DO ANIMALS REASON? A FRENCH SPECIALIST’S CONTRIBUTION TO THE QUESTION.
DO ANIMALS REASON?
A FRENCH SPECIALIST’S CONTRIBUTION TO THE QUESTION.
By Charles E. Branch, The Windsor Magazine, 1904.
That all animals, and, to descend lower, insects, have brains capable of thought and reason, has long been established by savants in the world of natural history ; and to be convinced of the fact, if any doubt exists, one has only to keep a dog or cat, visit some zoological garden, or witness trained animals performing in a circus.
But much as is at present known concerning members of the animal kingdom, it is as nothing to what there is to be gained by a thorough and systematic study of the various species under conditions which, until quite recently, had not prevailed.
There is considerable evidence to indicate that certain animals and birds possess senses of which man has no knowledge beyond the fact of their existence ; or that if he possesses them, they are not developed in him to such a remarkable degree as in those animals and birds. To take one faculty — that of direction. It is demonstrated to perfection in the carrier-pigeon and migratory birds, and likewise amongst the canine species, particularly in the bloodhound. By this faculty a carrier-pigeon can and does find its way home from well-nigh anywhere, over a distance of hundreds of miles ; by this same faculty the bloodhound follows a trail, tracks its quarry — which it has never seen — and runs it to earth. But by what line or lines of reasoning are the results obtained ? Do the pigeon and the dog possess a sense of which we know nothing, or are they senses of sight and smell developed to an extent of which we have no comprehension? Can birds see hundreds of miles, and is the dog’s sense of smell so keen as it would appear to be ?
It is with the idea of solving problems such as this, as also to discover the relative degrees of sense possessed by different animals, that the Institute of Zoological Psychology has been founded in Paris under the auspices of the Republic — a society of naturalists expressly devoted to the experimental study of animals. Of this body M. Pierre Hachet-Souplet was the founder, and is the director, and the committee is composed of the first professors of natural history and scientists in France.
M. Hachet-Souplet, whose name and fame are known in naturalistic circles the world over, has practically devoted his life to the scientific study of animals. Naturally attracted towards them, he became first a trainer of them for performances on the stage and in the circus-ring ; and he also trained a number for the late Czar, Alexander III. Consequently he has had ample opportunity to study them as a mother may study her children, and as a result he has been able to give to the world much concerning animals, from the scientific point of view, that was not hitherto known, and prove fallacious much that was hitherto accepted as fact.
Many instances could be cited where a life’s labour has produced results which, if they had been followed up immediately after the death of the first experimenter, would have benefited the world in a good many ways much earlier than they actually did ; but because there was no one to follow in his footsteps at once, the ultimate beneficial discoveries were delayed for years. It is to avoid such an occurrence as this in the case of the scientific study of animals that this Society has been formed ; to preserve records of the past ; gather from all quarters results of the experiments ever being made ; and encourage all interested in the subject to pursue it under conditions which they have not hitherto availed themselves.
At his residence in Paris, M. Hachet-Souplet possessed until recently a private circus where he developed the intelligence of animals and studied them. Here passed through his hands all kinds of animals and various birds — cats, dogs, sheep, goats, horses, monkeys, elephants, lions, etc. ; pigeons and parrots, geese, etc. — and he has had exceptional opportunity closely and quietly to study them all. More recently he has been enabled to do this at the Jardin des Plantes — the Zoo of Paris. His experience has enabled him to divide animals into three classes as regards their mental ability. Beginning at the base with the most inferior in this respect, he states that the faculty most developed in animals in this class is excitability, and they can only be excited into accomplishing any act. In the second category he places those animals in which instinct is the highest faculty, as distinct from intelligence as displayed by those in the highest class ; and he distinguishes between instinct and intelligence. Where instinct is predominant, coercion into doing something is possible, while persuasion is impossible ; with the intelligent class persuasion can be used.
The faculty of direction demonstrated by the courier-pigeon and migratory birds has recently been occupying his attention, and the results of his experiments lead to the conclusion that there is no extra sense in birds that enables them to find their way over long distances, but their visual organs are wonderfully developed, and their memories most retentive. One remarkable hypothesis advanced to account for the ability of birds to find their way over long distances suggested that they did so by recognising on their return voyage from any place the varying currents of air, magnetic and atmospheric, encountered by them on the outward trip. In other words, they felt their way, remembering one current after another in the reversed order to which they had previously experienced them.
