Instinct

THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.

A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.

VOL. V.—MAY, 1860.—NO. XXXI.

“INSTINCT is a great matter,” quoth Falstaff, when called upon to find out a device, a “starting-hole,” to hide himself from the open and apparent shame of having run away from the fight and hacked his sword like a handsaw with his own dagger. Like a valiant lion, he would not turn upon the true prince, but ran away upon instinct. Although the peculiar circumstances of the occasion upon which the subject was presented to Falstaff's mind were not very favorable to a calm consideration of it, he was undoubtedly correct in saying that instinct is a great matter. “If, then, the tree may be known by the fruit,” says Falstaff, “ as the fruit by the tree, then, peremptorily I speak it, there is virtue in that Falstaff ”; and it is proper that his authority should be quoted, even upon a question of metaphysical science.

That psychological endowment of animals which we denominate instinct has in every age been a matter full of wonder ; and men of thought have found few more interesting subjects of inquiry. But it is confessed that little has been satisfactorily made out concerning the nature and limitations of instinct. In former times the habits and mental characteristics of those orders of animated being which are inferior to man were observed with but a careless eye; and it was late before the phenomena of animal life received a careful and reverent examination. It is vain to inquire what instinct is, before there has been an accurate observation of its manifestations. It is only from its outward manifestations that we can know anything of that marvellous inward nature which is given to animals. We cannot know anything of the essential constitution of mind, but can know only its properties. This is all we know even of matter. “ If material existence,” says Sir William Hamilton, “ could exhibit ten thousand phenomena, and if we possessed ten thousand senses to apprehend these ten thousand phenomena of material existence, of existence absolutely and in itself we should be then as ignorant as we are at present.” But this limitation of human knowledge has not always been kept in view. Men have been solicitous to penetrate into the higher mysteries of absolute and essential existence. But in thus reaching out after the unattainable, we have often passed by the only knowledge which it was possible for us to gain. Much vague speculation concerning instinct has arisen from the attempt to resolve the problem of its ultimate nature ; and perhaps much more might have been made out with certainty about it, if no greater task had been attempted than to classify the phenomena which it exhibits and determine the nature of its manifestations. In regard to instinct, as well as everything else, we must be content with finding out what it seems to us to be. rather than what it is. Even with this limitation, the inquiry will prove sufficiently difficult. The properties of instinct are a little more inscrutable than those of the human mind, inasmuch as we have our own consciousness to assist us in this case, while we are left to infer the peculiarities of instinct from its outward manifestations only. And moreover, the inquiry involves an understanding of the workings of the human mind; for it is only when viewed in contrast with the rational endowments of man that the character of instinct is best known. All other questions connected with the subject are subordinate to this one of the apparent difference between instinct and reason.

Many definitions have been given of instinctive actions. These differ widely in their extent, and are for the most part quite inadequate. Some writers have ranged under this term all those customary habits and actions which are common to all the individuals of a species. According to this definition, almost every action of animated life is instinctive. But the general idea of an instinctive action is much more restricted; it is one that is performed without instruction and prior to experience,—and not for the immediate gratification of the agent, but only as the means for the attainment of some ulterior end. To apply the term instinct to the regular and involuntary movements of the bodily organs, such as the beating of the heart and the action of the organs of respiration, is manifestly an extension of the ordinary acceptation of the term. Organic actions of a similar character are also performed by plants, and are purely mechanical. “ In the lowest and simplest class of excited movements,” says Midler, “ the nervous system would not appear to be concerned. They result from stimuli directly applied to the muscles, which immediately excite their contractility ; and they are evidently of the same character with the motions of plants.” Thus, the heart is excited to pulsation by the direct contact of the blood with the muscle. The hand of a sleeping child closes upon any object which gently touches the palm. And it is in this way, doubtless, that the Sea Anemone entraps its prey, or anything else that may come in contact with its tentacles. But so far are these movements from indicating of themselves the action of any instinctive principle, that they are no proof of animality ; for a precisely analogous power is possessed by the sensitive plant known as the Fly-Trap of Venus (Dionoea muscipula): “any insect touching the sensitive hairs on the surface of its leaf instantly causes the leaf to shut up and enclose the insect, as in a trap ; nor is this all ; a mucilaginous secretion acts like a gastric juice on the captive, digests it, and renders it assimilable by the plant, which thus feeds on the victim, as the Actinea feeds on the Annelid or Crustacean it may entrap.” In the animal organization a large class of reflex actions are excited, not by a direct influence, but indirectly by the agency of the nerves and spinal cord. Such actions are essentially independent of the brain; for they occur in animals which have no brain, and in those whose brain has been removed. However marvellous these functions of organic life may be, there is nothing in them at all resembling that agency properly called instinct, which may be said to take the place in the inferior tribes of reason in man. To refer these operations to the same source as the wonderful instinct that guides the bird in its long migratory flight, or in the construction of its nest, would be to make the bird a curiously constructed machine which is operated by impressions from without upon its sentient nerves.

