Feral children and clever animals : reflections on human nature

Consistently insightful exploration of how we think about how we think. The case histories incorporated here offer fascinating and informative reading by themselves, but Candland (Psychology and Animal Behavior/Bucknell University), who occasionally writes for The New Yorker, surrounds each one with lively commentary, observation, and wit, making his narrative a treasury of insights into how, over time, we have thought about who and what we are. Starting with the best-known cases of feral children--Victor, the Wild Boy of Aveyron; the Wolf Girls of India; and Kaspar Hauser-- the author gives us the primary documents and eyewitness accounts that allow him to explore what it was that people saw when they looked at these celebrated individuals. Dr. J.M.G. Itard--Victor's Boswell, Skinner, and Miracle Worker--carried the intellectual baggage of his time, including the idea of the ``noble savage,'' and geared Victor's education toward coaxing out what was innately human in the boy; a century later, the Wolf Girls' parents undertook to suppress what they considered to be their children's underlying animal nature. In each case, Candland demonstrates that most of the conclusions reached about each of these feral children were little more than projections of what we wanted to believe about human nature. He then explores four contemporary psychological ``modalities''--``The Mental Ladder''; psychoanalysis; behaviorism; and phenomenology--and shows how each of these schemata is among our most powerful tools for understanding, analyzing, and finding our place within the world. The remainder of the text surveys the history of teaching apes to communicate with humans, exploring how our feelings about our relationship to these apparent parodies of ourselves have shaped this endeavor. Both a celebration of our endless desire to communicate across any boundary and a documentation of our tendency to end up talking only to ourselves. Original and entertaining popular science.

Science & Nature
Animal behaviour, behaviour, Feral children
Oxford University Press
Douglas Keith Candland
0195074688 (find on Amazon)

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