- The Founding of Ethology*
It is our good fortune that Richard W. Burkhardt, Jr., has fallen in love with the founding of ethology. Since 1981 he has published 14 papers in this area, and here he presents the grand synthesis: a network of interwoven biographies of the scientists who built behavioral biology. This book exemplifies history writing at its best: ferreting out the relevant sources; reviewing the literature; comparing, checking, and weighing the evidence; and presenting all in a format that dovetails contemporary thought.
Burkhardt starts with a brief introduction, "Theory, Practice, and Place in the Study of Animal Behavior," ending his theoretical considerations with a programmatic statement: "The goal of this book is to analyze historically the construction of ethology as a scientific discipline, paying particular attention to the ways in which, in local and broader settings, the founders of ethology generated, developed, contested, and refashioned the concepts and research practices of their newly emerging field" (p. 4). He introduces Konrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen as the central persons: "It was Lorenz who was primarily responsible for laying the field's early conceptual foundations," while Tinbergen "contributed experimental and analytical talents that beautifully complemented Lorenz's early theory building" (p. 4).
In the first two chapters, "C. O. Whitman, W. Craig, and the Biological Study of Animal Behavior in America" and "British Field Studies of Behavior: Selous, Howard, Kirkman, and Huxley," Burkhardt traces the foundations of ethological [End Page 457] thought to precursors in the United States (especially Lorenz's), and in Great Britain (especially Tinbergen's). This selection reveals his obvious bias in favor of Anglo-American authors by not giving the German forefathers (Heinroth, Kühn, Loeb, von Uexküll, etc.) equal distinction; it also reveals a bias in favor of a naturalistic approach, thus making short shrift of the morphological and physiological forefathers, such as Hochstetter, Pavlov, and Sherrington, who were of special significance to Lorenz's conceptual development.
The central chapters, "Konrad Lorenz and the Conceptual Foundations of Ethology" and "Niko Tinbergen and the Lorenzian Program," combine the biographies of Lorenz and Tinbergen with a concise history of their ethological concepts. Starting with Heinroth's precursor of "species-specific actions" (later known as "fixed action patterns") and von Uexküll's "schemata" (developed into "innate releasing mechanism"), the development is traced through the 1930s, up to World War II. Burkhardt describes Lorenz's Kumpan (companion) paper (1935), which proposed a new approach to the concept of instinct, and the "glorious spring" of 1937, which Lorenz and Tinbergen spent in Altenberg, experimenting on the responses of various species of birds to models of flying raptors and the egg-rolling behavior of the greylag goose.
An equally important episode in the evolution of ethological thought was the beginning of the friendship between Lorenz and Erich von Holst, a young physiologist who "had already distinguished himself through his brilliant experimental researches on the endogenous production and central coordination of nervous impulses" (pp. 208–9), thereby striking a deadly blow at the "chain-reflex- theory" of those days. As a consequence, Lorenz dropped his thesis that instinctive action patterns were based on special, complex systems of chain reflexes. From subsequent discussions, his thesis emerged that instinctive action patterns are caused by spontaneously active "centers," controlled by inhibitory or excitatory stimuli. "When Tinbergen read Lorenz's account, he wrote his friend, saying, 'Your discussion of the eventual identification of the Holstian automatisms and your instinctive action is wonderful'" (p. 210). I am certain that, had von Holst not died in 1962 at age 54, he would have been among the Nobel Laureates of 1973.
Chapter 5, "Lorenz and National Socialism," appears a bit inflated, considering the amount of labor Burkhardt invested in a few opportunistic remarks in four publications and a few private letters written during a relatively short period. By comparison, Tinbergen's wartime experience, by no means less dramatic than Lorenz's, occupies only two pages. Burkhardt's scrutiny is fully justified, however, in view of...