Inherited Feeling

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THE remarkable case of an inherited feeling of dislike for a special class of persons, communicated by Mr. Darwin, appears to me to support a view I have long held (but not yet published) as to the explanation of another class of so-called instincts. The three separate instances given in which the dogs showed a violent antipathy to butchers, either without seeing them or when they were dressed as gentlemen, clearly indicates that it was through the sense of smell that the painful sensation was experienced; and this is quite in accordance with the wonderful delicacy and importance of this sense in most animals, and especially in dogs. It is natural to suppose that some ancestor of these dogs was systematically and cruelly ill-treated by several butchers, perhaps from some thievish propensity or other bad habit which required frequent punishment, so that the smell of a butcher came to be invariably associated with pain and a desire for revenge. But the most important fact to observe is, that there must be some peculiar odour developed in human beings by constant contact with flesh, which a dog can recognise apart from individual peculiarities and in spite of perfect disguise. Now the power many animals possess to find their way back over a road they have travelled blindfolded (shut up in a basket inside a coach for example) has generally been considered to be an undoubted case of true instinct. But it seems to me that an animal so circumstanced will have its attention necessarily active, owing to its desire to get out of its confinement, and that by means of its most acute and only available sense it will take note of the sucsessive odours of the way, which will leave on its mind a series of images as distinct and prominent as those we should receive by the sense of sight. The recurrence of these odours in their proper inverse order—every house, ditch, field, and village having its own well-mirked individuality—would make it an easy matter for the animal in question to follow the identical route back, however many turnings and cross-roads it may have followed. This explanation appears to me to cover almost all the well-authenticated cases of this kind.

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WALLACE, A. Inherited Feeling. Nature 7, 303 (1873) doi:10.1038/007303a0

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