The Descent of Man – Day 20 of 151

It has, I think, now been shewn that man and the higher animals, especially the Primates, have some few instincts in common. All have the same senses, intuitions, and sensations,–similar passions, affections, and emotions, even the more complex ones, such as jealousy, suspicion, emulation, gratitude, and magnanimity; they practise deceit and are revengeful; they are sometimes susceptible to ridicule, and even have a sense of humour; they feel wonder and curiosity; they possess the same faculties of imitation, attention, deliberation, choice, memory, imagination, the association of ideas, and reason, though in very different degrees. The individuals of the same species graduate in intellect from absolute imbecility to high excellence. They are also liable to insanity, though far less often than in the case of man. (30. See ‘Madness in Animals,’ by Dr. W. Lauder Lindsay, in ‘Journal of Mental Science,’ July 1871.) Nevertheless, many authors have insisted that man is divided by an insuperable barrier from all the lower animals in his mental faculties. I formerly made a collection of above a score of such aphorisms, but they are almost worthless, as their wide difference and number prove the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of the attempt. It has been asserted that man alone is capable of progressive improvement; that he alone makes use of tools or fire, domesticates other animals, or possesses property; that no animal has the power of abstraction, or of forming general concepts, is self-conscious and comprehends itself; that no animal employs language; that man alone has a sense of beauty, is liable to caprice, has the feeling of gratitude, mystery, etc.; believes in God, or is endowed with a conscience. I will hazard a few remarks on the more important and interesting of these points.

Archbishop Sumner formerly maintained (31. Quoted by Sir C. Lyell, ‘Antiquity of Man,’ p. 497.) that man alone is capable of progressive improvement. That he is capable of incomparably greater and more rapid improvement than is any other animal, admits of no dispute; and this is mainly due to his power of speaking and handing down his acquired knowledge. With animals, looking first to the individual, every one who has had any experience in setting traps, knows that young animals can he caught much more easily than old ones; and they can be much more easily approached by an enemy. Even with respect to old animals, it is impossible to catch many in the same place and in the same kind of trap, or to destroy them by the same kind of poison; yet it is improbable that all should have partaken of the poison, and impossible that all should have been caught in a trap. They must learn caution by seeing their brethren caught or poisoned. In North America, where the fur-bearing animals have long been pursued, they exhibit, according to the unanimous testimony of all observers, an almost incredible amount of sagacity, caution and cunning; but trapping has been there so long carried on, that inheritance may possibly have come into play. I have received several accounts that when telegraphs are first set up in any district, many birds kill themselves by flying against the wires, but that in the course of a very few years they learn to avoid this danger, by seeing, as it would appear, their comrades killed. (32. For additional evidence, with details, see M. Houzeau, ‘Etudes sur les Facultes Mentales des Animaux,’ tom. ii. 1872, p. 147.)

If we look to successive generations, or to the race, there is no doubt that birds and other animals gradually both acquire and lose caution in relation to man or other enemies (33. See, with respect to birds on oceanic islands, my ‘Journal of Researches during the Voyage of the “Beagle,”‘ 1845, p. 398. ‘Origin of Species,’ 5th ed. p. 260.); and this caution is certainly in chief part an inherited habit or instinct, but in part the result of individual experience. A good observer, Leroy (34. ‘Lettres Phil. sur l’Intelligence des Animaux,’ nouvelle edit., 1802, p. 86.), states, that in districts where foxes are much hunted, the young, on first leaving their burrows, are incontestably much more wary than the old ones in districts where they are not much disturbed.

Our domestic dogs are descended from wolves and jackals (35. See the evidence on this head in chap. i. vol. i., ‘On the Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication.’), and though they may not have gained in cunning, and may have lost in wariness and suspicion, yet they have progressed in certain moral qualities, such as in affection, trust-worthiness, temper, and probably in general intelligence. The common rat has conquered and beaten several other species throughout Europe, in parts of North America, New Zealand, and recently in Formosa, as well as on the mainland of China. Mr. Swinhoe (36. ‘Proceedings Zoological Society,’ 1864, p. 186.), who describes these two latter cases, attributes the victory of the common rat over the large Mus coninga to its superior cunning; and this latter quality may probably be attributed to the habitual exercise of all its faculties in avoiding extirpation by man, as well as to nearly all the less cunning or weak-minded rats having been continuously destroyed by him. It is, however, possible that the success of the common rat may be due to its having possessed greater cunning than its fellow-species, before it became associated with man. To maintain, independently of any direct evidence, that no animal during the course of ages has progressed in intellect or other mental faculties, is to beg the question of the evolution of species. We have seen that, according to Lartet, existing mammals belonging to several orders have larger brains than their ancient tertiary prototypes.