It was not an impossible theory. Had it proved correct in practice, a remarkable discovery would have been made. To ascertain its value, M. Hachet-Souplet subjected a pigeon to an ingenious experiment. A wooden case is shown in one of our photographs containing a pigeon. This case was fitted with an electrical apparatus that electrified the air as it circulated therein and passed through. No varying electric currents of atmosphere could be experienced by the bird inside, nor any change of temperature, for a certain degree of warmth was maintained, what time the pigeon was carried to the place of its release.
In this case the bird was taken outside Paris for several kilometres, and released at a spot that was foreign to it – it had never been there before, and it had not passed through any differing electrical and atmospheric current such as prevailed in space above. Twenty minutes after its release it was back at the loft in Paris. This experiment was repeated on no less than eleven occasions with different birds, and the distance from their lofts was increased up to 136 kilometers, but the birds always found their way back ; and so this hypothesis of the sense by which birds discovered their way was knocked on the head.
The other experiments M. Hachet-Souplet made all tended to prove that by sight alone, that, the pigeon voyager is able to find its way, but unfortunately there is no room in the small space of this article to record them in detail. The important point to bear in mind is that the pigeon’s powers of vision are vastly superior to those possessed by mankind, and this applies equally to all birds.
Let us take the case of the cat shown in one of our photographs in the act of opening the door of a cage. We know from experience that cats are intelligent. How can it be proved ? M. Hachet-Souplet, when I visited him recently, produced the cage and the cat, here illustrated. Inside the former, which was of wood with a wire door at the front, he placed food for the cat, and fastened the door with a button. The animal’s instinct would be manifested by her desire to get at the food, her intelligence demonstrated by her efforts to open te door of the cage rather than spring through the wire. The cat immediately opened the door and secured her reward. She had done so before, so I suggested to M. Hachet-Souplet that the button fastening the door should be further attached to the wire front with a loop of string, so that the cat could not open the door by merely pressing the button down. It was done, and then the cat stood on her hind-legs before the cage vainly trying to paw the button down. That the animal was surprised, it was easy to see. She studied the door minutely, then walked around the cage mewing, jumped to our feet and purred against our legs, then ascended again to the cage, pawed the string loop off the button, and so opened the door and entered to eat her meal. This was an unrehearsed demonstration of intelligence.
The cat belongs to the highest order, as do also the dog and the monkey, and to demonstrate how he had been able to accomplish the classification before referred to, M. Hachet-Souplet introduced into his circus a group of animals composed of a pony, a Danish hound (not thoroughbred), two sheep, a goat, and a couple of pigeons.
“ Here,” he said, “is what we may call a number for a circus. After I have put them through a performance, I will tell you the means I used to train them and so discover their different degrees of sense, and I will explain in a few words the mental capabilities of each, and how I classed them from the psychological point of view.”
In the ring, following the verbal commands and silent signs of M. Haehet-Souplet, the animals went through certain performances such as can be seen in a circus.
“ Now,” M. Hachet-Souplet said, when he had finished the act, “to distinguish between persuasion and coercion. We know that if we use a dog or a monkey which has not been trained, and desire either of them to mount on to this tub, we can by calling and with the aid of an action it can behold, such as tapping the tub, induce it to do so ; and, indeed, it is seldom it does not obey at once. This, then, shows the possibility of persuading the animal, and demonstrates on its part an association of ideas — that of mounting on the tub with the gesture and words which invite it to do so.
“ But I could perform all kinds of indicative actions before a sheep ; I could call and tap the tub till Doomsday, and the animal would still stare stupidly at me. Voila ! persuasion is impossible ; and to arrive at the desired result, I am forced to resort to coercion and utilise one of the instincts of the animal, and the instinct of fear is the most readily aroused. I commence by placing the tub against the barrier enclosing the stage, and I drive the sheep towards it. It mounts and descends the other side, but my whip passing there compels it to remount. With a continuance of this exercise, it slowly dawns upon the animal's very dull brain that it has nothing to fear, and it does the work voluntarily."