Those actions have sometimes been called instinctive which arise from the appetites and passions ; and they have been referred to instinct, doubtless, because they have one characteristic of instinct,—that they are not acquired by experience or instruction. “ But they differ,” says Professor Bowen, “ at least in one important respect from those instincts of the lower animals which are usually contrasted with human reason. The objects towards which they are directed are prized for their own sake ; they are sought as ends : while instinct teaches brutes to do many things which are needed only as means for the attainment of some ulterior purpose.” When the butterfly extracts the nectar from the flowers which she loves most, she meets a want of her physical nature which demands satisfaction at the moment; but when, in opposition to her appetite, she proceeds to the flowerless shrub to deposit her eggs upon the leaves best suited to support her unthought-of progeny, she is not influenced by any desire for the immediate gratification of her senses, but is led to the act by some dim impulse, in order that an ultimate object may be provided for to which she has no reference at the time. We are surprised to find it declared, in the very interesting “Psychological Inquiries” of Sir B. C. Brodie, that the desire for food is the simplest form of an instinct, and that such an instinct goes far towards explaining others which are more complicated. It is true that the appetites and passions of animals have an ultimate object, but they are impelled to action by a desire for immediate gratification only ; but when we speak of an instinct, we mean something more than a mere want or desire,—we have chiefly in view the end beyond the blind instrumentality by which it is reached.

When we watch the movements of a young bee, as it first goes forth from its waxen cradle, we are forced to recognize an influence at work which is unlike reason, and which is neither appetite nor any mechanical principle of organic life. Rising upon the comb, and holding steadily with its tiny feet, with admirable, adroitness the young bee smooths its wings for its first flight, and rubs its body with its fore legs and antennae; then walking along the comb to the mouth of the hive, it mounts into the air, flies forth into the fields, alights upon the proper flowers, extracts their juices, collects their pollen, and, kneading it into little balls, deposits them in the sacks upon its feet; and then returning to its hive, it delivers up the honey and the wax and the bread which it has gathered and elaborated. In the hive it works the wax with its paws and feelers into an hexagonal cell with a rhomboidal bottom, the three plates of which form such angles with each other as require the least wax and space in the construction of the cell. All these complex operations the bee performs as adroitly, on the first morning of its life, as the most experienced workman in the hive. The tyro gatherer sought the flowery fields upon untried wings, and returned to its home from this first expedition with unerring flight by the most direct course through the trackless air.

This is one instance of that great class of actions which are allowed on all hands to be strictly instinctive. In the fact, that the occult faculties which urge the bee to make honey and construct geometrical cells are in complete development when it first emerges from its cell, we recognize one of the most striking characteristics of instinct,—its existence prior to all experience or instruction. The insect tribes furnish us with many instances in which the young being never sees its parents, and therefore all possibility of its profiting from their instructions or of its imitating their actions is cut off. The solitary wasp, for example, is accustomed to construct a tunnelled nest in which she deposits her eggs and then brings a number of living caterpillars and places them in a hole which she has made above each egg ; being very Careful to furnish just caterpillars enough to maintain the young worm from the time of its exclusion from the egg till it can provide for itself, and to place them so as to be readily accessible the moment food is required. But what is most curious of all is the fact that the wasp does not deposit the caterpillars unhurt, for thus they would disturb or perhaps destroy the young; nor does she sting them to death, for thus they would soon be in no state of proper preservation ; but, as if understanding these contingencies, she inflicts a disabling wound. Yet the wasp does not feed upon caterpillars herself, nor has she ever seen a wasp provide them for her future offspring. She has never seen a worm such as will spring from her egg, nor can she know that her egg will produce a worm; and besides, she herself will be dead long before the unknown worm can be in existence. Therefore she works blindly; without knowing that her work is to subserve any useful purpose, she works to a purpose both definite and important; and her acts are uniform with those of all solitary wasps that have lived before her or that will live after her; so that we are compelled to refer these untaught actions to some constant impulse connected with the special organization of the wasp,—an innate tact, uniform throughout the species, of which we, not possessing anything of the kind, can form only a poor conception, but which we call instinct.

There have been some philosophers, however, who have exercised their ingenuity in tracing so-called instinctive actions to the operation of experience. The celebrated Doctor Erasmus Darwin gave, as an illustration of this view, his opinion that the young of animals know how to swallow from their experience of swallowing in utero. Without going into any refutation of this position, we would only remark, in passing, that the act of swallowing is not an instinctive action at all, but a purely mechanical one. Would not Doctor Darwin have rejoiced greatly, if he could have brought to the support of his theory the observation of our own great naturalist, Agassiz, who, knowing the savage snap of one of the large, fullgrown Testudinata, is said to have asserted, that, under the microscope, he has seen the juvenile turtle snapping precociously in embryo ?

