Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/269

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
257
ANIMAL ARITHMETIC.

a savage that they have four limbs. Foxes caught in trails will use the most ingenious devices to extricate themselves, and will even gnaw off one of their paws rather than be prisoners. This requires an effort of the will contrary to the instincts, surpassing the degree of moral energy of which most men are capable; and, further than this, the act demonstrates a power of applying means to the end, which is an act of intelligence not less complicated than the effort required for counting twenty on the fingers and toes, as is the manner with most savages.

The faculty of abstraction and generalization is developed exclusively by the aid of descriptive and ideological language, which classifies things and acts under different words or auditive images. With inferior races this faculty is weaker in proportion as their language is less analytical and less rich in abstract terms. It is impossible to excite it in an animal, because, in the absence of a language common to man and him, he is destitute of every means of acquiring it. There is really no bridge between animal and human intelligence. While our language, being descriptive and objective, associates a sound with each visual image, the language of the animal only expresses emotions and passions. As a rule, it is as untranslatable to us as our language is to them. It is only when we try to paint, describe, relate, and express ideas, that they can not understand us, for nothing is easier than to cause them to share our emotions, tenderness, anger, or hatred. They understand our mimicry better than we can understand theirs, and by mimicry we can make them understand the causes of our emotions of a certain kind. The only condition is, that we be dealing with species of a social nature.

When a hunting-dog sees his master with his gaiters, carrying his game-bag and gun, he understands that he is to go with him. He may even have acquired the habit of associating the recollection of a sound with these objects, and thus know the names by which we designate them in the language which he hears us speak. He may also be taught to fetch the gaiters, shoes, and game-bag when told to do so. If, when he has brought one shoe, he is told to fetch the other, he understands that there are two. To this point he certainly has the notion of duality. He can not be ignorant, after he has executed this order several times, that the words "the other" mean the second shoe. If, after having been trained by an English master, he passes over to a Frenchman, he learns that his order l'autre means the same thing. He takes no notice of the difference in the sound of the words, because they are both uttered with the same accentuation and intonation, and under the impulse of the same feelings. To him human speech is a yelping, which he interprets by the same rule as he does his own ejaculations.