Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/55

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45
THE PROBLEMS OF COMPARATIVE PSYCHOLOGY.

three matches were not distinguished from, four matches, and "too much" and "too little" were confounded in the same way as "five and two." Children's notions of time are equally defective. M. Perez mentions a child describing a year as "many, many, many to-morrows," which expression is doubtless as exact as the underlying idea. The same child could not be taught the difference between "yesterday" and "the day before yesterday." In a statistical research it was found that, of children ready to begin their school life, eight per cent did not comprehend the meaning of three, seventeen per cent of four, and twenty-eight per cent of five.

The similarities between the mental processes of child and savage are far from being exhausted by this sketchy enumeration; it may indeed be maintained that the most interesting and characteristic have not yet been mentioned—those that depend upon similarities of imagination and general mental development. Both savage and child are ignorant of the laws of Nature, and the part that is taken by science and knowledge among the civilized and adult is in them filled by a vivid imagination, substituting faint and fanciful analogies for logic, and flourishing upon a naïve credulity. Consider what a large part chance and luck, which have been aptly termed the measure of our ignorance, play in the lives of savages and children. To the savage an appeal to chance takes place upon every occasion, and the issue is regarded as the expression of a powerful force; the same grade of concepts have a most tenacious hold upon children. What boy has not carried an odd stone, or an old penny, or a pet marble, for "luck"? To what boy would not the reasoning of the Indian who prefers "a hook that has caught a big fish to a handful that have never been tried," not seem natural and valid; although he might not go so far as the Bushmen, "who despise an arrow that has once failed of its mark," and so rather make new ones than collect those that have missed? How many childish superstitions are based upon a tracing of cause and effect with no stronger evidence than that of the people whose chief died after breaking off the anchor of a stranded vessel, and who accordingly bowed to the anchor, trying to appease its revenge! When a boy tosses a second penny after one that is lost in order to find it, perhaps repeating a formula in so doing, or when he takes care not to step on the cracks between paving-stones in going to school for fear of failing in his lessons, he is actuated by a train of thought easily paralleled among almost any primitive people. When the Malays eat tiger, "to acquire the sagacity as well as the cunning of that animal," or the Dyaks refuse to eat deer for fear of becoming faint-hearted, or the Caribs eschew pigs and tortoises for fear of having their eyes grow small, "the idea may seem absurd to us,"