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General Epistemology        Chapter V-16       


V-16 Instinct, intuition, phobias, fantasies, etc.



These words are commonly used with poorly defined meanings, interchangeable, loaded with magical connotations, etc. This chapter will probably not bring a remedy to this state of things, but at least it will clarify ideas. Then, that each one takes the train which advances.


(Permalink) This word is used in various meanings, hence many confusion, sometimes serious.

For the common people, the intuition is the ability to guess, or even to have a parapsychological prescience of things, without logical reasoning or clues.

Let us say clearly that the ability to see hidden things is a parapsychological phenomenon, which takes clearly defined names, depending on the case: ESP, moment of superconsciousness, etc. These rare phenomena occur spontaneously in certain situations, and it is said that a few people can provoke them.

But most of the time, the said intuition enters in one of the following cases:


-The ability to solve a problem with improvised methods, other than the logical reasoning, for example by connecting two elements that were regarded as disjoint, or by sensing regularities.

-For software designers, an intuitive software is a software that we can easily understand how to use it. For example the right-left keys allow to move a character in the corresponding direction, but not in the opposite way (which would be counter-intuitive). It is a well-organized software, which understands the reasoning of the user, instead of claiming to «train» him to arbitrary methods.


Scientists have no strict definition, but they use the word «intuition» in two cases:

-The ability to make a mental image of something, what is normally called «visualisation». For example we can get a mental image of the Newtonian space, but not of the Relativistic space (Minkowski space). This led many to the idea that Relativity would be «absurd», while it us just non-intuitive.

-Our ability to make Non-Aristotelian reasoning using the capabilities of the neural networks in our brain (chapter I-3). Especially, the robot designers are looking for this quality, which has proved to be essential for truly adaptive robots.

In my opinion, science would hugely benefit from using more specific words (indicated above in italic), instead of a vague or ambiguous vocabulary, or words taken over from their normal meaning.


Often the term «instinct» is used instead of «intuition», as for example in french with «instinctive shooting» (reflex shooting). We should instead say «intuitive shooting». The principle is to use a path calculated by our neural networks, from our visual and kinaesthetic perceptions of space, instead of placing our eye in the line of sight as in classical shooting. Contrary to what we may expect, the result is accurate enough to be used in delicate situations, for example when we need to discriminate between hostages and attackers.

The instinct

(Permalink) This is probably one of the most vague notions, loaded with totally inappropriate connotations: the instinct would be infallible, magical, «natural» (implied: «good»), it would be a perfect master to which we must always obey, an absolute excuse to all the crimes or misbehaviours, etc.

The reality is much more humble: an animal or an human have a series of ready-made mental images, emotions and desires hard-wired in the circuits of their brain, ready to respond to specific perceptions. This content of the circuits of the brain is necessarily built by specific genes. But it must well be understood that these genes do not play any role in their operation!

The most visible instincts are the desire for food, company, sex, etc. There is here nothing more than the need for fulfilling acts required for the survival of the specie, and evolution implemented in our brains the desire to accomplish them, with neurones programmed to react automatically.

And no, people do not consciously use underhand tactics to spread their genes, they just follow their desire for sex. Not to speak of animals, who do not even know what genes are! Genes do not think, do not pursue plans, they are just automatic systems which create people with desires. And it is a blind unconscious material process, the natural selection, which created these genes.

The animal needs these pre-loaded mind content, to respond in a relevant manner to the various situations he can meet, since, by lack of language, he cannot learn anything from other animals. Some of these instincts are diffuse and generic; others on the contrary are very accurate. In any case, they are an indispensable factor for the survival and propagation of the species, which explains why evolution took so much care to implement them, with all the details. For example, the birth requires a series of precise gestures, that all the females know without ever learning them: every detail is hardwired in their brain, like the images that we find in a new computer. Instinct probably monopolises a fair part of the genome, with many listed genes, but which function is still unknown today.


Of course, humans also have these instincts, although they are often hidden under «civilized» conventions.

Among our instincts, the easiest to observe is the fear or disgust of snakes and spiders. Many tried to see here unhealthy Freudian symbolism, but this is of course not true: simply, these creatures are dangerous (or at least they were for our ancestors). Thus this automatic disgust, genetically programmed, is a protection which was established by Darwinian selection. There likely are neural circuits connected to the visual areas of the brain, responsible of automatically detecting revealing clues (hairy legs, scale patterns), which react with exciting the centres of fear or disgust.

An objection here is that some individuals are sensitive, and others not, hence again some miserable Freudian explanations. But here also, the truth is quite simple: as in many other cases (for instance immunity), the genes do not encode for an unique solution, but for a variety of individual styles: attack, flight, sounding the alarm (screaming), helping the victims, etc. Such a variety of individual behaviours gives more chances of survival for the tribe.