It is the idea of M. Hachet-SKouplet, permission having been obtained by M. Perrier, director of the Natural History Museum of Paris, from the Minister of Public Instruction, to have built in the Jardin des Plantes a laboratory in a portion of the grounds specially set aside for the use of the Society, where the various specimens — lions, tigers, elephants, camels, giraffes, seals, etc. — can be studied under conditions more natural than could be possible if they were confined in their usual apartments.
Already M. Hachet-Souplet has put one of the lions in the garden to a brainy test. It was an experiment de stimulation, which consists of bringing before the animal some particular circumstance to which it is unaccustomed, to urge into activity its faculties for the purpose of ascertaining how it will act.
“ I was curious to see,” M. Hachet-Souplet said, “what a lion, concerning whose mental powers little is known, would do with a box placed before him if he would have sufficient intelligence to lift up the lid to get at the morsel tempting to his taste which had been placed therein.
“Well, the box was placed in the cage — a wooden box with a lifting lid, that the lion could have smashed to get at its contents had he so chosen — and then the lion was allowed to enter from another compartment. At first the animal manifested signs of uneasiness ; it was easy to see this from his actions, and, if I dare say so, to read it in his face. He was at a loss what to make of the box — possibly thought it something which might attack him.
“ After a while he slowly approached it, sniffed all around it, and convincing himself of the existence of something good inside, manifested a lively desire to secure it — instinct. He examined the box all round with the closest attention and, instead of attempting to break the wood, took the lid between his teeth and lifted it slowly up — intelligence. And he lifted it until it dropped to the other side, then took the meat that was waiting in the box for him. All these movements were executed by the animal without haste, but with deliberate precision. This test lasted three minutes, and was carried out before myself and several assistants of the Jardin des Plantes.”
In one of M. Hachet-Souplet’s several volumes which he has written on various phases of animal life, there is a very interesting chart showing the different degrees of brain power living things, from mankind downward, are capable of exerting, and therein, it is almost needless to say, the monkey species occupies second place. During his career he has devoted considerable attention to the monkey tribe, and they nearer approach humanity in logical reasoning than any other known animal. They are not only imitators, but have also the power of origination, and there is no mechanical action a man can perform that they are not capable of. This is, of course, because they more nearly than any other animal are a physical counterpart of man.
The monkey seen on the tricycle was only shown once how the machine worked. The steering of it seemed to come to him naturally, and he always took care never to run into any obstacle he found in his path.
Next to the monkey, the friend of man is the most brainy. Though his build is naturally against him, his intelligence is very highly developed, demonstrating his imitative powers to equal those of the monkey, although when the situation has been suited to the canine he has been equally quick to grasp it. For example, a dog will not ride an ordinary-shaped bicycle or tricycle, but I have seen a dog ride a bicycle, pedalling it, the machine having been specially built to suit him.
The dog learns almost as rapidly as the monkey, and is more obedient. One of the cleverest troupes of dogs ever seen performing was a troupe which had been taught to play football - canine football, of course ; and another of our photographs shows one of the troupe receiving instruction in another ball game.
Naturally some remarkable theories are sprung upon and advanced to the experimenter occasionally. One of the strangest was that put forward to prove that snails not only think, but are capable of reasoning and originating ideas. A snail-farmer, or breeder of edible snails, had placed some in an enclosure, the wall consisting of planks sixty centimetres high. To prevent the molluscs escaping, he fixed a sort of shelter of boarding from the top of the wall so that it inclined towards the earth, and he further studded the inclined edge of it with nails. Though they climbed the wall and crawled under the roof, the moment they reached the edge of the latter they were forced through encountering the pointed nails to retreat, because they could not travel over — or, it should be, under them.
But the breeder found that some of the snails had nevertheless succeeded in escaping. How they had managed it was a mystery he could not for a long time elucidate, but patient observation on his part solved the mystery ; and the snails certainly escaped by a most ingenious method, that seemed to point to the possession of a highly developed power of reasoning, an interchange of the idea arrived at, concerted action amongst the prisoners to put the scheme into execution, and last, but not least - the willingness of self-sacrifice on the part of certain of their numbers, for by the plan all could not escape, and some would have to rest behind. And this is a great, combination to credit a snail with.
