When Should Instinct Be Ignored?

If what we felt to be right was always the right thing to do, this world would be a much simpler place.

Yet such is not the case.

We end up faced with a dilemma:  Let our feelings lead us to disaster or become a Machiavellian machine.  Neither approach seems to make human lives any better.

Perhaps as with most things, there is a golden mean here.  Finding it might lie in understanding when we should listen to our gut feelings and when we would be best advised to ignore them.

To figure things out, we’d probably do best to ask:

What functions are human feelings best suited to.

Some ideas come to mind:

-Face to face interactions, human relationships.

-Intuitive judgment

-Warning us of danger the fast way so we don’t have to stop and think before we react.

At what kind of functions are the feelings weakest?

-Abstract relationships

-Quantitative reasoning, making estimates

-Warning us of non-physical, probable, or long term sources of danger.

Once we have some kind of basic model, we gauge which of our faculties should be listened to in a given situation.

Driving a car is by far the most dangerous activity in a typical post-industrial life.  Far from being frightened, we can’t help but feel a false sense of security no matter how hard we try.  Though we are traveling at superhuman speeds in a several ton chunk of metal, it’s all so deceptively smooth and placid.  With our actual bodies in a state of complete rest, our instinct not only fails to ring the alarm, it often advises us it’s about time for a nap.

It is quite obvious here that our ancestral instincts are entirely unsuited to the situation.  We must try to stay awake behind the wheel and rely on our intellect to make the right judgments.

Let’s say we think we might be picking up subtle signals of interest from a desirable member of the opposite sex, but nothing concrete.

There’s a complete absence of facts, proof, or explicit statements for one to act on.  The intellect tells us there’s not nearly enough evidence in this case to eliminate reasonable doubts.  The person in question might just be one of those people who’s friendly to everyone they meet.

Solution: wait for more evidence…

Obviously, a pure intellect approach is unsuited to this situation.  We can reason: sexual attraction in the human species does not take place on a rational or even a conscious level.  Therefore: it would be foolish to expect explicit statements of interest in most situations. Dealing with the situation in rational terms is inadequate.

Solution: Tone down the intellect, rely on the intuition to navigate this situation.

As human beings, we make these sorts of distinctions all the time.  We just don’t formalize 0r become aware of the process that we use to do so.

Unfortunately, in most of us, instinct remains the arbiter over whether a situation calls for instinct or intellect.  Unsurprisingly, our intellect doesn’t get called onto the scene as often as it should.

Perhaps the golden mean lies in attempting to place our mental tool box under conscious, intellectual control.  Instinct would still be the tool of choice much of the time, but it would have to answer to a rational handyman.

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