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07 - Instinct 07-01 - Instincts comparable with habits, but different in their origin 10 The subject of instinct might have been worked into the previous chapters; but I have thought that it would be more convenient to treat the subject separately, especially as so wonderful an instinct as that of the hive-bee making its cells will probably have occurred to many readers, as a difficulty sufficient to overthrow my whole theory.

Honey Comb
Honey Comb


I must premise, that I have nothing to do with the origin of the primary mental powers, any more than I have with that of life itself.

We are concerned only with the diversities of instinct and of the other mental qualities of animals within the same class.

I will not attempt any definition of instinct.

It would be easy to show that several distinct mental actions are commonly embraced by this term; but every one understands what is meant, when it is said that instinct impels the cuckoo to migrate and to lay her eggs in other birds' nests.

cuckoo
cuckoo


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

But I could show that none of these characters of instinct are universal.

A little dose, as Pierre Huber expresses it, of judgment or reason, often comes into play, even in animals very low in the scale of nature.

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

Georges Cuvier
Georges Cuvier


This comparison gives, I think, a remarkably accurate notion of the frame of mind under which an instinctive action is performed, but not of its origin.

How unconsciously many habitual actions are performed, indeed not rarely in direct opposition to our conscious will! yet they may be modified by the will or reason. Habits easily become associated with other habits, and with certain periods of time and states of the body.

When once acquired, they often remain constant throughout life. Several other points of resemblance between instincts and habits could be pointed out.
06 - Difficutiles in Theory 06-04 - Transitions in Habits of Life 10 On the Origin and Transitions of Organic Beings with peculiar Habits and Structure.

It has been asked by the opponents of such views as I hold, how, for instance, could a land carnivorous animal have been converted into one with aquatic habits; for how could the animal in its transitional state have subsisted?

It would be easy to show that there now exist carnivorous animals presenting close intermediate grades from strictly terrestrial to aquatic habits; and as each exists by a struggle for life, it is clear that each must be well adapted to its place in nature.

Look at the Mustela vision of North America, which has webbed feet, and which resembles an otter in its fur, short legs, and form of tail. During the summer this animal dives for and preys on fish, but during the long winter it leaves the frozen waters, and preys, like other pole-cats, on mice and land animals.

mink (Mustela)
mink (Mustela)

North America
North America

otter
otter

cat
cat

mouse
mouse


If a different case had been taken, and it had been asked how an insectivorous quadruped could possibly have been converted into a flying bat, the question would have been far more difficult to answer.

Yet I think such difficulties have little weight.
06 - Difficutiles in Theory 06-07 - Organs of extreme Perfection 10 To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.

Eye
Eye


When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science.

Nicolaus Copernicus
Nicolaus Copernicus


Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive of the theory.

How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself originated; but I may remark that, as some of the lowest organisms, in which nerves cannot be detected, are capable of perceiving light, it does not seem impossible that certain sensitive elements in their sarcode should become aggregated and developed into nerves, endowed with this special sensibility.

lightning
lightning
06 - Difficutiles in Theory 06-08 - Means of Transition 10 If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.

But I can find out no such case. No doubt many organs exist of which we do not know the transitional grades, more especially if we look to much-isolated species, round which, according to the theory, there has been much extinction.

Or again, if we take an organ common to all the members of a class, for in this latter case the organ must have been originally formed at a remote period, since which all the many members of the class have been developed; and in order to discover the early transitional grades through which the organ has passed, we should have to look to very ancient ancestral forms, long since become extinct.