It has often been said that no animal uses any tool; but the chimpanzee in a state of nature cracks a native fruit, somewhat like a walnut, with a stone. (37. Savage and Wyman in ‘Boston Journal of Natural History,’ vol. iv. 1843-44, p. 383.) Rengger (38. ‘Saugethiere von Paraguay,’ 1830, s. 51-56.) easily taught an American monkey thus to break open hard palm-nuts; and afterwards of its own accord, it used stones to open other kinds of nuts, as well as boxes. It thus also removed the soft rind of fruit that had a disagreeable flavour. Another monkey was taught to open the lid of a large box with a stick, and afterwards it used the stick as a lever to move heavy bodies; and I have myself seen a young orang put a stick into a crevice, slip his hand to the other end, and use it in the proper manner as a lever. The tamed elephants in India are well known to break off branches of trees and use them to drive away the flies; and this same act has been observed in an elephant in a state of nature. (39. The Indian Field, March 4, 1871.) I have seen a young orang, when she thought she was going to be whipped, cover and protect herself with a blanket or straw. In these several cases stones and sticks were employed as implements; but they are likewise used as weapons. Brehm (40. ‘Thierleben,’ B. i. s. 79, 82.) states, on the authority of the well-known traveller Schimper, that in Abyssinia when the baboons belonging to one species (C. gelada) descend in troops from the mountains to plunder the fields, they sometimes encounter troops of another species (C. hamadryas), and then a fight ensues. The Geladas roll down great stones, which the Hamadryas try to avoid, and then both species, making a great uproar, rush furiously against each other. Brehm, when accompanying the Duke of Coburg-Gotha, aided in an attack with fire-arms on a troop of baboons in the pass of Mensa in Abyssinia. The baboons in return rolled so many stones down the mountain, some as large as a man’s head, that the attackers had to beat a hasty retreat; and the pass was actually closed for a time against the caravan. It deserves notice that these baboons thus acted in concert. Mr. Wallace (41. ‘The Malay Archipelago,’ vol. i. 1869, p. 87.) on three occasions saw female orangs, accompanied by their young, “breaking off branches and the great spiny fruit of the Durian tree, with every appearance of rage; causing such a shower of missiles as effectually kept us from approaching too near the tree.” As I have repeatedly seen, a chimpanzee will throw any object at hand at a person who offends him; and the before-mentioned baboon at the Cape of Good Hope prepared mud for the purpose.

In the Zoological Gardens, a monkey, which had weak teeth, used to break open nuts with a stone; and I was assured by the keepers that after using the stone, he hid it in the straw, and would not let any other monkey touch it. Here, then, we have the idea of property; but this idea is common to every dog with a bone, and to most or all birds with their nests.

The Duke of Argyll (42. ‘Primeval Man,’ 1869, pp. 145, 147.) remarks, that the fashioning of an implement for a special purpose is absolutely peculiar to man; and he considers that this forms an immeasurable gulf between him and the brutes. This is no doubt a very important distinction; but there appears to me much truth in Sir J. Lubbock’s suggestion (43. ‘Prehistoric Times,’ 1865, p. 473, etc.), that when primeval man first used flint-stones for any purpose, he would have accidentally splintered them, and would then have used the sharp fragments. From this step it would be a small one to break the flints on purpose, and not a very wide step to fashion them rudely. This latter advance, however, may have taken long ages, if we may judge by the immense interval of time which elapsed before the men of the neolithic period took to grinding and polishing their stone tools. In breaking the flints, as Sir J. Lubbock likewise remarks, sparks would have been emitted, and in grinding them heat would have been evolved: thus the two usual methods of “obtaining fire may have originated.” The nature of fire would have been known in the many volcanic regions where lava occasionally flows through forests. The anthropomorphous apes, guided probably by instinct, build for themselves temporary platforms; but as many instincts are largely controlled by reason, the simpler ones, such as this of building a platform, might readily pass into a voluntary and conscious act. The orang is known to cover itself at night with the leaves of the Pandanus; and Brehm states that one of his baboons used to protect itself from the heat of the sun by throwing a straw-mat over its head. In these several habits, we probably see the first steps towards some of the simpler arts, such as rude architecture and dress, as they arose amongst the early progenitors of man.

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