Instinct- the mechanism
February 18, 2008 at 5:31 am #9126
Let’s face it, who has really pondered what instinct really is? I mean, think about it really. If you ask someone, “Why does this so and so lizard protect her eggs”? The most likely answer will be instinct. And most assuredly you will agree, and the discussion will be over. But if you question deeper, what is this driving force called instinct, and what mechanism controls it, I feel confident that you will see a lot of blank stares. As I try to ponder such things, I must admit, I too bring forth a blank look—of course that may be my instinct—but I do try to put some sense to it. To be honest, this concept perplexes me.
What is instinct? In my own narrow thinking I attempt to liken instinct in a realm I can comprehend like computers. So is instinct like boot code of an operating system? Is there some watchdog timer circuit that produces discomfort if an instinctive task is not carried out?
To date, I do not believe this quandary has been solved, but I wonder what others think? 😕
February 18, 2008 at 5:51 am #81925
I have also likened instinct to computer programming; an organism behaves a certain way without thinking because it is programmed to do so, just like a computer performing a task without actually "thinking" because the computer is programmed to behave that way. The interesting question is is instinct set in stone or can it be altered?
An interesting anecdote from work today. A coworker of mine who has been sexually harassing me made the mistake of approaching me from behind and "touching" me. This is a bad idea for two reasons. 1) I’m not gay. 2) My military background has left me with an "instinct," if you will, to react defensively to being approached from behind. The end result was this coworker getting layed out on the floor; lucky for me that analysis of the security footage backed up my self-defense claim. But I digress. My reaction was almost certainly not ingrained from birth, but it did follow the "instinct" pattern of acting before I had time to think about it. Could this be considered instinct or simply very good training?
February 18, 2008 at 6:12 am #81927
In your case, I would not classify that as instinct, as I think instinct is inate. Rather I would say this is a conditioning reflex. Then again, one could argue a fight or flight response. So maybe that is instinct, but again, one must not let instinctive impulses dictate response, as that is a power we as humans have. Otherwise male humans may still be using clubs to subdue their potential mates (Sure would be less complicated though). 🙂
Glad you did not get in trouble, but you may want to work on that as it may in the future 🙂
February 18, 2008 at 7:09 am #81932
Yes I am thinking about having to de-condition myself, although in this case the guy had been harassing me for quite some time, and I warned him not to approach me from behind and not to touch me at all, and I also told him to quit touching me or I’ll file a sexual harassment complaint against him, so you can’t say he wasn’t warned. And to be honest, it would’ve almost been worth getting fired (though thank God I didn’t) to have the opportunity to lay that bastard out like that. 😈
But getting back the point, I think you’re right, it was more of a conditioned response than a true instinct. I would like to point out, though, that the line between the two can be murky, and when investigating this one should be careful to distinquish between what is genetically programmed and what is conditioned. One could very easily overpower or change the other. It’s the old nature vs. nurture debate all over again.
May 2, 2008 at 11:47 am #83816MorgynParticipant
This question keeps me up at night. The most frustrating thing is that I don’t have enough science to even come up with a proper theory. With my woefully inadequate biology the most I’ve been able to do is blame it on hormones or enzymes (making you feel good for doing something right, bad if it’s wrong etc.), but I would love to know if anyone has researched it enough to really explain it. How do instincts get passed down? How can conditioning (don’t eat that orange frog, it made me sick) become an instinct that is passed on? And how do the basic eating and breathing and all the necessary instincts come about in the first place? Sorry MichaelXY I haven’t been useful at all and have hi-jacked your question, but I just couldn’t help it, this has been bugging me for ages!
May 2, 2008 at 4:45 pm #83823
The real question to study is whether or not instinct is genetically programmed or if it is conditioned due to circumstances. Nature vs. nurture. I personally think it falls somewhere between the two.
May 2, 2008 at 5:36 pm #83826
Walking down a dark lit alley at night would surely illicit feelings of dread and fear, and I would think this to be nurture, but like Morgyn’s orange frog example: other would be frog predators some how just know orange is bad. I don’t think this is the sort of thing that was learned or taught. Many animals are left on their own at birth yet instinctivly know to avoid the orange frog. This could not be nurture.
