No civilized race has produced architects who could plan a house better for the uses proposed than can hers. Her house contains a throne-room; nurseries for her young; granaries; apartments for her soldiers, her workers, etc.; and they and the multifarious halls and corridors which communicate with them are arranged and distributed with an educated and experienced eye for convenience and adaptability.

Y.M. That could be mere instinct.

O.M. It would elevate the savage if he had it. But let us look further before we decide. The ant has soldiers--battalions, regiments, armies; and they have their appointed captains and generals, who lead them to battle.

Y.M. That could be instinct, too.

O.M. We will look still further. The ant has a system of government; it is well planned, elaborate, and is well carried on.

Y.M. Instinct again.

O.M. She has crowds of slaves, and is a hard and unjust employer of forced labor.

Y.M. Instinct.

O.M. She has cows, and milks them.

Y.M. Instinct, of course.

O.M. In Texas she lays out a farm twelve feet square, plants it, weeds it, cultivates it, gathers the crop and stores it away.

Y.M. Instinct, all the same.

O.M. The ant discriminates between friend and stranger. Sir John Lubbock took ants from two different nests, made them drunk with whiskey and laid them, unconscious, by one of the nests, near some water. Ants from the nest came and examined and discussed these disgraced creatures, then carried their friends home and threw the strangers overboard. Sir John repeated the experiment a number of times. For a time the sober ants did as they had done at first--carried their friends home and threw the strangers overboard. But finally they lost patience, seeing that their reformatory efforts went for nothing, and threw both friends and strangers overboard. Come--is this instinct, or is it thoughtful and intelligent discussion of a thing new-- absolutely new--to their experience; with a verdict arrived at, sentence passed, and judgment executed? Is it instinct?--thought petrified by ages of habit--or isn't it brand-new thought, inspired by the new occasion, the new circumstances?

Y.M. I have to concede it. It was not a result of habit; it has all the look of reflection, thought, putting this and that together, as you phrase it. I believe it was thought.

O.M. I will give you another instance of thought. Franklin had a cup of sugar on a table in his room. The ants got at it. He tried several preventives; and ants rose superior to them. Finally he contrived one which shut off access--probably set the table's legs in pans of water, or drew a circle of tar around the cup, I don't remember. At any rate, he watched to see what they would do. They tried various schemes--failures, every one. The ants were badly puzzled. Finally they held a consultation, discussed the problem, arrived at a decision--and this time they beat that great philosopher. They formed in procession, cross the floor, climbed the wall, marched across the ceiling to a point just over the cup, then one by one they let go and fell down into it! Was that instinct--thought petrified by ages of inherited habit?

Y.M. No, I don't believe it was. I believe it was a newly reasoned scheme to meet a new emergency.

O.M. Very well. You have conceded the reasoning power in two instances. I come now to a mental detail wherein the ant is a long way the superior of any human being. Sir John Lubbock proved by many experiments that an ant knows a stranger ant of her own species in a moment, even when the stranger is disguised --with paint. Also he proved that an ant knows every individual in her hive of five hundred thousand souls. Also, after a year's absence one of the five hundred thousand she will straightway recognize the returned absentee and grace the recognition with a affectionate welcome. How are these recognitions made? Not by color, for painted ants were recognized. Not by smell, for ants that had been dipped in chloroform were recognized.

What is Man? and Other Essays of Mark Twain Page 30

Mark Twain

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