But not only is instinct prior to all experience, it is even superior to it, and often leads animals to disregard it,—the spontaneous impulse which Nature has given them being their best guide. The carrier-pigeon or the bird of passage, taken a long distance from home by a circuitous route, trusting to this “ pilotsense,” flies back in a straight course ; and the hound takes the shortest way home through fields where he has never previously set foot.

The existence of instinct prior to all experience or instruction, and its perfection in the beginning, render cultivation and improvement not only unnecessary, but impossible. As it is with the individual, so it is with the race. One generation of the irrational tribes does not improve upon the preceding or educate its successor. The web which you watched the spider weaving in your open window last summer, carefully measuring off each radius of her wheel and each circular mesh by one of her legs, was just such a web as the spider wove of old when she was pronounced to be “ little upon the earth, yet exceeding wise.”

This incapacity for education is what so widely separates instinct from the rational powers of man. Man gathers knowledge and transmits it from generation to generation. He is not born with a ready skill, but with a capacity for it. His mind is formed destitute of all connate knowledge, that it may acquire the knowledge of all things. “ Man's imperfection at his nativity is his perfection ; while the perfection of brutes at their nativity is their imperfection.” No rational being has ever arrived at such perfection that he cannot still improve ; he can travel on from one attainment to another in a perpetual progress of improvement. He is, moreover, free to choose his own path of action; while the being of instinct is governed by a power which is not subject to his will, and which confines him to a narrow path which he cannot leave. But instinct, within its narrow limits, in many cases quite transcends reason in its achievements.

“ Man’s attainments in his own concerns,
Matched with the expertness of the brutes in theirs,
Are ofttimes vanquished and thrown far behind.”

Perhaps man has never made a structure as perfect in all its adaptations as the honeycomb. Yet when Virgil spoke of the belief that bees have a portion of the mind divine, nothing was known of the wonderful mathematical properties of this beautiful fabric ; and the demonstration of them which has been made within the present century is beyond the comprehension of far the larger part of mankind. If the bee comprehended the problem which it has been working out for these many ages before man was able to solve it, would its intellectual powers be inferior to his in degree, if they were the same in kind ? The water-spider weaves for herself a cocoon, makes it impervious to water, and fastens it by loose threads to the leaves of plants growing at the bottom of a still pool. She carries down air in a bag made for this purpose, till the water is expelled from the cell through the opening below. The spider lived quite dry in her little air-chamber beneath the water ages before the divingbell was invented; but that she understood anything of the doctrines of space and gravity, no one would venture to assert.

It has been the belief of some philosophers, and poets as well, that man has taken the hint for some of the arts he now practises from the brute creation. Democritus represents him as having derived the arts of weaving and sewing from the spider, and the art of building of tempered clay from the swallow ; and we also read in Pliny’s “ Natural History,” that the nest of the swallow suggested to Toxius, the son of Coeluas, the invention of mortar. According to Lucretius, men learned music from the song of birds, and Pope describes them as learning from the mole to plough, from the nautilus to sail, and from bees and ants to form a political community. Perhaps we were behind the beaver in felling timber, in leading dams across rivers, and in building cabin villages,—behind the wasp in making paper, and behind the squirrel and spider in crossing streams upon rafts. So, if man had needed any example of war and violence and wrong, he had Only to go to the ant-hill and see the red ants invade the camps of the black and bear off their little negro prisoners into slavery.

Whatever truth there may be in these ideas, it is at least conceivable that man may have profited from the example of these animals. He has copied from patterns set by Nature in tree and leaf and flower and plant; he has formed the Gothic arch and column from the trunks and interlacing boughs of the lofty avenue, the Corinthian capital from the acanthus foliage embracing a basket, and classic urns and vases from flowers. But no one could describe one species of the brute world as having derived a similar lesson from another, and much less from trees and plants. No species of animals has learnt anything new even from man, except within the narrow sphere of domestication.

It is only in particulars that instinct appears superior to reason in the works it achieves. When an animal is taken, ever so little, out of the ordinary circumstances in which its instincts act, it is apt to behave very foolishly. If a woodpecker’s egg is hatched by a bird which builds an open nest upon the branches of a tree, when the young bird is grown large enough to shuffle about in the nest, induced by its instinct to suppose that its nest is in a hole walled round on all sides by the tree, with a long, narrow entrance down from above, it does not see that it has been inducted into the open nest of another bird, and is sure to tumble out. The bee and the ant, in a few particulars, show wonderful sagacity; but remove them from the narrow compass of their instincts, and all their wisdom is at an end. That animals are so wise in a few things and so wanting in wisdom in all others shows that they are endowed with a mental principle essentially of a different nature from that of the human race. “ They do many things even better than ourselves,” says Descartes; “ but this does not prove them to be endowed with reason, for this would prove them to have more reason than we have, and that they should excel us in all other things also”; for reason can act not only in one direction, but in all.

