31 AUGUST 1878, Page 9


IN referring last week to the papers read by Sir John Lubbock

and Mr. Romance before the British Association in Dublin, we suggested a doubt whether some even of the ablest of our naturalists may not be misled to a considerable extent in their inference from the observations which have been lately made on the degrees of animal intelligence, by assuming too much that in the case of mere animals,—and especially, perhaps, insects, to which it is very difficult to attribute anything like in- dividuality,—what a given number of specimens, taken at random, are unable to do, the species at large would be unable to do. Now, it will not be denied that such an inference would be exceedingly untrue of human beings. Conceive a superior intelligence ex- perimenting on us as Professor Mobius experimented on the stupid pike which took three months in learning to recognise the glass-plate in its tank, and then, after it had once learned to re- cognise its existence, could never unlearn it again after the glass- plate had been removed,—or even experimenting on us as Sir John Lubbock experimented on the ants, which had not the sense to mound the earth so as to get at the honey raised a little above them, and which did not find out that, by turning the straw so as to make it touch the other side of the chasm, they would have a drawbridge again at their service for the purpose of fetching their food from the far side. Suppose, we say, a superior being experimenting on us in like manner, and that having been told that we were very clever little creatures, which could build railways, and print, and analyse chemical sub- stances, and put down our thoughts in words, and telegraph our wishes from one side of the earth to the other, and find our way in ships by astronomical observations of the stars, he picked up a Hottentot, or an Esquimaux, or a Flemish labourer, or even a handful of people taken at random from an English street, and then set them something to do having about the same relation to human powers which Professor Mobiusts problem had to the pike's, or Sir John Lubbock's to the ant's. Suppose this superior intelli- geace ta pnt an English labourer in an extremely cold chemical laboratory-with simple chemical materials for lighting the fire, but none to-which he had been accustomed,—no flint or steel or lucifer matches,—and then, on finding that he was helpless, and that, after staring vacantly at the retorts and the array of chemical substances, he subsided into shivering,—the angelic observer recorded the fact that the human intelligence was not equal to the very simple chemical effort by which the boor in question might have lighted his fire, would it not be obvious that by thus generalising from a single instance the superior intelligence would have gone wrong? Or, suppose that the handful of human beings caught up at random in the street, were placed by this superior intelligence on a first-rate yacht supplied with excellent charts, in the middle of the Atlantic, at a moment when it was desirable to reef topsails, and essential to know what those reefs were on which breakers were seen dashing at some distance, and that on discover- ing that the scratch-crew were quite unequal to going aloft at all, and that no one on board understood the method of finding his latitude, to say nothing of his longitude, at sea, the superior intel- ligence were rashly to conclude that the stories as to the high technical and scientific skill of the human race were mere fables,— would it not be clear, again, that it was the superior intelligence which was at fault, and not the accounts he had received ? In other words, may it not be a great mistake to suppose that because a number of individuals taken at random from either an ant's nest or any other tribe of animals, are unequal to a par- ticular exercise of intelligence, therefore the species at large from which those individuals are selected, would be unequal to it, supposing the intelligence amongst them best fitted for the pur- pose was brought to bear upon it? We will take a practical illus- tration from that delightful book of Mr. Belt's, "The Naturalist in Nicaragua." A nest of leaf-cutting ants "was made," he says, "near one of our tramways, and to get to the trees [from which they cut their leaves] the ants had to cross the rails over which the waggons were continually passing. Every time they came along, a number of ants were crushed to death. They persevered in crossing for some time, but at last set to work and tunnelled underneath each rail. One day, when the waggons were not running, I stopped up the tunnels with stones ; but although great numbers carrying leaves were thus cut off from the nest, they would not cross the rails, but set to work making fresh tunnels underneath them. Apparently an order had gone forth, or a general understanding been come to, that the rails were not to be crossed." Now if Mr. Belt had observed only the early procedure of these ants, and their obstinacy in crossing the rails in spite of the number of lives lost in doing so, he would have set them down as unequal to the adaptation of their work to their circumstances ; and yet evidently, somewhere or other, the power to consider the difficulty, and to meet it in the right way, existed in the community, and was actually used, though it did not at first appear. He gives another instance of the same power of self- correction in the same tribe of ants. "Some of the ants," he says, "make mistakes, ancl carry in unsuitable leaves. Thus grass is always rejected by them ; but I have seen some ants, perhaps young ones, carrying leaves of grass, but after a while these pieces are always brought out again, and thrown away. I can imagine a young ant getting a severe ear-wigging from one of the major- domos for his stupidity." Again, in Mr. Belt's very striking de- scription of the armies of the hunting ant, Eciton inmate, he says :—"I think Eciton haniata does not stay more than four or five days in one place. I have sometimes come across the migratory columns ; they may easily be known by all the common workers moving in one direction, many of them carrying the larva and pupa carefully in their jaws. Here and there one of the light-coloured officers moves backwards and forwards, directing the columns." Now, if we may trust Mr. Belt's observations, experiments made on a number of individuals taken from the rank and file of these armies, and experiments made on them, if they had one or two of the "light-coloured officers" to direct and suggest their course, would be very different in their result. Possibly enough, in the case of the leaf-cutting ants, it was not till one of the "major-demos," as Mr. Belt calls them, came oat and saw the destruction that the waggons passing over the tram- ways made in the population, that the order was issued to tunnel under the rails. And may not the want of resource shown by Sir John Lubbock's ants have been due to the absence of some advising caste from his artificial nests ? Is it not quite possible that a few ants of a different organisation and higher powers would, in a state of nature, be attached to each ant's nest (just as a few 'of the slave ants are attached to the otherwise helpless sangutnea), whose advice would really have been equal to the solution of the problems he set them, though the pro/arum vulgus,—the mere "residuum" of the ant's nest,—were net equal to the solution of those problems.