This is how the snails escaped. Several of them crawled up the wall under the inclined shelter and ranged themselves in a line along the latter beside the nails pointing downwards there. The shells of this line of snails were lower than the points of the nails, and those who would escape had but to climb over the backs of the others and up over the side of the shelter. Thus they avoided encountering the nail points.
“ But let us reflect a moment,” said M. Hachet-Souplet, “and we shall see that there was no thought, no prearranged plan, and no concerted action to the definite end — escape — on the snails’ part. It is a phenomenon which can be classed, in a fashion, as an effect of centrifugal force. Naturally the snails found their way to the wall and climbed it as they would climb any object in their path when they could go no further. They could not, however, cross the nails, but others coming after them were forced to climb over their shells, found no inconvenient nail points barring their progress, and so crawled onwards.
“ I thought of an experiment which I believed would demonstrate the importance of the economic law in one thing making use of another to a definite end without a prearranged plan to do so, in the case, of the snails. Here is a circular tray to which a rotary motion, slow or swift, can be imparted by the hand. Placing a ball in the tray, I spin the latter round. The ball stays there and does not fly out — it has nothing to assist its flight. But if I put in some other balls, just a shade smaller, and again send the tray spinning round, the big one, immediately it finds itself on the edge of the smaller ones — out of the crowd, so to speak - jumps clean over them out of the tray. It has been merely forced out by centrifugal force.
“The ball escapes merely because it has before it the other balls. The snail escapes simply because the other snails are before it, making a bridge. The phenomenon is almost identical in each instance, and we are perfectly within our rights in assuming that in both cases it is a blind force that compels the ball and the animal. Neither the one nor the other has pursued a definite object: they have both been subject to blind forces; and if the snail is possessed of intelligence, it requires something more than the means of escape related to demonstrate it.
“To discover the intelligence of any animal, it is, of course, necessary to set it tasks which Nature, in moulding its form, made it possible for it to do, and animal trainers engaged in educating animals for the stage always bear this in mind ; but it is such work as we have shown the cat and the lion to perform in opening cages and boxes which brings out the highest intelligence, because this is not an action to be naturally expected of them.
“ Whether captivity has the effect of dulling the sense originally born in animals is a point that has been much discussed, leading to another question as to whether the best results as to mental ability are to be obtained from studying animals that have long been kept in captivity, and these are questions which the Society has to answer by experiments.”
In the case of the rabbit and the hare, which occupy a low position in the brain chart, M. Hachet-Souplet has discovered the wild species to be somewhat more intelligent than the tame, domesticated rabbit which is kept always in a hutch. He managed to teach the wild hare shown in our photograph to “ play at soldier,” and with the aid of a stick waddle on its hind-legs, and again, standing on them, to beat a tune with its paws, more quickly than a tamed specimen. Possibly dodging dogs and sportsmen's guns sharpened the former’s wits, while those of the latter were dulled by confinement.
At the present moment M. Hachet-Souplet is engaged in a series of experimental studies of certain animals whilst they are under the direct, influence of his will. He hypnotises them by the eye, and also by centring their attention on some object, and whilst they are in a hypnotic condition suggests to them certain conditions and emotions. His particular aim is to discover to what extent they are subject to emotions, and how they are affected by the suggestion of them in varying degrees. As to the results at present arrived at, I am not at liberty to speak, but he will undoubtedly have something interesting to say on the subject shortly.
In placing animals under hypnotic influence he has observed that they are very much like human beings in that some succumb readily and almost willingly, while others are not so easy to overcome, and make considerable mental resistance against the liberty.
In the task that l’Institut de Psychologie Zoologique has set itself and it is no light one, for it practically creates a new science — none can but encourage it ; for when man has become more intimately acquainted with his “lower brethren” and their degree of intelligence, and sees more clearly how great are their sensibilities and what are their virtues, perhaps he will treat them more as things with feelings, than just as mere animals given to him to use as he may please.