Of course this operation has its bugs: fear of mice is totally useless. However, a more accurate detection would require more computing power, without bringing a better protection. It is therefore better to have a high sensitivity, and false alarms, than to miss real dangers. This is how «computer science» concerns, or economy of means, influence our feelings.

When the reaction is exaggerated, we then speak of a phobia, which is a neurosis requiring care. But the problem is confined to this, since no other brain centre is involved, and the person is completely normal otherwise. A phobia is not a psychiatric symptom! Neither a political orientation, though.


Thus we have a simple model of a protective instinct, of how it works, and how it can derail. With simplifying, this model is valid for all the instincts: fear of the dark, of noise, of water, of storm, disgust of sullied matters, of sick people, of strangers...

Eeeh, phobia of foreigners, you said? Whatwhatwhat?

Instinct is not a God

(Permalink) This last example introduce another fact, which is very dangerous to ignore: the instinct is amoral. Our genetically programmed instinct is the first cause, and even unique cause, of serious social pathologies, such as racism, rejection of the sick, disabled, old, etc. So we cannot in any way consider it as a philosophical guide, a guru or a God. This is however a common error among environmentalists, New Age, far right, etc. who go as far as adoring harmful predators. Reminder of a certain «ecology» which loved to parade in black uniforms...


But there are still more terrible things: from our primate and prehistoric ancestors, we inherited of powerful hunter instincts, with also infanticide, fighting between clans or between dominant males. For this purpose, our genes implement centres of aggressiveness in our brains, which actively neutralizes compassion, and makes us totally insensitive to the appalling suffering of our victims. Only farming, invented 5000 years ago, offers us the opportunity to at last escape from these terrible behaviours, by eating only vegetables. And only the democratic law finally allows us to escape the daily violence between dominant males, against women or children, etc. And yet, not everybody seize these fantastic opportunities to escape from these terrible conditioning: crimes, hunting, domestic violence, meat, gangs, bullfights, road violence, etc. are reducing only with the exasperating slowness of the spiritual maturation of mankind...


So, the biological instinct is just a series of hacks, which have so far ensured the survival of mankind in a cruel and amoral world. These recipes were selected by a mechanical genetic system, blind and unconscious, totally insensitive to our suffering.

But nowadays, this legacy has become cumbersome: the perception of a deeper meaning of life (chapter V-5) and mastery of our psychology are what must now guide mankind at a whole, and our individual behaviour. Instinct must be recognized as just a tool, which must no longer manipulate us. This is possible thanks to psycho-education (chapter V-12), in a new ethical, social and spiritual frame, that we shall see in part six. Democracy and the rule of law are indispensable tutors, waiting to be able to do it by ourselves.

Especially instincts appear as neurosis. The most dangerous ones, such as the hate of strangers, are fortunately the simplest to remove, with common anti-neurosis visualisations.


In the reverse, some events of survival cannibalism (without murder) were falsely qualified of «cannibal instincts» by journalists wanting to stir unhealthy feelings or to denigrate mankind. Let us keep away of these dangerous people and their snake oil psychology.

«Positive» instincts

(Permalink) Some instincts produce attraction instead. Let us quote:

-The tribal instinct, which protects the tribe, and which is still the basic framework of our human social relationships (many current social unrest come from the negation of this instinct).

-The family instinct (attachment between parents and children)

-The motherly instinct (the carnal relationship between a mother and her young child).

-The love between a man and a woman. All three keep the parents with the children.

-The desire for change, which instead leads the youths to leave family or tribe to try their luck elsewhere. This contributes to the necessary mixing of the genes.

-The sexual instinct which guides us (heavily) to the actions which are necessary for fertilization. However it would be totally wrong to say that it only serves this: it is also an important help for maintaining the couple, and even the tribe. Its variants (sexual orientations and fantasies) and its bugs lead to various situations, that we shall study with more details in chapter VI-5.

Obviously, it is better to be a «primitive» with these instincts working, than a «modern» or a «rational» who lost touch with these basic human realities. But by far the best way is psychoeducation (chapter V-12), which allows to take advantage of the two abilities, without any of the inconveniences.

Ideally, psychoeducation allows for no longer being enslaved by instincts, neither positive nor negative. However things like family and love are part of the very definition of our humanity. We need to go through these experiences, throughout our lives, in order to build a strong and harmonious personality. To suppress these feelings would lead to very dangerous situations, which would go against the very purpose of doing so. We shall talk about this in chapter VI-6.

Thus the right attitude is the acceptance of our human condition, including when it requires abnegation toward a parent or a spouse, acceptance non-dual (chapter I-3) with the realisation of an harmonious ideal free of any dependency (sixth part).

