Feral Children and Clever Animals: Reflections on Human Nature

By Douglas Keith Candland | Go to book overview

7
The Psychologies of Perceiving: Phenomenology and Ethology

WHEN WE think about the character of other animals or other people, it is behavior that we classify and speak of, not perceptions. Thus, whether we think of Dash, the Hanses, or the wolf-girls, it is their behavior that we categorize and remark on, but it is their perceptions, their motives, their ideas, that attract and mystify us. Those perceptions we infer from the behavior of the subject of our observations. Perception guides us in another way, for it is the perceptions and motives of the experimenter that determine the range of the outcomes of the experiment while, somewhat ironically, altering the minds and behavior of all the agents involved in the experiment.

Even the most commonplace observations demonstrate the point:

"Or take those who live alone with a dog. They speak to him all day long; first they try to understand the dog, then they swear the dog understands them, he's shy, he's jealous, he's hypersensitive; next they're teasing him, making scenes, until they are sure he's become just like them, human, and they're proud of it, but the fact is that they have become just like him: they have become canine." 1

The events described in this chapter have several themes, and if we are not attentive we may think them unrelated. The unfortunate situation of the child Laura Bridgman at first appears to have nothing to do with the tasks set for the dogs Van and Roger, but the relation conveys to us the distinctive philosophy of our times that promises understanding of animal and human life. This philosophy is phenomenology.

We are not as familiar with this philosophy as we are with psychoanalysis and behaviorism. In this chapter, I show this third approach that has been woven in and out of the tapestry of our understanding. To make evident its presence in the design, again, I rely on plucking from the fabric certain stories that, taken together, illustrate the nature of the contribution.

-156-

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