Intelligence Vs. Instinct

So, there I was, in, what? Fourth grade? We were learning about instincts. Birds that could fly halfway around the globe to find exactly the same nesting site. Salmon swimming upstream without their parents to guide them to the pool where they were born! I raised my hand.

“Why don’t we have any instincts?” I asked. I wanted super powers, too!

The well-meaning teacher said, “Well, I guess it’s that we developed intelligence, and that took the place of instinct.”

I and my teacher were, of course, quite wrong.  We have instincts.  Craving food and water is an instinct.  Knowing the smell of ‘good’ food and ‘bad’ is instinctual.  Preferring the presence of running water.  Not wanting your back to the door.   Sexual attraction is an instinct.  It’s rather like when we say “America doesn’t have a culture” we don’t see it because we’re floating in it.

I will now illustrate the overpowering instincts that govern our every day life through The Harmless House Centipede.  Now, I thought this weird, scary, many-legged bug was a “Silverfish” but I was wrong, it is a House Centipede and I will not share the photos I found online of the differences between these two creatures because I have no desire to ruin your day.  The point is, this little critter is often found in homes. She does not bite. She eats other, more harmful insects.  She just wants to chill out around your drains being helpful and furry.

And every time I see one I want to destroy it.

Last night, my husband was in the kitchen and I heard him scream, “EEK! Kill it!” and then I heard stomping.

“Honey,” I asked, “Are you killing another harmless house centipede who did nothing wrong?”

After a pause, he petulantly said, “It had too many legs to live.”

Compare this to our reaction to the carpenter ants we sometimes see scurrying across the self-same kitchen.

I feel guilty when I kill ants.  I try to shoo them out the door with the broom.  They bite. They EAT MY HOUSE. Yet I would step over the carpenter ant to destroy the friendly house centipede.

Our instinct to distrust anything that moves quickly and has loads more than six legs is counter-productive, yet we act on it, because instinct still has a tight grip on our wee monkey brains.

The moral of the story is, of course, to try to use your intelligence to overcome your instincts.  It starts with remembering that you have them.

It’s hard to do, though, when something silvery zips across the bathtub just inches from your vulnerable toes.

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