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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsLife And Habit - Chapter 12. Instincts Of Neuter Insects
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Life And Habit - Chapter 12. Instincts Of Neuter Insects Post by :azaus Category :Nonfictions Author :Samuel Butler Date :May 2012 Read :1372

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Life And Habit - Chapter 12. Instincts Of Neuter Insects


In this chapter I will consider, as briefly as possible, the strongest argument that I have been able to discover against the supposition that instinct is chiefly due to habit. I have said "the strongest argument;" I should have said, the only argument that struck me as offering on the face of it serious difficulties.

Turning, then, to Mr. Darwin's chapter on instinct ("Natural Selection," ed. 1876, p. 205), we find substantially much the same views as those taken at a later date by M. Ribot, and referred to in the preceding chapter. Mr. Darwin writes:-

"An action, which we ourselves require experience to enable us to perform, when performed by an animal, more especially a very young one, without experience, and when performed by many animals in the same way without their knowing for what purpose it is performed, is usually said to be instinctive."

The above should strictly be, "without their being conscious of their own knowledge concerning the purpose for which they act as they do;" and though some may say that the two phrases come to the same thing, I think there is an important difference, as what I propose distinguishes ignorance from over-familiarity, both which states are alike unself-conscious, though with widely different results.

"But I could show," continues Mr. Darwin, "that none of these characters are universal. A little dose of judgement or reason, as Pierre Huber expresses it, often comes into play even with animals low in the scale of nature.

"Frederick Cuvier and several of the older metaphysicians have compared instinct with habit."

I would go further and would say, that instinct, in the great majority of cases, is habit pure and simple, contracted originally by some one or more individuals; practised, probably, in a consciously intelligent manner during many successive lives, until the habit has acquired the highest perfection which the circumstances admitted; and, finally, so deeply impressed upon the memory as to survive that effacement of minor impressions which generally takes place in every fresh life-wave or generation.

I would say, that unless the identity of offspring with their parents be so far admitted that the children be allowed to remember the deeper impressions engraved on the minds of those who begot them, it is little less than trilling to talk, as so many writers do, about inherited habit, or the experience of the race, or, indeed, accumulated variations of instincts.

When an instinct is not habit, as resulting from memory pure and simple, it is habit modified by some treatment, generally in the youth or embryonic stages of the individual, which disturbs his memory, and drives him on to some unusual course, inasmuch as he cannot recognise and remember his usual one by reason of the change now made in it. Habits and instincts, again, may be modified by any important change in the condition of the parents, which will then both affect the parent's sense of his own identity, and also create more or less fault, or dislocation of memory, in the offspring immediately behind the memory of his last life. Change of food may at times be sufficient to create a specific modification--that is to say, to affect all the individuals whose food is so changed, in one and the same way--whether as regards structure or habit. Thus we see that certain changes in food (and domicile), from those with which its ancestors have been familiar, will disturb the memory of a queen bee's egg, and set it at such disadvantage as to make it make itself into a neuter bee; but yet we find that the larva thus partly aborted may have its memories restored to it, if not already too much disturbed, and may thus return to its condition as a queen bee, if it only again be restored to the food and domicile, which its past memories can alone remember.

So we see that opium, tobacco, alcohol, hasheesh, and tea produce certain effects upon our own structure and instincts. But though capable of modification, and of specific modification, which may in time become inherited, and hence resolve itself into a true instinct or settled question, yet I maintain that the main bulk of the instinct (whether as affecting structure or habits of life) will be derived from memory pure and simple; the individual growing up in the shape he does, and liking to do this or that when he is grown up, simply from recollection of what he did last time, and of what on the whole suited him.

For it must be remembered that a drug which should destroy some one part at an early embryonic stage, and thus prevent it from development, would prevent the creature from recognising the surroundings which affected that part when he was last alive and unmutilated, as being the same as his present surroundings. He would be puzzled, for he would be viewing the position from a different standpoint. If any important item in a number of associated ideas disappears, the plot fails; and a great internal change is an exceedingly important item. Life and things to a creature so treated at an early embryonic stage would not be life and things as he last remembered them; hence he would not be able to do the same now as he did then; that is to say, he would vary both in structure and instinct; but if the creature were tolerably uniform to start with, and were treated in a tolerably uniform way, we might expect the effect produced to be much the same in all ordinary cases.

We see, also, that any important change in treatment and surroundings, if not sufficient to kill, would and does tend to produce not only variability but sterility, as part of the same story and for the same reason--namely, default of memory; this default will be of every degree of intensity, from total failure, to a slight disturbance of memory as affecting some one particular organ only; that is to say, from total sterility, to a slight variation in an unimportant part. So that even THE SLIGHTEST CONCEIVABLE VARIATIONS SHOULD BE REFERRED TO CHANGED CONDITIONS, EXTERNAL OR INTERNAL, AND TO THEIR DISTURBING EFFECTS UPON THE MEMORY; and sterility, without any apparent disease of the reproductive system, may be referred not so much to special delicacy or susceptibility of the organs of reproduction as to inability on the part of the creature to know where it is, and to recognise itself as the same creature which it has been accustomed to reproduce.