But it will be said that instinct is not invariable,—that it often displays a capacity of accommodating itself, like reason, to circumstances, and is therefore a principle the same in kind with it,—or else that the animal has something of the rational faculty superadded to the instinctive. But does the animal make these variations in its conduct from a true perception of their meaning and purpose ?

It is very natural for us to ascribe to reason those actions of other animals which would be ascribable to reason, if performed by man. “ If,” says Keller, (an old German writer,) “ the fly be enabled to choose the place which suits her best for the deposition of her eggs, (as, for instance, in my sugar-basin, in which I placed a quantity of decaying wheat,) she takes a correct survey of every part and selects that in which she believes her ova will be the best preserved and her young ones well cared for.” The fly, in this instance, apparently exercises an intelligent choice ; but does any one doubt that the selection she makes is determined wholly by a blind, uncalculating instinct ? The beaver selects a site for his dam at a place where the depth, width, and rapidity of the stream are most fit. There is a tree upon the bank, and food and materials for his work in the vicinity. If a man should attempt to build a beaver’s dam, he would abstractly consider all these elements of fitness. The outward manifestations of the quality of abstraction are equally observable in either case. But we must not hastily conclude, because the beaver in one instance acts in a manner apparently reasonable, that he has any reason of his own ; for, when we come to study the habits of this animal, we find that he displays all the characteristics of the instinctive principle. If animals are endowed with instincts which apparently act so much like reason in the ordinary course of their operations, we should not at once conclude that there is any need of endowing them with a modicum of reason to account for their deviations from this course, which do not outwardly resemble the acts of reason anymore strongly. And besides, it is said, that, if we refer the variations to an intelligent principle, we must refer the ordinary conduct to the same principle. To use an old illustration,—if a bird is reasonable and intelligent, when, on perceiving the swollen waters of the stream approach her half-finished nest, she builds higher up the bank, she was intelligent while making her first nest, and was always intelligent ; for how otherwise, it is asked, could she know when to lay down instinct and take up reason ?

Instinct aims at certain definite ends; but these ends cannot always be reached by the same means, especially when places and circumstances are not the same. Accommodation is necessary, or it could not always produce the effects for which it is intended. Would the instinct of the spider be complete, if, after it has guided her to spin a web so neat and trim and regular, it did not also lead her to repair her broken snare, when the cords have been sundered by the struggles of some powerful captive? But this pliancy of the spider’s instinct is no more remarkable than the contingent operation of the instincts of many species of animals. “ It is remarkable,” says Kirby, “that many of the insects which are occasionally’ observed to emigrate are not usually social animals, but seem to congregate, like swallows, merely for the purpose of emigration.” When certain rare emergencies occur, which render it necessary for the insects to migrate, a contingent instinct develops itself, and renders an unsocial species gregarious.

It is probable that most of our domesticated species, exhibiting as they do in that condition attainments foreign to their natural habits and faculties in a wild state, were endowed with provisional instincts with a view to their association with man. But generally the docility of animals does not extend to attainments which are radically different from their habits and faculties in a wild state. Casual acquirements, which have no relation to their exigencies in their natural condition, never become hereditary, and are not, therefore, instinctive. A young pointer-dog, which has never been in the fields before, will not only point at a covey of partridges, but will remain motionless, like a well-trained dog. The fact that the sagacity of the pointer is hereditary shows that it is the development of an instinctive propensity ; for simple knowledge is not transmitted by blood from one generation to another. We have heard of a pig that pointed game, and of another that was learned in letters ; but we ascertain in every such instance that their foreign acquirements do not reappear in their progeny, but end with the pupils of the time being. The pig’s peculiarity of pointing did not arise from the development of a provisional instinct, because it does not become hereditary; but the same act in the pointer-dog is instinctive,—for, when once brought out by associating with man, it has remained with the breed, being a part of the animal’s nature, which existed in embryo till it was developed by a companionship with man, for whose use this faculty was alone intended.

Although the animals which especially display these exceptional or contingent instincts are those which are fitted for the use and comfort of man and may be domesticated, it is doubtless true that many other species are in some degree provided with them, and that they thus have a plasticity in their nature which enables them to exercise, under particular circumstances, unlooked-for attention, foresight, and caution. And besides, it is only in analogy with the laws of the physical world that instinct should admit of a slightly diversified application.

