Feral Children and Clever Animals: Reflections on Human Nature

By Douglas Keith Candland | Go to book overview

Thinking About the Mind 3

WITHOUT speech with which to communicate, how are we to imagine the experiences, the minds, of these silent subjects? The silent minds of feral children, whether human or animal, remain intriguing but awesome to us. The stories told of the five children provide empirical information about the pupils, but also tell us the teachers' views of human nature and of how we try to penetrate the human mind. The various views thus set the kinds of questions we ask of both silent children and the necessarily silent animals.

Few, if any, of the actors described in the first two chapters are likely to have considered that the questions they asked and not the answers they received would become data for later generations, saying something to us about the human mind at a particular time, in particular places, and in reaction to the psychological thought of the time. That innocence is why I quoted for you passages, rather than reported them; it is in these passages that the teachers described their methods and their pupils. By so doing, we were shown the kinds of questions, both explicit and tacit, that were being asked and, therefore, the kinds of answers that were necessarily to be forthcoming. I wanted the reader to come to understand how her or his own perceptions are additional overlays on the words written years and centuries before, and how those words, written by teachers such as Itard and Singh, are yet another overlay on any quest to understand the nature of the silent mind.

Another purpose is revealed: This book is about the human and animal mind, or, more precisely, about how we human beings think of the animal and human mind. The tales are explications of how, during the last two or three centuries or so, people have asked animals and some nonspeaking children to tell them something about their minds, about their mental abilities, and about their ways of thinking. They are also explications of how we attempt to decode these silent minds by seeing through a double filter: the filter provided by the teller of the tale and our own perception of those descriptions.

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