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Human Traits In The Animals
by [?]

That there is a deal of human nature in the lower animals is a very obvious fact; or we may turn the proposition around and say, with equal truth, that there is a deal of animal nature in us humans. If man is of animal origin, as we are now all coming to believe, how could this be otherwise? We are all made of one stuff, the functions of our bodies are practically the same, and the workings of our instincts and our emotional and involuntary natures are in many ways identical. I am not now thinking of any part or lot which the lower orders may have in our intellectual or moral life, a point upon which, as my reader may know, I diverge from the popular conception of these matters, but of the extent in which they share with us the ground or basement story of the house of life–certain fundamental traits, instincts, and blind gropings.

Man is a bundle of instincts, impulses, predilections, race and family affinities, and antagonisms, supplemented by the gift of reason–a gift of which he sometimes makes use. The animal is a bundle of instincts, impulses, affinities, appetites, and race traits, without the extra gift of reason.

The animal has sensation, perception, and power of association, and these suffice it. Man has sensation, perception, memory, comparison, ideality, judgment, and the like, which suffice him.

There can be no dispute, I suppose, as to certain emotions and impulses being exclusively human, such as awe, veneration, humility, reverence, self-sacrifice, shame, modesty, and many others that are characteristic of what we call our moral nature. Then there are certain others that we share with our dumb neighbors–curiosity, jealousy, joy, anger, sex love, the maternal and paternal instinct, the instinct of fear, of self-preservation, and so forth.

There is at least one instinct or faculty that the animals have far more fully developed than we have–the homing instinct, which seems to imply a sense of direction that we have not. We have lost it because we have other faculties to take its place, just as we have lost that acute sense of smell that is so marvelously developed in many of the four-footed creatures. It has long been a contention of mine that the animals all possess the knowledge and intelligence which is necessary to their self-preservation and the perpetuity of the species, and that is about all. This homing instinct seems to be one of the special powers that the animals cannot get along without. If the solitary wasp, for instance, could not find her way back to that minute spot in the field where her nest is made, a feat quite impossible to you or me, so indistinguishable to our eye is that square inch of ground in which her hole is made; or if the fur seal could not in spring retrace its course to the islands upon which it breeds, through a thousand leagues of pathless sea water, how soon the tribe of each would perish!

The animal is, like the skater, a marvel of skill in one field or element, or in certain fixed conditions, while man’s varied but less specialized powers make him at home in many fields. Some of the animals outsee man, outsmell him, outhear him, outrun him, outswim him, because their lives depend more upon these special powers than his does; but he can outwit them all because he has the resourcefulness of reason, and is at home in many different fields. The condor “houses herself with the sky” that she may have a high point of observation for the exercise of that marvelous power of vision. An object in the landscape beneath that would escape the human eye is revealed to the soaring buzzard. It stands these birds in hand to see thus sharply; their dinner depends upon it. If mine depended upon such powers of vision, in the course of time I might come to possess it. I am not certain but that we have lost another power that I suspect the lower animals possess–something analogous to, or identical with, what we call telepathy–power to communicate without words, or signs, or signals. There are many things in animal life, such as the precise concert of action among flocks of birds and fishes and insects, and, at times, the unity of impulse among land animals, that give support to the notion that the wild creatures in some way come to share one another’s mental or emotional states to a degree and in a way that we know little or nothing of. It seems important to their well-being that they should have such a gift–something to make good to them the want of language and mental concepts, and insure unity of action in the tribe. Their seasonal migrations from one part of the country to another are no doubt the promptings of an inborn instinct called into action in all by the recurrence of the same outward conditions; but the movements of the flock or the school seem to imply a common impulse that is awakened on the instant in each member of the flock. The animals have no systems or methods in the sense that we have, but like conditions with them always awaken like impulses, and unity of action is reached without outward communication.