Mr. Darwin thinks that the comparison of habit with instinct gives "an accurate notion of the frame of mind under which an instinctive action is performed, but not," he thinks, "of its origin."

"How unconsciously," Mr. Darwin continues, "many habitual actions are performed, indeed not rarely in direct opposition to our conscious will! Yet they may be modified by the will or by reason. Habits easily become associated with other habits, with certain periods of time and states of body. When once acquired, they often remain constant throughout life. Several other points of resemblance between instincts and habits could be pointed out. As in repeating a well-known song, so in instincts, one action follows another by a sort of rhythm. If a person be interrupted in a song or in repeating anything by rote, he is generally forced to go back to recover the habitual train of thought; so P. Huber found it was with a caterpillar, which makes a very complicated hammock. For if he took a caterpillar which had completed its hammock up to, say, the sixth stage of construction, and put it into a hammock completed up only to the third stage, the caterpillar simply re-performed the fourth, fifth, and sixth stages of construction. If, however, a caterpillar were taken out of a hammock made up, for instance, to the third stage, and were put into one finished up to the sixth stage, so that much of its work was already done for it, far from deriving any benefit from this, it was much embarrassed, and in order to complete its hammock, seemed forced to start from the third stage, where it had left off, and thus tried to complete the already finished work."

I see I must have unconsciously taken my first chapter from this passage, but it is immaterial. I owe Mr. Darwin much more than this. I owe it to him that I believe in evolution at all. I owe him for almost all the facts which have led me to differ from him, and which I feel absolutely safe in taking for granted, if he has advanced them. Nevertheless, I believe that the conclusion arrived at in the passage which I will next quote is a mistaken one, and that not a little only, but fundamentally. I shall therefore venture to dispute it.

The passage runs:-

"If we suppose any habitual action to become inherited--and it can be shown that this does sometimes happen--then the resemblance between what originally was a habit and an instinct becomes so close as not to be distinguished. . . . BUT IT WOULD BE A SERIOUS ERROR TO SUPPOSE THAT THE GREATER NUMBER OF INSTINCTS HAVE BEEN ACQUIRED BY HABIT IN ONE GENERATION, AND THEN TRANSMITTED BY INHERITANCE TO SUCCEEDING GENERATIONS. IT CAN BE CLEARLY SHOWN THAT THE MOST WONDERFUL INSTINCTS WITH WHICH WE ARE ACQUAINTED--NAMELY, THOSE OF THE HIVE-BEE AND OF MANY ANTS, COULD NOT POSSIBLY HAVE BEEN ACQUIRED BY HABIT." ("Origin of Species," p. 206, ed. 1876.) The italics in this passage are mine.

No difficulty is opposed to my view (as I call it, for the sake of brevity) by such an instinct as that of ants to milk aphids. Such instincts may be supposed to have been acquired in much the same way as the instinct of a farmer to keep a cow. Accidental discovery of the fact that the excretion was good, with "a little dose of judgement or reason" from time to time appearing in an exceptionally clever ant, and by him communicated to his fellows, till the habit was so confirmed as to be capable of transmission in full unself- consciousness (if indeed the instinct be unself-conscious in this case), would, I think, explain this as readily as the slow and gradual accumulations of instincts which had never passed through the intelligent and self-conscious stage, but had always prompted action without any idea of a why or a wherefore on the part of the creature itself.

For it must be remembered, as I am afraid I have already perhaps too often said, that even when we have got a slight variation of instinct, due to some cause which we know nothing about, but which I will not even for a moment call "spontaneous"--a word that should be cut out of every dictionary, or in some way branded as perhaps the most misleading in the language--we cannot see how it comes to be repeated in successive generations, so as to be capable of being acted upon by "natural selection" and accumulated, unless it be also capable of being remembered by the offspring of the varying creature. It may be answered that we cannot know anything about this, but that "like father like son" is an ultimate fact in nature. I can only answer that I never observe any "like father like son" without the son's both having had every opportunity of remembering, and showing every symptom of having remembered, in which case I decline to go further than memory (whatever memory may be) as the cause of the phenomenon.

But besides inheritance, teaching must be admitted as a means of at any rate modifying an instinct. We observe this in our own case; and we know that animals have great powers of communicating their ideas to one another, though their manner of doing this is as incomprehensible by us as a plant's knowledge of chemistry, or the manner in which an amoeba makes its test, or a spider its web, without having gone through a long course of mathematics. I think most readers will allow that our early training and the theological systems of the last eighteen hundred years are likely to have made us involuntarily under-estimate the powers of animals low in the scale of life, both as regards intelligence and the power of communicating their ideas to one another; but even now we admit that ants have great powers in this respect.

