Page images

Does Man possess Instincts. Many of the upholders of the instinctive theory maintain, that man has instincts exactly of the same nature as those of animals, but more or less liable to be obscured by his reasoning powers; and as this is a case more open to our observation than any other, I will devote a few pages to its consideration. Infants are said to suck by instinct, and afterwards to walk by the same power, while in adult man the most prominent case of instinct is supposed to be, the powers possessed by savage races to find their way across a trackless and previously unknown wilderness. Let us take first the case of the infant's sucking. It is sometimes absurdly stated that the new-born infant “seeks the breast," and this is held to be a wonderful proof of instinct. No doubt it would be if true, but unfortunately for the theory it is totally false, as every nurse and medical man can testify. Still, the child undoubtedly sucks without teaching, but this is one of those simple acts dependent upon organization, which cannot properly be termed instinct, any more than breathing or muscular motion. Any object of suitable size in the mouth of an infant excites the nerves and muscles so as to produce the act of suction, and when at a little later period, the will comes into play, the pleasurable sensations consequent on the act lead to its continuance. So, walking is evidently dependent on the arrangement of the bones and joints, and the pleasurable exertion of the muscles, which

lead to the vertical posture becoming gradually the most agreeable one; and there can be little doubt that an infant would learn of itself to walk, even if suckled by a wild beast.

How Indians travel through unknown and trackless

Forests. Let us now consider the fact, of Indians finding their way through forests they have never traversed before. This is much misunderstood, for I believe it is only performed under such special conditions, as at once to show that instinct has nothing to do with it. A savage, it is true, can find his way through his native forests in a direction in which he has never traversed them before; but this is because from infancy he has been used to wander in them, and to find his way by indications which he has observed himself or learnt from others. Savages make long journeys in many directions, and, their whole faculties being directed to the subject, they gain a wide and accurate knowledge of the topography, not only of their own district, but of all the regions round about. Every one who has travelled in a new direction communicates his knowledge to those who have travelled less, and descriptions of routes and localities, and minute incidents of travel, form one of the main staples of conversation round the evening fire. Every wanderer or captive from another tribe adds to the store of information, and as the very existence of individuals and of whole families and tribes, depends upon the completeness of

this knowledge, all the acute perceptive faculties of the adult savage are devoted to acquiring and perfecting it. The good hunter or warrior thus comes to know the bearing of every hill and mountain range, the directions and junctions of all the streams, the situation of each tract characterized by peculiar vegetation, not only within the area he has himself traversed, but for perhaps a hundred miles around it. His acute observation enables him to detect the slightest undulations of the surface, the various changes of subsoil and alterations in the character of the vegetation, that would be quite imperceptible to a stranger. His eye is always open to the direction in which he is going; the mossy side of trees, the presence of certain plants under the shade of rocks, the morning and evening flight of birds, are to him indications of direction, almost as sure as the sun in the heavens. Now, if such a savage is required to find his way across this country in a direction in which he has never been before, he is quite equal to the task. By however circuitous a route he has come to the point he is to start from, he has observed all the bearings and distances so well, that he knows pretty nearly where he is, the direction of his own home and that of the place he is required to go to. He starts towards it, and knows that by a certain time he must cross an upland or a river, that the streams should flow in a certain direction, and that he should cross some of them at a certain distance from their sources. The nature of the soil throughout the whole

region is known to him, as well as all the great features of the vegetation. As he approaches any tract of country he has been in or near before, many minute indications guide him, but he observes them so cautiously that his white companions cannot perceive by what he has directed his course. Every now and then he slightly changes his direction, but he is never confused, never loses himself, for he always feels at home; till at last he arrives at a well-known country, and directs his course so as to reach the exact spot desired. To the Europeans whom he guides, he seems to have come without trouble, without any special observation, and in a nearly straight unchanging course. They are astonished, and ask if he has ever been the same route before, and when he answers “ No,” conclude that some unerring instinct could alone have guided him. But take this same man into another country very similar to his own, but with other streams and hills, another kind of soil, with a somewhat different vegetation and animal life; and after bringing him by a circuitous route to a given point, ask him to return to his starting place, by a straight line of fifty miles through the forest, and he will certainly decline to attempt it, or, attempting it, will more or less completely fail. His supposed instinct does not act out of his own country

A savage, even in a new country, has, however, undoubted advantages, from his familiarity with forest life, his entire fearlessness of being lost, his accurate perception of direction and of distance, and he is thus able very soon to acquire a knowledge of the district that seems marvellous to a civilized man; but my own observation of savages in forest countries has convinced me, that they find their way by the use of no other faculties than those which we ourselves possess. It appears to me, therefore, that to call in the aid of a new and mysterious power to account for savages being able to do that which, under similar conditions, we could almost all of us perform, although perhaps less perfectly, is almost ludicrously unnecessary.

In the next essay I shall attempt to show, that much of what has been attributed to instinct in birds, can be also very well explained by crediting them with those faculties of observation, memory, and imitation, and with that limited amount of reason, which they undoubtedly exhibit.

« EelmineJätka »