14 October 2010

What Controls You, Your Instincts or Your Mind?

I recently tweeted the question, 'What controls you, your instincts or your mind?' after having some random thoughts the other day. The question was not based on any firm ideas I had but was rather a thought provoking question and thought process I was going through.

Do you base your actions mainly on logic? What about social expectations? Do you always eat when you are hungry? Do you think aggression is bad? Can you turn your aggression on and off consciously or are you a slave to your instincts and emotions?

This along with other similar thoughts was going through my mind which prompted me to tweet the question. I didn't really expect people to reply as it was a rather abstract tweet, although there were a couple of interesting replies I got back. It was more to just throw the question out there to get people to think about it. I found the replies very thought provoking though.

Instinct Driven Process

My thoughts were that most people operate mostly on instinct. My view was that people do what their instincts tell them to do. An example is as follows:
  1. I am hungry
  2. What do I feel like eating?
  3. I want something sweet
  4. Go and buy something sweet
  5. Eat it
  6. Feel bad for not eating better food I know is good for me
So in this example I am sure everyone is familiar with, we can see there was no conscious critical thought process that went into the decision to eat. It was all instinctive. The mind had no say. It could also be said that the mind is fat and lazy in this example.

Mind Driven Process

In the above case, instincts control the person. So what would the same scenario involve when the mind was in control of the person? Let's have a look:
  1. I am hungry
  2. What should I eat?
  3. It is lunch time so I should have something light but satisfying
  4. Chicken and salad is a good healthy option
  5. Go and buy chicken and salad
  6. Eat it
  7. Feel good as it tasted nice combined with knowledge that it is good fuel for the human body
This above example was where the mind controlled the actions of the person. The instinct 'I am hungry' cannot be stopped. But the moment conscious thought comes in is where the mind takes over in this example.

This is the line of thought I was having when pondering the question of mind or instincts. I was generally of the belief that many people have lazy minds and let their instincts drive their decision making, or lack thereof...

Interesting Responses

But interestingly, I got two replies on twitter where they thought it was better to have instincts control the person. I was intrigued at this. After reading their responses I can see that this is just another separate way to look at the issue.

First to reply was @CombatTrainer
I found this a bit surprising and was keen to find out more about his reasoning behind his wish to have instincts control him more. So I asked him and his reply was:

I could begin to see where he was coming from. This was a very different viewpoint from where I took mine from, though I could see what he was saying.  He went on:

This I could relate to and agreed totally. I really found this an interesting view point on the topic I was pondering and it was great to listen to a different view from someone. This is one of the things I like a lot about twitter. You can just ask a question and you get different peoples views on things which are more often than not, different from yours and thought provoking.

I was looking at the question from one view where as their were different views out there as well. What I feel @CombatTrainor was getting at was that people can become docile and lack any real drive and passion. They lack those raw instincts which is what being alive is so much about. In a way, it can be seen that society as a whole can subdue all instincts. Aggression is seen as bad except in the military. Passion can be seen as unruly. There are two sides to each coin, often more than two. It is interesting to look at the one topic and explore the different angles to it.

I had to include this but @CombatTrainor also sent the following which was nice:

He is certainly right! hehe thanks for the kind words @CombatTrainor!

The other interesting reply was from @kravmascara

Her first reply to the question was as follows:

I found this interesting as @kravmascara also claimed instincts to be more important. Included in her tweet was the inclusion of needing the mind to oversee everything. She went on to say:

This I found very interesting. Where as I too considered a lazy mind important to prevent and overcome, @kravmascara thought it was instincts that were required to overcome that laziness. There was certainly merit to that viewpoint. That drive deep down inside of us can become week if we subdue it. This can decrease motivation and passion and a real lust for life. This is also an important element in life in general.

Its All About The Angle

My angle on this is that it is only with a conscious thought from the mind, that we can drive these instincts inside us to the surface and harness them for our own creative juices. It is only the mind that can control this. If we let our instincts go wild, surely no good could come of it. But by being controlled by the mind, those instincts can be brought out and freed and most importantly, directed where we want them to take us.

I found the responses and conversations interesting and wanted to share them here for the readers and subscribers of Low Tech Combat to absorb. Both @CombatTrainor and @kravmascara have interesting sites as well so be sure to check them out at http://combattrainer.com/ and http://www.kravuk.com/.

So what do you think? What controls you? Your instincts or your mind? And what is more important?

