The Play of Animals

The Play of Animals

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An excerpt from the Author's Preface:

ANIMAL psychology is regarded by many somewhat contemptuously as a sort of amusement, from which nothing worth speaking of can be expected for the advancement of our modern science of the mind. I do not .believe this. In the first place, it is quite wrong to judge animal psychology mainly from its value for the interpretation of the mind of man, making secondary the independent interest to which it lays claim. Yet, apart from this, such a study is valuable to the anthropologist in many ways, though it must be admitted that but little has as yet been accomplished in this direction. Unfortunately, many of the works hitherto published on the subject of animal psychology labour under the disadvantage of being strongly biased, and suffer also from a lack of method. Their authors, justly indignant at the arrogance of man in despising the animals and claiming for themselves all the higher and more refined attributes, naturally wish to prove that animals, too, possess a high degree of intelligence and feeling; they accordingly emphasize the resemblance of animals to man, and their work becomes an interesting collection of anecdotes of specially gifted individual animals—collections, no doubt, possessing much intrinsic worth but of little value to the psychologist. If the observation of animals is to be rendered fruitful for the unsolved problems of anthropology, an untried way must be entered upon; attention must be directed less to particular resemblances to man, and more to specific animal characteristics. Hereby a means may be found for the better understanding of the animal part in man than can be attained through the discussion of human examples alone. Man's animal nature reveals itself in instinctive acts, and the latest investigators tell us that man has at least as many instincts as the brutes have, though most of them have become unrecognisable through the influence of education and tradition. Therefore an accurate knowledge of the animal world, where pure instinct is displayed, is indispensable in weighing the importance of inherited impulses in men.

The number of investigators who have adopted this method is not great, and I venture to hope that this book may be in some degree influential in increasing it, as well as respect for animal psychology as a science. The world of play, to which art belongs, stands in most important and interesting contrast with the stern realities of life; yet there are few scientific works in the field of human play, and none at all in that of animal play—a fact to be accounted for, probably, by the inherent difficulties of the subject, both objective and subjective. The animal psychologist must harbour in his breast not only two souls, but more; he must unite with a thorough training in physiology, psychology, and biology the experience of a traveller, the practical knowledge of the director of a zoological garden, and `` the outdoor lore of a forester. And even then he could not round up his labours satisfactorily unless he were familiar with the trend of modern aesthetics. Indeed, I consider this last point so important that I venture to affirm that none but a student of aesthetics is capable of writing the psychology of animals. If in this statement I seem to put myself forward as a student of aesthetics, I can only say that I hope for indulgence, in view of the many shortcomings which are apparent in this effort, on the ground that a versatility so comprehensive is unattainable by an ordinary mortal.

The first two chapters seek to establish the conception of play on a basis of natural science. There are two quite different popular ideas of play. The first is that the animal (or man) begins to play when he feels particularly cheerful, healthy, and strong; the second—which I found even entertained by a forester—that the play of young animals serves to fit them for the tasks of later life. The former view tends to a physiological, the latter to a biological, conception of play. The first finds its scientific basis in the theory of surplus energy, which is amplified by Herbert Spencer especially, but which was previously promulgated by Schiller, as I have attempted to show in the beginning of the book. This explanation of play is certainly of great value, but is not fully adequate, and I have reached the conclusion that a state of surplus energy may not always be even a conditio sine qua non of play.

The physiological conditions which cause a young beast of prey to follow a rolling ball need not, apparently, be different from those of the grown animal in pursuit of its natural prey. The other view, by keeping before the eyes the biological significance of play, seems to me to open the way to a more thorough understanding of the problem....

Product Details

BN ID: 2940012332752
Publisher: OGB
Publication date: 04/15/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 649 KB

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