Page 12, 24th December 1936

24th December 1936
Page 12
Page 12, 24th December 1936 — Science
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Science

PITFALLS IN ELEMENTARY SCIENCE (2) Difference Between Human And Animal Faculties

By Professor P. W. L. RENOUF, B.A., Dip.Agric., F.R.S.E.

In the accompanying article Professor Renouf concludes his commentary on A. C. Kinsey's New Introduction to Biology. (Harrap, 8s. 6d.) To some readers, if they be content to ignore the qualitative differences between human and purely animal faculties, these definitions may appear to be fairly satisfactory. When, however, they are considered together and with the examples given in the body of the book they are seen to be not only unsatisfactory but to a certain extent contradictory. The definition of intelligent behaviour, for instance, covers what many would call "induced or conditioned reflexes," while the author himself is not consistent.

Even a protozoan, Mr. Kinsey says, after it has met a stimulus a number of times reacts more quickly than it did the first time..By his own definitions this indicates both memory and intelligence, illustrates the beginnings of habits, and is comparable to the reactions of various animals, including birds and fish, to sounds arid sights connected with regular feeding-times. Yet he says that memory behaviour cannot have originated evolutionary from such mechanical things as reflexes, tropisms and instincts because the ability to remember is shown even amongst the simplest organisms in which tropisms and instincts are only poorly developed.

Reason or Memory

" Reasoning," he says, " seems to be a higher evolution from simple memory intelligence. It is not surprising, therefore, that it is sometimes difficult to decide whether certain acts of an animal show reasoning intelligence or merely a high degree of memory intelligence, for there is no clear line between the two things.

" We know that man has a capacity for reasoning that is far beyond that of any other animal, but it should also be noted that a great many of the activities of the human are nothing more than memory, instinctive, or reflex behaviour."

Mr. Kinsey includes: a solitary wasp. which, as recorded by several independent observers takes a tiny pebble between its mandibles and pounds smooth the earth which it has shovelled back into the breeding burrow, " because by its memory it knows the advantage of pounding with such tools "; another species of solitary Wasp which, after several attempts to get a Spider itTtO'its burrow, failed because the

entrance was too small, hung up the spider on a nearby plant, enlarged the hole and then successfully stowed away the spider, its operations " being governed by its

memory of the size of the hole, of the size of the spider, of its vain struggle, and perhaps of former experiences "; honey bees which, having found a field of clover, made many visits collecting honey and pollen but ceased doing so after they had exhausted these supplies.

Using the same method of arguing which he himself applies to examples of instinctive behaviour this last example

can be explained by simple memory

phenomena and the removal of the directing stimulus.

These cases he compares with the actions of, for example, dogs and horses which seem to reason, but he denies that birds or lower vertebrates ever provide similar examples.

We cannot believe that Mr. Kinsey can have watched the nest-making operations of many birds or he would have seen many examples of behaviour exactly comparable to the performances of both the wasps, or have had experiences of tame jackdaws, ravens and other birds, which would have provided him with many others comparable to the reasoned behaviour of dogs and horses.

The Guilty Piiot

For instance, a parrot wh not tnly_

learned to undo the door of ifs-cage fastened with a very complex latch, but, having been punished for getting out, pretended to be asleep whenever it was caught tampering with the latch; and a heron, which having fallen out of the nest as a fledgling was rescued and handfed and so became quite tame until at the mating season of the following year it flew off, to its benefactor's distress. At the onset of winter, however, it returned and resumed its domestic habits as if it had never been away, performances which it repeated regularly for four years!

According. to Mr. Kinsey all bird behaviour is the result of instinct and therefore mechanical so it is, perhaps, not surprising that he insists that " the higher reasoning of the human seems to be related to the simpler sorts of intelligence already considered even though some of it seems so far beyond the abilities of the lower animals that we do not understand it."

T-he 'chapter on the Methods of Science contains so much useful material and therefore shows so clearly the ease with which one tumbles into pitfalls in elementary science that I shall conclude by quoting from it extensively; by doing so I can make amends for some of the adverse comments I have made in developing my theme.

Discussing the Methods of Science Mr. Kinsey says:.

" When a scientist wishes to learn things he uses his eyes, his ears, his nose, his sense of touch, or his other sense organs to observe them. He looks at things, or he touches them, or tastes them, or listens to them. This is the first and most important thing in the scientific method."

Gullible Readers

Then referring to Authority: " It is much easier to ask somebody else, or to refer to a book. Many people have so much respect for authority (we are tempted to say " have such lazy minds") that they are inclined to believe whatever they hear or whatever they see in print even if it is contrary to the evidence of their own eyes.

" A scientist, on the contrary, considers

authority a secondhand sort of information which may be inaccurate or com pletely contrary to the actual facts. Be careful to distinguish between good and bad authorities. It often happens that what experts believe to be true may be found incorrect upon further investigation ": and discussing Reason: " Another substitute commonly employed in place of direct observation is reason, or philosophy, as we often call the extensive use of reason.

There are some things which cannot he

observed. Spirits and supernatural things and such structures as are too minute for our microscopes to show us or too distant

for our telescopes to fathom, can be known only through reasoning about them. But many people like to reason out things that might very well be determined by direct observation."

" But the most astounding method of learning things consists in deciding how we would like to have the world, and then believing that it is made this way." This, which he summarises as " wishful thinking " is probably the most valuable sentence in any modern book on science."

The " Why " Finally on Cause and Effect he says: " But there is one thing more in the scientific method. After he has observed things as he finds them, the scientist is interested in trying to discover why things are as we observe them. Scientists believe there is some good and sufficient cause for everything, and it is part of the business of science to discover such reasons. Similarly in everyday life we believe that nothing happens by haphazard chance. Success is not an accident. As it is sown, so shall it be reaped. The idea of cause and effect is the second fundamental of science."

Probably no one who considers. himself a scientist would quarrel with any of this, but unfortunately it is so much easier to have ideals and principles than to live up to them.




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