Why flowers are beautiful?

(Permalink) We shall study in chapter VI-9 the notion of beauty and art, which are what consciousness do with the raw feeling of beauty. However, like many deeply human things, they too have a biological origin: we find «beautiful», «good» or «pleasant» what is useful for our survival, like food or sex, and «ugly» or «bad» what is dangerous: predators, excrements, decaying matters, diseases, etc. We even have some adaptive responses: we hate the smell of our enemies, and like the smell of our loved ones (Today, our ideals of cleanliness superseded this instinct, but we still hate the inflections or gestures of persons we do not like). On this basis, our human psyche and culture has built a whole realm of art creations, which, on their side, belong to the world of the consciousness.

Especially, positives ideals are accompanied with artistic beauty: in ancient times romantic music, today New Age, Elvish or nature music and painting. On the opposite, negative movements surround themselves with deliberately ugly creations: cacophonous music, pornography, rap, tags, «contemporary» art, and even satanic style.


Our attraction toward fruits results from a co-evolution of plants and mammals: plants need their fruits to be eaten, in order to spread their seeds. So they offer some advantages, like sugar and vitamins (felt as «prana», see chapter V-17). Mammals took advantage of this, by developing attraction to fruits: their perfumes, colours, textures, etc. appear as «good» and «beautiful». In response, plants made their seeds slippery, hard and bitter, so that they are swallowed without being crushed by teeth or dissolved in the stomach.


However there still are a lot of things we find «beautiful» without direct biological relationship: flowers, birds, sunshine, rainbow, etc. The reason could be that these things are part of a peaceful environment, free of climate problems and with resources to feed and shelter. On the contrary, predators or bad climate make unpleasant, sad or frightening sounds. In the version 1, I quoted a very curious example: how prehistoric whistles had a soothing effect on reindeers («Son et musique au Paléolithique», de Michel Dauvois, Xavier Boutillon, Benoît Fabre, Marc Pierre Verge, «Pour la Science» Novembre 1998). The most curious is that the reindeers were Finnish, while the whistles were French or Canadian, thus excluding any genetic transmission for the love of whistles in reindeers! To be also noted that 30,000 years old flutes found in the Pyrénées were already built according to modern harmonic rules. Thus our genes are still remembering the peaceful prehistoric evenings around a fire: the flute is still reassuring us.


Music is the most challenging on the list: how can it have so strong emotional or psychedelic effects?( note 82) The most likely explanation I see is that artists are skilful at provoking the response of the brain circuits of empathy. These circuits were normally created to let us detect the emotional state of our mates: screams of fear, sad weeping, joyous cries, babies babble, etc... But the artists overtook nature by far, with the use of melody (series of frequencies), explaining the huge impact of music, sometimes even destructive: some sad music can go as far as inducing depression and suicide. This is why music was used for millennia for military purposes, ritual purposes, festivities, poetry... Nowadays it is the best mean for conveying a vision of a better life, like many New Age musicians are doing.

The lack of empathy of sociopaths (chapter V-13) explains why they are insensitive to music, just are also all the trite people, or people entirely lost in their plans and conflicts. Always be wary of people who speak while beautiful music is playing!

Soon in my life I realized that the frequency intervals between notes are irrational numbers, while the harmonious chords are the ones where frequencies fall near a simple rational ratio (more or less some Hertz). So the third and fifth intervals are such simple fractions, making beautiful and emotional chords. The dissonant chords differ from about 15 to 80 Hertz from such a perfect ratio, giving a characteristic grating sound, called a beat by electronicians. Some chords are none of the two, like the «triton» where the ratio is square root of two, giving off a feeling of strangeness. Classical musicians often tune their instruments to give perfect chords (with unequal intervals, but exact rational ratios), while common musicians use the «equal temperament» (all intervals are equal, but approximate of the exact ratios). This is probably one of the reasons why classical music appears «cold», or too perfect, compared to common music. But in facts, there are many different systems for adapting the intervals to the rational ratios, making the art of chords complicated.

Chords too carry emotion: minor is often sad, while major is positive. Thought, both are calm, while dissonant chords are disturbing, explaining why they are used in alarms or fearsome music.


At last we note that the huge variety of animal cries are all differing responses to the same simple problem: how to be understood far away, or while hidden by other noises. For instance, many animals and birds use a single frequency with recognizable glissando or patterns. Others use sounds bursts, like ducks or crickets, while some like ravens use «spectrum spreading», a technology that radio engineers discovered only recently. We can assume that both have specialised audition circuits allowing to more easily detect their own language against other noises. We too have them with human voice, of course.







General Epistemology        Chapter V-16       







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