any moment to suit the varying exigencies of their lives.
The preservation of animal types seems to depend mainly
Upon successive generations experiencing the same conditions of life. If an ancient type is suited to its surrounding conditions, and those conditions remain unchanged, while the animal is able to protect itself against enemies, the type may remain unchanged for air indefinite length of time. This is well seen in the case of some marine brachiopods. Thus the genera Lingula and Discina, which are still abundant in modern seas, are also found in the Cambrian rocks, and the Cambrian forms are practically undistinguishable from the modern. So the genus Terebratula, which first appeared, in the Devonian formation, is still extant. Other instances might be quoted, the interpretation of the extraordinary persistence of such types, compared with the rise and fall of others, being, I believe, due to the fact that these particular forms of life have never been subjected to the unfavourable changes in the environment which, other forms have been required to meet, and to which the latter have succumbed. We may fairly assume that the mind of the Lingula, like its body, has remained practically unaltered since the Cambrian epoch. Many millions of years have elapsed, but the race has neither progressed nor retrograded, whether in body or in mind. Other creatures, however, have been forced into severer struggles for existence; new bodily forms have thus been evolved, and fresh mental developments taken place. Stores of inherited memories have been accumulated, and fresh mental capacities evolved. The minds of different orders of animals have followed different lines of development, just as their bodies have done. The starling and the worm which it captures may owe their origin to a common ancestor in the far distant past; but how unlike their bodily structure, and tow different must be their mental organization ! It would seem as if the various orders of animals had their broad mental specialities, although our present knowledge of the subject is too vague to enable us to fully comprehend those specialities. To illustrate my meaning I will refer to the development of the æsthetic sense in birds. That, birds take extreme pleasure in singing is manifest. Their songs are more than ebullitions of overflowing spirits. Birds evidently appreciate each other's vocal efforts. The male bird frequently sings to the female while the latter is incubating. The New Zealand saddleback, which is naturally a noisy bird, is one of them. Sir Walter Buller says that during the breeding season the male performs to his mate in a soft tone of exquisite sweetness. The pleasure, however, which the female derives from these displays must be regarded as more of a sensual than of an intellectual nature; but many birds seem to rejoice in singing, for its own sake, and to be able to criticize the excellence
or otherwise of each other's vocal performances. Charles Darwin, in the “Descent of Man,” relates a striking case which was communicated to him by a competent observer of a bullfinch which had been taught to pipe a German waltz, and was otherwise a superior songster, being let into a room where other birds were kept. As soon as the bullfinch began to sing all the other birds, consisting of some twenty linnets and canaries, ranged themselves on the nearest sides of their cages and listened with the utmost interest to the new performer. That birds often pride themselves upon their vocal performances, and try to excel one another in this respect, is known to every observant person who has kept canaries and finches. Indeed, they occasionally seem anxious to display their vocal superiority over birds which, to a human being, could not possibly be their rivals in song. A friend of mine told me the other day that his canary had just been evidently trying to “sing down” a sparrow chirping from a neighbouring bush. Certain birds, too, including our New Zealand bell-bird, sing in concert; Vocal displays of this kind are devoid of the sexual element, and indicate the existence in birds of a faculty of refined enjoyment which can hardly be distinguished in kind from the æsthetic faculty in man.
Other actions of birds lead to the same conclusion. The jacana, a South American rail, says Hudson, goes through “a remarkable performance which seems specially designed to bring out the concealed beauty of the silky, greenish-golden wing quills. The birds go singly or in pairs, and a dozen or fifteen individuals may be found in a marshy place feeding within sight of each other. Occasionally, in response to a note of invitation, they all in a moment leave off feeding and fly to one spot, and, forming a close cluster, and emitting short, excited, rapidly-repeated notes, display their wings like beautiful flags grouped loosely together: some hold their wings up vertically and motionless, others half open and vibrating rapidly, while still others wave them up and down with a slow, measured motion.” Both sexes take part in these displays; but, in the case of another South American bird, the gallo, or cock-of-the-rock, the males alone assemble in numbers at certain spots in the forest and dance two or three at a time before the rest. The dancing parties or “sacaléli,” of the paradise birds in their native forests, of which a vivid description has been given by Wallace, may also be noticed. The birds choose for the purpose certain trees “which have an immense head of spreading branches and large but scattered leaves, giving a clear space for the birds to play and exhibit their plumes. On one of these trees a dozen or twenty full-plumaged male birds assemble together,
raise up their wings, stretch out their necks, and elevate their exquisite plumes, keeping them in a continual vibration. Between whiles they fly across from branch to branch in great excitement, so that the whole tree is filled with waving plumes in every variety of attitude and motion.” Wallace describes the manner in which the bird spreads and expands its plumes, and remarks that, “when seen in this attitude, the bird of paradise really deserves its name, and must be ranked as one of the most beautiful and most wonderful of living beings.”
