Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/137

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

of merely testing the perceptions of the eye or the ear this is by far the easier experiment. The hooding process requires considerable delicacy of manipulation, and the chickens are very liable to be injured.

With respect now to the space perceptions of the ear, which, in man at least, even Mr. Spencer regards as acquired by each individual. Chickens hatched and kept in the said bag for a day or two, when taken out and placed nine or ten feet from a box in which a hen with chicks were concealed, after standing for a minute or two, uniformly set off straight for the box in answer to the call of the hen, which they had never seen and never before heard. This they did, struggling through grass and over rough ground, when not yet able to stand steadily on their legs. Nine chickens were thus experimented upon, and each individual gave the same positive results, running to the box scores of times, and from every possible position. To vary the experiment I tried the effect of the mother's voice on hooded chickens. These, when left to themselves, seldom made a forward step, their movements were round and round, and backward; but when placed within five or six feet of the mother, they, in answer to her call, became much more lively, began to make little forward journeys, and soon followed her by sound alone, though, of course, blindly, keeping their heads close to the ground and knocking against everything that lay in their path. Only three chickens were made subjects of this experiment. Another experiment consisted in rendering chickens deaf for a time by sealing their ears with several folds of gum paper before they had escaped from the shell. I tried at different times to stop the ears of a good many in this way, but a number of them got the papers off, others were found not quite deaf, and only three remained perfectly indifferent to the voice of the mother when separated from them by only an inch board. These had their ears opened when between two and three days old, and on being placed within call of the mother hidden in a box, they, after turning round a few times, ran straight to the spot whence came what must have been very nearly, if not actually, the first sound they had ever heard. It seems scarcely necessary to make any comment on these facts. They are conclusive against the theory that, in the history of each life, sounds are at first but meaningless sensations; that the direction of the sounding object, together with all other facts concerning it, must be learned entirely from experience.

If now it be taken as established that in the perceptions of the eye and the ear, chickens at least manifest an instinctive knowledge of the relations and qualities of external things, the popular belief that the special knowledge, the peculiar art and skill, so marked in the various species of animals, come to them mostly without the labor of acquisition, is at once freed from all antecedent improbability. In the way of direct evidence, the little that I have been able to observe in this wide