Perhaps the bright orange colors trigger a receptor to release a hormone which induces fear.
May 2, 2008 at 8:05 pm #83831
You may be right for some species, although for humans I think nurture plays as big of a role as anything else.
May 2, 2008 at 10:34 pm #83832
What about a newborn baby that cries? Sleeping??? And of course 😀 🙁 😳
May 3, 2008 at 5:13 am #83836
Those would obviously not be nurtured, but other things (such as what features to find attractive in the opposite sex) can be just as much a product of cultural conditioning as DNA programming.
May 3, 2008 at 6:16 am #83838quote :
Perhaps that most basic instinct. Pheromones, symmetry, signs of virility, signs of mother hood etc…
Yes I agree that attraction is based on preconceived ideas, however; the need to mate is instinct. I am sure last man, and last woman on planet would find a mutual attraction… 😳
May 4, 2008 at 1:36 am #83848canalonParticipantquote MichaelXY:
Well it seems that not even all those are necessary:
May 4, 2008 at 4:22 am #83854
Talk about being sexually frustrated.
May 4, 2008 at 4:47 am #83858AstusAleatorParticipant
Poor seal just wants some love…
Anyhooo, I think that for a study of instinct, we should try to narrow our focus down to simpler organisms than humans or other mammals.
PS: Way to go alex.
May 4, 2008 at 4:57 pm #83871
I disagree. I think there would be very little of interest when studying instinct in simpler organisms that are without doubt controlled almost entirely by their genes. I think it would be much more interesting to study how genetic programming interacts with conditioning to learn the nature of instinct in more advanced organisms. After all, such study could help us understand ourselves a lot better.
May 4, 2008 at 6:39 pm #83879AstusAleatorParticipant
That’s all well and good, for your doctoral thesis 🙂 The level we’re working at here a bio-online probably won’t allow for much more than speculation (or perhaps some research) and little conclusion.
If we want results, simpler is better. I will admit that once you get to a certain level of simplicity, almost every action could be deemed instinct. If we could find an organism somewhere in the middle, with discernable instinctual behaviors as well as learned and conditioned, we could learn more about each of those things. Michael originally used a lizard for an example. That’s not a bad compromise.
I’ve certainly witnessed learning and behavior modification in lizards. And there’s no doubt that they operate to a degree on instinct.
May 4, 2008 at 10:36 pm #83887
Now that you mention it, that is a really good idea for my doctoral thesis! Of course I have to deal with this little issue called a BS (pun intended :)) first . . .
You’re right that on this forum we probably won’t reach many conclusions, but I think we must keep in mind the purpose and value of this forum. I don’t think anyone is here for serious scientific discoveries; rather, I use this forum more to discuss certain ideas, share opinions, and get tips on where to go for more detailed research. If we consider our discussions in those terms, I think this forum is a very good place to be.
February 3, 2017 at 4:06 am #116164joemastersParticipant
I have been looking into pheromones ever since I heard about them in the 90’s (in the back of a very sketchy magazine mind you). At the time, research was quite flimsy and perhaps overstated significantly in order to try and sell pheromone products to people who wanted… well, you know. Since then there seems to have been a lot of development in this field, and there are a lot of -androstenes (a chain of testosterone) which seem to have effects in social behavior in humans.
There is also a lot of discussion about whether these types of anecdotal reports are valid, but there are reputable sources that claim pheromones such as androstenol, androstenone, androstadienone have observable physiological/social effects.
February 12, 2017 at 1:47 pm #116168InyatiParticipant
Instinct is inheritable behavior. A heifer has a calf, her dam did not teach her to lick the calf, nuzzle it toward her udder and stand patiently while it nurses and receives the precious Colostrum. I raise Registered Simmental Breedstock. I frequently ponder the instincts these big bovines employ to perpetuate their kind. What amazes me more is their non-instinctive behavior. The biological sciences has some work to do to explain some of the amazing behavior I see everyday. These animals have more going on in that brain than we understand.
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