Other examples might be given of the habits of birds which suggest in them the capacity for enjoying refined pleasure, which in man is attributed to an æsthetic sense, derived from the love of the beautiful, as revealed in music, motion, and colour. Whether, however, the mental origin of these vocal and picturesque displays is identical in the bird and in the human being is a question not essential to my present argument. The striking development of apparently æsthetic tastes in birds finds ho counterpart in any other order of animals. It is the distinguishing mental feature of the Avian race; and, when our researches into the mental powers of animals become more advanced, we shall probably discover that other classes of animals also possess their own special mental characteristics, although of a kind less attractive to us.
Certain animals exhibit psychical peculiarities which indicate that elements exist in their minds not present in the human mind. The sense of direction, whereby many animals, after being transported to long distances, can find their way back to their homes by a direct route along untried paths, is one. A remarkable example of this power is recorded as having occurred in 1816. In that year an ass was embarked at Gibraltar for Malta, in the frigate “Ister.” The vessel grounded upon some sandbanks near Cape Gata, in Spain, and the ass was thrown overboard to give it a chance of regaining land. This the animal succeeded in doing, and made its way in the course of a few days to a stable at Gibraltar which it had formerly occupied. In order to reach Gibraltar it had made a journey of over two hundred miles, through a mountainous and difficult country, intersected by numerous streams of water, and which it had never traversed before. It may safely be averred that no human being ignorant of the relative geographical positions of Cape Gata and Gibraltar, as the ass must necessarily have been, could have accomplished such a feat.
Some facts were elicited during a discussion upon the out-lying islands south of New Zealand, which took place at a meeting of the Wellington Philosophical Society last Novem-
ber,*which are very much in point. Sir Walter Buller stated that, speaking generally, each of these islands, or groups of islands, has its own albatros, its own penguin, its own cormorant, and its own set of small petrels. These islands, or groups of islands, are, however, merely the nurseries for the albatroses and penguins, which spend about ten months of the year roaming about the ocean, but unerringly find their way back, year after year, to their old breeding-places, although those islands are but specks in the wide waste of waters. It may be urged of the albatros that it can mount in the air and take its bearings when looking for its island asylum; but this is beyond the penguin's powers to do. Owing to its conditions of existence, it is unable to leave the water, and, swimming on the surface, can, at the best, see only a few yards, ahead. And yet, with unerring precision, each species of penguin flies straight back to its particular island sanctuary, and to its own community. There is no human faculty corresponding with the faculty whereby the penguin accomplishes so remarkable a feat. The old Maori navigators who found their way from Hawaiki to New Zealand without the aid of chart or compass, like the early navigators of other countries, followed the guidance afforded them by the Sun and the Stars; but we cannot imagine the penguin to possess even an elementary knowledge of astronomy. Indeed, it is not certain that it can even see the sun and the stars. Still, mysterious as the sense of direction is, we can comprehend its nature; but animals possess other mental powers which are less within our ken.
Experiments made by Lubbock show that good reason exists for believing that ants and daphnias are sensible to the ultra-violet rays of the spectrum, or the actinic rays, as they are sometimes called, to which human beings are insensitive. Earthworms, newts, and other low forms of animal life display a similar susceptibility to these rays. Whether this sensitiveness is an extension of the visual sense, or whether it arises from a distinct sense unknown to man, remains to be proved. Then, too, insects are evidently capable of hearing extremely shrill tones inaudible to a human being; on the other hand, deep and massive sounds, which strongly arouse man's feelings, are unheard by the insect. The possession of these novel senses, or the material variations in the visual and auditory senses of the animal from the corresponding senses in mankind, must cause the aspect of the outer world which is presented to the animal mind to differ materially from that which is presented to the human mind, and corresponding differences in the psychical development must result.