A habit, however, which is taught to the young or each successive generation, by older members of the community who have themselves received it by instruction, should surely rank as an inherited habit, and be considered as due to memory, though personal teaching be necessary to complete the inheritance.

An objection suggests itself that if such a habit as the flight of birds, which seems to require a little personal supervision and instruction before it is acquired perfectly, were really due to memory, the need of instruction would after a time cease, inasmuch as the creature would remember its past method of procedure, and would thus come to need no more teaching. The answer lies in the fact, that if a creature gets to depend upon teaching and personal help for any matter, its memory will make it look for such help on each repetition of the action; so we see that no man's memory will exert itself much until he is thrown upon memory as his only resource. We may read a page of a book a hundred times, but we do not remember it by heart unless we have either cultivated our powers of learning to repeat, or have taken pains to learn this particular page.

And whether we read from a book, or whether we repeat by heart, the repetition is still due to memory; only in the one case the memory is exerted to recall something which one saw only half a second ago, and in the other, to recall something not seen for a much longer period. So I imagine an instinct or habit may be called an inherited habit, and assigned to memory, even though the memory dates, not from the performance of the action by the learner when he was actually part of the personality of the teacher, but rather from a performance witnessed by, or explained by the teacher to, the pupil at a period subsequent to birth. In either case the habit is inherited in the sense of being acquired in one generation, and transmitted with such modifications as genius and experience may have suggested.

Mr. Darwin would probably admit this without hesitation; when, therefore, he says that certain instincts could not possibly have been acquired by habit, he must mean that they could not, under the circumstances, have been remembered by the pupil in the person of the teacher, and that it would be a serious error to suppose that the greater number of instincts can be thus remembered. To which I assent readily so far as that it is difficult (though not impossible) to see how some of the most wonderful instincts of neuter ants and bees can be due to the fact that the neuter ant or bee was ever in part, or in some respects, another neuter ant or bee in a previous generation. At the same time I maintain that this does not militate against the supposition that both instinct and structure are in the main due to memory. For the power of receiving any communication, and acting on it, is due to memory; and the neuter ant or bee may have received its lesson from another neuter ant or bee, who had it from another and modified it; and so back and back, till the foundation of the habit is reached, and is found to present little more than the faintest family likeness to its more complex descendant. Surely Mr. Darwin cannot mean that it can be shewn that the wonderful instincts of neuter ants and bees cannot have been acquired either, as above, by instruction, or by some not immediately obvious form of inherited transmission, but that they must be due to the fact that the ant or bee is, as it were, such and such a machine, of which if you touch such and such a spring, you will get a corresponding action. If he does, he will find, so far as I can see, no escape from a position very similar to the one which I put into the mouth of the first of the two professors, who dealt with the question of machinery in my earlier work, "Erewhon," and which I have since found that my great namesake made fun of in the following lines:-

. . . "They now begun
To spur their living engines on.
For as whipped tops and bandy'd balls,
The learned hold are animals:
So horses they affirm to be
Mere engines made by geometry,
And were invented first from engines
As Indian Britons were from Penguins."
--Hudibras, Canto ii. line 53, &c.

I can see, then, no difficulty in the development of the ordinary so- called instincts, whether of ants or bees, or the cuckoo, or any other animal, on the supposition that they were, for the most part, intelligently acquired with more or less labour, as the case may be, in much the same way as we see any art or science now in process of acquisition among ourselves, but were ultimately remembered by offspring, or communicated to it. When the limits of the race's capacity had been attained (and most races seem to have their limits, unsatisfactory though the expression may very fairly be considered), or when the creature had got into a condition, so to speak, of equilibrium with its surroundings, there would be no new development of instincts, and the old ones would cease to be improved, inasmuch as there would be no more reasoning or difference of opinion concerning them. The race, therefore, or species would remain in statu quo till either domesticated, and so brought into contact with new ideas and placed in changed conditions, or put under such pressure, in a wild state, as should force it to further invention, or extinguish it if incapable of rising to the occasion. That instinct and structure may be acquired by practice in one or more generations, and remembered in succeeding ones, is admitted by Mr. Darwin, for he allows ("Origin of Species," p. 206) that habitual action does sometimes become inherited, and, though he does not seem to conceive of such action as due to memory, yet it is inconceivable how it is inherited, if not as the result of memory.

It must be admitted, however, that when we come to consider the structures as well as the instincts of some of the neuter insects, our difficulties seem greatly increased. The neuter hive-bees have a cavity in their thighs in which to keep the wax, which it is their business to collect; but the drones and queen, which alone bear offspring, collect no wax, and therefore neither want, nor have, any such cavity. The neuter bees are also, if I understand rightly, furnished with a proboscis or trunk for extracting honey from flowers, whereas the fertile bees, who gather no honey, have no such proboscis. Imagine, if the reader will, that the neuter bees differ still more widely from the fertile ones; how, then, can they in any sense be said to derive organs from their parents, which not one of their parents for millions of generations has ever had? How, again, can it be supposed that they transmit these organs to the future neuter members of the community when they are perfectly sterile?

