Why science couldn’t exist without instinct
Some people think that the rational part of the human brain is more important than the instinctive, that the conscious (ie, reasoning) mind matters more than the subconscious. Is this really the case? Don’t we need both to be balanced, fully developed, individuals? And the truly provocative question: could scientific knowledge keep growing without instinct?
Psychologists and psychiatrists know that one of the functions of our subconscious is working out problems; indeed, sometimes people find the answer to a technical problem while asleep (when the subconscious mind is in control). I’ve observed this from my own experiences, but also I read years ago about a chemist who had been trying to work out the atomic structure of a new compound and try, as he might, it eluded him. Then one night it came to him in a dream. He actually saw the structure of carbon atoms in his dream.
Also, from my experience of studying computing science at university, I have noticed occasions when, at different times, we needed to use the rational and the intuitive parts of the brain. For example, when writing a computer program I’ve found it is almost impossible to calculate systematically or rationally how to start: you have to have a flash of inspiration before you can apply logical reasoning to refine and break it down into smaller, simpler steps. Likewise with a novel or screenplay (in fact, the processes of writing novels and computer programs are essentially the same).
The opening to Magdalena Ball’s novel Sleep Before Evening illustrates this interdependence of the rational and the instinctive. Just consider these passages from the first page: “The thought of Eric’s boat made her thirsty. Without her asking, Eric passed over her half-drunk glass of orange juice.” and “’Mathematical logic holds great promise for an understanding of the world.’” (This second sentence is a statement made by Eric.)
Going back to one of the questions from the beginning of this article, I’m going to stick my neck out (and, likely as not, get it run over!) and say that yes without instinct science would progress much more slowly, if at all.
Please run me over gently, if you can.