What do your instincts drive you to do?
How sophisticated are you, really?
I was watching a pee-wee the other day. I think they call them Magpie Larks – similar colouring to a magpie but half the size.
Anyway, this pee wee was hanging around a car. Everyone now and then, it would fly up and have a go at the other pee wee it found, in the car’s doorside mirror.
It obviously thought it had another male pee wee encroaching on its territory and so it was trying to fight it off.
Only trouble was that it didn’t have the perceptual or cognitive abilities to realise that it was fighting its own reflection.
And fair enough. Through most of evolutionary history, perfect mirrors weren’t something a pee week was likely to encounter. No blame there.
But what struck me was that it was stuck in this futile loop.
I watched for a while – maybe five minutes. (Hey, I’m a busy lady. I don’t have time to sit around and watch birds.)
But the situation didn’t seem like it was going to resolve itself. The pee wee’s biological hardwiring compelled it to fight the bird it found in the mirror. The mirror was just a mirror.
The was no solution.
I guess at some point the pee wee just gets hungry and wanders off.
It also makes me think about crocodiles. I’ve heard that if you’re trying to escape from a crocodile, climbing a tree might seem like a good idea, but it actually might not be.
If you’re in a crocodile’s territory, then that crocodile fixates on you until you’re dead or gone.
If you’re in a tree, then you’re still in its territory, and so it just waits. It just stops and watches you… for like, ever.
It’s biological coding just tells it to chase away intruders. It doesn’t say anything about how long it should do that for.
And so it might just sit there and wait for you to come down.
And that’s the thing about being cold blooded. You need to eat much less regularly. Some reptiles can go a year without food.
The crocodile can wait a lot longer than you can.
Anyway, watching this pee wee, thinking about crocodiles, it got me thinking about how much of life on earth is just running some fairly basic biological programming.
Life is incredibly complex in the strategies it comes up with to meet its aims, and the execution of those strategies, but the aims itself a fairly basic.
And most life forms are just following their instincts.
And that’s what makes humans unique. We might be the only, or at least one of the very few species that has the ability to reflect on not only its actions, but its motivations.
This is actually really special. It’s quite a marvel.
And in that way, I think it’s one of the unique treasures of being human. It’s really interesting to look into your motivations – to unpick why you do things, and to consciously engage with your biological instincts.
There’s a saying that “a life unanalysed is wasted,” and I think this is what it means.
If you’re not being curious about what drives you and the strategies you go to meet your goals, then you are missing out on a really unique experience.
You are both complex and really basic. You have a wonderful imagination, and sometimes you are just blindly following instinct like a little pee wee bird.
How all of this weaves together, is fascinating.
So take an interest in yourself.