One can understand that the young neuter bee might be taught to make a hexagonal cell (though I have not found that any one has seen the lesson being given) inasmuch as it does not make the cell till after birth, and till after it has seen other neuter bees who might tell it much in, qua us, a very little time; but we can hardly understand its growing a proboscis before it could possibly want it, or preparing a cavity in its thigh, to have it ready to put wax into, when none of its predecessors had ever done so, by supposing oral communication, during the larvahood. Nevertheless, it must not be forgotten that bees seem to know secrets about reproduction, which utterly baffle ourselves; for example, the queen bee appears to know how to deposit male or female, eggs at will; and this is a matter of almost inconceivable sociological importance, denoting a corresponding amount of sociological and physiological knowledge generally. It should not, then, surprise us if the race should possess other secrets, whose working we are unable to follow, or even detect at all.

Sydney Smith, indeed, writes:-

"The warmest admirers of honey, and the greatest friends to bees, will never, I presume, contend that the young swarm, who begin making honey three or four months after they are born, and immediately construct these mathematical cells, should have gained their geometrical knowledge as we gain ours, and in three months' time outstrip Mr. Maclaurin in mathematics as much as they did in making honey. It would take a senior wrangler at Cambridge ten hours a day for three years together to know enough mathematics for the calculation of these problems, with which not only every queen bee, but every undergraduate grub, is acquainted the moment it is born." This last statement may be a little too strong, but it will at once occur to the reader, that as we know the bees DO surpass Mr. Maclaurin in the power of making honey, they may also surpass him in capacity for those branches of mathematics with which it has been their business to be conversant during many millions of years, and also in knowledge of physiology and psychology in so far as the knowledge bears upon the interests of their own community.

We know that the larva which develops into a neuter bee, and that again which in time becomes a queen bee, are the same kind of larva to start with; and that if you give one of these larvae the food and treatment which all its foremothers have been accustomed to, it will turn out with all the structure and instincts of its foremothers--and that it only fails to do this because it has been fed, and otherwise treated, in such a manner as not one of its foremothers was ever yet fed or treated. So far, this is exactly what we should expect, on the view that structure and instinct are alike mainly due to memory, or to medicined memory. Give the larva a fair chance of knowing where it is, and it shows that it remembers by doing exactly what it did before. Give it a different kind of food and house, and it cannot be expected to be anything else than puzzled. It remembers a great deal. It comes out a bee, and nothing but a bee; but it is an aborted bee; it is, in fact, mutilated before birth instead of after- -with instinct, as well as growth, correlated to its abortion, as we see happens frequently in the case of animals a good deal higher than bees that have been mutilated at a stage much later than that at which the abortion of neuter bees commences.

The larvae being similar to start with, and being similarly mutilated--i.e., by change of food and dwelling, will naturally exhibit much similarity of instinct and structure on arriving at maturity. When driven from their usual course, they must take SOME new course or die. There is nothing strange in the fact that similar beings puzzled similarly should take a similar line of action. I grant, however, that it is hard to see how change of food and treatment can puzzle an insect into such "complex growth" as that it should make a cavity in its thigh, grow an invaluable proboscis, and betray a practical knowledge of difficult mathematical problems.

But it must be remembered that the memory of having been queen bees and drones--which is all that according to my supposition the larvae can remember, (on a first view of the case), in their own proper persons--would nevertheless carry with it a potential recollection of all the social arrangements of the hive. They would thus potentially remember that the mass of the bees were always neuter bees; they would remember potentially the habits of these bees, so far as drones and queens know anything about them; and this may be supposed to be a very thorough acquaintance; in like manner, and with the same limitation, they would know from the very moment that they left the queen's body that neuter bees had a proboscis to gather honey with, and cavities in their thighs to put wax into, and that cells were to be made with certain angles--for surely it is not crediting the queen with more knowledge than she is likely to possess, if we suppose her to have a fair acquaintance with the phenomena of wax and cells generally, even though she does not make any; they would know (while still larvae--and earlier) the kind of cells into which neuter bees were commonly put, and the kind of treatment they commonly received-- they might therefore, as eggs--immediately on finding their recollection driven from its usual course, so that they must either find some other course, or die--know that they were being treated as neuter bees are treated, and that they were expected to develop into neuter bees accordingly; they might know all this, and a great deal more into the bargain, inasmuch as even before being actually deposited as eggs they would know and remember potentially, but unconsciously, all that their parents knew and remembered intensely. Is it, then, astonishing that they should adapt themselves so readily to the position which they know it is for the social welfare of the community, and hence of themselves, that they should occupy, and that they should know that they will want a cavity in their thighs and a proboscis, and hence make such implements out of their protoplasm as readily as they make their wings?

