Feral Children and Clever Animals: Reflections on Human Nature

By Douglas Keith Candland | Go to book overview

13
What Feral Children and Clever Animals Tell Us

EACH OF OUR minds knows it is alone in a universe it creates; yet in our attempts to communicate, among ourselves and other species, we reveal a struggle to know other minds, to overcome the isolation of our own mind. This book is a chronicle of some attempts to grasp the workings of other minds. If the concept of death and the ability to make tools are not what distinguishes human beings from other beings, perhaps what does is the quest to understand the minds of others. It is a human belief that, through language, we can both transfer the contents of our mind to another and come to experience the contents of the minds of others. The examples reported in this book are among the more elaborate attempts to do so. Each attempt is prompted by a wish common to all of us, by our everyday concern to discover what goes on in the mind of another. The question is not whether we communicate. Of course, we do: your signs and gestures tell me much about your feelings, emotions, and intentions. But they do not tell me as much as I would like to know, so I find myself constantly searching for ways to discover the nature of your intentions and your meanings. I guess these only through my own private world, as has been documented by the accounts contained in this book. I can understand your mind only through the filters of my mind, for my mind is both the coder and decoder of your communications.

While I have been writing to you concerning a few of humankind's more notable attempts to understand the minds of others, you will have come to your own conclusions about humankind's successes and failures in regard to these attempts. Your interpretation of the contents of this book will depend much on the kinds of questions you want to hear asked. For example, if you want to know whether animals have language, you will be frustrated by the lack of a clear answer to this question, although you will understand by now that I suggest it to be the wrong question. If you entered our communicative relationship wanting evidence that horses and dogs communicate to people, you will not be disappointed, but you

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