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Instinct and Intuition

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Instinct and Intuition

Andrew Ryan

All functioning animals perform particular actions in order to survive. Everything eats, sleeps, shits and fucks. However, the amount of actions that are learned and the amount that come instinctively to the individual depends on the species. Some species are born to survive, others must learn. And in humans, it is generally believed that we no longer have many technical instincts left.

Human beings are born into the world as helpless and complaining meat sacks. We are, on all counts, dependant on our parents/guardians for food and shelter, and protection from ourselves when we start to walk and bump into things. In the first few years of life, no human child could possibly look after itself, despite the presence of some instinctive reflexes, like searching for the nipple, gripping tightly to anything near your hands, and then putting those things in your mouth (that one is for immune system training: fact!). Our parents teach us how to handle the world around us. We have become reliant on socialising, family structure and language to learn the actions that are necessary for our survival.

Once we have learnt to socialise and communicate, it is argued by some that other instincts kick in: disgust, altruism, the fight or flight reflex, facial recognition and language acquisition. These behaviours can be interpreted as instincts- facial recognition, language acquisition and flight vs. flight in particular- but as for the other two, I believe that emotional reactions like these are learnt, not automatic. Disgust at the smell of something rotting, sure, that works, because to be near rotting food (or corpses for that matter) is potentially harmful, but disgust through visual or audio stimulus is something that is affected by upbringing and association. Sleep, sex and hunger are other drives that can be argued to be instinctual, but the definition of instinct, that is the “complex pattern of behaviour present in every specimen of a particular species, that is innate, and that cannot be overridden” does not match up with the nature of sleep, sex and hunger- every human being can choose to stay awake, to be celibate, or to starve themselves.

So we’ve got some pretty radical brains; self-aware, inventive, creative, able to remember, able to desire, able to choose, empathise, invent a barter system, rationalise, fool ourselves, fool others… and we’re always learning, always on a quest for knowledge, which brings me to the idea of intuition.

A lot of people think that intuition is some sort of mystical, spiritual process; that it is something a little bit spooky that only certain people can tap into. While it is true that some people are more intuitive than others, it simply comes down to one’s capacity for retaining information in their subconscious. And the more information you have stored, the faster your brain can make snap judgements given a particular stimulus. Recognising trace similarities to an experience already locked away in your brain can help you come to a conclusion about the current situation, without being aware of how you came to it. “I don’t know; it’s just a gut feeling.”

Instinct was developed through the evolutionary process, which led us to the state we are in now; with our radical brains and our ability to empathise with our fellow human beings, our fellow animals, and the planet we all live on. It looks to me that honing our intuitive skills may well be the next evolutionary step we will be taking. Already, most of our modern scientific breakthroughs were due to a bunch of dudes and ladies having a little flash of intuition. Our great visual artists have so often had such perfect aesthetic intuition that one piece of art can easily affect a person’s emotions, and sometimes even their bodies (see: a visceral reaction). While not every person may be able to say “I just had a feeling it was going to turn out this way” very often, in a few generations, or even in this current group of primary schoolers (fingers crossed, those kids spend a lot of time on the internet), westernised humans will find it easy to understand quickly the consequences of their actions; to automatically predict an ideal or an imperfect outcome.

We may even begin dispel the vestigial notion that we must protect ourselves and our offspring (biggest house, biggest TV, newest toys, entertaining but mind numbing television shows…) and realise that if we chill out a whole bunch, stop fighting about the inventions of cultures that existed thousands of years ago, we can look after each other quite effectively and easily. We could become more aware, more in tune with the connection we have to our birthplace and our creator, and the human race will advance a little more towards the rational, responsible protectors of the Earth that we should have been since the moment we realised we’re doing more harm than good to this planet.

I just have a gut feeling about this.