I admit that, under normal treatment, none of the above-mentioned potential memories would be kindled into such a state of activity that action would follow upon them, until the creature had attained a more or less similar condition to that in which its parent was when these memories were active within its mind: but the essence of the matter is, that these larvae have been treated ABNORMALLY, so that if they do not die, there is nothing for it but that they must vary. One cannot argue from the normal to the abnormal. It would not, then, be strange if the potential memories should (owing to the margin for premature or tardy development which association admits) serve to give the puzzled larvae a hint as to the course which they had better take, or that, at any rate, it should greatly supplement the instruction of the "nurse" bees themselves by rendering the larvae so, as it were, inflammable on this point, that a spark should set them in a blaze. Abortion is generally premature. Thus the scars referred to in the last chapter as having appeared on the children of men who had been correspondingly wounded, should not, under normal circumstances, have appeared in the offspring till the children had got fairly near the same condition generally as that in which their fathers were when they were wounded, and even then, normally, there should have been an instrument to wound them, much as their fathers had been wounded. Association, however, does not always stick to the letter of its bond.

The line, again, might certainly be taken that the difference in structure and instincts between neuter and fertile bees is due to the specific effects of certain food and treatment; yet, though one would be sorry to set limits to the convertibility of food and genius, it seems hard to believe that there can be any untutored food which should teach a bee to make a hexagonal cell as soon as it was born, or which, before it was born, should teach it to prepare such structures as it would require in after life. If, then, food be considered as a direct agent in causing the structures and instinct, and not an indirect agent, merely indicating to the larva itself that it is to make itself after the fashion of neuter bees, then we should bear in mind that, at any rate, it has been leavened and prepared in the stomachs of those neuter bees into which the larva is now expected to develop itself, and may thus have in it more true germinative matter--gemmules, in fact--than is commonly supposed. Food, when sufficiently assimilated (the whole question turning upon what IS "sufficiently"), becomes stored with all the experience and memories of the assimilating creature; corn becomes hen, and knows nothing but hen, when hen has eaten it. We know also that the neuter working-bees inject matter into the cell after the larva has been produced; nor would it seem harsh to suppose that though devoid of a reproductive system like that of their parents, they may yet be practically not so neuter as is commonly believed. One cannot say what gemmules of thigh and proboscis may not have got into the neutral bees' stomachs, if they assimilate their food sufficiently, and thus into the larva.

Mr. Darwin will be the first to admit that though a creature have no reproductive system, in any ordinary sense of the word, yet every unit or cell of its body may throw off gemmules which may be free to move over every part of the whole organism, and which "natural selection" might in time cause to stray into food which had been sufficiently prepared in the stomachs of the neuter bees.

I cannot say, then, precisely in what way, but I can see no reason for doubting that in some of the ways suggested above, or in some combination of them, the phenomena of the instincts of neuter ants and bees can be brought into the same category as the instincts and structure of fertile animals. At any rate, I see the great fact that when treated as they have been accustomed to be treated, these neuters act as though they remembered, and accordingly become queen bees; and that they only depart from their ancestral course on being treated in such fashion as their ancestors can never have remembered; also, that when they have been thrown off their accustomed line of thought and action, they only take that of their nurses, who have been about them from the moment of their being deposited as eggs by the queen bee, who have fed them from their own bodies, and between whom and them there may have been all manner of physical and mental communication, of which we know no more than we do of the power which enables a bee to find its way home after infinite shifting and turning among flowers, which no human powers could systematise so as to avoid confusion.

Or take it thus: We know that mutilation at an early age produces an effect upon the structure and instincts of cattle, sheep, and horses; and it might be presumed that if feasible at an earlier age, it would produce a still more marked effect. We observe that the effect produced is uniform, or nearly so. Suppose mutilation to produce a little more effect than it does, as we might easily do, if cattle, sheep, and horses had been for ages accustomed to a mutilated class living among them, which class had been always a caste apart, and had fed the young neuters from their own bodies, from an early embryonic stage onwards; would any one in this case dream of advancing the structure and instincts of this mutilated class against the doctrine that instinct is inherited habit? Or, if inclined to do this, would he not at once refrain, on remembering that the process of mutilation might be arrested, and the embryo be developed into an entire animal by simply treating it in the way to which all its ancestors had been accustomed? Surely he would not allow the difficulty (which I must admit in some measure to remain) to outweigh the evidence derivable from these very neuter insects themselves, as well as from such a vast number of other sources--all pointing in the direction of instinct as inherited habit. {5}

Lastly, it must be remembered that the instinct to make cells and honey is one which has no very great hold upon its possessors. Bees CAN make cells and honey, nor do they seem to have any very violent objection to doing so; but it is quite clear that there is nothing in their structure and instincts which urges them on to do these things for the mere love of doing them, as a hen is urged to sit upon a chalk stone, concerning which she probably is at heart utterly sceptical, rather than not sit at all. There is no honey and cell- making instinct so strong as the instinct to eat, if they are hungry, or to grow wings, and make themselves into bees at all. Like ourselves, so long as they can get plenty to eat and drink, they will do no work. Under these circumstances, not one drop of honey nor one particle of wax will they collect, except, I presume, to make cells for the rearing of their young.