It is to be noticed in this connection that many animals are gifted with a wonderful sensibility of the senses,—the action of which is sometimes mistaken not only for the action of instinct, but for that of reason also. The acuteness of the sense of smell in the dog, which enables him to trace the steps of his master for miles through crowded streets by the infinitesimal odor which his footsteps left upon the pavement, is quite beyond our conception. Equally incomprehensible to us are the keenness of sight and wide range of vision of the eagle, which enable him to discover the rabbit nipping the clover amid the thick grass at a distance at which a like object would be to us altogether imperceptible. The chameleon is enabled to seize the little insects upon which it feeds by darting forth its wonderfully constructed tongue with such rapidity and with such delicacy of perception that “ wonder-loving sages” have told us that it feeds upon the air.

It has been the belief of some observers that some animals have senses by which they are enabled to take cognizance of things which are not revealed directly to our senses. It is easy enough to conceive of beings endowed with a more perfect perception of the external world, both in its condition and the number of objects it presents, than we have, by means of other organs of outward perception. Voltaire, in one of his philosophical romances, represents an inhabitant of one of the planets of the Dog-Star as inquiring of the Secretary of the Academy of Sciences in the planet of Saturn, at which he had recently arrived in a journey through the heavens, how many senses the men of his globe had; and when the Academician answered, that they had seventytwo, and were every day complaining of the smallness of the number, he of the Dog-Star replied, that in his globe they had very near one thousand senses, and yet with all these they felt continually a sort of listless inquietude and vague desire which told them how very imperfect they were. But we shall not travel so far as this for our illustrations. We have all seen in the fields and about our houses birds and insects which seem to take cognizance of the electric state of the atmosphere; and we have learnt to feel quite sure, when, early in the morning of a summer’s day, we see fresh piles of sand around the holes of the ants, that a storm is approaching, although the sky may as yet be cloudless and the air perfectly serene. In like manner birds perceive the approach of rain, and are all busy oiling and smoothing their feathers in preparation for it; and then, before the clouds break away, they come out from their retreats and joyfully hail the return of fair weather. So, by some analogous sense, the birds of passage are informed of the approach of winter and the return of spring.

It is doubtless true that in some animals the senses are immediately connected with instincts which assist and extend their operation. Metaphysicians and physiologists are agreed that the perception of distance is an acquired knowledge. The sense of sight by itself principally makes us conversant with extension only. The painting upon the retina of the eye presents all external things with flat surfaces and at the same distance. Before we can have any correct ideas of distance, we must be able to compare the result of the sense of sight with the result of the sense of feeling. By experience we in time come to judge something of distance by the size of the image which an object makes upon the retina, but more by our acquired knowledge of the form and color of external things. It is true that the eyes of many animals are constructed like those of man; but they do not learn to judge of distance by the same slow process. It is known from experiment that some animals have a perfect conception of distance at the moment of their birth; and the young of the greater part of animals possess some instinctive perception of this kind. "A flycatcher, for example, just come out of its shell, has been seen to peck at an insect with an aim as perfect as if it had been all its life engaged in learning the art.” And so when the hen takes her chickens out into the field for the first time to feed, they seem to perceive very distinctly the relative distance of all objects about them, and will run by the straightest course when she calls them to pick up the little grains which she points out to them. Without this instinctive power of determining the relative distance and figure of objects, the young of most animals would perish before their sense of sight could be perfected, as ours is, by experience.

We have now noticed the chief characteristics of instinct: its existence prior to all experience or instruction; its incapacity of improvement, except within the narrow sphere of domestication ; its limitation to a few objects, and the certainty of its action within these limits ; the distinctness and permanence of its character for each species; and its constant hereditary nature. In regard to the uniformity of instinct throughout each species, it may be further remarked, that this seems to be very constantly preserved in the lowest divisions of the animal kingdom. Among the Articulates, also, instinct appears almost unvarying; and it is in this department among the insect tribes that the most striking manifestations of instinct are to be met with. When we arrive among the higher orders of the Vertebrates, we find in some species that each individual is capable of some modification of its actions, according to the particular circumstances in which it finds itself placed. But throughout the long series of animals, from the polype to man, there is instinctive action more or less in amount in every species, with, perhaps, the exception of man alone. The variety of that endowment, which is adapted to definite objects, means, and results, in each particular one of the five hundred thousand species estimated to be now living, may well call forth our admiration and astonishment at the magnitude and extent of the prospective contrivance of the Creator. How various the relations of all these animals to each other and to the inanimate world about them ! and yet how admirable the adjustments of that immaterial principle which regulates their lives, so as to secure the well-being of each and the symmetry of the general plan !

