Writing Essays: Seeing the New Vision in Carl Sagan’s Essay, The Abstraction of Beasts

By following and learning this three-step method of analyzing published essays that I show here, you will be able to understand published essays and write your own essays about them.

Carl Sagan has written an excellent essay, “The Abstraction of Beasts,” which provides another compelling illustration of the old vision: a new vision pattern used intuitively in all published essays.

# 1 – Usually in the first paragraph, an old point of view is established that leads directly to a new point of view thesis, most of the time a reversal of the old point of view. The thesis of the new view is stated at the end of that paragraph or within the next paragraph or two, depending on the length of the essay.

You noticed, didn’t you, that Sagan immediately identifies the view above in the first sentence of the first paragraph:

“Beasts do not abstract,” announced John Locke, expressing the prevailing view of humanity throughout recorded history.

Hard to lose, right? But did you discover the new vision thesis in your second paragraph? There, Sagan suggests his new reverse view thesis to the previous view with two questions:

Could abstract thinking be a question not of type but of degree? Could other animals be capable of abstract thinking but more rarely or in less depth than humans?

Note that although he suggests a reverse point of view to the above, Sagan is saying: not of type but of degree and but more rarely or with less depth than humans. He then suggests that the reverse of Abstract beasts no it is possible that the beasts actually do abstract, but perhaps not a complete inversion, not completely at the level of human abstraction. Now read paragraphs three and four of the essay (begin, We have the impression that) and four (begins, There are, of course,). In that third paragraph – after reiterating in the first sentence the idea that animals are not very intelligent-Sagan asks a long question: But have we examined the possibility of animal intelligence carefully enough or, as in Francois Truffaut’s poignant film “The Wild Child,” do we simply equate the absence of our style of expression of intelligence with the absence of intelligence?

The important part of that question is the last part: Or do we simply equate the absence of our style of expression of intelligence with the absence of intelligence?

To answer that question, Sagan provides a quote from Montaigne (who published the first book on essays in 1580) that questions man’s ability to communicate, not the ability of animals to communicate. (Ignore the essay footnote, but read it later, okay?)

The first sentence of the fourth paragraph begins by reversing the first sentence of the third paragraph (animals are not very intelligent), or at least indicating that there is an exception: Of course, there is a considerable amount of anecdotal information that suggests chimpanzee intelligence.

With that beginning, I hoped to find more about chimpanzee intelligence, Right?

Now read paragraphs five (begins, Wallace concluded), six and seven to see if you find out. Pay particular attention to the last sentence of that seventh paragraph.

Paragraphs five, six, and seven provide examples of animals showing some signs of intelligence: the baby orangutan, the chimpanzee genius, the two chimps abusing the hen, and the newborn chimpanzee with the newborn baby raised as equals in a human home. But at three years, the chimpanzee could only say three words, with enormous difficultywhile the human child I was babbling happily.

Sagan then summarizes those examples by stating that chimpanzees are only minimally competent with language, reasoning and other higher mental functions, and repeat the previous point of view: Abstract beasts no. That could be a sign that new view support is about to begin.

Now, in Sagan’s essay, read the next four paragraphs, starting with the beginning of the paragraph, But thinking about these experiments and reading the paragraph that starts with, there is already.

In the first three of the next four paragraphs (starting with, But thinking about these experiments), Sagan notes how Beatrice and Robert Gardner came up with the brilliant idea of ‚Äč‚Äčteaching chimpanzees a language they did not have to use with their mouth, the American Sign Language, Ameslan. Sagan doesn’t use enough keywords to let us know he’s coming back to the new view, but that’s exactly what he’s doing, and support immediately follows, starting with: there is already.

# 2 – Immediately after the new vision thesis is stated, your support begins with a story, example, or reasoning.

And in the paragraph that begins, there is already, Sagan generalizes that there are a vast library of descriptions and movies of chimpanzees using sign language, and then reduces his information to the fact that chimpanzees are remarkably inventive in building new words and phrases. In other words, chimpanzees are recorded on film, and in other ways, often in the act of being abstracted from Ameslan. (It would have been helpful if Sagan had gone straight out and used the keywords abstract gold abstract gold abstractions, Right?)

So despite not using presentations like for instance gold for instance For the next six paragraphs, Sagan gives specific examples of exact words and phrases from abstractions created and used by chimpanzees.

Take a good look at it by going back to the essay and reading from the beginning of the paragraph, Seeing it for the first time, throughout the paragraph that begins, Having learned the ‘open’ signal with a door. Then come back here so we can complete our discussion on supporting the new view thesis.

After all those examples of abstractions, the rest of the support for the new vision thesis that beasts are abstract like humans, includes

  • Boyce Rensberger, the American reporter, talking about Ameslan with Washoe, the chimpanzee (Ameslan was Rensberger’s first language)
  • Chimpanzees and other primates learning other sign languages
  • Signatory primates compared to microcephalic humans
  • Chimpanzees have parts of their left brain removed, resulting in the loss of language ability, just like extraction in humans.
  • Primates transmitting information from generation to generation
  • The mini story of Helen Keller learning the language
  • A quote from Charles Darwin on the effects of the use of language

# 3 – The conclusion should briefly restate the thesis of the new view, summarize the support of the thesis from the body paragraphs, and look at some future aspect of the new view.

In the fifth paragraph before the conclusion, which begins, Continued use, Sagan begins to look to the future.

Go and read that paragraph, and read it to the end of the essay.

In that paragraph, Sagan asks what would happen if chimpanzees established a tradition of using sign language for a couple hundred years, or even a couple thousand years, as humans have done with language. And he speculates that in a few thousand years chimpanzees might have myths and legends about the origins of their language, just like we have our Prometheus legends about the origins of the language of mankind.

Then, in the last paragraph of the essay, Sagan backs up and starts talking about the possibility that humans have systematically exterminated or killed non-human primates because they were competing for us, so we cut off their progression into a civilized language. -facing the future:

We may have been the agent of natural selection in suppressing intellectual competence. I think we may have pushed back the frontiers of intelligence and language ability among non-human primates until their intelligence became simply imperceptible. By teaching sign language to chimpanzees, we are beginning a belated attempt to amend it.

Sagan’s conclusion is weak in reaffirming the previous vision and in summarizing the main points that support the new vision thesis. But the last sentence of Sagan’s essay does it suggest a future continuation of humanity’s current effort to teach sign language to chimpanzees with, We’re starting a belated attempt to make amends. Yes We are starting, so that strongly suggests that more will follow in the future.

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