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2. LECTURE II. INSTINCT AND HABIT (continued)
The popular conception of instinct errs by imagining it to be infallible and preternaturally wise, as well as incapable of modification. This is a complete delusion. Instinct, as a rule, is very rough and ready, able to achieve its result under ordinary circumstances, but easily misled by anything unusual. Chicks follow their mother by instinct, but when they are quite young they will follow with equal readiness any moving object remotely resembling their mother, or even a human being (James, "Psychology," ii, 396). Bergson, quoting Fabre, has made play with the supposed extraordinary accuracy of the solitary wasp Ammophila, which lays its eggs in a caterpillar. On this subject I will quote from Drever's "Instinct in Man," p. 92:
"According to Fabre's observations, which Bergson accepts, the Ammophila stings its prey EXACTLY and UNERRINGLY in EACH of the nervous centres. The result is that the caterpillar is paralyzed, but not immediately killed, the advantage of this being that the larva cannot be injured by any movement of the caterpillar, upon which the egg is deposited, and is provided with fresh meat when the time comes.
"Now Dr. and Mrs. Peckham have shown that the sting of the wasp is NOT UNERRING, as Fabre alleges, that the number of stings is NOT CONSTANT, that sometimes the caterpillar is NOT PARALYZED, and sometimes it is KILLED OUTRIGHT, and that THE DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCES DO NOT APPARENTLY MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE TO THE LARVA, which is not injured by slight movements of the caterpillar, nor by consuming food decomposed rather than fresh caterpillar."
This illustrates how love of the marvellous may mislead even so careful an observer as Fabre and so eminent a philosopher as Bergson.
In the same chapter of Dr. Drever's book there are some interesting examples of the mistakes made by instinct. I will quote one as a sample:
"The larva of the Lomechusa beetle eats the young of the ants, in whose nest it is reared. Nevertheless, the ants tend the Lomechusa larvae with the same care they bestow on their own young. Not only so, but they apparently discover that the methods of feeding, which suit their own larvae, would prove fatal to the guests, and accordingly they change their whole system of nursing" (loc. cit., p. 106).
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