The Relation of Imitation to the Theory of Animal Perception

Imitation, in the full sense as used by Hobhouse, demands in an animal a perception of his act and its consequences -- such a perception as would make the animal aware of some 'character' of the event in such a way as to utilize this character in subsequent reactions to the stimulus. In Mr. Thorndike's analysis this conception of animal behavior is replaced by a conception of the association of impulse with stimulus instead of the association of states of consciousness as such.

(211) By a system of trial and error the animal's impulses are provided with appropriate stimuli. The cement for this association he finds in pleasure and pain. This association of impulse with sense stimulus leaves no room for imitation in Hobhouse's sense, though there might still be mimicry and automatic imitation.

Perception cannot properly be inferred from such animal conduct as finding the way through a maze, for there each step simply provides the stimulus for the next, and there is no necessity that the intermediate acts should be perceived as mediating the outcome. But where the intermediate acts must be adapted to the final results, and where they can be inhibited, so that there exist relations of mutual control between intermediate acts and the final act, there we should have, in a possible consciousness, just the contents which are called for in perception. The type of reaction which best lends itself to this mediating experience out of which perception may arise is the type represented by tricks which require some sort of manipulation as the means to the final act, e.g., the opening of a door by various devices, the use of a stick, etc. This type is of interest because it recalls the fact that our own perceptions consist so largely in the interpretation of what comes through the eye, the ear, and the other distance sensations, through the suggested kinęsthetic; experience of possible contact. This fact, which lies at the basis of the older distinction between the primary and secondary sensations, and finds further expression in the inevitable presentation of the outer world in terms of solid matter, i.e., in the imagery of actual manipulations, this fact suggests that a rich kinęsthetic; experience in manipulation may be almost a precondition of perception, that is that the sort of mediate experience in which stimulus and response would mutually control each other in the adaptation of one act to another could hardly arise before the primate with his highly sensitive flexible hand.

If we accept this or an analogous definition of perception it would follow that imitation could not arise as a conscious phenomenon before such mediate acts appeared. One cannot have imitation in this sense without perception, and given perception it is hard to see how imitation can lag far behind.


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