The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex HTML version

Comparison Of The Mental Powers Of Man And The
Lower Animals
The difference in mental power between the highest ape and the lowest savage, immense-
-Certain instincts in common--The emotions--Curiosity-- Imitation--Attention--Memory--
Imagination--Reason--Progressive improvement --Tools and weapons used by animals--
Abstraction, Self-consciousness-- Language--Sense of beauty--Belief in God, spiritual
agencies, superstitions.
We have seen in the last two chapters that man bears in his bodily structure clear traces of
his descent from some lower form; but it may be urged that, as man differs so greatly in
his mental power from all other animals, there must be some error in this conclusion. No
doubt the difference in this respect is enormous, even if we compare the mind of one of
the lowest savages, who has no words to express any number higher than four, and who
uses hardly any abstract terms for common objects or for the affections (1. See the
evidence on those points, as given by Lubbock, 'Prehistoric Times,' p. 354, etc.), with that
of the most highly organised ape. The difference would, no doubt, still remain immense,
even if one of the higher apes had been improved or civilised as much as a dog has been
in comparison with its parent-form, the wolf or jackal. The Fuegians rank amongst the
lowest barbarians; but I was continually struck with surprise how closely the three natives
on board H.M.S. "Beagle," who had lived some years in England, and could talk a little
English, resembled us in disposition and in most of our mental faculties. If no organic
being excepting man had possessed any mental power, or if his powers had been of a
wholly different nature from those of the lower animals, then we should never have been
able to convince ourselves that our high faculties had been gradually developed. But it
can be shewn that there is no fundamental difference of this kind. We must also admit
that there is a much wider interval in mental power between one of the lowest fishes, as a
lamprey or lancelet, and one of the higher apes, than between an ape and man; yet this
interval is filled up by numberless gradations.
Nor is the difference slight in moral disposition between a barbarian, such as the man
described by the old navigator Byron, who dashed his child on the rocks for dropping a
basket of sea-urchins, and a Howard or Clarkson; and in intellect, between a savage who
uses hardly any abstract terms, and a Newton or Shakspeare. Differences of this kind
between the highest men of the highest races and the lowest savages, are connected by
the finest gradations. Therefore it is possible that they might pass and be developed into
each other.
My object in this chapter is to shew that there is no fundamental difference between man
and the higher mammals in their mental faculties. Each division of the subject might have
been extended into a separate essay, but must here be treated briefly. As no classification
of the mental powers has been universally accepted, I shall arrange my remarks in the
order most convenient for my purpose; and will select those facts which have struck me
most, with the hope that they may produce some effect on the reader.
With respect to animals very low in the scale, I shall give some additional facts under
Sexual Selection, shewing that their mental powers are much higher than might have
been expected. The variability of the faculties in the individuals of the same species is an