Mind in the Lower Animals

DR. LINDSAY’S volumes 1 are partly of an expert and partly of a non-expert character. In the gathering of facts, in the collating of anecdotes, statements, and inferences from statements, relating to animals of different kinds, the author shows a noble industry, unusual energy, and most creditable painstaking. He, however, suffers himself to publish facts which may not be facts, and on testimony which by the mildest and softest criticism is unsatisfactory.

In the arrangement of the facts, and in their coördination and adjustment, he is deficient to a degree that, in this scientific age, is quite phenomenal. The headings of the chapters and the sub-headings and italicizations indicate a defect in analytical and combining power. The defect is more impressive from this : that the power of combination is the most conspicuous factor in the English scientific mind of to-day. Germany originates, while England combines, and combines and develops in such a way as to make far more practical, interesting, and valuable works than those of the philosophic thinkers of Germany from whom Englishmen derive their inspiration. In the scientific sense, that is, in the power of seeing nature through the intellect rather than through the emotions, this author is also wanting. His heart is so large and active that he cheerfully and instantaneously, as it appears, accepts any anecdote relating to animals that, from his point of view, would seem to exalt them to or above the plane of humanity. His subject is one of extreme importance and suggestiveness ; so much so that, in spite of the literary and scientific defects of these volumes, they are of very considerable value, although any one especially devoted to this side of psychology would find constant effort of the will required in order to read them through in detail. Very many of the stories contained in the work have been published before, and are to be found in accessible volumes; others are new, or comparatively so ; and others have been brought to public attention in the first instance by this author ; and the gathering of these illustrations of animal psychology, in spite of the non-expert manner of arranging them, will be of permanent service to those who shall hereafter attempt to raise psychology to a science.

Psychology is a science of the future, being now very much in the condition that astronomy was before the time of Galileo and Newton ; and every contribution to it or to any of its subsidiary sciences is to be welcomed as an aid to students in this realm of thought.

In the chapter on the unsolved problems of psychology, the author states that animals can discover a master’s thoughts or intentions, and thus know beforehand projected murders or robberies ; and that on the island of Tahiti the approach of a ship is signaled by the simultaneous crowing of all the cocks on the island long before it is sighted by the inhabitants. In the same chapter he discusses interestingly, though not satisfactorily, the way-finding and way-losing of animals in the dark, or in snow-storms, or in dangerous and perplexing localities, or in the confusion of battles. In regard to the migration of birds, he says, “ No proper explanation is offered as to the sort of guidance birds have in crossing long stretches of land or sea, by day or night.”

The author is less strong in the philosophic portions of his work: he reels, staggers, and at times sinks to the earth beneath the burdens of the real or supposed facts of animal psychology; at times the subject is master of him, not he of the subject. His chapter on the religion of animals is probably the feeblest in the book. The weakness of a discussion of this subject is apparent in every sentence; and he nowhere gives any satisfactory definition of religion, without which it is most unwise to attempt an essay on such a topic as this. Indeed, this whole chapter is non-expert, from beginning to end. The opportunity presented by this branch of his subject was magnificent, had he been prepared for it. The man who shall write on the psychology of religion in such a way as to reduce the subject to a science will make an era in philosophy. Dr. Lindsay is not to be censured for his inability to solve the problem which the ablest thinkers of all ages have attacked in vain ; but, had he thought somewhat more scientifically on this theme, he might at least have seen that without a definition of religion, a clear idea of what he meant by it, it were better to say nothing about it. If the whole work were like this chapter, the two volumes would have to be unhesitatingly and absolutely condemned. Equally unscientific are the author’s remarks on superstition in animals, inasmuch as he gives no definition, and evidently has no definition in his own mind, even vague and indefinite, of what superstition is, and what its relations are to science on the one hand, and to religion on the other. If he had defined superstition by the old method, as religion out of fashion, he either would have made this chapter better, or would not have written it at all. A good definition is a scientific discovery; in psychology many such discoveries are yet to be made.

The book is based on this truth, or truism: that the difference between the lower animals and the higher animals, as man, is, so far as we can see with mortal vision, a difference only of degree, of growth, of development, of evolution; man being but a loftier or more complex branch of the universal biological tree. In a number of his chapters, indeed, in nearly all of them, Dr. Lindsay traverses territory which Darwin has previously explored; and in these explorations he has undertaken a labor that requires for its successful prosecution a philosopher who shall combine Darwin’s industry with Spencer’s, or even a greater than Spencer’s, psychological analysis and acumen.

We turned with much eagerness to the chapter on Insanity in Animals, but were grievously and painfully disappointed, as we found therein but very little solid and trustworthy information. The author’s remarks on insanity in general, and especially on insanity in the semisavage and barbarian races, show that on such themes he is a learner, not a teacher; and that those who seek for facts and philosophizings in regard to these matters must close his volumes, and go in some other direction. It can be proved, and has been proved as satisfactorily as it is possible to prove any fact in science outside of pure mathematics, that insanity of any form or phase is very rare indeed among savages of any race, country, or age, although it may, and does now and then, in some of its manifestations, exist among them, and has always existed ; but in the main it is, with all its complex manifestations, a result and an accompaniment of the friction of modern civilization. Our author no doubt exaggerates the amount of insanity among animals: partly because he has no clearly defined idea of what insanity is ; and partly because he accepts statements which would have been rejected, or held in abeyance, by any one well endowed with the scientific spirit.

Our general conclusion is that all who are interested in the problems of psychology should read these volumes, but read them with the expectation that they may be wearied and disappointed, as well as instructed, by them. The work is interesting, but interesting in spite of the author.

  1. Mind in the Lower Animals in Health and Disease. By W. LAUDER LINDSAY, M, D. New York; D. Appleton & Co. 1880.