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Instinct: A Mechanical Analogy


MR. DARWIN, in his article on “The Origin of certain Instincts,” in NATURE, of April 3, appears inclined to think that what we may call the instinct of direction in animals is of the same kind as the faculty by which men find their way: and he instances the power of the natives of Siberia to find their way over hummocky ice. He afterwards, however, raises without discussing the question “whether animals may not possess the faculty of keeping a dead reckoning of their course in a much more perfect degree than man, or whether this faculty may not come into play on the commencement of a journey when an animal is shut up in a basket.” I wish to point out that this peculiar power of animals is one that cannot be explained as a higher degree of any power that man possesses. What man can do is to find the third side of a triangle after travelling the other two sides with his eyes open. Animals can do ths same after travelling the two sides with their eyes shut. The former power does not in any degree involve the latter. Moreover, the power of man here spoken of depends on the careful use of his powers of observation. This does not appear to be the case with animals. Among the many instances of animals finding their way home after being conveyed away without any opportunity of seeing their way or taking their bearings, there must in all probability be many in which the animal slept on the journey: and if so, the mental or organic process whereby it was able to know its way back must hate gone on during sleep. There is nothing in man's mind similar to such a process as this. It can be made conceivable only by a mechanical analogy, if at all.

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MURPHY, J. Instinct: A Mechanical Analogy. Nature 7, 483 (1873).

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