Sydney Smith writes:-

"The most curious instance of a change of instinct is recorded by Darwin. The bees carried over to Barbadoes and the Western Isles ceased to lay up any honey after the first year, as they found it not useful to them. They found the weather so fine, and materials for making honey so plentiful, that they quitted their grave, prudent, and mercantile character, became exceedingly profligate and debauched, ate up their capital, resolved to work no more, and amused themselves by flying about the sugar-houses and stinging the blacks" (Lecture XVII. on Moral Philosophy). The ease, then, with which the honey-gathering and cell-making habits are relinquished, would seem to point strongly in the direction of their acquisition at a comparatively late period of development.

I have dealt with bees only, and not with ants, which would perhaps seem to present greater difficulty, inasmuch as in some families of these there are two, or even three, castes of neuters with well- marked and wide differences of structure and instinct; but I think the reader will agree with me that the ants are sufficiently covered by the bees, and that enough, therefore, has been said already. Mr. Darwin supposes that these modifications of structure and instinct have been effected by the accumulation of numerous slight, profitable, spontaneous variations on the part of the fertile parents, which has caused them (so, at least, I understand him) to lay this or that particular kind of egg, which should develop into a kind of bee or ant, with this or that particular instinct, which instinct is merely a co-ordination with structure, and in no way attributable to use or habit in preceding generations.

Even so, one cannot see that the habit of laying this particular kind of egg might not be due to use and memory in previous generations on the part of the fertile parents, "for the numerous slight spontaneous variations," on which "natural selection" is to work, must have had some cause than which none more reasonable than sense of need and experience presents itself; and there seems hardly any limit to what long-continued faith and desire, aided by intelligence, may be able to effect. But if sense of need and experience are denied, I see no escape from the view that machines are new species of life.

Mr. Darwin concludes: "I am surprised that no one has hitherto advanced this demonstrative case of neuter insects against the well- known doctrine of inherited habit as advanced by Lamarck" ("Natural Selection," p. 233, ed. 1876).

After reading this, one feels as though there was no more to be said. The well-known doctrine of inherited habit, as advanced by Lamarck, has indeed been long since so thoroughly exploded, that it is not worth while to go into an explanation of what it was, or to refute it in detail. Here, however, is an argument against it, which is so much better than anything advanced yet, that one is surprised it has never been made use of; so we will just advance it, as it were, to slay the slain, and pass on. Such, at least, is the effect which the paragraph above quoted produced upon myself, and would, I think, produce on the great majority of readers. When driven by the exigencies of my own position to examine the value of the demonstration more closely, I conclude, either that I have utterly failed to grasp Mr. Darwin's meaning, or that I have no less completely mistaken the value and bearing of the facts I have myself advanced in these few last pages. Failing this, my surprise is, not that "no one has hitherto advanced" the instincts of neuter insects as a demonstrative case against the doctrine of inherited habit, but rather that Mr. Darwin should have thought the case demonstrative; or again, when I remember that the neuter working bee is only an aborted queen, and may be turned back again into a queen, by giving it such treatment as it can alone be expected to remember--then I am surprised that the structure and instincts of neuter bees has never (if never) been brought forward in support of the doctrine of inherited habit as advanced by Lamarck, and against any theory which would rob such instincts of their foundation in intelligence, and of their connection with experience and memory.

As for the instinct to mutilate, that is as easily accounted for as any other inherited habit, whether of man to mutilate cattle, or of ants to make slaves, or of birds to make their nests. I can see no way of accounting for the existence of any one of these instincts, except on the supposition that they have arisen gradually, through perceptions of power and need on the part of the animal which exhibits them--these two perceptions advancing hand in hand from generation to generation, and being accumulated in time and in the common course of nature.

I have already sufficiently guarded against being supposed to maintain that very long before an instinct or structure was developed, the creature descried it in the far future, and made towards it. We do not observe this to be the manner of human progress. Our mechanical inventions, which, as I ventured to say in "Erewhon," through the mouth of the second professor, are really nothing but extra-corporaneous limbs--a wooden leg being nothing but a bad kind of flesh leg, and a flesh leg being only a much better kind of wooden leg than any creature could be expected to manufacture introspectively and consciously--our mechanical inventions have almost invariably grown up from small beginnings, and without any very distant foresight on the part of the inventors. When Watt perfected the steam engine, he did not, it seems, foresee the locomotive, much less would any one expect a savage to invent a steam engine. A child breathes automatically, because it has learnt to breathe little by little, and has now breathed for an incalculable length of time; but it cannot open oysters at all, nor even conceive the idea of opening oysters for two or three years after it is born, for the simple reason that this lesson is one which it is only beginning to learn. All I maintain is, that, give a child as many generations of practice in opening oysters as it has had in breathing or sucking, and it would on being born, turn to the oyster-knife no less naturally than to the breast. We observe that among certain families of men there has been a tendency to vary in the direction of the use and development of machinery; and that in a certain still smaller number of families, there seems to be an almost infinitely great capacity for varying and inventing still further, whether socially or mechanically; while other families, and perhaps the greater number, reach a certain point and stop; but we also observe that not even the most inventive races ever see very far ahead. I suppose the progress of plants and animals to be exactly analogous to this.

