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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/133

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127
INSTINCT.

us to affirm positively that they have this instinct' Denying the facts, however, was not Mr. Mill's mode of saving the theory. He was rather of opinion that the 'animals have to us an inexplicable facility both of finding and selecting the objects which their wants require.' How very inexplicable, he conceives, their mental operations may possibly be, may be gathered from the fact of his suggesting an experiment to ascertain whether a blind duckling might not find the water as readily as one having sight. The position of psychologists of the too purely analytical school, however, is not that the facts of instinct are inexplicable; but that they are incredible. This view is set out most explicitly in the article on 'instinct' in 'Chambers's Encyclopaedia.' Thus:

"It is likewise said that the chick recognizes grains of corn at first sight, and can so direct its movements as to pick them up at once; being thus able to know the meaning of what it sees, to measure the distance of objects instinctively, and to graduate its movements to that knowledge—all which is, in the present state of our acquaintance with the laws of mind, wholly incredible."

And it is held that all the supposed examples of instinct may be—for anything that has yet been observed to the contrary—nothing more than cases of rapid learning, imitation or instruction.

Thus it would appear that with regard to instinct we have yet to ascertain the facts. With a view to this end, I have made many observations and experiments, mostly on chickens. The question of instinct, as opposed to acquisition, has been discussed chiefly in connection with the perceptions of distance and direction by the eye and the ear. Against the instinctive character of these perceptions it is argued, that as distance means movement, locomotion, the very essence of the idea is such as can not be taken in by the eye or ear; that what the varying sensations and feelings of sight and hearing correspond to, must be got at by moving over the ground—by experience. On the other hand, it is alleged that, though as regards man the prolonged helplessness of infancy stands in the way of the observer, we have only to look at the young of the lower animals to see that as a matter of fact they do not require to go through the process of learning the meaning of their sensations in relation to external things; that chickens, for example, run about, pick up crumbs, and follow the call of their mother immediately on leaving the shell. For putting this matter to the test of experiment, chickens, therefore, are most suitable and convenient subjects. I have observed and experimented on more than fifty chickens, taking them from under the hen while yet in the eggs. But of these, not one on emerging from the shell was in a condition to manifest an acquaintance with the qualities of the outer world. On leaving the shell they are wet and helpless; they struggle with their legs, wings, and necks, but are unable to stand or hold up their heads. Soon, however, they may be distinctly seen and felt pressing against and endeavoring to keep in