Instict, Love, and Empathy
We all agree that instinct is a basic function in man kind as well as all the other animals we share the earth with. But what is it? Perhaps the best way to pin it down is to say that it is a programmed or hard wired behaviour. We humans, of course, can think for ourselves. So most of us wouldn’t argue too much with the idea that thought takes over from instinct, leaving us better than just a fight or flight response for any given unknown situation. But that isn’t really an accurate picture of what is happening at all.
Consider for a moment how it is you learn to do something well, and it becomes evident what’s really going on. Learning to ride a bike is a good example. But we could be talking about performing surgery and the same process would apply. When you first learn to ride a bike there is so much information you have to cram into your head and process that more often than not you end up on the ground for the first little while. You have to concentrate on finding your balance as well as how to move your body to pedal or reach for your break. You are learning a new skill and it takes a lot of thought. There is trial and error involved. You experiment, dissect the information, and process it; and then there is much that your body learns to adapt to that you don’t control directly at all.
As you learn more and more, thought itself becomes a hindrance. That too is a little counter intuitive, isn’t it? But think about it. You can’t think about every movement or every breath and expect a smooth performance. Thought is too slow. In fact, doing so consciously would probably lead to another fall. The idea is to get to know the bike so well that it becomes part of you. When that happens our mind is free to watch the road, take in the sights, or correct for small errors. The brain doesn’t have time to think about every movement the body makes. Automatic response is much faster.
So what has happened? Suddenly the bike has become an extension of the body. This is what I call educating the instinctive. Just like when riding a bike, if you have ever learned to drive a car you know you are not consciously controlling every foot or arm movement. You have to have that down pat before you can be a safe and confident driver. The conscious part of the brain needs to be free to watch the road and determine the next course of action. Everything else has to be automatic or you become prone to hesitate or overcompensate.
For any musicians reading this, the same holds true for playing an instrument. There is a great deal of thought and effort put into reading music, the right fingering, training the hands to do acrobatics without missing a beat. If a musician by the stage level had to think through every note, they would be paralyzed. The musician or artist more than anyone perhaps, is heard saying that the words or the music or the art: “just come out as if from someone else.” It’s automatic.
Does anyone imagine that any martial arts expert has to deliberate before executing his moves? I would say not. In fact, the martial arts world is built on educating the instinctive. You can’t be a martial arts expert until you have made martial arts part of who you are.
So educating the instinct is how we learn. We don’t deliberate a great deal once we know what we are doing. Thought becomes secondary. So thought then is a tool for educating the instinctive. Then when it has done its job it is set aside. Thought is not the be all and end all of a human mind. It’s just a tool. The instinct is the real panicle here. Everything goes back to instinct.
It starts as instinct, gets educated though thought and deliberation, and then reverts to instinct, ready to be used at a moment’s notice.
But there is something else going on. I am saying that in order to understand something really well we have to make it part of us. What is the definition of empathy? We step into someone else’s shoes and try to feel what they feel. In a sense we try to make them part of us.
And this is what humans do. When we like something we try to make it an extension of ourselves. We include it in self. In fact, anything we do well we make part of us. But it doesn’t just apply to things or skills.
What is love? A lot of people will tell you it’s just a feeling or we can describe it as a set of chemical reactions to do with child rearing and procreation. But what is really happening, and the best way to explain love, is to understand that when we love, we try to make that person part of us. We want to include them in self.
So empathy is the highest form of love. Empathy is also the highest skill level we can reach. Isn’t it strange how intimately connected love, empathy, and instinct are? I said in another hub that there is no such thing as a selfless act. In fact, love and empathy and instinct are not selfless. They are inclusions into self.
And yet, when we include things in ourselves, we also become part of them. This is why inclusion is the answer so much suffering. When we do not include others we shun them or we don’t care. Exclusion makes it possible to make wars and kill. We demonize the “others” or make them sub human so we can justify our actions. Because if we didn’t we couldn’t do the things we do. If something is part of you, you aren’t as likely to hurt it. You would be hurting yourself.
The Beatles said: “all you need is love.” But more to the point, all we need is inclusion. If we have that, love comes naturally.
I just want to point out one final aspect to this. Many people wonder where consciousness comes from. It seems that consciousness and instinct are worlds apart. But consciousness is an emergent property of instinct. Consciousness is just a more evolved or more complex instinct. But I will leave that foe another hub.
Thanks for reading
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