Mr. Darwin has always maintained that the effects of use and disuse are highly important in the development of structure, and if, as he has said, habits are sometimes inherited--then they should sometimes be important also in the development of instinct, or habit. But what does the development of an instinct or structure, or, indeed, any effect upon the organism produced by "use and disuse," imply? It implies an effect produced by a desire to do something for which the organism was not originally well adapted or sufficient, but for which it has come to be sufficient in consequence of the desire. The wish has been father to the power; but this again opens up the whole theory of Lamarck, that the development of organs has been due to the wants or desires of the animal in which the organ appears. So far as I can see, I am insisting on little more than this.

Once grant that a blacksmith's arm grows thicker through hammering iron, and you have an organ modified in accordance with a need or wish. Let the desire and the practice be remembered, and go on for long enough, and the slight alterations of the organ will be accumulated, until they are checked either by the creature's having got all that he cares about making serious further effort to obtain, or until his wants prove inconvenient to other creatures that are stronger than he, and he is hence brought to a standstill. Use and disuse, then, with me, and, as I gather also, with Lamarck, are the keys to the position, coupled, of course, with continued personality and memory. No sudden and striking changes would be effected, except that occasionally a blunder might prove a happy accident, as happens not unfrequently with painters, musicians, chemists, and inventors at the present day; or sometimes a creature, with exceptional powers of memory or reflection, would make his appearance in this race or in that. We all profit by our accidents as well as by our more cunning contrivances, so that analogy would point in the direction of thinking that many of the most happy thoughts in the animal and vegetable kingdom were originated much as certain discoveries that have been made by accident among ourselves. These would be originally blind variations, though even so, probably less blind than we think, if we could know the whole truth. When originated, they would be eagerly taken advantage of and improved upon by the animal in whom they appeared; but it cannot be supposed that they would be very far in advance of the last step gained, more than are those "flukes" which sometimes enable us to go so far beyond our own ordinary powers. For if they were, the animal would despair of repeating them. No creature hopes, or even wishes, for very much more than he has been accustomed to all his life, he and his family, and the others whom he can understand, around him. It has been well said that "enough" is always "a little more than one has." We do not try for things which we believe to be beyond our reach, hence one would expect that the fortunes, as it were, of animals should have been built up gradually. Our own riches grow with our desires and the pains we take in pursuit of them, and our desires vary and increase with our means of gratifying them; but unless with men of exceptional business aptitude, wealth grows gradually by the adding field to field and farm to farm; so with the limbs and instincts of animals; these are but the things they have made or bought with their money, or with money that has been left them by their forefathers, which, though it is neither silver nor gold, but faith and protoplasm only, is good money and capital notwithstanding.

I have already admitted that instinct may be modified by food or drugs, which may affect a structure or habit as powerfully as we see certain poisons affect the structure of plants by producing, as Mr. Darwin tells us, very complex galls upon their leaves. I do not, therefore, for a moment insist on habit as the sole cause of instinct. Every habit must have had its originating cause, and the causes which have started one habit will from time to time start or modify others; nor can I explain why some individuals of a race should be cleverer than others, any more than I can explain why they should exist at all; nevertheless, I observe it to be a fact that differences in intelligence and power of growth are universal in the individuals of all those races which we can best watch. I also most readily admit that the common course of nature would both cause many variations to arise independently of any desire on the part of the animal (much as we have lately seen that the moons of Mars were on the point of being discovered three hundred years ago, merely through Galileo sending to Kepler a Latin anagram which Kepler could not understand, and arranged into the line--"Salve umbistineum geminatum Martia prolem," and interpreted to mean that Mars had two moons, whereas Galileo had meant to say "Altissimum planetam tergeminum observavi," meaning that he had seen Saturn's ring), and would also preserve and accumulate such variations when they had arisen; but I can no more believe that the wonderful adaptation of structures to needs, which we see around us in such an infinite number of plants and animals, can have arisen without a perception of those needs on the part of the creature in whom the structure appears, than I can believe that the form of the dray-horse or greyhound--so well adapted both to the needs of the animal in his daily service to man, and to the desires of man, that the creature should do him this daily service--can have arisen without any desire on man's part to produce this particular structure, or without the inherited habit of performing the corresponding actions for man, on the part of the greyhound and dray-horse.