[Footnote] * Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. xxviii., p. 738.
While the animal mind has grown and developed pari passu with the animal body, it apparently possesses no self-originating power. The animal is mentally the creature of external circumstances—formed and fashioned by the outer world. When the mind of any kind of animal is become perfectly fitted to meet the physical wants of the body and guard against its destruction by enemies it ceases to grow. The lion of the present day has reached no higher mental grade than the lion of the days of Julius Cæsar. It may be that the animal's habits, like its body, have become somewhat altered to suit altered surroundings—if the surroundings have changed—but the animal occupies the same mental level now as it did then. It is the same with our tamed and domesticated animals, which, notwithstanding their daily intercourse with man, have made no appreciable mental advance, although their dispositions have become milder, or, at least, they have learned to keep the native fierceness of their tempers under control. There is no valid reason for supposing that the modern racehorse is a more intelligent animal than the horses which were driven in chariot competitions at the Olympic games. The elephant is a sagacious animal; but, although man has tamed it, and employed it in the arts of both war and peace for thousands of years, its sagacity has not developed into any higher mental faculty. No domesticated animal, nor even monkeys bred in confinement, has ever yet learned to make a fire for itself. An animal's mental capacity is exactly measured by its place in creation, and it shows no power of raising itself into a higher mental plane by its own inherent vigour.
The human mind, on the contrary, possesses a self-originating power which enables it to overcome external circumstances. When I use the term “self-originating power” I do not refer to superior mental energy under another name. Many individual animals exhibit a mental energy superior to that of their fellows. The leaders of the herd attain that position by the superiority of their courage as well as that of their bodily strength over that of their rivals. By self-originating power I mean that special mental quality which has enabled man to invent civilizations and all the arts of war and peace. The human mind, unlike the animal's, is not merely the creature of the outer world—it possesses its own inner world also. A human being's mental capacity is not measured by his environment, nor by his bodily wants; he is gifted with faculties which transcend his daily needs, and are practically useless so far as the preservation and maintenance of his life are concerned. Nor could these faculties have been evolved by the pressure of surrounding circumstances. Wallace, in his work on “Darwinism,” proves very clearly that the mathematical faculty, as exhibited in civilised man, could
not have been developed from the mental nature of the lower animals by variation and natural selection alone, and consequently some other influence, law, or agency is required to account for it. The mathematical faculty is not necessary to man's existence; he could live even in comfort without it; it is the spontaneous production of his own mind, and leads him into regions of thought altogether beyond his daily wants. Wallace puts the musical and artistic faculties in the same category with the mathematical, but I have just shown that in birds the musical faculty has attained a considerable development. Here, again, the distinction between the bird mind and the human mind is disclosed. Notwithstanding the exuberant delight which many kinds of birds take in singing, none of them has ever invented a musical instrument, or contrived any means of developing their voices; whereas man has created for himself musical systems, and devised a variety of instruments for producing combinations of harmonious sounds. The poetic faculty is likewise one which is peculiarly human, because, while some of the lower animals seem to possess the power of calling up mental images of past events, we have no just ground for concluding that any of them possess a mental power akin to the imagination which enables man to “body forth the forms of things unknown”; nor is it possible to understand how the pressure of outward, circumstances in the struggle for actual existence could evolve such a power, since it would in no wise assist the animal in holding its own against competitors. It might, indeed, prove a disadvantage.
I regard this self-originating power which is possessed by the human mind as constituting the radical distinction between the human and the animal mind; and consider that, while the former has been evolved from the latter, as is proved by the numerous mental qualities which man and the lower animals possess in common, and, further, by the fact that we can make our wishes and feelings understood by many of the lower animals—and the more we study and learn to know them the wider become our capabilities in this respect—yet man has nevertheless been endowed with other mental faculties of a special character and of a different order to any appertaining to the brute. These faculties create an inner mental life in man; and the human mind of to-day is thus partly the hereditary creation of the outer world, and partly the outcome of the working of its own inherent forces, also modified by the influence of the experience of successive generations. I further believe that man, independently of his mental faculties, is gifted with a spiritual faculty, in which the animal does not share; but a consideration of this spiritual faculty does not fall within the scope of this present paper.