There has been much diversity of opinion as to the existence of instincts in the human species,—some making the whole mind of man nothing but a bundle of instincts, and others wholly denying him any endowment of this nature, while others still have given him a complex mental nature, and have, moreover, declared that intellect and instinct in him are so interwoven that it is impossible to tell where the one begins and the other ends. But we believe, with the author of “Ancient Metaphysics,” that in Nature, however intimately things are blended together and run into each other like different shades of the same color, the species of things are absolutely distinct, and that there are certain fixed boundaries which separate them, however difficult it may be for us to find them out. In regard to intelligence and instinct, the two principles seem to us to be not more distinctly and widely separated in their nature than in the provinces of their operation.

Sir Henry Holland, who believes that intelligence and instinct are blended in man, admits that instincts, properly so called, form the minimum in relation to reason, and are difficult of definition from their connection with his higher mental functions, but that, wherever we can truly distinguish them, they are the same in principle and manner of operation as those of other animals. He makes one distinction, however, between the instincts of man and those of lower animals,—that in the former they have more of individual character, are far less numerous and definite in relation to the physical conditions of life, and more various and extensive in regard to his moral nature. But, on the other hand, Sir B. C. Brodie seems to be of opinion that the majority of instincts belonging to man resemble those of the inferior animals, inasmuch as they relate to the preservation of the individual and the continuation of the species; and that when man first began to exist, and for some generations afterwards, the range of his instincts was much more extensive than it is at the present time. When authorities so eminent as these differ so widely upon the question, to what human instincts relate, we see at least that it is very difficult to define and distinguish these instincts, and we may be led to doubt their existence at all. Of that marvellous endowment which guides the bee to fabricate its cells according to laws of the most rigid mathematical exactness, and guides the swallow in its long flight to its winter home, we agree with Professor Bowen, that there is no trace whatever in human nature. The actions of man which have been loosely described as instinctive belong for the most part to those classes of actions which we have already shown to be in no proper sense of the word instinctive, that is, those concerned in the appetites and in the functions of organic life. There are also numerous automatic and habitual actions which are liable to be mistaken for instincts. Some have included in the category of instincts those intuitive perceptions and primary beliefs which are a part of our constitution, and are the foundation of all our knowledge. But these propensities of thought and feeling are of a higher nature than mere instincts; they are immutable laws of the human mind, which time and physical changes cannot reach ; they do not seem to depend upon the physical organization, but to be inherent in the soul itself. If these are instincts, then, why are not all the ways in which the mind exerts itself instincts also, and reason itself an instinct?

There is hardly any human action, feeling, or belief, which has not been ranged under the term instinct. Hunger and thirst have been called instincts; so have the faculty of speech, the use of the right hand in preference to the left, the love of society, the desire to possess property, the desire to avoid danger and prolong life, and the belief in supernatural agencies, upon which is engrafted the religious sentiment. We cannot, in this paper, attempt to analyze these and many other similar examples which have been given as illustrations of instinct in treatises of high repute, and show that they do not at all come within that class of actions which we contrast with reason. In regard to those actions of early infancy which have often been adduced as illustrations of instinct, the physiologists of the present day are agreed that they are as mechanical as the act of breathing. To place these upon the same level with the complex and wonderful operations of the bee, the ant, and the beaver, is to admit that the instincts of the latter are merely reflex actions following impressions on the nerves of sense.