And I believe that this will be felt as reasonable by the great majority of my readers. I believe that nine fairly intelligent and observant men out of ten, if they were asked which they thought most likely to have been the main cause of the development of the various phases either of structure or instinct which we see around us, namely--sense of need, or even whim, and hence occasional discovery, helped by an occasional piece of good luck, communicated, it may be, and generally adopted, long practised, remembered by offspring, modified by changed surroundings, and accumulated in the course of time--or, the accumulation of small divergent, indefinite, and perfectly unintelligent variations, preserved through the survival of their possessor in the struggle for existence, and hence in time leading to wide differences from the original type--would answer in favour of the former alternative; and if for no other cause yet for this--that in the human race, which we are best able to watch, and between which and the lower animals no difference in kind will, I think, be supposed, but only in degree, we observe that progress must have an internal current setting in a definite direction, but whither we know not for very long beforehand; and that without such internal current there is stagnation. Our own progress--or variation--is due not to small, fortuitous inventions or modifications which have enabled their fortunate possessors to survive in times of difficulty, not, in fact, to strokes of luck (though these, of course, have had some effect--but not more, probably, than strokes of ill luck have counteracted) but to strokes of cunning--to a sense of need, and to study of the past and present which have given shrewd people a key with which to unlock the chambers of the future.

Further, Mr. Darwin himself says ("Plants and Animals under Domestication," ii. p. 237, ed. 1875):-

"But I think we must take a broader view and conclude that organic beings when subjected during several generations to any change whatever in their conditions tend to vary: THE KIND OF VARIATION WHICH ENSUES DEPENDING IN MOST CASES IN A FAR HIGHER DEGREE ON THE NATURE OR CONSTITUTION OF THE BEING, THAN ON THE NATURE OF THE CHANGED CONDITIONS." And this we observe in man. The history of a man prior to his birth is more important as far as his success or failure goes than his surroundings after birth, important though these may indeed be. The able man rises in spite of a thousand hindrances, the fool fails in spite of every advantage. "Natural selection," however, does not make either the able man or the fool. It only deals with him after other causes have made him, and would seem in the end to amount to little more than to a statement of the fact that when variations have arisen they will accumulate. One cannot look, as has already been said, for the origin of species in that part of the course of nature which settles the preservation or extinction of variations which have already arisen from some unknown cause, but one must look for it in the causes that have led to variation at all. These causes must get, as it were, behind the back of "natural selection," which is rather a shield and hindrance to our perception of our own ignorance than an explanation of what these causes are.

The remarks made above will apply equally to plants such as the misletoe and red clover. For the sake of brevity I will deal only with the misletoe, which seems to be the more striking case. Mr. Darwin writes:-

"Naturalists continually refer to external conditions, such as climate, food, &c., as the only possible cause of variation. In one limited sense, as we shall hereafter see, this may be true; but it is preposterous to attribute to mere external conditions, the structure, for instance, of the woodpecker, with its feet, tail, beak, and tongue, so admirably adapted to catch insects under the bark of trees. In the case of the misletoe, which draws its nourishment from certain trees, which has seeds that must be transported by certain birds, and which has flowers with separate sexes absolutely requiring the agency of certain insects to bring pollen from one flower to another, it is equally preposterous to account for the structure of this parasite with its relations to several distinct organic beings, by the effect of external conditions, or of habit, or of the volition of the plant itself" ("Natural Selection," p. 3, ed. 1876).

I cannot see this. To me it seems still more preposterous to account for it by the action of "natural selection" operating upon indefinite variations. It would be preposterous to suppose that a bird very different from a woodpecker should have had a conception of a woodpecker, and so by volition gradually grown towards it. So in like manner with the misletoe. Neither plant nor bird knew how far they were going, or saw more than a very little ahead as to the means of remedying this or that with which they were dissatisfied, or of getting this or that which they desired; but given perceptions at all, and thus a sense of needs and of the gratification of those needs, and thus hope and fear, and a sense of content and discontent- -given also the lowest power of gratifying those needs--given also that some individuals have these powers in a higher degree than others--given also continued personality and memory over a vast extent of time--and the whole phenomena of species and genera resolve themselves into an illustration of the old proverb, that what is one man's meat is another man's poison. Life in its lowest form under the above conditions--and we cannot conceive of life at all without them--would be bound to vary, and to result after not so very many millions of years in the infinite forms and instincts which we see around us.

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Life And Habit - Chapter 13. Lamarck And Mr. Darwin Life And Habit - Chapter 13. Lamarck And Mr. Darwin

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CHAPTER XIII. LAMARCK AND MR. DARWINIt will have been seen that in the preceding pages the theory of evolution, as originally propounded by Lamarck, has been more than once supported, as against the later theory concerning it put forward by Mr. Darwin, and now generally accepted. It is not possible for me, within the limits at my command, to do anything like justice to the arguments that may be brought forward in favour of either of these two theories. Mr. Darwin's books are at the command of every one; and so much has been discovered since Lamarck's day, that if

Life And Habit - Chapter 11. Instinct As Inherited Memory Life And Habit - Chapter 11. Instinct As Inherited Memory

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