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Mentality of Fish

Nature volume 140, page 496 (18 September 1937) | Download Citation



DR. J. GRAY'S evening discourse to the British Association delivered on September 6 at Nottingham shows how closely the reactions of fishes resemble those of man. In the behaviour of man the involuntary machine-like reflex plays a very important part, and in a fish that is swimming freely the movement involves a high degree of co-ordination between a large number ofle muscs ; the whole of this highly co-ordinated mechanism being completely independent of that part of the fish's brain which corresponds to our cerebral hemisphere and therefore to that part of the brain which is associated with consciousness in ourselves. It is well known, however, that a fish may be trained to make mental associations, and in the last few years the problem has been subjected to rigid scientific investigation. By experiment it is found that a fish is sensitive to'a great variety of gentle stimuli such as a very slight change in temperature and the shape and colour of objects in its vicinity. Fish are also capable of carrying out highly complicated migratory excursions. In these types of behaviour Dr. Gray asks us if we do not see most if not all the activities of the human race. Almost certainly the association powers of a fish are on a much lower level than those of man, but the power is there, and it is difficult if not impossible to put our finger on any one of our mental powers and say, "Herein are we a race apart, elevated above the rest of the world". Dealing with the migratory experiments with the Pacific salmon, in which that fish is proved always to return to its own native waters, he says, "I venture to think that if we were to have carried out comparable experiments on a race of human beings, and got similar results, we would have said 'They do it, as you or I would do it, consciously noting the landmarks, memorising them, and so retracing their steps'—in fact they are performing a conscious act, a premediated, thoughtful, and purposive act. Are we to apply the same conclusions to the fish—if not, why not?"

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