Easter Week 5: “The sources of Charles Darwin’s work on animal reasoning”

Francis Neary gave this talk (and performance!) at Cabinet on the 26th May 2014

Humble Dog

Charles Darwin (1872), The expression of the emotions in man and animals, p. 53

The talk compared the first and second editions of Descent of man and the increased range of mental and moral faculties that Charles Darwin ascribed to animals in the second edition. It looked at the evidence, especially from letters describing amazing feats of animal reasoning, that Darwin used to make these changes. Rather than dismissing these animal case studies as anecdotal and anthropomorphic, it explored the issues of what counted as credible evidence for Darwin, and the disciplinary contexts of the 1870s that made this evidence compelling.

As a small tribute to Francis’s former boss in Manchester John Pickstone, who died earlier this year and loved all things North West, the talk was summarised at the end in the following song, written in the style of George Formby:

You Can’t Keep A Growing Dog Down
Words and Music by Francis Neary

Ukulele Chords (Tuning: G C E A)


   You can't keep a growing dog down















Mr Darwin and his friends observed
Just what I was like
They witnessed, hypothesised
The workings of my psych
They thought that I could imitate
And even tell a joke
But I just laughed at them because they were such funny folk
I took my breaks, from the apes
And joined in with their jolly japes
I’m funnier than a human clown
You can’t keep a growing dog down
No mother
You can’t keep a growing dog down

After Mr Darwin died
In a new century
They re-evaluated my
Mental faculties
It turned out that I wasn’t smart
When I entered the lab
I couldn’t do my party piece because it was too drab

They couldn’t prove, that I think
Their apparatus was on the blink
But I was still talk of the town
You can’t keep a growing dog down
No mother
You can’t keep a growing dog down

Well times have changed and now
There is a certain new resolve
To show how Man and me
Have conspired to co-evolve
Co-operated for epochs
It’s hardly a surprise
That you know what I’m thinking when you look into my eyes

We share emotions, through our devotions
And communicate through our bodily motions
Now I’ve regained my moral crown
You can’t keep a growing dog down
No mother
You can’t keep a growing dog down
Hey Hey
You can’t keep a growing dog down

(Secretary’s note: Francis gave a splendid rendition of his song in the session, which was much enjoyed by all. We hope to have an audio file at some time in the future!)


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