Meet Your Mind: Instincts, Intellect and Their Impact on Human Behavior

By Abraham, Mark | The World and I, December 2006 | Go to article overview
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Meet Your Mind: Instincts, Intellect and Their Impact on Human Behavior

Abraham, Mark, The World and I

On the true lessons of history

Once a documentary claimed that in the past five thousand years the world had lived in true peace only for forty-one days. I was skeptical on one hand and intrigued on the other, so to verify this claim I randomly selected three ancient countries--Russia, Iran and China--and researched how frequently they had fought. Together, they had been at war for some 1,550 years out of the previous 1,750 years. This unintelligent behavior pattern indeed defies humans' claim as the paragon of intelligence.

Yet a brief glance at man's achievements--such as building the pyramids, inventing the fax machine, landing on the moon and reaching Mars--reveals his superb intelligence. This demands from us a reconciliation of this discrepancy, of how an entity can be simultaneously intelligent and unintelligent. This seemingly inexplicable human phenomenon reveals that we lack a proper understanding of our own species. We need to notice that humans function under two distinctly opposite mental forces. One is responsible for our behavior; the other achieves our goals. One is unchanging, stagnant and primitive, while the other constantly improves itself. These two forces are ceaselessly entangled in opposition and in cooperation. Yet due to the subtle nature of such associations, it continues to pass unnoticed. Understanding this mental phenomenon is a pre-requisite for taking an accurate inventory of the human soul, to grasp why we do what we do.

Fascinated by the human intellect, the thinkers of the past have studied man from an intellectual standpoint alone, grossly ignoring the other force. However, this force affects the human conduct more profoundly than does the human intellect. Neglecting this almighty mental force has created a missing link in studying man that has rendered the works of most of these thinkers inconclusive, if not misleading. Thus, we still lack a thought system to help us better understand our species and ourselves. All our inclinations, disinclinations, likes and dislikes, discourse, deeds--both good and evil--stem from the co-function of these contrasting mental forces. Understanding this unequivocally requires a deeper knowledge of these faculties that induce them, and urge us to do what we do individually and collectively.

On instincts

This neglected mental entity is instinct, three displays of which are universally accepted. However, there are thirteen more that pertain to humans, each inducing its own brand of conduct. They are the instincts of: 1) aggression, 2) tribalism, 3) sexuality, 4) territoriality, 5) adventure, 6) chauvinism, 7) gregariousness, 8) politicking, 9) the maternal instinct, 10) the will to live, 11) laziness, 12) curiosity, 13) greed, 14) fear, 15) rhythm, and 16) the instinct to divulge. Usually instincts selfishly engender our interests and choose our mode of conduct, and then employ intellect to find the best ways to achieve the objective. Thus, instincts drive us, while intellect guides us, rendering intellect a mere tool and a servant at the service of instincts. However, we continue to misunderstand the role of intellect in human conduct.

To better grasp this concept, we need to review some distinct properties of instinct and compare them to those of intellect. The loose use of the term "instincts" by many reveal that this phenomenon is barely understood despite the momentous role it plays in the lives of all beings and man. Frequently people say, "my first instinct told me this and that." If there is a first instinct that tells a particular thing on a particular subject, then there must also be others that could also have a voice on the same subject. If so, what are they and how can we distinguish them from one another? This is a clear indication of the fact that instincts are ambiguous phenomena at best. Yet, it is instincts alone that bring the whole world in to action and to life, and set the world in motion.

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Meet Your Mind: Instincts, Intellect and Their Impact on Human Behavior


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