The Normal Mind Instinct

We have found that the mind's chief end is action, of itself, or of its

body. But what are its incentives to action?

We see the very young baby giving evidences of an emotional life, living

in an affective, or feeling environment, leading a pleasure-pain

existence, from the first. He acts as desire indicates. But from the

very moment of his birth he performs actions with which he cannot as yet

have a sens
-memory connection, because he is doing them for the first

time. How can he know how to respond to stimuli from the very beginning?

No other possible explanation offers itself than that he is born with

certain tendencies to definite action. These we call instincts--man's

provision to keep him going, as it were, till reason develops. Instincts

are handed down from all the past. Definite tendencies, they are, to

certain specific reflex actions in response to certain sensations. These

responses, from the very beginning of animal life, have been toward

avoiding pain, and toward receiving pleasure. It is as though the

stimulus presses the trigger--instinct--and the muscle responds

instantly with reflex action. This mechanism is the means of protection

and advancement, and takes largely the place of intelligence in all

animal life. It is what makes the baby suck and cry, clutch and pull,

until a sense memory is established. So instinct is really race memory.

We call instinctive those immediate, unthought reactions which are the

same with all mankind.

The pugnacious instinct--the desire to fight--is the natural reaction of

every human being of sane mind to attack. The inner necessity of

avenging is so strong in the child or man of untrained mind or soul that

he acts before he thinks. He strikes back, or shoots, or plots against

his enemies. Only rare development of spirit or the cautious warning of

reason which foresees ill consequences, or a will trained to force

control, can later make the instinct inactive.

Where instinct ends and sense memory, imitation, and desire step in is

difficult to determine. Later in life probably most of what we consider

instinctive action is simply so-called reflex action, depending on sense

memory, action learned so young that it is difficult to distinguish it

from the true reflex action, which is due only to race memory.

James, in his Talk to Teachers, gives us a partial list of the

instincts. Thus:

Fear Ownership Shyness

Love Constructiveness Secretiveness

Curiosity Love of approbation The ambitious impulses:






To this partial list we would add self-preservation, reproduction, etc.

But instincts conflict with each other, and man carries about with him

in babyhood many of them which may have been very useful to his

prehistoric ancestors, but which only complicate things for him. Fear

and curiosity urge opposite lines of conduct. Love of approbation and

shyness are opposed. Love and pugnacity are apt to be at odds. So,

gradually, as intelligence increases, the child refuses to allow such

impulses to lead him to action. When fear-instinct and love-instinct are

at war, reason is provided to come to the rescue.

Instincts are racial tendencies of sensational or emotional states to

determine action.

Instincts are the germs of habit, and when instinct would give rise to a

reaction no longer useful, reason, abetted by new habit formation, in

the normal mind, weakens instinct's force; and the habit is discarded

and the instinct gradually declines.

In prehistoric times when food was scarce, and man had not learned the

art of tilling the soil, hunger forced him to fight for what he got to

eat. As there was often not enough to go around, he maimed or killed

his fellow-man that he might have all he wanted, obeying the instinct to

survive. So, now, the baby instinctively clutches for all that appeals

to him. But an abundance of food for all, or the intelligent realization

that co-operation brings more to the individual than does fighting, and

a developed sense of responsibility toward others; or merely the fear of

the scorn of fellow beings, or the desire to be protected by the love of

his kind; perhaps a genuine love of people, acquired by spiritual

development, puts the primitive habit of food-grabbing into the discard.

Finally, the very instinct of self-preservation may be transformed into

desire to serve others. No better illustration of this can ever be

offered than the sacrifices of the World War.