Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 69.djvu/150

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
146
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

inquiry was appointed to investigate the whole affair; and upon this commission sat a professor of psychology of the University of Berlin. Though the foregone conclusion was reached that the performance did not exhibit 'a scintilla of anything that may be regarded as thought' it certainly seems incongruous that so serious an inquiry should have become desirable. Only one point of interest seems to have been elicited, namely, that the horse's master or the bystanders may have frequently been honestly unaware of giving the sign which the keen senses of the horse caught as the indication to stop pawing. Perhaps we need not too pointedly raise the question as to how far these exhibitions intentionally deceive their audiences. Wherever systematic training enters, it follows that the trainer must realize how wide is the gap between what is done and what is pretended. Self-deception on the part of the showman can not be held accountable for more than a slight portion of this discrepancy. Yet still truer is it that if people were not ready to credit such remarkable powers to the horse or the dog, such exhibitions would find no favor. It is partly because animals can really do many things that are wonderful in themselves and, if performed by men, would require considerable rational powers, that we are inclined to credit them with capacities for learning similar to our own. This tendency can be held in check only by an appreciation of the complexity of even a simple piece of true reasoning, of how essential it is to appraise an action in terms of the process that led to it, and how indirect is the revelation of process that comes from the knowledge of the result alone. When this simple lesson in psychology is clearly recognized as furnishing a sound basis for judgment, there will be less tendency to believe that horses can take unto themselves brains with a capacity to multiply and read, as to believe that a horse has suddenly sprouted wings, even though such a Pegasus is pictured on the posters displayed in front of the exhibition hall.

People would also less easily succumb to such deception if they stopped to consider that in regard to these animal performances they must earn the right to an opinion by some simple measure of initiation into the arrangements of what impresses the uninitiated as a remarkable exhibition. The first attitude is naturally that of wonder, and in lack of any detailed knowledge of what the trick may be, the tendency is strong to credit, at least in part, the explanations that are advanced. Once this attitude is overcome and the kind of training that prepares for the performance is understood, the whole affair loses its marvelous aspect and becomes a mildly interesting demonstration of animal training. A brief glimpse of the mechanism behind the scenes is quite sufficient to balance the glare of the footlights and leave the spectator in possession of his usual measure of human intelligence that enables him to appraise sympathetically but sanely the intelligent powers of animals.