The Play of Animals

Author's Preface

Karl Groos

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ANIMAL psychology is regarded by many somewhat contemptuously as a sort of amusement, from which nothing worth speaking of can be expected for the advancement of our modern science of the mind. I do not .believe this. In the first place, it is quite wrong to judge animal psychology mainly from its value for the interpretation of the mind of man, making secondary the independent interest to which it lays claim. Yet, apart from this, such a study is valuable to the anthropologist in many ways, though it must be admitted that but little has as yet been accomplished in this direction. Unfortunately, many of the works hitherto published on the subject of animal psychology labour under the disadvantage of being strongly biased, and suffer also from a lack of method. Their authors, justly indignant at the arrogance of man in despising the animals and claiming for themselves all the higher and more refined attributes, naturally wish to prove that animals, too, possess a high degree of intelligence and feeling; they accordingly emphasize the resemblance of animals to man, and their work becomes an interesting collection of anecdotes of specially gifted individual animals—collections, no doubt, possessing much intrinsic worth but of little value

(xviii) to the psychologist. If the observation of animals is to be rendered fruitful for the unsolved problems of anthropology, an untried way must be entered upon; attention must be directed less to particular resemblances to man, and more to specific animal characteristics. Hereby a means may be found for the better understanding of the animal part in man than can be attained through the discussion of human examples alone. Man's animal nature reveals itself in instinctive acts, and the latest investigators tell us that man has at least as many instincts as the brutes have, though most of them have become unrecognisable through the influence of education and tradition. Therefore an accurate knowledge of the animal world, where pure instinct is displayed, is indispensable in weighing the importance of inherited impulses in men.

The number of investigators who have adopted this method is not great, and I venture to hope that this book may be in some degree influential in increasing it, as well as respect for animal psychology as a science. The world of play, to which art belongs, stands in most important and interesting contrast with the stern realities of life; yet there are few scientific works in the field of human play, and none at all in that of animal play—a fact to be accounted for, probably, by the inherent difficulties of the subject, both objective and subjective. The animal psychologist must harbour in his breast not only two souls, but more; he must unite with a thorough training in physiology, psychology, and biology the experience of a traveller, the practical knowledge of the director of a zoological garden, and `` the outdoor lore of a forester. And even then he could not round up his labours satisfactorily unless he were familiar with the trend of modern aesthetics. In-

(xix) -deed, I consider this last point so important that I venture to affirm that none but a student of aesthetics is capable of writing the psychology of animals. If in this statement I seem to put myself forward as a student of aesthetics, I can only say that I hope for indulgence, in view of the many shortcomings which are apparent in this effort, on the ground that a versatility so comprehensive is unattainable by an ordinary mortal.

The first two chapters seek to establish the conception of play on a basis of natural science. There are two quite different popular ideas of play. The first is that the animal (or man) begins to play when he feels particularly cheerful, healthy, and strong; the second—which I found even entertained by a forester—that the play of young animals serves to fit them for the tasks of later life. The former view tends to a physiological, the latter to a biological, conception of play. The first finds its scientific basis in the theory of surplus energy, which is amplified by Herbert Spencer especially, but which was previously promulgated by Schiller, as I have attempted to show in the beginning of the book. This explanation of play is certainly of great value, but is not fully adequate, and I have reached the conclusion that a state of surplus energy may not always be even a conditio sine qua non of play.

The physiological conditions which cause a young beast of prey to follow a rolling ball need not, apparently, be different from those of the grown animal in pursuit of its natural prey. The other view, by keeping before the eyes the biological significance of play, seems to me to open the way to a more thorough understanding of the problem.

This reference to biology brings me at once to the difficult question of instinct. After a long historical

(xx) and critical investigation of the subject, I intrench myself in the principles defined by H. E. Ziegler, who, as a disciple of Weismann, refers all instincts directly to natural selection. Accordingly, I have not used the Lamarckian principle of the transmission of acquired characters, which, to say the least, is doubtful, in the interpretation of fact. On this definition of instinct as a basis a new biological theory of play is developed, of which the following are the main points: The real problem lies in the play of the young; that once successfully explained, adult play will offer no special difficulties. The play of youth depends on the fact that certain instincts, especially useful in preserving the species, appear before the animal seriously needs them. They are, in contrast with later serious exercise (Ausübung), a preparation (Vorübung) and practice (Einübung) for the special instincts. This anticipatory appearance is of the utmost importance, and refers us at once to the operation of natural selection; for, when the inherited instinct may be supplemented by individual experience, it need not be so carefully elaborated by selection, which accordingly favours the evolution of individual intelligence as a substitute for blind instinct. At the moment when the intelligence reaches a point of development where it is more useful than the most perfect instinct, natural selection will favour individuals in whom instinct appears only in an imperfect form, manifesting itself in early youth in activity purely for exercise and practice—that is to say, in animals which play. Indeed, the conclusion seems admissible, in summing up the biological significance of play, that perhaps the very existence o f youth is due in part to the necessity for play; the animal does not play because he is young, he has a period of youth because he must play. Whoever has observed the tre-

(xxi) -mendous force of the play impulse in young animals will hardly fail to give this thought some hospitality.