Image via h.koppdelaney

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  1. I agree with you that it's largely about the perspective, but there's another level to this question beyond just perspective. I think you can categorize different kinds of situations based how well our instincts tend to serve us in those situations.

    Imagine different ways of making decisions as different tools in your tool kit. Now think of your "instincts" as your defaults for decision making, more basic than habits yet less flexible than deliberation and reflection.

    "Instincts" lead us to rapid, fuzzy, sloppy, generallized decisions. These sorts of decisions are perfect for situations where we need to come up with a good enough answer very fast, where major mistakes or inaction are very costly, but minor mistakes are not costly at all in comparison.

    The characteristics of the classic mammalian/primate threat response sequence (freeze/orient - flee - fight/posture - fright/submit) are a paradigmatic example for martial arts theory, but there are many possible examples in decision theory.

    There are also broad classes of situations where minor mistakes are costly because they accumulate over time or because they set us on a bad direction or because we are competing with other people who aren't making major mistakes. Here the speciallized abilities underlying deliberation and reflection become increasingly important, the "thinking" skills.

    The biggest mistake we can make in this dialectic of thinking vs. instinct is to imagine that thinking is "natural." Reflection done poorly or at the wrong time very often leads to worse decisions than our "instincts."

    There is actually a fairly rich research literature in decision science comparing "unconscious" vs. deliberative cognition, and while it is often presented as divisive and conflicted I suspect that it is really all pointing to: (1) instincts and reflection being better for different kinds of decision making, and (2) reflection is a set of skills and strategies, not just a natural cognitive process.

    Just my thoughts, I hope they aren't too far off track here.

  2. Interesting stuff Todd. Thanks for the comment.

    Certainly from what you have provided here, I can see that the topic of decision making is quite deep and there is a lot to it.

    I wonder if it would be accurate to say that people who make poor decisions are just too lazy to consider things in detail and think things through appropriately..

    I have seen it that some people who claim to have made decisions have actually chosen to decide 'NO' when really, all they have done is choose to not say 'YES'. Because by choosing YES they will need to change something. By saying NO, it generally means there wil be no change.

    So I wonder if the lack of making real decisions is due to people not wanting to make changes and stick to the status quo due to habit and an inherant laziness???

    My comments here probably smell of a lack of detailed knowledge on the subject and are more just simple observations I have made.

    Is instinct just a lack of a thought process? Like you say, sometimes this is necassary when a good enough decision needs to be decided in hasty situations. So if the timeframe is short enough, is it just instinct?

    But this ignores the area of instinct that CombatTrainer was talking about in those raw instincts. In this case is it actually instincts that CombatTrainer was talking about or is it something else? Is it emotion that we see in sports? Is it passion? Is it drive? Is it determination?

    In the context that you discussed above Todd, perhaps it is instinct because in sports such as football or something similar, the athletes are making quick decisions under pressure very regularly.

    Can we be in a more raw state of existance when we are constantly in a high pressure environment when quick decisions constantly need to be made such as a game of football, or even in sustained combat operations by military personnel overseas.

    This is all quite interesting Todd and thanks for expanding on the subject of decision making here. It certainly prompts another line of thinking on the original Twitter post.


  3. I usually go for instinct especially in stressed situations and i think it works well if we are talking about scenarios like a fight that you really don't have a luxury to think. someone who trained hard specially in the basics and fundamentals is most likely to survive a life threatening situation with his instinctive skills compared to somebody who would think of a "technique".

  4. My first thought on this when I considered why the military had us eat in robot fashion during eating and drinking. It came to me how much has been brainwashed. Into our bodies and brains. It finally came to me while training to leave no DNA trace behind. During drinking we pull our drinks away before we swallow. This leaves backwash always. So wiping your glass doesn't. Rid your drink of DNA if, for say a waitress takes that drink away with plenty of DNA at the bottom. I can't go on forever. So try this try to continue sucking in while pulling your glass away. Normally this is a break habbitt to break. But if you understand it. It can be broken. Everything is mostly learned by habits or what we are told to be true. Challage everything and maintain the balance of your part of the string...

  5. well think of it this way.. your survival instinct telling you to eat the right food because you want to survive and live longer. This is what i think. Everything we do and think will be based on our instinct. Instinct really is the definition for fundamental design of our brain. We aren't that different from many other animals and insects. We have structured cells, brains, and nervous systems. The only difference is that we are made more complex enough to understand more things from this world than the so called "unintelligent" beings.


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