At all events, we are strongly of opinion that there is, relatively at least, as much difference between the capacity,—if not between the degrees of educated skill,—of the different individuals in the same species of animals, as there, is between the different capacities and the degrees of edu- cated skill of the different individuals of our own race. Clearly, among dogs, the difference of ability and intelligence between different individuals is very great indeed, and: the same may be said of monkeys. Mr. Belt gives an interesting account of a monkey he had trained for a pet, and which he called "Mickey." It was chained, as it had a great taste for killing the ducks and poultry. "Sometimes, when there were broods of young ducks about, it would hold out a piece of bread in one hand, and when it had tempted a duckling within reach, seize it by the other, and kill it with a bite in the breast. There was such an uproar amongst the fowls on these occasions, that we soon knew what was the matter, and would rush out and punish ' Mickey ' with a switch ; so that he was ultimately cured of his poultry-stealing propensities. One day when whipping him, I held up the dead duckling in front of him, and at each blow of the light switch told him to take hold of it ; and at last, much to my sur- prise, he did so, taking it, and holding it tremblingly in one hand. He would draw things towards him with a stick, and even used a swing for the same purpose. It had been put up for the children, and could be reached by 'Mickey,' who now and then indulged him- self in a swing in it. One day I had put down some bird-skins on a chair to dry, far beyond, as I thought, 4 Mickey's ' reach ; but fertile in expedients, he took the swing and launched it towards the chair, and actually managed to knock the skins off in the return of the swing, so as to bring them within his reach. He also procured some jelly that was set out to cool in the same way." Now there can be no doubt that Mr. Belt might have found numbers of other monkeys of the same tribe (the white-faced cebus monkey) altogether unequal to such feats of intelligent inference as these, and yet he would have been quite mistaken in arguing from the incapacity of any of them to the incapacity of the whole species.

We suspect, then, that a great deal too little allowance is usually made by naturalists for these differences between individual and individual. To a foreigner, all individuals of a new race seem at first to resemble each other, so as to be almost indistinguishable ; and so to a man, all the individuals of a different race of animals seem still more to be indistinguish- able from each other,—and still more so is this the case where the creature is so small, and therefore the individual differ- ences appear so slight, as between one ant and another. Still, we suspect that Professor Mobius might easily have found half a dozen pikes more intelligent than the one on whose slowness of inference Mr. Romanes founded so large an inference as to the stupidity of pikes ; and it is far from unlikely that Sir John Lubbock's labours with not very clever ants were so un- favourable to the intelligence of ants as they proved, only because they were not the right ants in the right place. Even if one or two advisers of a more learned caste, like Mr. Belt's "major-domes," had not been able to put it all to rights, might not the addition of another hundred or two ants to the mass of the working crowd have furnished them with one or two of higher intelligence—or it may be, higher education—equal to the occasion ? It seems certain that whenever cats and birds are trained to feats of special akill, it is specially selected individuals, and not ordinary specimens of the tribe, which alone succeed. " Chambers's Miscellany "some years ago gave a charming account of one of the first " happy families," trained by a young Sardinian of the name of Francesco Michelo. And it is clear enough that if he had not begun his operations with a wonderfully clever cat, "Bianca," and had not discovered, in the course of his own-skilful efforts at training, a partridge, which he called "Rosaletta," of-very exceptional intelligence, he would never have succeeded in making his happy family co-operate as he did. The-partridge, on one occa- sion, actually went for him in chase of a goldfinch which had escaped, and drove it back little by little, along the tops of the linden trees, to wards home, till at last it got the wanderer safely into the cage. Of course, this was a feat not only of high intelli- gence, but in a great measure, too, of moral influence,—for it was only the partridge's tenacity of will, which compelled the goldfinch to fly towards home, instead of farther away from home,—and this is a kind of effort of which not one partridge in a thousand would have been capable. But if

one•partsidge in a thousand differs so mach from the other 999 in intelligence and loyalty, why should not one ant in a thousand surpass equally in intelligence and loyalty the other 999 ants ? And if that be so, it is clear that an experiment on a few out of the 999 will differ totally in its result from an experiment on any group of ante which happened to contain the thousandth of ex- ceptional loyalty and ability. In any case, we are quite sure that as regards the inferences to be drawn from observations on animals, there is too much disposition to assume that there is an average amount of intelligence present in all alike. The importance of the "individuality of the individual" wants preaching for the different races of animals, as well as for the race of men.