On the other hand, whether the animals inferior to man ever exercise any conscious process of reasoning is a question which has often been discussed, and upon which there is no general agreement. Instances of the remarkable sagacity of some domesticated animals are often adduced as proofs of reasoning on their part. Some of these wonderful feats may be traced to the unconscious faculty of imitation, which even in man often appears as a blind propensity, although he exercises an active and rational imitation as well. Sometimes tlie mere association of ideas, or the perception by animals that one thing is accompanied by another or that one event follows another, is mistaken for that higher principle which in man judges, reflects, and understands causes and effects. When the dog sees his master take down his gun, his blandishments show that he anticipates a renewal of the pleasures of the chase, He does not reflect upon past pleasures; but, seeing the gun in his master's hand, a confused idea of the feelings that were associated with the gun in times past is called up. So the ox and the horse learn to associate certain movements with the voice and gesture of man. And so a fish, about the most stupid of all animals, comes to a certain spot at a certain signal to be fed. These combinations are quite elementary. This is quite another thing from that reciprocal action of ideas on each other by which man perceives the relations of things, understands the laws of cause and effect, and not only forms judgments of the past, but draws conclusions which are laws for the future. We find in the brute no power of attending to and arranging its thoughts,—no power of calling up the past at will and reflecting upon it. The animal has the faculty of memory, and, when this is awakened, the object remembered may be accompanied by a train or attendance of accessory notions which have been connected with the object in the animal’s past experience. But it never seems to be able to exercise the purely voluntary act of recollection. It is not capable of comparing one thing with another, so far as we can judge. If the animal could exercise any true act of comparison, there would be no limit to the exercise of it, and the animal would be an intelligent being; for the result of a simple act of comparison is judgment, and reasoning is only a double act of comparison. We have the authority of Sir William Hamilton for saying that the highest function of mind is nothing higher than comparison. Hence comes thought, —hence, the power of discovering truth, —and hence, the mind’s highest dignity, in being able to ascend unassisted to the knowledge of a God. Those who hold that the minds of the inferior animals are essentially of the same nature with that of the human race, and differ only in degree, should reflect that the distinguishing attribute of the human mind does not admit of degrees. The faculty of comparison, in all its various applications, must be either wholly denied or else wholly attributed. Hence, Pope is not philosophical, when he applies the epithet “halfreasoning” to the elephant. “As reasoning,” says Coleridge, “ consists wholly in a man’s power of seeing whether any two ideas which happen to be in his mind are or are not in contradiction with each other, it follows of necessity, not only that all men have reason, but that every individual has it in the same degree.” We gather also from the same acute writer that in the simple determination, “ black is not white,” all the powers are implied that distinguish man from other animals. If, then, the brute reasoned at all, he would be a rational being, and would improve and gain knowledge by experience; and, moreover, he would be a moral agent, accountable for his conduct. “ Would not the brute,” asks an able writer in the “ Zoological Journal,” “take a survey of his lower powers, and would he not, as man does, either rightly use or pervert them, at his pleasure ? ”

It has been suggested by some one, that, by the law of merciful adaptation, which extends throughout the universe, thought would not be imprisoned and pent up forever in an intelligence wanting the power of expression. But it is also to be noticed that the want of an articulate language or a system of general signs puts it out of the power of animals to perform a single act of reasoning. The use of language to communicate wants and feelings is not peculiar to “word-dividing men,” though enjoyed by them in a much higher degree than by other animals. Doubtless every species of social animals has some kind of language, however imperfect it may be. “ We never watch the busy workers of the ant-hill,” says Acheta Domestica, (the author of “ Episodes of Insect-Life,”) “ stopping as they encounter and laying their heads together, without being pretty certain that they are saying to each other something quite as significant as ‘Fine day.’ ” And when the morning wakes the choral song of the birds, they seem to be telling each other of their happiness. But though animals have a language appropriate to the expression of their sensations and emotions, they have no words, “ those shadows of the soul, those living sounds.” Words are symbols of thoughts, and may be considered as a revelation of the human mind. It is this use of language as an instrument of thought, as a system of general signs, which, according to Bishop Whately, distinguishes the language of man from that of the brute; and the same eminent authority declares that without such a system of general signs the reasoning process could not be conducted.

It is true, that we often see in the inferior animals manifestations of deductions of intellect similar to those of the human mind,—only that they are not made by the animals themselves, but for them and above their conscious perception. “ When a bee,” says Dr. Reid, “ makes its combs so geometrically, the geometry is not in the bee, but in that great Geometrician who made the bee, and made all things in number, weight, and measure.” Since the animal is not conscious of the intelligence and design which are manifested in its instincts, which it obeys and works out, the conscious life of the individual must he wholly a life within the senses. The senses alone can give the animal only an empirical knowledge of the world of its observation. The senses may register and report facts, but they can never arrive at an understanding of necessary truths; the source of this kind of knowledge is the rational mind, which has an active disposition to draw out these infallible laws and eternal truths from its own bosom. The main tendency of the rational mind is not towards mere phenomena, but their scientific explanation. It seeks to trace effects, as presented to us by the senses, back to the causes which produced them ; or contemplating things wholly metaphysical, it seeks to follow out the laws which it lias itself discovered, till they have gone through a thousand probable contingencies and lost themselves in numberless results. It is on account of this capacity and tendency of the human mind to look through fact to law, through individuals to classes, through effects to causes, through phenomena to general principles, that the late Dr. Burnap was led to declare, in a very interesting course of lectures which he delivered before the Lowell Institute a few years since, that he considered the first characteristic difference between the highest species of animals and the lowest race of man to be a capacity of science. But is not the whole edifice of human science built upon the simple faculty of comparison? This is the ultimate analysis of all the highest manifestations of the human mind, whether of judgment, or reason, or intellect, or common sense, or the power of generalization, or the capacity of science. We have already quoted Hamilton to this effect, and we, moreover, have his authority for saying that the faculty of discovering truth, by a comparison of the notions we have obtained by observation and experience, is the attribute by which man is distinguished as a creature higher than the animals. We might also cite Leibnitz to the effect that men differ from animals in being capable of the formation of necessary judgments, and hence capable of demonstrative sciences.