Though calling in the principle of natural selection exclusively, on the lines of Weismann's theory, in explaining these phenomena, I am by no means convinced of the all-sufficiency of this law, but freely admit the possibility that still other and perhaps unknown forces contribute their influence in this process of evolution. The conception of evolution itself is gaining strength and assurance with the progress of time, but with respect to specific Darwinism a note of fin-de-siècle lightness is audible to the attentive ear. I do not know whether the following idea has occurred to any one else, but to me it is somewhat baffling. It is quite conceivable that a man might arise and say: " Three of the most distinguished investigators in the subject of descent are Wallace, Weismann, and Galton. Now, I agree with Wallace in discarding sexual selection; I hold with Weismann that the inheritance of acquired characters is impossible; and I combat with Galton the idea that natural selection is sufficient to explain the change from an established species to a new one." What, then, is left of the Darwinian theory of organic evolution?

In the third and fourth chapters a system of animal play is developed for the first time on the biological theory as a basis. The variety and scope of such play has been up to this time very much underrated, as, I believe, this classification and grouping under important heads will show. The discussion of curiosity developed a theory of attention which was simultaneously published as a short article, Ueber unbewusste Zeitschätzung, in Zeitschrift für Psychologie u. Physiologie der Sinnesorgane. In the introduction to the chapter devoted to love plays I have attempted an essential modi-

(xxii) -fication of the doctrine of sexual selection, making it a special case of natural selection. While agreeing with Wallace that the unusual colours and forms, as well as complicated calls, are to be considered as largely a means of defence and offence and of recognition among animals, I yet believe that in their higher manifestations such phenomena often have a very close connection with sexual life. This is more obviously the case with the display of ornamentation, of skill in flying, dancing, and swimming, and in bird-song. The disciple of Weismann who can not accept Spencer's explanation of such phenomena must either cleave to Darwin's sexual selection, as Weismann himself does, or seek a new principle. Such a principle I believe I have found. It depends on two closely related facts. As sexual impulse must have tremendous power, it is for the interest of the preservation of the species that its discharge should be rendered difficult. This result is partly accomplished in the animal world by the necessity for great and often long-continued excitement as a prelude to the act of pairing. This thought at once throws light on the peculiar hereditary arts of courtship, especially on the indulgence in flying, dancing, or singing by a whole flock at once. But the hindrance to the sexual function that is most efficacious, though hitherto unappreciated, is the instinctive coyness of the female. This it is that necessitates all the arts of courtship, and the probability is that seldom or never does the female exert any choice. She is not awarder of the prize, but rather a hunted creature. So, just as the beast of prey has special instincts for finding his prey, the ardent male must have special instincts for subduing feminine reluctance; and just as in the beast of prey the instinct of ravenous pursuit is refined into

(xxiii) the various arts of the chase, so from such crude efforts at wooing, that courtship has finally developed, in which sexual passion is psychologically sublimated into love. According to this theory, there is choice only in the sense that the hare finally succumbs to the best hound, which is as much as to say that the phenomena of courtship are referred at once to natural selection. It follows, too, that however useful attractive form and colouring may be in relation to other ends, they certainly contribute to that of subduing feminine coyness, and hence further the sexual life.

The last chapter treats of the psychological aspects of play. Setting out from the physiological side, I lead up to the central idea of the whole conception, namely, "joy in being a cause "; which seems to me to be the psychic accompaniment of the most elementary of all plays, namely, experimentation. From here as a starting point it permeates every kind of play, and has even in artistic production and aesthetic enjoyment a significance not sufficiently appreciated.

But the principal content of the closing chapter is the investigation of the more subtle psychic phenomenon that is connected with the subject, namely, "make-believe," or " conscious self-illusion." The remarks on divided consciousness and the feeling of freedom during make-believe activity prove that the attempt to penetrate into the modern aesthetic problem is a serious undertaking. They point to a field beyond the limits of the subject of this treatise, which I hope to discuss exhaustively in my next work, having human play for its subject.

GIESSEN, October, 1895.


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