Mechanics - The Science of Machinery
Mechanics - The Science of Machinery
W HEN we review the marvelous achievements of modern civilization we are quite willing to agree with the ancient psalmist that man is "little lower than the angels." But at the other end of the scale our complacency is liable to receive a rude shock; apparently the boundary between man and beast is not so very easy to draw.
We used to be told that one important superiority of mankind lies in the fact that he makes use of tools, while the beast never uses any implement except those that nature has furnished him as part of his own organism. But a gorilla will throw stones at his enemy; and he knows how to brandish a club and use it with telling force. Some of the apes are known to use sticks to knock down fruit which is out of the reach of their hands, and they will crack nuts with a stone. Clearly these animals are tool users. A very intelligent orang-utan in the Bronx Zoölogical Garden, New York, after trying for days to wrench off a bracket from the wall of his cage eventually used the horizontal bar of his trapeze as a lever and with it pried the offending bracket from its fastenings. Here was real invention and the discovery of the principle of leverage. The great black arara cockatoo of New Guinea uses his beak as a saw to weaken the shells of hard nuts, and to keep his bill from slipping off the smooth shell he is ingenious enough to wrap a leaf around the nut to hold it steady.
Even in the insect world we find creatures resourceful enough to make use of tools. Prof. Franz Doflein of the University of Breslau tells of an interesting study of certain ants, known as the Oecophylla smaragdina , who build their nests in bushes by fastening leaves together with fine threads. But the ants that build the nests cannot spin these threads, because they possess no spinning glands. They must depend upon their larvæ for this product. When a rent was made in one of these nests, a band of the tiny creatures ranged themselves side by side along the torn edge of the leaf and reached across the gap until they could catch hold of the opposite edge with their mandibles. Then they drew back step by step, with perfect teamwork, until the two edges were brought together. In the meantime, other ants had rushed to the nursery and each one had picked up a larva, not with the idea of bearing it off to safety, but in order that the babies might spin the thread which the adult ants were unable to do. The larvæ were carried to the breach in the nest and moved back and forth across the rent. They were pressed first against one side of the tear and then the other and all the while were squeezed tightly, evidently with the purpose of making them spin. Gradually a fine silky web was woven across the torn leaf and eventually the rent was completely patched.
Unquestionably these little ants are tool-using animals, because they make their larvæ serve as spinning spindles and also as weavers' shuttles. However, this can hardly be cited as a point in common with even the lowest type of man, for the ants merely use the tools they find at their disposal. They certainly cannot be credited with having produced or even improved the tool which they use, whereas even in the most primitive of men we find that the tools used are not only carefully selected for the work to be performed, but are actually, shaped, be it ever so crudely, to suit the job.
Clearly we must shift the boundary between man and beast, distinguishing the former as the creature who artificially improves his tools. But even here it is not absolutely certain that the boundary will stand. Wilhelm Boelsche, a well-known German writer on natural history, calls attention to the "blacksmith woodpecker" which will thrust hard pine nuts into cracks in the trunk of a tree, so that they are held as if in a vise, enabling the bird to operate upon the seed