But notwithstanding it seems so apparent that what is customarily called reason is the distinguishing endowment which makes man the “paragon of animals,” we very often meet with attempts to set op some other distinction. We cannot here go into an examination of these various theories, or even allude to them specially. We will, however, briefly refer to a view which was recently advanced in one of our leading periodicals, inasmuch as it makes prominent a distinction which we wish to notice, although it seems to us to be only subordinate to the distinguishing attribute of the human mind which we have already pointed out. It is said that self-consciousness is what makes the great difference between man. and other animals; that the latter do not separate themselves consciously from the world in which they exist; and that, though they have emotions, impulses, pains, and pleasures, every change of feeling in them takes at once the form of an outward change either in place or position. It is not intended, however, to be said that they have no conscious perception of external things. We cannot possibly conceive of an animal without this condition of consciousness. A consciousness of an outward world is an essential quality of the animal soul; this distinguishes the very lowest form of animal life from the vegetable world ; and hence it cannot possibly be, as has been suggested by some, that there are any animate beings which have no endowments superior to those which belong to plants. The plant is not conscious of an outward world, when it sends out its roots to obtain the nourishment which is fitting for itself; but the polype, which is fixed with hundreds of its kind on the same coralstock, and is able only to move its mouth and tentacles, is aware of the presence of the little craw-fish upon which it feeds, and throws out its lasso-cells and catches it. The world of which the polype has any perception is not a very large one. The outer world of a bird is vastly greater ; and man knows a world without, which is immeasurably large beyond that of which any other animal is conscious, because both his physical organs and his mental faculties bring him into far the most diversified and intimate relations with all created things. He sees in every flower of the garden and every beast of the field, in the air and in the sea, in the earth beneath his feet and in the starry heavens above him, countless meanings which are hidden to all the living world besides. To him there is a world which has existed and a world that will exist. “Man,” says Protagoras, “ is the measure of the universe.” But he has a greater dignity in being able to apprehend the world of thought within. “ Whilst I study to find how I am a microcosm or little world,” says Sir Thomas Browne, “ I find myself something more than the great.” Man can make himself an object to himself and gain the deepest insight into the workings of his own mind. This internal perception seems never to be developed in other animals. We have already observed that they have no thought of their own. The intelligence and design which they often manifest in their actions are not the workings of their own minds, The intelligence and design belong to Him who impressed the thought upon the animal's mind and unceasingly sustains it in action. They themselves are not conscious of any thought, but only of “certain dim imperious influences” which urge them on. They are conscious of feelings and desires and impulses. We could not conceive of the existence of these affections in animals without their having an immediate knowledge of them. Even “ the function of voluntary motion,” says Hamilton, “ which is a function of the animal soul in the Peripatetic doctrine, ought not, as is generally done, to be excluded from the phenomena of consciousness and mind." The conscious life of the irrational tribes seems, then, to be a life almost wholly within the senses. They have nothing of that higher conscious personality which belongs to man and is an attribute of a free intellect.

A general statement of the points made out in the foregoing inquiry will more clearly show our conception of the nature and limitations of instinct. First, we limited the word instinct so as to exclude all those automatic and mechanical actions concerned in the simple functions of organic life,—as also to exclude the operations of the passions and appetites, since these seek no other end than their own gratification. Then it was shown that instinct exists prior to all experience or memory; that it comes to an instant or speedy perfection, and is not capable of any improvement or cultivation ; that its objects are precise and limited; that within its proper sphere it often appears as the highest wisdom, but beyond this is only foolishness; that it uses complex and laborious means to provide for the future, without any prescience of it; that it performs important and rational operations which the animal neither intends nor knows anything about; that it is permanent for each species, and is transmitted as an hereditary gift of Nature ; and that the few variations in its action result from the development of provisional faculties, or from blind imitation. We were led to conclude that instinct is not a free and conscious possession of the animal itself. We found some points of resemblance between intelligence in man and instinct in other animals,—but at the same time points of dissimilarity, such as to make the two principles appear radically unlike.

This brief summary presents nearly all that we can satisfactorily make out respecting instinct; and at the same time it shows how much is still wanting to a complete solution of all the questions which it involves. And then there are higher mysteries connected with the subject, which we do not attempt to penetrate,—mysteries in regard to the creation and the maintenance of instinctive action : whether it be the result of particular external conditions acting on the organization of animals, or whether, as Sir Isaac Newton thought, the Deity himself is virtually the active and present moving principle in them;—and mysteries, too, about the future of the brute world: whether, as Southey wrote,

“ There is another world
For all that live and move,—a better world.”

If we ever find a path which seems about to lead us up to these mysteries, it speedily closes against us, and leaves us without any rational hope of attaining their solution.